The fuel crisis in Nigeria proves the truism that no government ever voluntarily pursues the public good without some form of struggle by the governed. It ought not to be so.
The Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria, FRCN, announced on its 7:00am network news of 14 February 2012, perhaps, as a Valentine gift to the people of Rivers State, that the nearly four days of painful experience of staying without fuel for transportation and power generating sets in homes and businesses, now waiting for full deregulation of the power sector before seeing electricity, is the result of conflict between Eleme youths and petroleum tanker drivers. The intensity of the scarcity and the attendant pain to road users and households clearly speak volumes about the existing huge vacuum in governance, with regards to responsiveness of government to the plight of poor Nigerians, who often are the victims of the greed and evil of fossil fuel politics and conflict. It speaks volumes about how few decision makers can influence self-serving decisions that bring pain to the generality of Nigerians without themselves considering the outcome on their sisters, brothers, fathers and mothers and so on. It portrays a country without adequate enforcement of relevant laws and rules for the good of citizens. It further exposes how enslaved Nigerians are to hydrocarbon, when alternative renewable energy sources such as solar and wind can be explored, at least to take care of household energy needs of cooking, electricity and so on.
As I drove out this morning to drop my kids in school with barely four litres of fuel which I bought yesterday at N2, 200, the sight of people standing and waiting at bus stops for commercial vehicles endlessly to take them to work, market, school or so, reminded me of what I heard one of my lecturers say during my undergraduate days at university as a young political science student. ‘In the history of governance world-wide, no government has ever voluntarily pursued the public good without some form of struggle by the governed.’ On a daily basis, this seems to be playing out globally with governments as those in positions of authority have a tendency to neglect the people and their pain until they cry out. It ought not to be so.
The story goes that Eleme youths have issues with the tanker drivers. Conflict is part of human life, which requires ingenuity and wisdom to tackle. The general good should be uppermost in the minds of those in such conflicts, knowing that conflicts are capable of resulting in massive losses for the economy and Nigerians. Even more important is the question of what relevant governmental authorities do when such conflicts escalate to the point of not only threatening the peace of the nation but also become an instrument of politicking in the hands of those involved in dangerous fuel or petroleum distribution politics.
Already, the crisis has hit nearly all the states in the Niger Delta, South-South of Nigeria, where claims by the government of massive development of gas gathering projects are being utilised for provision of electricity. Ironically, many homes have remained basically without electricity, which would have lessened the effect of the current scarcity by heating water and cooking with it. Life for the average citizen in this part of the country in the last four days has been unbearable. The cost of local transportation has gone up very high beyond what even the N18,000 minimum wage offered workers in Nigeria can afford. Already, Nigerian Bureau of Statistics announced on radio today as having declared current poverty rates in Nigeria to be at 69 percent. This is likely to increase by the end of 2012.
Imagine life without energy. But what type of energy? Oil, coal, natural gas are principal hydrocarbons with demonic qualities. They are responsible for the current global climate change and attendant problems; corruption in governance and malgovernance of many oil exporting countries; are responsible for the delay in renewable energy policies that privilege alternative sources of power from solar and wind, especially at the micro levels of households of the poor. Minor issues of cooking and heating of water can comfortably be handled with such alternative energy. Even the so-called natural gas, which the Nigerian government is developing, is another promoter of greenhouse gas emissions. Of course, all natural gas is incidental to oil and cannot be free from flares that pollute the earth. The stories, therefore, about reduction in flares from gas gathering projects may be true only to an extent. Worse, hydrocarbons are not renewable and are depleting, even if it takes an unpredictable number of years to happen.
Following the current federal government’s reforms in the power sector, states are now to generate electricity, which the private sector can distribute. This provides ample opportunity for states like Rivers State to start using their resources to develop infrastructure for alternative energy from solar and wind. Nigeria boasts of massive availability of sun and wind yet to be explored and exploited for the benefit of the good people of the state, especially in rural areas. It may be expensive but remains the best option to start moving away from fossil fuel addiction. The government can provide the ground for the private sector to get involved by initiating investments in manufacture of solar panels and other resources for engaging with those with facilities for exploring these energy sources. With many households depending on solar energy for cooking and heating of water, at least, pressure for fossil and wood fuel as well as the unruly behaviour of some actors in the petroleum sector would have been reduced.
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* Fidelis Allen,PhD, is based at the Centre for Civil Society, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Howard College Campus.
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