From Frustration to Desperation

Early this year, I promised to banish pessimism from this column. Only positive ideas that could help our leaders to lead better would matter, I thought. Now, that resolve is being challenged.
Every writer ought to consider their readers’ feelings: what would they be interested in reading today? Certainly, not about the nuclear power summit in Washington, DC, or what Amaechi said to Wike yesterday. Not about the latest EFCC arrests. Not government’s promise to generate 10, 000MW or to pump N350billion into the economy. Not even South African president Jacob Zuma’s apology after a court ruled that he should refund about $15million he used to upgrade his private home six years ago would matter to many Nigerians at this time. If Nigeria had qualified for the African Cup of Nations in 2017, perhaps one could find something to cheer one’s compatriots up.
The truth is in what Ken Saro-Wiwa told me in December 1993: writers are influenced greatly by the conditions under which they write. Of course, one can’t think or write clearly if they hadn’t slept well for seven consecutive days! Would one be be writing about space travels when there is smell of death everywhere around him? Even the most voracious reader can only read headlines when his life is threatened by joblessness and starvation.
Sorry for the long preamble. But it’s meant to justify why few columnists would fail, at this time, to comment on the things that have been happening in our country.
I begin from my neighborhood where a young man who gave his name as "Saidu" was caught in armed robbery. These days, no night passes without someone losing his possession in this tiny village near my own home. Clothing items, handsets, motorbikes, goats and chickens had gone missing until Saidu called on Monday night. He was armed with a dagger, but in reality he was a common thief.
It was about 3am when he crept quietly into a woman’s kitchen and lifted a pot of soup. Then, he collected a sack of garri also. Everybody was asleep, he thought. But because of the heat and mosquitoes that tormented all, one man was still awake and heard Saidu’s footsteps. When he raised the alarm, Saidu ran but soon fell down — and that’s how he was caught.
On interrogation, the thief (or robber) said he had to steal food in order to stay alive. The dagger he had on him was for self-defence, he said, and it was his first time of stealing. All his life he had never been so deprived, he said, as nobody was patronizing his hawking business anymore. His wife and child were starving and he had to do anything to save them and himself from imminent death.
The villagers had beaten him mercilessly and threatened to burn him alive. His story touched many hearts, however. Some pleaded that he should be allowed to go with the soup-pot and garri. Meanwhile, a call had gone to police hotline 08032003193, alerting them to the presence of armed robbers. About 40 minutes later, a policeman called on the phone to ask "how far?" He was told that one of the robbers had been arrested. "Thank God o!" he cried. And that was all. Two hours later, two policemen walking like schoolboys visited the village and insisted on taking Saidu away. They "arrested" one witness to follow them to the station and write a statement. Another witness was forced to make his car available for the trip to the station, despite his plea that he had little fuel left in the car.
There is no longer any question about the source of the hell that has found a home in Nigeria today. The lack of irregular power (caused in the main by evil people) has been very destructive, no doubt. But I’ve become convinced, more than ever before, that the most powerful gang of saboteurs destroying Nigeria is composed of fuel traders. Little wonder NADECO and Abiola used them at the initial stage of the June 12 struggle!
Fuel importers know, like most other criminals, that Nigerians would choke if they were deprived of fuel for a long time. I wonder why President Muhammadu Buhari and his team did not make adequate plan for tackling them before announcing the removal of "subsidy" on imported petroleum products (through which the vampires stole over N2trillion per year). Allowing the criminals to roam freely without anyone to enforce law and order must rank as one of the most careless mistakes ever made in statecraft. Now everyone is helpless — we all are at the mercy of those who buy and sell fuel. Minister Ibe Kachikwu might have eaten his words, but this thing is likely to keep recurring for the next decade or longer; that is, until the saboteurs are routed.
Pity Nigerians. They have oil under their soil but depend on other people to enjoy the commodity, and depend even more on criminals to make it available. At a time the price of oil has fallen to the bottom ($37) — and other nations are enjoying cheap fuel — the people of oil-rich Nigeria are paying much more than they did when the price of oil was $112 per barrel. Indeed, to say that Nigeria is a paradox is an understatement.
I haven’t had the patience to queue for 11 hours under the scorching sun (with all the other risks) at the few fuel stations dispensing petrol in Abuja; I pay N250 per liter to young men, children and women hawking petrol in gallons in almost all the streets in the nation’s capital. There are no policemen harassing the hawkers as well as those selling for N220 per liter at the pumps anymore. Police vans have no fuel too — it’s part of the reason they did not respond to distress calls at the time of Saidu’s arrest. If hardened robbers had attacked the villagers that night, they could have killed everyone and escaped with their loot unchallenged.
Fuel scarcity is therefore at the root of the current insecurity and high inflation. Fuel has also robbed us of money in our pockets as well as the time to do meaningful work. As a result, small businesses are dead or dying. Many Nigerians are frustrated — and desperate like Saidu — because there is no money and food is expensive. Markets are going up in flames and killer "herdsmen" are on the prowl. Only mortuaries seem active in most hospitals. Rents and school fees are waiting.
In times of recession such as these, it is necessary to cut costs: eat smart, travel less, make fewer calls, avoid lavish ceremonies, and have fewer kids. It’s time for everyone to have a farm, no matter how small. Those who can no longer pay high rents should look for cheaper accommodation elsewhere. Life could be easier and happier in the village anyway. Let these hard times serve as a reminder to all that oil money has finished, and public servants will not see money to steal anymore. Besides, anyone caught stealing might suffer more than Saidu.

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