Fuel everywhere but no money to buy
By: Paul Ojenagbon
Monday, February 06, 2012

No other title could have aptly captured the situation better as most filling stations in Lagos, from close observations are wearing this easily discernible despondent mood following poor patronage due to lack of money. With few motorists driving in intermittently, many attendants who seemed to have lost their heads at the crucial moment of the recent strike protest induced scarcity have since gotten back their manners.

They appear to have commonly resolved to treat their few customers with unusual courtesy, after all not every body can afford to buy fuel at N97 per litre. Suddenly, the cheeky attendants who would rudely “teargas” their customers’ faces with fuel now offer expectant gestures of welcome to motorists driving into the stations to buy fuel. The same situation is likely to play out in other parts of the country yet at the end of the day, some armchair economic watchers would tell us that the country is consuming more than 35million litres of fuel daily.

However, like aneke the proverbial Igbo bird, who said that since men have learnt to shoot without missing, it has also learnt to fly without perching, many hapless Nigerians have devised several means to beat the increase in pump price. Elasticity of demand for fuel, as economists would put it has taken a negative surge in this case as many households and motorists have readjusted their expenses bill to accommodate the rising cost of living caused by the hike. Afterall, Nigerians long known for having thick-skin of resilience as survival streak borne through the years from several anti-people and unfriendly government policies have since realized that they have one more battle to fight.

It has become a critical matter of cutting one’s coat according to the available cloth and not just the size anymore. The era of merry go round or idling driving is over for many motorists as any rational car owner now uses one trip to consummate several appointments. Now when the economics of taking the car out does not make much sense, a smart car owner goes for the bus especially BRT to incur less transportation bill.

As the cost of living skyrockets, the living standard has also plummeted as indicated in the rise of commodities and services across the country including those that do not need any transportation to their destinations. The situation in homes is not any different. Many now strictly regulate the hours of operation of their generators. It does not matter if they are receiving high profile visitors except such visitors are coming with their own fuel for their hosts’ generator for the duration of their stay! It has gotten this bad.

Infact, many people do not operate their generators every night these days and on a visit to any neighbourhood, even the premium ones, it is easy to tell when there is power outage. Neighbourhoods pitched in partial darkness at night have become a familiar picture in Lagos as in other parts of the country.

Having lost out to the almighty Federal Government in the power tussle over the price of fuel, many Nigerians have decided to regulate their rate of consumption of the liquid gold as best as they can. On this score, they know that no government has the power to control them. This is the only way they can survive knowing that their income remains fixated like the Iroko tree. Already, pure water has gone up to N10 per sachet and landlords are waiting on the wings to increase rents, it is really a vicious cycle that does no one any good.

The big companies are also expected to express their own reactions in many different ways in the days ahead though most of them power their machines with diesel generators. Afterall, they also keep fleet of vehicles that run on petrol fuel. Some would have to restructure, perhaps sack some staff to stay afloat and thus make an already bad situation worse. Soon they will pass the burden of increased cost to consumers through the prices of their products and services.

Even if the government and the energy cabal of the day decide to conspire with NEPA to deny Nigerians power for greater length of time, the people just won’t budge. At the end of the day, there would be no surprise if the aggregate expenditure of Nigerians on fuel for a given period is not more than what was expended for a similar period before the price hike not withstanding. That is when the folly of the increase would truly sink in that while you can force the horse to the river, you cannot force the horse to drink water.

The empty filling stations should be a picture that is sending out a clear message to the government on how not to impoverish its citizens but rather to empower them economically. The 49.23 percent pump price hike in essence brings about 50 percent depreciation of the life value of the average Nigerian, it is the rate at which the Nigerian has been further impoverished as a result of the obnoxious policy. In days ahead, Nigerians are eager to see how the Christopher Kolade led Committee would manage the gains from the fuel subsidy removal to better their lot if wishes could become horses.

It is hoped that the government would “steal in on the moment” to effect the needed changes in the system and make the Nigerians proud of their government. This is the only way the anger of most Nigerians can be assuaged. These are the same people who felt let down on many promises by past and present governments and decided to vent their grievances through the strike protest that seized the country for several days.

Equally hoped for is a conscious and determined effort by the Jonathan administration to drastically reduce and bring to realistic level the cost of government to let Nigerians know that they are also making sacrifices and not just the earlier gesture akin to giving out only the ears of an elephant when they have the full body for the kill.
Many also hope that the president would begin to deal with corruption and insecurity decisively.

Ojenagbon writes from Lagos

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