A senior colleague recently asked me what I thought is the long term solution to the lingering fuel shortage currently being faced by the nation and I quickly replied him that the most effective way to handle the situation is to remove fuel subsidy and clip the wings of the beneficiaries. It is generally believed that calling a spade a spade is the type of action the people will want the government to take.
It will be recalled that President Mugammadu Buhari had to approach the National Assembly seeking the approval of the federal law makers to release funds for the payment of subsidy claims. Such money could have been channeled to other critical sectors of the economy.
Moreover, how long will the fuel subsidy beneficiaries continue to hold the country by the jugular? How long can the government sustain the policy in the face of dwindling national resources? Government cannot continue to pay fuel subsidy claims without compromising other important sectors.
It should be underscored that only a handful of people benefit from the subsidy. Most Nigerians do not have access to fuel to buy at official rate in most parts of the country. I believe Garbadeen, the new spokesperson of the NNPC when he said few days ago that the way out is to rehabilitate our local refineries and protect out pipeline facilities from vandalization so that substantial quantity of fuel can be locally refined and safely transported and distributed to the various destinations across the country. This entails that government must make adequate provision for effective maintenance of refinery machineries.
This issue of selling one’s product or Oga is very important to the office of Garbadeen because this is not the first time Dr. Kachikwu is having misunderstanding with media people. It happened before when he went to the National Assembly and spoke to the law makers. He was misunderstood just like some State House correspondents did not get him right on his comments concerning the current fuel shortage. Therefore, Mallam Garba needs his professional colleagues much more than before because the nature of his assignment requires a lot of explanations and constant media briefings.
It is important to note that even if the issue of fuel shortage is resolved today, there is a need for Dr. Kachikwu and Garbadeen to open their doors wide open to the general public for mutual interaction so that they can succeed. Interestingly, as I listened to Garbadeen’s explanations last week, I came away with the impression that the NNPC now has in its fold a young dynamic journalist who has the capacity to properly and professionally explain the true situation of the activities of the oil sector and then manage the corporate image of the corporation very well.
Garbadeen’s explanations on government’s efforts at ending fuel shortage nationwide is very convincing. He talked about the short and long term measures. Already, the NNPC has set up a strong team to ensure smooth distribution of petroleum product as part of the short term measure.
He had particularly explained to me what his GMD Dr. Kachikwu Ibe told journalists some days before we met and how the media did not properly capture the minister’s explanations. At the end of our discussion, I became convinced about government’s efforts and determination to put an end to this fuel shortage crisis that has brought socio-economic activities in the country to a halt. I also saw that government indeed took the right step in the reorganization exercise carried out recently at the corporation with the appointment of some senior officials.
One fact that must be underlined about the GMD is that he is an accomplished and intelligent technocrat and an insider in the oil sector in Nigeria with global knowledge and connection in the sector. His knowledge about the challenges of the NNPC is not in doubt. The testimonies about his CV and accomplishments as a private sector player is an open knowledge, which is why President Muhammadu Buhari appointed him to head the NNPC as GMD and later, appointed him as Minister of State for Petroleum. Incidentally, he combines the two positions presently.
Both the long and short term measures adopted by the Minister of Petroleum has not convinced Nigerians; rather, they have earned the minister bashings from those who do not have sympathy for the present administration. While some said the current crisis is as a result of official ineptitude, others blame it on unnecessary politicization of the crisis. Garbadeen has equally advised Nigerians to stop panic buying as government is working round the clock towards ensuring that fuel is well distributed to filling stations nationwide.
NNPC has also revealed officially that more than four (4) million metric tonnes of the product is now being awaited for onwards distribution across the country to end this monster called fuel scarcity which has made life very difficult for Nigerians.
Even though the official time frame given by the NNPC to end fuel scarcity is between two to three months, I strongly feel that Nigerians should give the corporation more time so that the engineers working on the refineries can do their job well. The short germ involves repairing of machinery and replacement of obsolete ones. There is even the need to overhaul some refineries due to decades of over use and lack of proper maintenance. The GMD was very clear on this matter. This is necessary because once the country begins to refine its oil, it will not only be enough for our consumption but will also give us the leverage to have reserve for the rainy day.
However, the main challenge Garbadeen will face is the fact that as a former national president of the Nigeria Guild of Editors, he is expected to use his vast professional connections to mobilize his colleagues in order to enhance the image of his principal, Dr. Kachikwu and that of the NNPC. Understandably, one area he must concentrate is the southern press whose editorial policies maintain a cult-like confraternity on any national issue or personality. He is expected to deploy his influence to assuage them from being susceptible to sensationalization. It is instructive to note that Dr. Kachikwu has not received any positive press review on the current fuel shortage. This is a real challenge to Garbadeen. But the good thing is that he has the capacity, contact and dynamic diplomacy to manage the situation.
As for Garbadeen, his appointment is a square peg in a square hole. He is most qualified for the job with huge experience. He has edited Daily Trust and ….. Magazine published in Kaduna. It is equally interesting that his appointment came during crisis time in the petroleum sector. What he is currently witnessing is his first baptism of fire from his colleagues as a way of welcoming him on board. As soon as he assumed office, he was inundated with reports of fuel shortage, of course many of them not near the fact of the matter. Immediately, Garbadeen followed the reports with a press conference where he set the record straight by saying that the GMD was misquoted. The GMD, according to on Garbadeen, only tried to explain how government intends to bring to an end fuel shortage through short and long term measures.
I therefore want to appeal that the media should be a little bit patient and try to appreciate the enormous challenge the leadership of the NNPC is being confronted with. Their hands are really full. And as far as this writer is concerned, Garbadeen’s job is very central to the issues at hand because no matter how good a policy is, as long as it has not been known or understood by the public, then the policy is not worth anything.

Biu writes from Abuja


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