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Contemporary Nigeria and dearth of reason


By Charles Onunaiju

At a recent virtual meeting organized for the All Progressive Congress (APC) social media bloggers and influencers, Vice President Professor Yemi Osibanjo was reported to have said that “if the refinery is left in the hands of the government, it will continue to experience the same problem, it is experiencing now”. He added that he does “not think that it is the business of the government to run the refinery,” declaring emphatically, that “it should be the business of the private sector.”

But except, the vice president means that the inability to operate refinery is peculiar to his government or some others preceding it for reasons he did not disclose but which many Nigerians know to be consequences of incompetence, corruption and the stranglehold of vested interests, his position which is likely the official position of government is not supported by facts, rationality, reason and even common sense.

If the story of oil exploration and refinery operation in the neighbouring Niger Republic does not cause Nigeria’s political elite and the governments formed by them to cover their face in shame, then nothing else will.

Oil prospecting started in Niger Republic in the 1970s, but it was only in 2011 that its oil industry came on stream with the opening of the Agadem oil field and quickly followed with the construction of Soraz Refinery near Zinder.

The oil and gas drilled from the Agadem field are processed at the Soraz refinery and products which consisted of gasoline, diesel and liquefied natural gas are mostly for domestic consumption.

But since the original oil reserves estimated at 324 million barrel are now found be three times higher, production has risen from 20, 000 barrels per day to 80,000 barrels daily. The Soraz oil refinery is a joint venture between China National Petroleum Corporation which holds 60% and the government of Niger Republic with 40% of the joint venture total. The China National Petroleum Corporation is also state or government-owned and together with the government of Niger Republic have built and are efficiently operating the Soraz refinery that not only caters for the domestic consumption, of Nigeria’s improvised neighbour but according to recent reports, export refined products to Nigeria.

Meanwhile, Nigeria is the world’s eighth biggest oil exporter and the largest producer in Africa and pumps about 2.53 million barrels of crude oil daily and consumes 409,000 barrels of refined products daily. But the four state-owned refineries with a total capacity of slightly below 500,000 barrels per day have long been comatose and turn-around-maintenance, which has gulped billions of naira, are mere elite jackpot, spinning billions to the champagne-quaffing clique while Nigerians groan in excruciating pains.

However, beyond Niger Republic, Egypt, Algeria and Angola just to mention some few have between them about 13 refineries either fully government-owned or joint venture that not only meet the domestic consumption requirements of their respective peoples but are also net exporters of the refined product. This is not mention the Islamic Republic of Iran, whose entire oil industry from production and refining are completely state-owned and despite western sanctions, produces and refines enough for domestic consumption and exports.

Except, the vice president and other choristers of the ‘wisdom’ that government has no business in business, prove that governments elsewhere are masquerades or are run by terrestrial powers, their views canvassed with uncommon gusto is the most fervent signal to the dearth of reason and commonsense in the governance of contemporary Nigeria.

To justify the insensitive hike in the price of refined petroleum products, government unintelligently argued that it simply surrendered to the logic and imperative of the market, since, it is no longer sustainable to afford the humungous subsidy, it has been previously paying. The government actually in this case did not surrender to the market, but the vicious, voracious and vile vested interests that have maintained a long-standing stranglehold on the country’s most strategic sector that should have had value-multiplying effects on other sectors of the country’s social and economic life. Government speak about market, as if such strategic sectors like oil and gas, energy, telecommunication and other are the same thing as freely entering Ladipo, Dugbe, Ogbete and other markets scattered in the country, selling or buying wares and exiting at will.

Nigeria’s crony capitalism, which has historically distorted the market fundamentals and rigged it, in favour of speculators, power-brokers and their hangers-on, against genuine and hard-working entrepreneurs is currently at its boldest affront to the Nigerian people. The members of the special interest clique that are in coalition with Central Bank of Nigeria, for example, can access foreign exchange at official rate to buy luxury goods like Ferrari cars for their children, whereas the hard-working industrialists or medium and small-size business owners must access the foreign exchange through the parallel market at high rates. It is the monopoly of the special interest clique and their stranglehold on the public space, which they distort, dictate and manipulate that government actually surrendered to and not any market as it falsely claimed.

The main reason, I reckon many Nigerians chose President Buhari, who for the entire period of his retirement did not sit on the board of any blue-chip company or garland himself with the ubiquitous title generally conferred for favours done or expected to be done, was that he was the most suitable or likely to break the stranglehold of the special interest cliques that have so remorsely held the country by the jugular.

The main attraction to Buhari leadership was the hope, which is now forlorn that he would muster the political will to end the privilege of the special interests  clique and their pervasive disposition to distort and disarticulate the framework of the country’s social, economic and political trajectories. The evidence available is that the vicious special interest under President Buhari have mutated and narrowed to a more arrogant and insensitive clique, running the country without the benefit of reason.

President Buhari, while a candidate for the presidency for nearly a decade mocked to high heavens that public assets in the aviation, maritime telecommunication sectors where brutally vandalized, stripped and sold to Janus-faced government officials who are government officials in the day but private sector operators in the night for peanuts. But five years into his administration, no single Nigeria-flagged ship is in the sea and a single aircraft with Nigeria’s insignia in the sky. Mtel and Nitel, Nigeria’s flagship telecom operators have long been buried.

The power or energy sector serially pulverized, unbundled and privatized but paradoxically on government  perpetual life-support is now, the enigmatic producer and distributor of the most epileptic power supply and for the private sector operators of the failed energy generation, distribution, and transmission government has just recently acceded to their demand to pass on their inefficiency, incompetence and corruption to the public with high tariff, citing market reality, whereas, government has only truly caved in to special interest.

Even in Africa and many other developing countries, key utilities are state-owned with reforms and liberalization only bringing in private sectors as independent operators or joint venture partners in an open market that are neither rigged nor compromised.

In the case of Nigeria’s reform and liberalization trajectory, public utilities are simply asphyxiated, stripped and handed over to private sectors who kills it off, and simply do speculation with higher and quicker returns which are used to buy into public office from where the hapless public are further bankrupted and left with only a hope in God.

The reason and purpose for government is not too different from the purpose of philosophy, to seek rational answers to the most complex questions about life. For government, it is to assemble and maximize the rational use of resources, including the power of reason to seek the greatest happiness for the greatest number of her citizens. It is mostly likely because of the convergence of the purposes of philosophy and governance that Plato insisted that until philosophers become rulers or by some means, rulers are compelled to take to the pursuit of philosophy, the troubles of humanity will not cease.

While Greek philosopher, who lived several thousands of years ago, may not be impressed with the flight of reasons across world, he would weep at the dearth of reason in the contemporary governance of Nigeria.

  • Onunaiju, is a research director at an Abuja-based Think Tank.

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