An Open Letter To Baba Buhari, By Kazeem Akintunde
Good day, Baba,
I have decided to write an open letter to you, believing that one of your numerous aides will bring it to your attention. Had I written directly to you, I may not be allowed near the presidential villa to personally deliver it nor would sending it by courier be wise, as it may end up on the desk of your Chief of Staff or any of your numerous assistants. The alternative would have been for me to give the letter directly to either Alhaji Lai Mohammed, your Information and Culture Minister, or any of the duo of Femi Adesina or Malam Garba Shehu. Again, I am not sure that they will deliver the letter to you, with the possibility of Alhaji Mohammed warning me not to become another letter writer as the ripples of the last letter written by former President Olusegun Obasanjo are yet to die down.
Baba, I don’t need to ask about your health because in the last one week, you have been to Lagos to commission several projects, dashed down to Dakar, Senegal for a conference on Agriculture, and you ended the week in Katsina, to commission another round of projects. Only a fit man would have such energy at 80 years of age. We thank Allah for His Mercies on you, and us.
Sir, with a few weeks left before your eight-year tenure ends in May, I want to raise some issues with you, particularly the current fuel scarcity that is about to undo all the good things you have achieved since you became President. Do you know that Nigerians are now paying as high as N500 for a litre of fuel in some parts of the country? Are you aware, Baba, that many of your compatriots now sleep at filling stations in a bid to get fuel at the official price of N170, or is it N185 per litre? Despite your good intention not to remove subsidy on fuel and tactically shying away from taking that all-important step, are you aware that many filling stations are not without the commodity or are not willing to sell it to the masses at the official price?
It is sad that in spite of your efforts to fund the sector through subsidy at the detriment of other compelling needs, your good intention has been rubbished by marketers and some of your men in government who have seen through you that you are tired of the office and that you are just patiently waiting to hand over to another person so that you can retire to your home town of Katsina to enjoy your retirement with your cows.
Sir, it beats me hollow that after you have allocated N3.6 trillion in this year’s budget for fuel subsidy payments, Nigerians are still going through hell to get the commodity at an exorbitant price. Why not stop the daylight robbery of our commonwealth now and save the funds for the incoming government or use it in other critical sectors like health and education? The whole messy situation in the oil sector has now given room to several conspiracy theories.
One was propounded by the candidate of your party in next month’s general election, Bola Tinubu, who said in Abeokuta, Ogun State, recently, that the fuel scarcity, as well as the hoarding of the new naira notes, were orchestrated by fifth columnists who are bent on stopping his emergence as the next president of the country.
I am compelled to agree with him as I cannot imagine that a ruling party will allow scarcity of petroleum products to linger for several months the way it has in an election year. What could have been responsible for the current fuel crisis? Is it that NNPC Limited is no longer importing fuel or that we can no longer get the commodity in the international market? Is NNPC telling us indirectly that it can no longer sustain the importation of fuel despite the huge revenue at its disposal? What happens to funds generated from crude oil sales but which they have stopped remitting to the federal account on the pretext that they are using the generated funds to import refined fuel back into the country? Why is NNPC Limited selling the commodity to middlemen instead of directly selling it to fuel marketers?
Another theory in town again, Baba, is that due to the fact that the Dangote refinery will soon begin the sales of refined petroleum products in Nigeria and that we may no longer need to import the commodity, the current scarcity was deliberately created so that when the businessman began selling the product, it would be at a price that he would be able to make profits on his investment as quickly as possible. As we are already buying a litre at close to N500, won’t we be thankful to him when he decides to sell to us at N300 per litre?
Baba, there are so many things wrong with the operation of the downstream sector of the oil industry in Nigeria, and I’m sorry to say that I will put the blame squarely on your doorstep. When you were canvassing for votes from Nigerians in the build-up to the 2015 general elections, you told us that you were instrumental to building the four refineries that we have in the country as Military Head of State in the ‘80s and that you intended to build more. You campaigned and told us that you intended to revive the now comatose refineries and build more, including modular refineries. I do not know why you reneged on your promise, but it is a shame to all our leaders, both dead and alive, that we still cannot refine the crude oil that God gave us in such humongous volume in Nigeria and rather depend on the importation of the same commodity at spine-breaking cost to the economy of the country.
Sir, I still don’t understand how you are able to sleep soundly at night with many of your compatriots sleeping at filling stations queuing up to buy fuel. If it is a conspiracy as alleged by Tinubu, I wish those involved good luck, but my main concern is that you are still going to release N3.6 trillion for subsidy payments when Nigerians are not going to benefit from it. This appears to be nothing but organized racketeering by the big boys in the oil industry and senior government officials. The money will end up in private pockets which they will use to buy properties in Dubai and London, and acquire private jets, with millions of Nigerians at the receiving end. To say that many can no longer feed well, daily, is putting it mildly.
Baba, I plead with you in the name of all that you believe in, to stop the subsidy payments now. Heaven will not fall. Nigerians are already paying for the inefficiency in the oil sector. The organized Labour will come out for protests and go on strike, but Nigerians will adjust and move on. Allow the marketers to import fuel directly, but give them a timeline to establish their own refinery in the country. With Dangote refinery on stream, the force of demand and supply will bring down the price of fuel and the commodity will be available for all.
I laughed when it was announced that you have approved the setting up of a 14-member committee to find a lasting solution to the ongoing crisis. What amused me is the fact that you are to head the committee. Baba, have you forgotten that you are also the Minister of Petroleum? Why you like that portfolio so much is what I still don’t understand. What could be more tasking and fulfilling than being the President and Commander-in-chief? Why do you saddle yourself with an additional portfolio in such a challenging sector in the last eight years beats my imagination! So, has the committee been inaugurated? To whom will they be reporting? Do you have eight to 10 hours of your day to devote to just the fuel scarcity issue alone?
As you rightly alluded to in Washington, USA, recently, while welcoming the Secretary-General of the Abu Dhabi Forum, Sheikh Al-Mahfoudh Bin Bayyah, and his deputy, Pastor Bob Roberts of the US, who came on a visit, that you have done your best for Nigeria. You repeated the same statement while in Katsina last week. Posterity will judge whether your best was good enough for the country.
You gave a hint of the nature your administration would take few months after you were sworn-in in 2015, when you rightly noted that you wished to have been President at a much younger age. Though you spoke in Johannesburg, South Africa, while meeting with the Nigerian community there, you promised to do all within your power to turn the fortunes of the country around for the better. Now, the full import of your statement at that meeting is manifesting. You came in at the age of 72 and you are leaving us eight years later. You are already too old for the office. Nigeria is a huge country with numerous problems. It requires a first-class brain with youthful energy and patriotic zeal by whosoever wishes to lead us.
Now is the time for Nigerians to start looking for younger elements among us for the task ahead. Nigeria is slipping and we need to rescue this ship as soon as possible. Many of our youths have lost hope in the country and are all looking for an escape route to a better life outside the shores of Nigeria. But again, we seem not to have learned any lesson as the two leading presidential candidates in next month’s election are both in their 70s. We should not turn our presidential villa into a retirement home. The work to be done is enormous and not for the faint-hearted.
I appreciate your frankness, sense of humour, and patriotic spirit. I know that you are tired and I wish you the best as you head back to Daura, Katsina State to enjoy your deserved rest.
Thank you, sir.