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Published On: Tue, Mar 11th, 2014

Casualties of fuel scarcity war

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By Olu W. Onemola

With a blatant disregard for the intent of the final consumer, for two days in a row now, I have watched in disbelief as officials said to be from the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) have stifled the attempts of citizens to purchase fuel inside jerry cans. In a country where every household and every business is its own secondary source of electricity, having a generator in Nigeria can no longer be classified as a luxury – given the ineptitude of successive governments in providing stable electricity for ‘We, the people.’

An episode that I witnessed recently has left a particularly unpalatable taste in my mouth, especially when placed against the following backdrops: First and foremost, for the second day in a row, I waited in a fuel-queue for a little over 3 hours to buy fuel at one of the few filling stations that are open – yet my country boasts of having oil as one of its natural resources; Secondly, for 3 days and nights this past week, my neighborhood was without power. This meant that all basic actions like charging my phone, and other essentials like ironing my clothes had to be powered by a generator.

One morning, while trying to hustle fuel for both car and generator, I watched an elderly woman in her stained t-shirt and wrapper, come to the filling station in a Keke Napep. She was carrying what looked like the fuel tank of a small generator, which was the container that she intended to use to buy the fuel. The way I saw it, she carried this fuel tank just to prove to the officials – who have recently been assigned to monitor random stations across Abuja since the scarcity started – that she did not intend to resell the fuel in the black market.

I watched this woman – who could have been my mother – stand by the pumps for over thirty minutes while fighting back tears; pleading with one of the purported officials of the NNPC to allow her to fuel her generator’s tank.

The man simply said, “No, no, get away from here,” before he turned his back on her.

To me, this official was just a foot soldier – following the instructions of his Ogas at the top. I consider the man’s actions to have been caused by ‘the Nigerian problem.’ And I would like to believe that wherever this man is right now his conscience must be paying the heavy price of following orders blindly. I saw it in his face. Removed from the situation, a part of me honestly believes that rejecting her pleas had hurt him almost as much as it had hurt her. After all, he too must have once had a mother like her. She could have been any of our mother’s.

I too had a jerry can in my car. And, knowing myself, regardless of the agents that were sent there to ‘supervise’ the activities of the station in order to ‘supposedly’ curb the hoarding of fuel, I would ordinarily have insisted on buying my fuel in my jerry can – if I was not concerned about the job security of any fuel pump attendant that agreed to serve me (because I know the attendants at that particular filling station very well).

However, I would not have insisted on buying fuel in my jerry can simply because the guys dispensing it know me well. No! I would have insisted on buying the fuel in my jerry can because every man has a moral obligation to speak out against unjust laws. And, the way I see it, our policymakers limiting the purchase of fuel inside jerry cans because of the scarcity, when taking our erratic power supply into account – is an unjust law.

I would have also insisted on buying my fuel in my jerry can, because I knew right there and then, that all it would have taken for those officials at the filling station to lose their symbolic ‘authority’– given the throng of irritable customers who had been in line for hours, was one person willing to demand to be served in his or her jerry can. The floodgates would have opened – I am sure of this. I have seen this happen before in a not so dissimilar situation.

However, I did not demand justness for myself, which would probably have resulted in the teary-eyed woman and others being able to buy fuel in their jerry cans, and I make no excuses for my actions. Instead, I fueled the car and drove away thinking the following: 11 months from now, before I cast my lone ballot in the general elections, I may not know the name of that woman that I saw crying today at the filling station, but I will certainly remember the tears that I saw in her eyes. My vote will be for her and every one else like her. I will avenge her at the ballot box. To me, that is the ultimate solution.

Olu W. Onemola is @theOluOnemola.

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