Opinion: Made in Nigeria, Only for Nigerians – By Simon Kolawole
After celebrating “Made in Nigeria, Enjoyed Worldwide” in my previous article, I was immediately confronted with the other side of our beloved country as we slipped into the “Only in Nigeria” mode again. It emerged that motorists had unknowingly been buying off-spec petrol. Their car engines were getting damaged. Apparently, the authorities tried to downplay things despite complaints. But the Nigerian Midstream and Downstream Petroleum Regulatory Authority (NMDPRA) finally admitted on Tuesday that petrol with methanol quantities above specification was discovered in the supply chain. This, sadly, reminds me of my series on our disgraceful peculiarities in Nigeria.
To be sure, there is nothing wrong with methanol being blended with what we call premium motor spirit (PMS) in Nigeria but which some countries call gasoline and or simply petrol. Blending is part of the innovative steps to deal with the negative effects of fossil fuels on the environment. Methanol, according to the experts, is a clean burning, high octane blending component. It is made from non-petroleum energy sources such as natural gas, coal and biomass. Because it burns slower, it is also supposed to last longer and reduce fuelling costs. Methanol was introduced commercially in the 1980s to help slow down the volume of petrol consumption and reduce demand for crude oil.
There are two challenges I can see immediately. One, how much methanol should be in the petrol blend? Two, how many engines in Nigeria are “configured” to be able to consume the methanol blend? From what we have read so far, the methanol content of the imported petrol is above acceptable levels. But even if it is within limit, is it safe for all the car engines in Nigeria? Ethanol, I have to quickly add, is also a form of renewable fuel. It is made from plant materials. Like methanol, it burns slowly and is clean, and is thus environment-friendly. But as with methanol, too, there is a limit to how much should be mixed with a litre of petrol before it becomes “bad fuel”, as we call it.
Now, this is why the latest development comes under the ambit of my “Made in Nigeria, Only for Nigerians” series, which I started in 2005 to highlight how we keep embarrassing ourselves before the rest of the world with amateurism and incompetence. For a start, it is a thing of monumental shame that for decades, we have been importing petroleum products without any exit date in view. It became a norm under military rule and we were told then that it was because family members of the rulers were the ones handling the import contracts. I remember when “foul fuel” flooded the market under Gen Sani Abacha, nobody was held accountable because, as we learnt, it was in-house.
Military exited and democracy entered. President Olusegun Obasanjo ruled Nigeria for eight years, from 1999 to 2007, and the refineries still did not work. We kept importing petroleum products despite all the money pumped into turn around maintenance. President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua was there, or thereabouts, for three years. He revoked the privatisation of two refineries and promised to make them work. They did not work. President Goodluck Jonathan called the shots for five years. The refineries still did not work as we kept importing products. President Muhammadu Buhari has now spent close to seven years and the refineries are still not working and we are still importing.
Nigeria is such a peculiar country that we have devised all kinds of schemes to whitewash the sepulchres. Initially, we were doing direct importation of products by awarding contracts to marketers and rent collectors. We paid them trillions of naira for imported products — both real and imagined. We went through the era of fuel subsidy scam as private jets started filling up our skies, owned mostly by brief case-carrying buccaneers who gave their occupation as “oil and gas”. Then we graduated to all kinds of terminologies: offshore processing arrangements, swap deals, and now direct sales, direct purchase (DSDP) — all contrived to package and deodorise our incompetence.
But this is what pains me to no end: for a country that is so import-dependent — relying heavily on foreign goods to meet strategic supplies whose disruption can result in a crippling crisis — it is incredible that we do not have the capacity to do certain things right. We imported and sold off-spec petrol simply because we do not have the capacity to test for methanol content. Addressing the media on Wednesday night, Mallam Mele Kyari, the GMD of the Nigerian National Petroleum Company (NNPC) Ltd, put it bluntly: “Our discharge ports in Nigeria do not include the tests for percent methanol content and therefore the additive was not detected by our quality inspectors.”
I need to get this right. NNPC partners with some companies to bring in petroleum products. NNPC pays them with the domestic crude allocation for our dead refineries. We know that outside Nigeria, there are different gasoline blends — methanol and ethanol. However, we only test for ethanol. We cannot and do not test for methanol. We have never tested for methanol. We, therefore, take the suppliers by their word and sell the product to Nigerians. Wonderful. This is Nigeria unedited. Now we want to probe. The noise is all over the place. But, pardon me, why — and how — would you hold people responsible for what you didn’t specify and didn’t test? I think we are generally joking.
And it is not just petrol. Fake and substandard drugs and electrical cables and several products enter our country without strict assessment. Nigerians are being harmed by fake drugs and houses are getting burnt by fake electrical cables. We move on. Is it not Nigeria, a country where anything goes? We do things that cannot pass the common-sense test, much less suggest that we take ourselves seriously. We behave like a group of people who do not have the capacity or capability to think much less apply simple solutions to simple problems. I wish I could understand why we do some of the things we do. Something tells you Nigeria can be better run than this. How did we get here?
