Wednesday, October 13, 2004

The Strike #2

The general strike continues and deepens. Very soon there will be little fuel left in the country. The problems Nigeria faces are simple but profound. An oil-rich nation with not a single operating refinery (there are four). This means that crude is exported out of the country (no one knows how much), leaving so-called ‘downstream marketers’ to bring it back in as petrol. This scam is making a tiny number of people fabulously wealthy and leaving the vast majority of the population in penury (80% earn less than US$1 per day).

The immediate problem is that the government cannot realistically drop the fuel price – which is what the National Labour Congress is demanding. With global oil prices well above US$50 per barrel, the prices can only go up. For positive change in the country, this needs to be explained to the people. The reason why it isn’t is because that would immediately put extreme pressure on fixing the refineries. The powerful vested interests don’t want that happening. So nothing in that direction appears in the press. The NLC is partly to blame for not asking the right questions. The Federal Government is also to blame for not tackling the vested interests.

When I tell Nigerians that petrol is still very cheap here (its over three times more expensive in the UK) they are shocked. The reason why: Nigerians have grown massively over-used to the black liquid ‘national cake’. Most Nigerians see no reason why they should pay any tax (and with lunar looking roads, no water, irregular electricity etc. etc. why should they?). The problems are seemingly intractable – unless the refineries can be fixed.


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