By Lukmon Oloyede.
Before the Nigerian Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG) and the Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (PENGASSAN) announced the suspension their strike action on Tuesday, the Nigerian economy was on the verge of total shutdown. For five days, fuel scarcity virtually grounded Africa’s largest oil producer. There were obvious challenges in settling the dispute between importers and government over unpaid subsidy bills of nearly $1 billion.
Like Frankenstein monsters, fuel importers who were licensed to make the product available believed the best way to induce government response was to arm-twist everyone. It seems the scarcity of petroleum products also affected the availability of public power. Stretched beyond the limits, and almost lacking capacity even to power their private generators, manufacturers, businesses houses and service centres resorted to various innovations and novelties to stay afloat.
Almost all sectors were affected. From telecommunications, hotels to banking, transportation, education and aviation came to a virtual standstill.
Last weekend, the three major network operators – MTN, Airtel and Etisalat sent out messages on the likelihood of scaling down their services due to power challenges. The trio released different statements via emails, SMS, and social media to inform their subscribers, explaining the reasons behind their planned actions. Investigations reveal that two giant generating sets serve each telecoms tower of the telecoms company. With thousands of such towers scattered across the country, the impact of this week’s fuel scarcity on telecommunications companies can best be imagined.
Several radio stations also announced they will be totally off-air as the effect of the scarcity of petrol and diesel hit harder, while some curtailed their hours of operations. Beat FM 99.9 FM, Classic FM 97.3, Naija FM 102.7 and City FM 105.1 among others made such decision known via their Twitter handles.
Naija FM announced a temporary closure. The station tweeted in the popular pidgin English to fans: “Naijafm 102.7 we radio, our radio, go shutdown by 8pm due to scarcity of Fuel/Diesel. Please una bear with us…”
In the banking sector, Guaranty Trust Bank announced last Monday that it would be closing each day at launch hour. It apologized for the inconvenience in a tweet, following it was message with a video animation that explains how to drive and save fuel. However, with the slow but gradual return to normalcy, midweek, the bank declared it will resume normal banking hours.
Also, Access Bank, Skye Bank, AIICO Insurance and many other financial institutions communicated similar messages via email and SMS to its customers on early closure in Lagos, Abuja, and Kaduna.
The transport and aviation sectors were not spared in the crisis. Thousands of passengers were stranded at various airports and bus stops. Fewer vehicles plied major reads as thousands of cars are queued hopelessly at various filing stations across the country, especially in Lagos state.
Most planes were grounded due to lack of aviation fuel and people waited hopelessly at the airport. Two of the biggest local operators, Arik Air and Aero Contractors, cancelled virtually all local flights. There was a lot of international “boycott” – Virgin Atlantic could not fly from Lagos to London. Air France decided to drop her passengers at Dakar instead of Lagos.
Even public transport services such as LAGBUS, powered by the Lagos state government, stopped operations for some days.
Schools in Nigeria were affected by the situation as well. Several schools stepped into the week with notification to parents of their inability to pick or drop pupils with school buses. While schools like Corona International had to declare an emergency “|mid-term break”.
The CEO of Amazoil Group, Sir Og Amazu in a chat with CNN last Tuesday, describe the subsidy issue as “rat poising that has continued to kill the Nigerian economy”. He stressed that lack of trust of the government led to the skepticism of the oil marketers and transporters and underlined need to manage the situation better in future to prevent such episode.
Stakeholders in Brand Nigeria who spoke with The Guardian on the importunate issue suggested there is an urgent need for the government to improve the number local refineries, remove subsidy and fight corruption.
Lead Strategist and CEO of Absolute PR, Mr. Akonte Ekine said “I am in Nigeria and I am affected by the situation. Communication is very key to the issue. The truth is that our country leaders are not selling the issues properly to us so most of us don’t even understand the situation. We would rather blame individuals”.
Mr. Adedeji Ayopo, a Public Relations practitioner and Brand Columnist, suggested that the lasting solution to the unrelenting petroleum issue is for the new government to build our refineries and fight corruption by ensuring that all the loopholes in the sector are blocked.
According to him, it is shame and a serious dent on the nation’s image as Africa’s largest oil producer to be importing fuel. “It is a shame that we still import fuel as Africa’s largest oil producer and biggest economy. Unless corruption is rooted out and refineries built, this problem will persist”.
“Corruption has bedeviled the development of this great country. Our reputation is at stake as a nation and as PR professionals, we can’t sell a bad product until there are corrections. Expectations are high that President Muhammadu Buhari will be able to achieve these two major obstacles for us to be on the right track of development. This will also shape the image of Nigeria globally”.
A marketing analyst, Mrs. Susan Olaiya, also suggested that the subsidy issue has been a major predicament in recent times. She said the new government needs to look into it critically. “Although President Buhari is a one-time Minister of Energy and former Chairman of Petroleum Trust Fund (PTF) and he had vowed to fight corruption but he should not underestimate the sleaze that would emanate from the sector”, she said.
By Lukmon Oloyede.