Simple question: what would it take to put the requisite equipment and procedures in place to test imported fuels? Did we need consultants from the moon to advise us that we should test our petroleum products properly before we sell to the public? Is this thing as complicated as brain surgery, or rocket science, or even Sudoku? Our legendary amateurism and incompetence are what I call “Made in Nigeria, Only for Nigerians”. They stick out like a sore thumb. They belittle you as a Nigerian and make you feel like Nigeria is still in the Stone Age. You and I know that nothing will come out of this. Remind me, who was punished for the off-spec petrol imported in 2008?
We are full of plenty nonsense. On Wednesday, the Federal Executive Council (FEC) of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, presided over by the president, met and announced that it had granted citizenship to 286 foreign nationals. The highest ruling executive body in the land? I stand to be corrected but where else in the world does this happen? Citizenship is a routine process for civil servants to handle — at best under the purview of a director in the ministry of interior acting on behalf of the minister. But this is what a 21st century FEC considers as work. They are not satisfied with their low-level routine of announcing contract awards every Wednesday. Who did this to us?
Another product “Made in Nigeria, Only for Nigerians” — and not fit for export “to be enjoyed around the world” — is the educational requirement for political office holders as enshrined in the constitution. Nigeria has hundreds of universities, colleges of education and polytechnics. Students are expected to graduate with degrees and diplomas and do the national service for one year. Without the NYSC discharge certificate, it is illegal to be employed. But you know what? To become a governor or president, you don’t need more than secondary school education “or its equivalent”. It is easier to qualify to be elected president or governor than to qualify to be graduate trainee.
I have tried to understand the thinking behind this law. The assumption is that it was to accommodate the educationally disadvantaged parts. But I doubt if this can withstand scrutiny. From the 1960s, all parts of Nigeria have been producing highly educated people. As of 1979 when the provision was slotted into the constitution, there was no state in Nigeria that did not have graduates and even PhDs and professors. We perennially spend billions on constitution amendment (that is the “oil block” of the deputy senate president and deputy speaker) but we have avoided amending simple provisions that can add some quality to governance. We play too much in Nigeria.
I can go on and on, but enough said for today. Still, I cannot ignore the drama surrounding Mr Abba Kyari, the deputy commissioner of police who was indicted by the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in the case involving Ramon Abbas aka Hushpuppi, a self-confessed international fraudster. While still under suspension over the allegations, Kyari had the effrontery to be attending social events organised by his bosses and posting pictures, on social media, he took with a character under EFCC probe over suspicion of money laundering. Apparently, Kyari is well connected in the Nigerian system and was only showing us the middle finger and asking us to do our worst. Made in Nigeria.
We have perfected a way of embarrassing ourselves before the rest of the world. When you know the capacity that Nigeria has, when you see how many Nigerians are working hard day and night in their little corners to make this country better, when you realise that some Nigerians really want to fly the green-white-green flag proudly, you cannot but be dismayed at how we keep messing up at simple and straight-forward things. Nigeria can be far better than this. We have all it takes to be compared to the best societies across the globe. But some people in critical positions of power and authority are clearly not putting in a decent shift. That is why we look like amateurs. Disheartening.
AND FOUR OTHER THINGS…
The Supreme Court on Friday nullified President Buhari’s Executive Order 10 which he signed in May 2021 to grant financial autonomy to the legislature and the judiciary in the states. The order empowers the accountant-general of the federation to deduct funds for the state legislature and the judiciary from the federation allocations to the states. The court ruled, by 6-1, that the federal government exceeded its constitutional powers. Actually, executive orders are being misused in Nigeria. They are meant to fill a lacuna on a temporary basis until proper laws are passed. They are not meant to amend the constitution or usurp legislative functions. Buhari was misadvised. Blunder.
Ms Ajibola Heritage Ayomikun, a 200-level student of Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Ile Ife, died tragically on Wednesday when she fell into a soakaway close to her hostel. The school said it tried everything possible to save her but she was pronounced dead at the OAU Teaching Hospital Complex. The student, who was studying linguistics and African languages, is yet another Nigerian that has died under avoidable circumstances. Our poor application and enforcement of standards will continue to hurt us, but what will keep hurting us the more is that nobody will be held responsible for the state of the soakaway. We just move on, until the next tragedy happens. Cycle.
Here we go again. A two-year-old pupil of a private school in Lagos state has been reportedly beaten “mercilessly” for being unable to recite the English alphabets. We need to move decisively against such violence towards a toddler. But I see a fundamental problem: at two, kids should be learning colours and shapes and how to co-ordinate their hands through the use of sands and play dough. We have a serious problem with the education system in Nigeria: the curriculum is tailored towards cramming and recitation rather than building the IQ and imparting knowledge. We are programmed to cram and pass exams without developing the IQ to become creative and innovative. Backward.
For weeks, protesting Canadian truck drivers have blocked major roads over COVID vaccine mandates for cross-border travellers. They have paralysed socio-economic activities. The government of Ontario province has declared a state of emergency. Blocking crucial infrastructure is now punishable by imprisonment and fines, while driving licences of the violators could be cancelled. “Your right to make a political statement does not outweigh the right of hundreds of thousands of workers to earn their living,” the Ontario premier, Doug Ford, said. An Ontario judge has allowed police to use force to remove those blocking a major bridge to America. Obviously, it is not only in Nigeria that some protesters don’t seem to know when enough is enough. Overacting.