Grimot Nane Zine

Fuel Hoarding and Governance Failure

The GON is getting very tough at the “tail end” of the oil sector by punishing retailers of petroleum fuel for “hoarding” like they have “weak oil bunkerers”. Meanwhile, the executive cabinet of GON is staffed by hoarders of billions of dollars’ (in cash and assets) of “oil wealth”. This is the latest showing of “no-nonsense anticorruption” at its most trifling in Nigeria. Yes, the landlord chasing rats in the living room while his house is fully on fire? This ‘catching the serpent by the tail’ solution is a dangerous staple approach adopted by the current GON.

The current mainstream of economics does not even recognise hoarding as a calculable phenomenon but the main critique of such orthodoxy is how divergent it is from reality. Gifting “hoarded fuel” is very reminiscent of the ‘military years’ in the 1970s when ‘hoarders’ and those that violated ‘prices controls’ were punished with arrests, fines and jail sentences. The GON should not have that kind of power anymore, courtesy neoliberalism. In a well governed society those who have had their fuel sold for free would sue the GON successfully on many counts including unlawful ‘expropriation’ and ‘forfeiture’.

Profiteering by markets participants or stealing of public funds by civil servants / politicians. Which is worse? Which deserves public punishment the most?

It is true that fuel scarcity is can be crippling and distressing to individuals, businesses and the entire economy when it is caused by hoarding but punishing the hoarders is a senseless short-term solution. Who punishes the GON when fuel scarcity is caused by its very own corruption, profiteering and dysfunctionality? Rumours or accurate information of fuel price increases and fuel import shortages, for instance, predictably lead to fuel scarcity (or hoarding where possible). Can anyone blame fuel retailers for such events created by the GON and their clients?

Why with all the ports and the Oil and Gas Free Zones (OGFZs) in Nigeria has the government stuck to the ‘failed logistics strategy’ of importing all refined fuels into the country only by way of over-congested Lagos ports/depots? Geopolitical sinecure? Are the pockets of the “big guys” is far more important than the national public interest? Who was in charge of making Lagos the sole centre of imported fuel distribution in Nigeria?  Google “fuel scarcity” and what country is champion?

President Muhammadu Buhari was part of GON in the regime of General Yakubu Gowon that saw internal profiteering really take-off in Nigeria. The ‘Udoji Awards’ for civil servants in 1974 triggered the very enduring “market women meeting” syndrome; market women only have meetings to increase the price of their goods mostly in reaction to some GON policy e.g. importation bans, fuel price increases, excise / duty increases. It has become the practice for all unionised traders in Nigeria.

It was also in Gowon’s era that the “sole distributor / importer” was perfected by the GON for its principals and clients, especially “nationalised corporations”. The “sole whatever” became associated with “dumping” of shoddy goods in Nigeria and price gouging for imported goods. That was also the birth of importing fake goods. The result was that Nigeria increasingly became a very expensive place to purchase (often fake or expired) imported goods and to live even though today 120 million Nigerians live on less than $1.25 a day.

Oil bunkering that has been inaccurately blame on militants with geopolitical vehemence is mere public deception because it is an eighth of the truth. Buhari was Petroleum Minister and he knows better than anyone, living or dead, that oil bunkering started under his very watch. Bunkering started with civil servants and soldiers loading ships with crude oil unrecorded for personal profit. The militants came into the game over 30 years late. A leading European oil executive (retired) once said of the oil business in Nigeria, “the oil business was great in Nigeria when the people did not know what was happening but the moment their ‘eyes became open’ things were never going to same again”.

According to this same retired oil executive, the ‘Niger Deltan’ was characteristically dismissed by Nigerian and foreign majors in the oil business as “draughts-playing ogogoro-drinking polygamist fisherman” who suddenly “awakened” and started to want good things for himself. Racism from without and tribalism from within became an evil burden placed the ‘Niger Deltan’ simply because he had oil in their land and too little geopolitical clout; the Niger Delta leaders were textbook sell-outs keen on they crumbs they could grab. Buhari knows this very well too.

The essence of this article is that Buhari perfectly knows Nigeria is a country where the “little guys” at the tail suffers for the crimes of the “big guys” at the head and it would be most unfortunate if his administration is playing that lazy ignoble card as an “administrative tool”. Going after the “big guys” is the only way by which “change” will ever happen. As we are told to “wait” for “change”, “change” does not happen by magic or longevity. “Change” can only be effected through a quartet of requirements; (a) a genuine necessity of purpose, (b) a complete absence of ulterior motives, (c) a totally trustworthy leader and (d) must be orchestrated in a thoroughly proper manner.

Those who say the current GON meets those quartet of requirements for “change” should raise their hands.

Grimot Nane

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