Making a comedy of kerosene

30 August 2011, Vanguard Newspaper Editorial, Lagos – In a country that is comedy-filled – Nollywood and still other poorer versions – the kerosene shows on television, government’s tremendous efforts at making kerosene available, are at best tasteless. We are supposed to be celebrating that kerosene, imported, is available. A closer look at the television shots, or newspaper pictures, paints a different picture.

Those television shows are admissions of government’s failure to provide a commodity that ordinary Nigerians use and whose scarcity has done irreparable damage to our forests. Beside the pictures are thousands of people struggling to get the product or who return home empty-handed. Climate change is benefiting from the felling of more trees as more Nigerians resort to using firewood and charcoal in place of kerosene that is unavailable and affordable only on television.

How many people can buy kerosene from two tankers in a city like Abuja where one sales point was organised to cater for people, some arriving from neighbouring Nassarawa State? The television shows have not yet got to the villages. Is government therefore saying that rural Nigeria does not deserve to be supplied kerosene or the people’s faces are not too friendly to appear on television?

Ministry of Petroleum officials said they have flooded the market with kerosene, apparently their way of saying that they had dealt with the problem, nobody asked them why the product was scarce and out of reach of users. Weeks after, the television shows began, and there are always faces praising government for the great job it is doing with the provision of kerosene.

Senators, who do not use kerosene or could afford it at any price, are satisfied with explanations rather than kerosene. These days, any semblance of activity in a government agency, is regarded as an achievement, which may explain the television shows.

Agony of Nigerians persists. The devastation of the forests is real. Kerosene, where available, remains expensive. There are no more talks about the injuries that adulterated kerosene left on Nigerians.

Hope Adeleke, a policeman, lost five children to kerosene explosion in Oghara, Delta State. A sixth child and his wife are in critical conditions. Adeleke was on night duty when his home exploded in a ball of fire. Four of his children died immediately and then the fifth.

The journey to death began with the innocuous purchase of kerosene. They never knew it was adulterated. Deaths from kerosene explosions are seasonal; they are usually a consequence of product scarcity. Criminals latch on the gap in supply and pump adulterated products into the system.

This has been going on for years. People die, people denounce government’s indifference, and hardly anything is done to address the situation.

Kerosene used mostly as fuel for cooking is often scarce and remain expensive. Government has had little concern about steady supply of the product unlike fuel for vehicles. The latest attempt at addressing the challenge has been in those television shows.

Queues at some filling stations are disappearing. The price has gone down a bit, but is high at N90 per litre in some urban areas, instead of N50. The concern is when the next round of acute scarcity will begin, as there are no firm measures to address the challenges on the long term.

There is a lot to worry about if all that government can do after so many years of dealing with kerosene scarcity is to make a television show out of delivering some tankers of the product to urban centres. Whatever informed this approach knocks at the essence of government’s treatment of challenges – get a picture out in the media and make the people believe that they, not government, is the problem.

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