Fuel Crisis and a deeper need for diversification

A black market operator sells fuel in front of the NNPC towers in Abuja. Photo Credit, Tom Saater
A black market operator sells fuel in front of the NNPC towers in Abuja. Photo Credit, Tom Saater

The fuel queues in Abuja stretch endlessly, tanker drivers sleep lazily under mango trees outside the depots of oil marketers, hundreds of thousands who have become jobless on account of the decision by oil marketer to stop the supply of oil ply the streets looking for alternative means of income, even most workers are developing legitimate excuses for not arriving at work early. Everything somewhat points toward the nations capitals slow, yet deadly grind to a standstill. All people do these days is talk about May 29. As the last political era ends, one painful truth that cannot be discarded with the positivity that accompanied April elections is what will become of Nigeria afterwards. More than ever, what lies ahead of the countries dangerous reliance on oil?

This question would easily have been answered if the Nigerian government had adopted prudent policy of judiciously investing or saving the bulk of the oil proceeds. Unfortunately, the reverse has been the case, as government, over the years, wasted bulk of the oil proceeds on white elephant projects that dotted the map of the country. Even the Niger Delta region was at a time engulfed in violence when local ethnic minorities began to agitate for a greater share of oil revenues. All this culminated to landing Nigeria on the State Department’s Travel Warning List of the United States, among other countries listed to have “long-term, protracted conditions that make a country dangerous or unstable.” These nations included Algeria, Chad, Colombia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Iraq, Mauritania, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Syria.

One thing cannot be argued against here is this, the huge revenues from oil grants bestow an advantage to the Nigerian government to spend and invest massively without recourse to taxation. Oil sector can also contribute to development in the oil rich economies through provision of intermediate inputs to the rest of the economy. These intermediate inputs include crude oil, gas and liquid feed stocks, as well as oil and gas into the refining, petrochemical and electricity and energy intensive industries. But the oil sector does not offer much opportunity for employment in Nigeria because it is a more capital than labor intensive industry and so more people remain unemployed, this is the reason why the significant expansion of the sector over the years has not led to a similar increase in job creation. Another simpler example of the development that was sparked in Lagos state when denied of oil revenue for political reasons is sufficient aid as to understanding the negative effects of such dependency.

The mere fact that Nigeria has been on standstill the past few weeks over the decision of oil marketers to restrict the supply of fuel highlights this danger even more. Especially with the abundance of natural resources, especially given the knowledge that the reason people went out en-masse to vote for another candidate was to ensure that the country takes a different turn, especially since the slogan that gave birth to a political revolution was ‘Change’. Yes, change is what people voted for, but with installed configurations, the more needed change is an economical revolution. One that sees the other crawling sectors rise to their feet’s and change lives. One that ensures that there are less jobless youths in the northern axis to carry arms in the name of God, one that relieves the government of such extreme dependency of its people as has been witnessed since the birth of Nigeria. That is what change is all about.

To reach the demands dictated by years of neglect, the effort required has to be enormous; building transparent, effective and accountable institutions that truly serve the people as well as empowering the civil society and installing necessary configurations to enable a free press to strengthen our democracy is just one of the many tasks that lie ahead. But at this very moment, where hoards of tankers have blocked major roads in Port-Harcourt and Lagos, the issue on ground is the scarcity of fuel. If the fuel scarcity problem remains the same, then one May 29 when over 50 heads of state turn up to attend the inauguration ceremony, they would do so driving past the endless rows of fuel queues and in the midst of millions of Nigerians lamenting over the fuel crisis. Yet, those who have now taken over the reins of power do not seem concerned about this; they seem more intensely concerned at wholly consolidating the much waited reins of power. Inauguration ceremony planners are working day and night to make a show of the transition and the National Assembly is still locked in a political stale-mate.

But even after political power has been adequately consolidated by those who now hold the high stakes, it is without question that the oil issue will remain a problem. Not only will the government be required to devise a workable plan to diversify the economy, or contend with the interests of the currently sleeping Niger-Delta militants it must first and foremost put an end to the epileptic nature of Nigeria’s fuel crisis.

This article was initially published on Naij.com for more articles by Tahir Sherriff you can follow him on Twitter @tahirsherriff