Leave matter for Matthias
By Reuben Abati
'I saw something yesterday. I thought it was a joke.'
'Nigerians and their sense of humour; we always manage to squeeze laughter out of every situation, no matter how sad.'
'I don't like the suspense. What is it?'
'I attended a wedding engagement ceremony.'
'When the groom's family was presenting gifts to the bride's family, do you know what they did?'
'I am with you'
'They suddenly brought out two 50-litre jerry cans of fuel, which they presented to the bride's father, with a declaration that they don't want their in-law to go through any stress during this season of fuel scarcity'
'We all burst into laughter. Even the bride's father was almost sprawling on the floor with laughter. He quickly gave his daughter's hand in marriage.'
'It turned out that the bridegroom's father owns a petrol station. Talk of using what you have to get what you want.'
'Free fuel for life. No more fuel scarcity in that family. The bride chose well. In this type of country, you have to marry wisely.'
'Don't be ridiculous. Must people choose husbands because of fuel, something that should be taken for granted?
'Dey there. This fuel crisis is so serious at least two universities have had to shut down and send the students home.'
'I read the statement by the University of Lagos authorities. The university had to be closed due to the collapse of municipal services. No fuel. No light, and the students had become riotous.'
'That must be the first time in the entire world that a university would have to close down because there is no fuel in the country. Terrible indictment.'
'Well, that's Nigeria for you. But I expect the students to show understanding. It is not the fault of the university authorities.'
'Hardship is difficult to understand. Many of the students had to trek from the campus to their various homes.'
'They should not complain, please. It is called Trekking for Sai Baba. After the election last year, didn't many of them trek for Sai Baba? They certainly didn't know that was just a technical rehearsal and that serious trekking will soon come. Anybody wey no get fuel, make e trek.'
'I hear some people are even planning Occupy Nigeria protests.'
'Because of fuel scarcity?'
'Because a litre of fuel is now about N350 per litre.'
'They better don't get themselves shot. Hen hen. If they think it is that kind of Occupy Nigeria that they tried with GEJ, let them go and try their luck this time around. You better tell that your stubborn brother not to go to Ojota to occupy anything oh, I don't want to write a condolence message. What we need is not protests. That won't bring fuel. What we need is a different kind of citizen action.'
'The truth is that some people are sabotaging Nigerians. Independent marketers are hoarding fuel deliberately, so they can sell at a premium. And many of them are sadists. Even when they have fuel, have you not noticed that they usually sell from one pump? What stops them from selling from three or four pumps at the same time? But apparently, seeing a long queue, and people in agony makes some of them happy.'
'I even understand that some fuel station managers tell the pump attendants that they must deliver N50, 000 to them daily. That's why when you buy fuel in many of these stations, the attendant tells you upfront that you will have to drop something.'
'And at the end, you don't even get what you buy in full measure, because the meters have been tampered with.'
'Nigerians are their own problem. We like to inconvenience one another and yet we blame government all the time.'
'The people are the government. The ones in public office punish the people; those outside inflict pain on each other. We are all guilty as members of a large community of sadists.'
'So, have you started your fuel business? The NNPC Mega Station of jerry cans of fuel that you talked about.'
'I am still on it'
'You plan to start when fuel scarcity ends?'
'You think this thing will ever end? Look, do you know that it is actually a good business. I went to visit a friend the other day, and I told him I didn't have fuel. He just made a phone call. Before I knew it, somebody brought fuel in two big jerry cans.'
'Yes. People are now doing home delivery of fuel as if they are delivering Pizza. N500 per litre. Some people collude with fuel station managers. They store fuel in jerry cans and they do home delivery if you are willing to pay. I saw it with my two eyes.'
'By the time this fuel scarcity is over, some people will become billionaires. In my own case, when I was looking for fuel, my driver took me to a house where the gateman spoke to the landlord and they brought out fuel. It was as if I was in another world. A small-scale business has developed around this fuel scarcity crisis, and while you and I are wailing, some people are hailing the change that has come.'
'All the people profiting from the people's agony should be reported, arrested and publicly shamed as saboteurs.'
'That doesn't require citizen action.'
