Fuel queues are back in full force with us again. For some time, it started like a thief in the night creeping in unnoticed on motorists, appearing and disappearing all at the same time--like some wayward and mischievous child playing hide and seek with his parents. Right now, however, it has mustered the courage to force itself on us with shameless insistence and this could be seen in the ugly long lines of vehicles that have become a regular feature of the cityscape. In Abuja, the lines of vehicles stretch as far as the eyes can see.
As expected, motorists and commuters are bearing the brunt of this latest fuel scarcity in form of enduring long hours at petrol stations and wasting valuable man-hours which could have been put to better and productive use. On their part, commuters are made to bear the scorching sun or rain, as the case may be, waiting for commuter buses that have become fewer and fewer on the road as a result of difficulty in refueling and making cost of transportation to go through the roof. And so, what we all thought had been put behind us for good is now back to wreak its vengeance. On many of these queues you hear exasperated and irate motorists swearing and cursing under the breath. "Ooooh! What kind of country is this now? We produce and sell oil to the world but cannot drive into the fuel station to get fuel when you want it," I heard a confused taxi driver intone the other day to no one in particular.
Well aware that care must be taken in joining issues with people in situations like these, I pretended as if I did not hear him and busied myself with peering unseeingly into a newspaper. I have witnessed commotion ensue when someone answered a question not directed at him on the queue for fuel. The altercation eventually led to fisticuffs between the protagonists which resulted in a messy pandemonium that disrupted the orderly progression of vehicles on the queue for fuel. Yes, I could not help to note how easily otherwise reasonable people become beastly and horrible by exhibiting animalistic behaviour when they experience frustrating situations like waiting hours on end on fuel queues.
Yet so far not much has come out from government quarters on when the nation is going to return to the period when fuel could be got without sweat. It should not be forgotten that when fuel cost 65 naira it was freely available, then the bogie of subsidy was dredged up and its price was jacked up to 97 naira per litre and now the stuff has become so scarce and getting it is driving everyone to distraction. The scarcity has given vent to all manner of old ladies tales: some say the scarcity was caused by the blackmail of marketers whose sordid escapade has been exposed by the oil subsidy probe which revealed that the huge sums they had been collecting as subsidy should not have been given to them. Well, at least the truth in this lies in the fact that some fraudulent marketers have been arraigned before the courts, and hopefully the law would take its course appropriately.
Another tale puts it down to government subterfuge that seeks to create an artificial scarcity in order to push the fuel pump price to 120 naira, which was the intended price it had contemplated in January before a groundswell of popular uprising forced it to scale it down to 97 naira. Judging by the way the nation's life has become so dependent on oil, these views should not be waved away lightly. These days one hears talk of the government having gone bone broke, as in being impecunious and therefore forcing it to cast about for all the monies it can lay its hands on. As is customary for every administration for many years now, the removal of the phantom subsidy has always been the first and only option available and the Goodluck Jonathan administration is not any different because it is acting as expected. It had promised to spend the funds accruing from pushing the fuel pump price from 65 to 97 naira per litre on embarking on infrastructure construction and rehabilitation, particularly roads and railways. Roads, across the length and breadth of the country which had fallen into disrepair and making transportation of people and goods difficult are still what they are.
It will soon be a year since the pump price became 97 naira per litre but not much construction nor rehabilitation has been done. The roads have remained eye sores that they are and on top of that they have continued to claim scores of innocent lives. Indeed a mark of infrastructural decay was that the heavy rainfall witnessed in August caused the flooding of large parts of the country, including the low lands of the Lokoja area of Kogi State and rendered the Murtala Muhammed Bridge impassable because it was overran by a deluge of water. Being an important structure on a major arterial road, it resulted into inability of people and goods to move between the North and South of the country, indicating that the country needs to undertake an infrastructure overhaul.
The cost of the fuel scarcity when quantified in terms of its effect on the economy must be overwhelming. Not only would it affect the capacity of the industries which depend on fuel to power their operations to operate optimally, it could also kill off small businesses entirely as they struggle to remain viable concerns. The unmistakable sordid impact would be to push many people out of their jobs as these businesses cut costs, which they must do to survive. Yet, once in a long time ago, the country suffered this kind of fuel shortage, certain measures were taken and fuel became available causing the long queues to disappear. But that was long ago. Is it too much to expect measures, including revamping the refineries, that can achieve the same result from this government with little dire impact on the cost of living of the people?