Sunday, January 16, 2022

With upcoming toxic fuel price hike, it’s a sad New Year

I wish I had a better way to welcome readers to the New Year. I really do.

• January 1, 2022
President Muhammadu Buhari
President Muhammadu Buhari

I wish I could say “Happy New Year!” to Nigerians, but it would be unfeeling and insincere to say that to a people who are in clear and present danger of being metaphorically and literally incinerated by an increase in the price of an inferior grade of petrol products imported to their country by notorious international toxic fuel importers in the new year.

A reader recently called my attention to a widely read and shared column I wrote on November 05, 2011, titled “Biggest Scandal in Oil ‘Subsidy Removal’ Fraud” in anticipation of the Goodluck Jonathan administration’s fuel price hike in 2012 that triggered the massive OccupyNigeria protests. The circumstances that inspired the 2011 column are eerily similar to what Nigeria is going through now.

 By late 2011, several Nigerians were apprehensive about an impending price increase in the coming year amid a precipitous deterioration in the quality and standard of living.

But unlike in 2011/2012, critical segments of the Nigerian civil society have now been bought and silenced and tyranny walks unchallenged. Treacherous and compromised labour leaders make feeble, inaudible noises when petrol prices are increased but do absolutely nothing to resist it. In all the three times that the Buhari regime has hiked fuel prices, there has been no single instance of resistance in the form of strikes or street protests like in the past. This is unprecedented in Nigeria’s entire history.

Now labour aristocrats like Issa Aremu who used to pretend to be defenders of the masses have become nakedly shameless and irresponsible government spokesmen and in fierce competition with Lai Mohammed for the title of the loudest defenders of governmental incompetence and heartlessness. 

Citizens who expect the mercenary know-nothings who masquerade as “labour leaders” to fight for them are hopelessly naïve. The collective conscience of Nigeria’s labour leaders has been bought and fully paid for by the Buhari regime. Their public posturing that pretends to be opposed to the impending fuel price increase is no more than carefully choreographed histrionics designed to deceive unsuspecting people.

The current labour leaders learned from Adams Oshiomhole and his underlings such as Issa Aremu who has been rewarded with a government appointment as Director-General of Michael Imoudu National Institute for Labour Studies for his years of “successful” treachery against the Nigerian people. As I pointed out sometime ago, in the early 2000s, every petrol price hike used to be preceded by negotiations with, and eye-watering palm-greasing to, debauched labour aristocrats led by Oshiomhole.

If the price of petrol was, say, N10 per litre and the government planned to raise it to, say, N20, it would increase it to N30. Compromised and coopted labour bureaucrats would be encouraged to talk tough and to go on strike to “protest” the hike. After “negotiations” and other theatrics, the government would “back down” and agree to “reduce” the price to N20. 

Both the government and labour aristocrats would win, and the masses would lose. Nonetheless, the masses would be thrilled that they didn’t have to pay N30 for a litre of petrol.

Unwary citizens would praise the labour leaders for “fighting” for them—and the government also got brownie points for being a “listening government.” And everything went back to normal. Until the next hike. And the same chicanery would play out.

But post-Oshiomhole labour leaders, particularly the current ones, neither have Oshiomhole’s criminally effective wiles nor his swaggering gutsiness. Their dewy-eyed eagerness for financial inducement from the government has caused them to botch every amateur theatre they have staged since Buhari has been in power. 

Of course, the Buhari regime doesn’t even respect them enough to plot the sort of painstakingly arranged melodramas that previous governments hatched with Oshiomhole and his gang of depraved minions.  

Professional “human rights” and “pro-democracy” activists are also bought and paid for. So are previously critical segments of Nigeria’s traditional media formation. In other words, the Buhari regime has provided an effective template for how to subjugate a population effectively. 

Nonetheless, although fuel prices may go up next year if the real people who would be affected by this don’t ignore the swindlers cloaked as “labour leaders” and revolt, like in 2012, the petrol for which Nigerians would pay an arm and a leg is inferior and possibly toxic.

In my November 2011 column, I pointed out that the petrol I use for my car in America burns A LOT SLOWER than the one I use when I visit Nigeria. It turns out that it is still the case that Nigerians consume the worst imaginable grade of petrol among the world’s oil-producing countries. That means comparing fuel prices between Nigeria and other oil-producing countries—or even countries in Europe and North America— is actually an odious comparison. 

Here are relevant portions of the column that should give anyone a cause for worry: 

“In 2010, a group of journalists from the UK, Norway, and the Netherlands won a prestigious international journalism award for a series of investigative reports they did on Trafigura’s barbarous dumping of toxic petroleum waste on Cote d’Ivoire. The waste killed scores of people and sickened thousands more. In July 2010, an Amsterdam court found the company guilty and fined it 1 million euros. (The caustic petroleum residues were dumped on Cote d’Ivoire on July 2, 2006).

“On June 24 this year, Afrol News, an Africa-centered news agency, reported that it had been ‘given documentation’ that shows that the same Trafigura that was fined for dumping deleterious waste on Ivoirians had offloaded ‘dangerous and poor gasoline [i.e., petrol]’ in the ‘Nigerian port of Lagos.’ 

“This toxic petrol, which Nigerians have been consuming for years and which our governments ‘subsidize,’ according to the Afrol News report, ‘is highly unstable, not enduring sunlight exposure, and will cause damage to vehicles. It will also cause environmental damages due to high sulphur values, and can therefore cause human health damages. The product is strictly illegal in Europe and the US, but may in some cases be within legal quality and environment standards in some West African countries.’”

Business Day of January 4, 2011, reported that the Jonathan administration signed a multi-billion-dollar annual contract with the same Trafigura that was notorious for importing toxic petrol to developing countries. “Under the agreement with the Nigerian government, Trafigura is expected to pick up Nigerian crude oil and in return, supply her with refined products,” the paper reported.

It added: “Trafigura agreed to an annual contract with the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) on the basis of taking 60,000 barrels of crude oil per day in exchange for refined products such as gasoline and gas oil of equivalent value estimated at around $3 billion a year.” It also quoted an oil industry expert who said just “$1 billion of the amount would have put the four refineries in proper shape.”

When I brought these revelations to light in 2011, a lot of people were incensed and hoped that a change of government would usher in more sensible and sensitive rulers who would give companies like Trafigura a wide berth. Several years later, sadly, it is the same story.

On May 12, 2021, Reuters, the British news agency, reported that the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) “picked 16 consortia for its new crude-for-fuel swap contracts for one year starting in August.” 

Guess which company is among the 16? Trafigura! “Two sources said each consortium would receive 20,000 barrels per day of crude oil in exchange for products, making the combined total 320,000 barrels per day of Nigeria’s output,” Reuters reported.

So, Nigeria will still give tens of thousands of our crude oil to international companies with a shady past in exchange for inferior and toxic petrol that causes engines of cars to “knock,” tanks to run out of fuel quicker than is usual elsewhere, and that endangers the lives of people who power their generators with petrol. 

I wish I had a better way to welcome readers to the New Year. I really do.



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