Saturday, November 13, 2010

Fuel For Thought.

I had cause to be about as early as four am this morning. It is interesting what  a person can see at that time.

Before I continue,let me put it on record, that I am not writing from Lagos where people do not sleep. 

I am aware that lives there are governed by the following seasons;traffic jams,early morning commutes to work,power outages,and a good dose of pot holes.

In contending with all these factors,as I did for one year, I discovered that  people do not even have time to pause, smell the flowers ,or see the wonderful sunset. My condolences!

I was coming from Nasarrawa state,and I was on my way home to Abuja. My family was with me in the car.

I saw a woman somewhere along the Abuja Keffi expressway,at a place curiously named One Man Village. Do not ask me why it is so named,all I can say is that I saw more than a man there,and I am also aware that there are women,and children living there too!

You know I am a photographer,and I am primed to see patterns,and shades of colour. 

It was the way her six yellow plastic jerry cans were arranged,that caught my attention;they had been carefully place before her in such a way that no one could pinch any of them without her knowing.

I wondered aloud what she was going to buy this early in the morning, I first assumed it was palm oil,but my wife disagreed,she was half asleep at this time,at the same time,we both exclaimed "kerosene!

Kerosene is more valuable than petrol,it costs more than diesel,and petrol on the black market!

A sixty centilitre bottle of kerosene costs two hundred naira! That is about one dollar thirty three cents. It does not sound like a lot until you hold it up against the light of the current national minimum wage,forty dollars!

Incredulous still,is the fact that a family requires about  two bottles every three days!

Unless the family owns a petrol station,it would need to engage in some alternative form of work to generate additional income. Sometimes,corruption is the easiest job available. It lubricates the wheels of family survival, and ensures that Nigerians would live,and dodge the bullet of hunger for one more day!

The woman was on her way to a petrol station,she was in a race with thousands of other women. Her going early would determine whether she would get kerosene to buy,and later resell,or not. 

Petrol station attendants were in the
habit of creating artificial scarcity at those times when the product was available.They did this to create the necessary environment for collecting bribes from the women. And sometimes,buyers could spend the whole day,and still not succeed in getting any!

In addition,kerosene is never imported in sufficient quantity to ensure availability;it is so because only the poor depend on it.

Nigeria constantly stumbles from one  scarcity to the other,it is a never ending story,with Machiavallian twists,and turns to match.

This is a country that prides itself as being one of the first seven producers of crude oil in the world.

While we produce crude oil,the evil cartels that rule our oil industry,have ensured that our people have been denied the benefits of cheap products.

So they export our crude,some of them to refineries that they own abroad,and re-import finished products at a higher cost. The people pay for the inefficiencies,and corruption in the system

Every misfortune in this country,is an opportunity for wicked people to make some more money. They fleece the poor to feather their own nests,and their nests are huge,ideal for the vultures that they are!

I  have lived in Northern Nigeria for over a decade and half now,and one problem that is preponderant,is that fuel for preparing food,is not cheap,neither is it available.

I have traveled with civil servants on official trips,and seen how they assiduously pursued firewood at every stop we made,looking for a bargain.

Each time I saw this,I was forced to wonder how the poorest of the poor were surviving.

The same scene is played out in all the thirty six states,and the Federal Capital Territory. 

Each time you see a truck laden with firewood,do not assume that it is for some party,it is actually a supplier on his regular route.

While we fulminate,and foam in the mouth on our quest to become one of the twenty most developed economies by the year twenty twenty,we have not been able to solve a basic need,fuel for our people to cook! 

This tragedy is put in stark relief by the fact that we flare trillions of cubic litres of natural gas annually.

I have asked a very stupid question in the past,is it possible to pipe this gas to our rural areas,so that the poor could,at least,use it to cook? The answer has eluded me. 

While we pauperize our people by creating artificial scarcity of kerosene,and encourage the destruction our forests as a consequence:we may need to rethink what exactly it means to be a Nigerian,and what the obligations of the state are to us. 

All we seem to be hearing,are our duties,and obligations to the state;the last time I looked,this was still a two way street.

As we begin to demand,and enforce,the actualization of the obligations of the state to us,as citizens,


Boys with twigs for firewood. Our primeval forests have
all but been destroyed through firewood extraction.

(If you are reading this on Facebook,you can also read more at my blog, and make your views known,I would really love to hear from you)

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