October 1st 2003 was Nigeria's 43rd Independence day. However, to most Nigerians, the significance of this event has been lost, and most people just see it as another public holiday, used to get some extra rest or sleep. This year's independence day could have been just the same. But thanks to our 'great' president Obasanjo, it wasn't.
From Monday the 29th of September, queues returned to petrol stations in Lagos and Abuja (please note: in all other parts of the country queues have become a permanent fixture). There was a rumour that Obasanjo was going to use the Independence day speech to increase the price of petrol for the second time in 4 months. I thought that it would be very stupid for President Obasanjo to do such a thing, given that in June, the entire economy was crippled during 2 weeks of nationwide strikes after the fuel price increase. At the time, Obasanjo increased the price to 40 naira per litre, only to be brought down to 34 naira a litre after negotiations with labour leaders. Petrol Station owners usually hoard their supplies when rumours of a price increase are in the offing, in order to sell old stock at new prices to maximize profits. This creates artificial scarcity of petrol and a boom in the black market.
Anyway, on our independence day, I woke up to hear that our driver finally managed to buy petrol, at 39.90 a litre !! Apparently, Obasanjo has announced for deregulation in the petroleum sector, so now the marketers import petrol and sell at whatever price they find profitable. (Similar to what is done in the UK) Most of them find 39.50 agreeable(which was close to what Obasanjo wanted in June). However, Obasanjo said that this was to start in June, but most petrol stations had illegally increased their pump prices on the morning of the 1st.
The Nigerian Labour Congress is once again threatening to go on strike, and this time they have said no negotiations, they will only agree to a complete reversal by the government. Even the PETROLEUM and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (PENGASSAN) has warned the government against the increase. Riot police were everywhere yesterday, in what was supposed to be a day of celebration.
It is sad that in a country which is one of the largest exporters of crude oil in the world, we have to import petrol, diesel and kerosene, because our refineries are in a state of disrepair. The government claims it cannot afford to repair(or is it rebuild?) the refineries. However, we are hosting the all Africa games starting this week, and in prepartion for the Commonwealth Heads of government meeting, we are building a house in the Aso Rock presidential villa for the queen to stay in!! What is going to happen to the house when she leaves? This is a waste, and a sad one at that. Against the wishes of most people Nigeria has offered Charles Taylor of Liberia asylum in our country, bringing to 3 the number of Liberian warlords living on our taxes within our borders. We have FINALLY seen sense and dropped our bid for the FIFA World Cup, after spending stupendous amounts of money on marketing and logistics for the so-called 'bid', did we think that co-hosting the World Cup with 4 other countries made any sense?? A country where the average man cannot afford to feed himself on a daily basis has just launched a satellite into space. Was that necessary? Especially at this time? I could go on and on with all the stories of how our wealth is being used in stupid ways, and still be typing this post tomorrow morning. All this while our educational system is as close to collapse as possible, unemployment is at staggering levels, our currency is redefining the word 'worthless' and our roads are in a complete state of disrepair.
The saddest story of all was reported by This Day a few weeks ago. The Group Managing Director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Gaius-Obaseki was discovered to be staying at a suite at the Nicon Noga Hilton Hotel in Abuja, due to the fact that the NNPC does not have a house in Abuja for him. They were reporting spending 150,000 naira a day($1100 US), or 240 million naira (1.7 million US$) a year to keep him at the hotel. When asked how this could be happening by a This Day reporter, he reportedly said that it was a 'sacrifice' for him to be staying in a hotel, as his wife didn't like the place, and that he was the cheapest Group managing director the NNPC has ever had!! At a time when the petroleum sector was under such scrutiny due to what Nigerians see as unjust fuel price hikes, one would have thought that even if these allegations were true, he would have been more careful with the press. But alas, that is not the best part of it all. When asked why the 240 million naira was not used to build a house he reportedly said "240 million naira can't build a house for me".......what patriotism.! Unfortunately, This Day, the newspaper which published the editorial has not yet archived the story, and hence I will not be able to provide a link to it.
I hope that in the future, all Nigerians will have the opportunity to 'sacrifice' like Gaius-Obaseki. Nigeria, we hail thee........