Home The Politico Selfie of Fuel Scarcity

Selfie of Fuel Scarcity


By Anthony A. Kila

Factually and sadly, the ongoing fuel scarcity is turning out to be the longest in the history of Nigeria. Above and beyond the obvious and understandable sentiments of frustrations and vexations most Nigerians are going through, this fuel scarcity crisis has also thrown up some traits and points about us as a people worthy of considerations, if we really want to move the country forward.

A crucial place to start from is the way we perceive the fuel scarcity itself. In listening to our government and people, it would appear the scarcity is a mere accident of logistics, rather than a crisis. Perception of events matters because it dictates the way events are dealt with. If our authorities saw the shortage of what takes us to work and allows our businesses to function as crisis maybe we would have deployed every means possible, including unorthodox methods, to solve the crisis.

But then again, this country and her people have been without stable electricity for decades and this fuel scarcity is not a new phenomena. Mind you during those decades, offices and homes of those paid to manage the affairs of the country have been equipped with generators. None of them have successfully thought that just as their personal houses and offices need to be lit at all times and cars constantly fuelled, Nigerians for whom they work will also need essential items like energy.

It is hard to judge who is more blameworthy: the authorities for treating a crisis like an accident or the people for allowing the authorities to treat them as not important? Elsewhere, energy is linked to security and considered an essential need.

A fuel queue in a Nigerian petrol station

The crisis also reminds us that there seems to be no office or official in charge of taking stock of a vital, sensitive and expensive item such as the petrol we have and use in the country. One would think the Ogas and madams that would normally make a huge fuss in their own offices and houses if their security or maintenance man does not inform them that the diesel for their generator is about to finish, would take the same care to governance and insist that someone should be in charge of taking stock of the amount of petrol we have and need as a country. It does not take rocket science to make sure we never go below a certain level of stock of anything. The countries we sell crude oil to do not live hand to mouth. What they buy from us today is for usage the after tomorrow. We don’t even have to be original let us simply imitate such attitude.

If you have had the curiosity or the ill lucky of going to petrol stations during this scarcity, you would have also noticed something about our uniformed men. From the policemen and women trained and paid to protect our lives and properties, to the custom officers paid to watch over our borders for items the government can tax us for, and the civil defence people that I am not still sure exactly what they are paid for. Yes all these people, feel their uniform gives them a right to jump queues. Unformed men and women think their journeys are just more important than every other citizen’s movement. The petrol attendants too seem to agree, I took some time to ask some of these attendants and their customers why they allow uniformed men to jump the queues and their best answer was “this is Nigeria”.

A selfie of fuel scarcity will be incomplete without the images of petrol attendants, bless them; their metamorphosis is astonishing. Our petrol attendants grow from the docile and helpful or proactive ushers that beg you to come to their pumps in the days of no scarcity to arrogant rude bullies during the fuel scarcity. They thrive on chaos and become even slower than necessary when they see the scarcity crowd. During fuel scarcity, the interest of the petrol attendants is not to ease the confusion; they are out there to squeeze their customers for everything they can.

A lot of the customers of course cut their own figure. Too many Nigerians have concluded that queuing is a waste of time and reserved the unworldly. I hear tales of contacts and connection that gets them petrol. Every big man or woman seems to have a filing station manager or owner that will always get petrol for them. And if they have to go to the station, then the plan is to bribe the gateman to jump the queue. Bless them, busy people. At that point, it is irrelevant to them that some people are out there queuing and that the queue might actually be a lot shorter if everyone conformed and insisted that on the attendants being more efficient.

Whilst Nigerians of every creed, tribe and shade were seen at the filling stations striving to get petrol, there was a certain group conspicuously and consistently absent from the selfie of fuel scarcity: the political class. Have you noticed that there are no tales of ministers, legislators and other government officials queuing for petrol? Not even their cars with drivers sent in place of the fragile bosses. Who knows where and how our public officials get their own petrol?

*Anthony Kila is professor of Strategy and Development. He is a regular commentator on the BBC and he works with various organisations on International Development projects across Europe, Africa and the USA. He writes from Cambridge in England, UK. You can join him if you can @anthonykila to continue these conversations.


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