Peeping out of my window on Christmas Eve, the nation’s capital city of Abuja comes across as a deserted village, the morning after a fierce battle: Near empty, serene, calm and timid.
The hustle and bustle; the seemingly endless seminars and conferences; wailing sirens of the movers and shakers of the society, all recede to the back burner, as the city dwellers and fortune seekers take a momentary break in the spirit of the season and times.
They have all emptied into the neighbouring and adjoining northern states, and many to Lagos, the South West, the South East and South South, among others.
To celebrate or unite with their kith and kin? But how many people are truly celebrating in Nigeria today? Where are the jollifications happening? Where is the money to survive or make merry?
This is truly one Christmas with a difference in Abuja, and the nation: A cashless and cash-strapped Christmas, made more agonising by the fuel hell Nigerians have had to endure in the week leading to Christmas.
So, how do you tell your family, friend or neighbour, “a merry Christmas,” without sounding mischievous, mean or hypocritical, when you know he is neither happy nor looking forward to a merry time?
What do you tell a man who has spent three to four days at the fuel station without getting a drop of the precious liquid to buy? And when he manages to find, it’s triple the normal price? While at the black market, it’s simply cutthroat!
But all around you see ubiquitous fuel hawkers with jerrycans, running after vehicles and demanding outrageous prices for their wares. The big questions: Where are they getting their supplies from? Who are the crooks in government and outside frustrating the distribution of petroleum products and causing the people unimaginable pains?
And the more puzzling poser: How come the government of the day is seemingly helpless in checkmating the fuel mafia holding the nation and its people by the jugular?
How come a government that promised to break from the past and its cycle of tardiness in handling the supply and distribution of petroleum products has sunk even far deeper in tackling this shame of a nation?
These are issues that should seriously worry President Muhammadu Buhari, who also happens to be petroleum minister, and the leadership of the oil behemoth, the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC).
It’s cheery to hear that the President has summoned Mr. Maikanti Baru, who heads the NNPC, with a view to arresting the situation. But did it have to turn this ugly before the government acted? Did the citizens have to go through the hell of ‘petrogony’ before government rolls its sleeves?
However, even as I write, the situation hasn’t changed: Citizens are still keeping vigil at fuel stations; fuel queues lengthen. ‘No fuel’ signs are still boldly inscribed on billboards at fuel stations.
On Saturday, I ran into a chieftain of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) on the Lagos/Abuja flight. And for the roughly one hour flight, we had a serious conversation on the state of the nation. We talked about the excruciating hunger and fuel crisis, among other issues.
He agreed with me that the government had no excuse whatsoever on the current fuel scarcity Nigerians are experiencing.
“Those who manage our petroleum products should have anticipated that, at this time of the year (Christmas and New Year), marketers and suppliers play all kinds of games and manipulate the processes to ensure artificial scarcity. How come no one anticipated this, with a view to forestalling it?
“I admit, the government hasn’t done well in this regard. I admit we failed to be proactive. But I am told the President is doing something.”
I told him this could work against the government as 2019 polls draw closer. The patience of the people, especially the downtrodden, is being stretched to its limit. What would they tell the people about managing fuel crisis in future elections? How has it proven different from the government it took over from?
Of course, he vehemently disagreed. He said the government would certainly rise to the demands of present and future challenges. We hope so. For its sake and the sake of all those who have invested emotionally in this government; those who believe it can’t go wrong. Never go wrong!
Nigerians are hungry and angry. Poverty struts the land like a colossus, Lord of the Manor.
What use is saving trillions when the people are famished and ravaged by pangs of hunger?
The APC henchman agrees with me: “You are right. There is hunger everywhere.”
It’s the season of merriment, but melancholy sweeps across the land like an ugly fever. You see it on the faces of people that confront you on the streets; anonymous persons and total strangers that send you text messages pleading for cash, any amount, to buy a morsel of bread for their families. Many don’t know from where cometh the next meal. This is not about the cause of the hardship in the land, but finding lasting solutions to the crisis of survival in Africa’s most populous nation. Buhari has the urgent task to bring relief and smiles to the people. Isn’t that what he promised?
It’s Christmas. But there are no airs of festivities as far as I can see. Nothing extraordinary that tells it’s Christmas a few hours thence. Yes, many don’t know it’s Christmas.