Between Goats and Vampires

The Kaduna State government recently banned the roadside selling of fuel in jerry cans –popularly referred to as ‘black market’ — in all the 23 local government areas of the state. This is coming on the heels of the ban in Plateau State as well. And just before any more states jump on the bandwagon, it is imperative they give it a very hard thought.
If the governments cite legal, environmental or security reasons for doing so at a time when we are experiencing a most scathing fuel scarcity, the common man is ready to cite convenience, accessibility and the indispensability of the commodity in everyday living as his grounds for opposition. Such a move will do the average Nigerian more harm than good.
I am talking about the Nigerian who has to be at work early in the morning and can’t afford a driver to queue up for days waiting to buy fuel. The Nigerian who closes late from work and needs to fuel his generator for some respite this hot season. The Nigerian who was already finding it difficult to transport himself to work before the already high fares doubled. No government with the best interests of its people at heart would choose such a time to remember just how illegal or hazardous the black market is.
The Nasir el-Rufai government in particular has even before now displayed a total disregard for the plight of the downtrodden by banning street-begging for the one reason it seems to love so much: security. It was a move that highlighted the plutocratic tendencies of a government that seemed disconnected from the reality on ground. No beggar would choose to be in the streets if he could avoid it, and their presence there serves more or less as a mirror of the deplorable state we are in. el-Rufai can appoint as many special advisers on persons with disability as he chooses, but the one truth remains: adequate provision of shelter and food must at least be made before they are taken off the streets.
While criticizing this policy at a time the issue was still fresh, I ended with the words: “What if it were you and me? It could be us some day.”
And the world has spun to a point where the ‘yous and Is’ are now the victims of el-Rufai’s anti-people policies. I hope no other governor subjects his people to this much suffering.
I had cause to be in Kaduna over the weekend and, like every other place, most petrol stations in the metropolis didn’t have fuel while the few that did barely had enough to sell to half the number of people waiting. The ban on black market has driven the price of a gallon of fuel to N2, 500 (at the time of this writing), and that is if you are lucky enough to find an operator willing to sell.
There are a lot fewer number of cars on the roads than I am used to seeing and it wouldn’t surprise me if the state chapter of the NLC called a strike soon, as workers are bound to find it difficult to resume work because of the high cost of transportation.
The winds of change have indeed blown, and things have changed for the worse. We now generate less than half the amount of electricity we were able to manage under Goodluck Jonathan and a basin of rice costs N750 at the moment. Nigerians are patient with the government more out of a sense of helplessness than because it has earned it.
The conduct of some key members of the government has no doubt demonstrated a total lack of sincere remorse on their end: from Buhari’s deafening silence at a time he needed to address us on the challenges we are facing to Kachikwu’s broken promises and ‘I am not a magician’ declaration. Not to forget Femi Adesina, the special adviser on media telling those crying over poor power supply to ‘go and fight the vandals’, as if we didn’t vote his boss to do that for us.
It is the responsibility of the government to secure our installations and we deserve a lot of apologies for our present predicament. There wasn’t a firmer believer in Buhari than el-Rufai and, by virtue of flocking with him, he earned the toga of a pro-people politician and shed the hypocritical activist perception people had of him. The people come first and, as things stand, we seem to have chased goats out of our barns and allowed vampires into our bedrooms.
Black market may be illegal but you can’t ban them when fuel is scarce. It is only right to do so when fuel has been made readily available to those who have no filling station managers to call when they need it. The common man has to admit today that he was living much better under the goats than he is doing presently under the vampires. Parents find it hard to get their kids to school and the retailers just bumped up the prices of goods.
It is very hot in the north at this time of the year and, with the entire country living on a meagre 2000MW, you couldn’t appreciate your generator more. But that just became a luxury as well. The amount it takes to fuel an average family-size generator for 4 hours daily for a whole week is just a few hundreds shy of the minimum wage.
The Kaduna and Plateau state governments must reverse the ban on black market to ease the high cost of living for their people. I am sure Plateau’s Operation Safe Haven and Kaduna’s Security Council wouldn’t have recommended such to their state governments if they had fully considered the consequences of doing so. Such an ungodly policy is only justifiable in the three north-eastern states where, perhaps, it could serve as a strategy aimed at further incapacitating the insurgents.
President Buhari must move fast to ensure innocent Nigerians aren’t forced to suffer more than they already do. He stands to gain a lot personally from doing so as I’m sure he understands just how well public discontent thrives in such places. The frustration ends at his table.
Only a few people complained when he banned the importation of small generating sets popularly called ‘I pass my neighbour’ because he seemed to be tackling the power problem head-on at that point in time; and soon people will grow tired of the whole ‘patience’ vibe and start to ask why our commander-in-chief didn’t ensure our installations were protected from vandals in the first place.
It always wasn’t going to be easy to fix our system – that we understand. But the president must ensure Nigerians don’t suffer any more than they already do.

By UMAR SA’AD HASSAN, a lawyer based in Kano.



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