'But the people must report sharp practices at fuel stations, and the illegal conversion of private homes to fuel dumps!'
'Who should they report to?'
'The Police. The Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR).'
'To do what?'
'To check meters at fuel stations, to arrest marketers who are punishing the people and making government look bad. There is a Weights and Measures law in this country for Heaven's sake.'
'Police. DPR. You will just create another layer of fraud. You'd be surprised the officials that should enforce the law, will be bribed with fuel and cash.'
'Then such officials should also be reported.'
'I beg. Leave that matter for Matthias. The last time I slept at a fuel station, I saw uniformed men asking for officer's price.'
'Officer's price, how?'
'Exactly what it says. Three guys came to the station. They flashed their identity cards or well, what looked like identity cards, and they said Oga sent them to buy fuel, and they wanted officer's price.'
'Meaning they would not pay up to N200 or N350 per litre.'
'And the manager agreed?'
'Would he not agree? We were all there gawking as the officers loaded about twelve jerry cans into their vehicle and left the rest of us there.'
'And nobody protested?'
'Protest? Have you not heard about people who have been killed at fuel stations by officers?'
'The martyrs of fuel scarcity! I hope NNPC will remember to send condolence messages to the affected families.'
'Na NNPC kill them?'
'No be NNPC kill them?'
'Na NNPC pull the trigger? Small time now, you'd say NNPC also killed the man and his two children who stored fuel in their room and got engulfed in a fire accident.'
'No be NNPC kill them?'
'But what happened to the promised April 7?'
'Did I not tell you nothing will happen on April 7, and that it was wrong to put a date to the end of fuel scarcity.'
'Next month, then.'
'Or the month after.'
'Don't be pessimistic.'
'Okay, until the right steps are taken.'
'Like succumbing to the blackmail of fuel importers?'
'No. Like throwing anybody who tries to sabotage Nigeria behind bars, be they pipeline vandals or greedy fuel importers looking for free cash, waivers and patronage.'
'I hear you. But for government to work, you must still allow some people small space to enjoy government.'
'Sorry. Nation-building is not about enjoying government. It is about service.'
'I hear you.'
'That's why government officials have now been told that they cannot travel First Class.'
'I am not really sure anybody travels First Class in government.'
'Are you sure?'
'I think the highest level is business class.'
'Well, whatever. But really, the rule should be that every government official must travel Economy, if the ticket has to be paid for by government. Economy. And if you want to travel Upper Deck class, you pay from your pocket.'
'That will amount to punishment. Even poor me, I don't like economy. People yawn, snore, and open their mouths in your face, they talk too much, and some people in economy class are so crude, they actually fart and pollute the air.'
'But the plane will get to the same destination and everybody will come down and go their way.'
'We are talking comfort here.'
'If it is your money, no problem. But even when it is your money, I am always angry when I see people putting their children, babies that are under 10, in Business Class and First Class. Nigerians like to waste money. Some of those children will grow up and may never in their lives be able to travel so richly, so what happens to them?'
'You don't have to curse other people's children. One of the rules of capitalism is the freedom to make your money and spend it as you wish.'
'Some government officials spend government money to take their wives and children abroad and they put them in Business Class.'
'Such people should be sanctioned. But you know, everything failed long ago in the public sector.'
'I know. We all know.'
'And to save Nigeria is not an easy task.'
'I know. I know. But that does not mean some people should sleep on the job.'
'Like who and who?'
'All I know is that some Ministers are not just asleep, some of them are even snoring.'
'There is no budget yet'
'And that calls for snoring?'
'Okay, name up to ten Ministers in Abuja.'
'Why should I know their names? Do they know me?'
'When you are given a job, you do it. You have to be seen to be doing the job. Going to Abuja to sleep and snore on the job? That is not service. That is disloyalty.'
'I have an idea. For a Minister to function, he or she needs to be empowered. Empowerment. Very important.'
'I beg. Leave matter for Matthias.'
'I think you just picked up that slang. Everything Matthias. That was how one Matthias spoke roughly at a fuel station and he earned a swollen face for his effrontery. You better watch your mouth.'
'Leave matter for Matthias. Let's discuss something else.'