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BACKLASH: Situation Critical!


Abraham Ogbodo

Abraham Ogbodo

THE headline is not original. It has been used by a documentary TV channel to describe extreme circumstances where death seemed more probable than survival. And then in my days in secondary school when the art of writing telegram was part of the content for Ordinary Level English Language, Tutor Iwema had used the phrase to illustrate a point. That instead of writing volumes to our parents explaining how urgently we needed provision in school, we could do a telegram reducing the long composition to three key words: Respond situation critical(!)

Now, as an adult, I think it was a bit of exaggeration to equate non-availability or even shortfall in the stock of biscuits, milk, beverage, tins of sardine and pocket money at school with a critical situation. It is a different ball game when situations really get critical. And I shall give a few examples.

It is a critical situation when the naira loses value and remains scarce at the same time. That is, when wages and earnings generally remain static against a runaway exchange rate in an economy that is import dependent and therefore denominated in dollar.

I had expected the naira to be everywhere yafunyafun in Nigeria as it was (and maybe still is) in Zimbabwe when the United States Dollar rose sharply against the Zimbabwean Dollar. That is however not the case here. Dollar and the naira are equally scarce precipitating pressure from opposing ends. Nigerians are caught in the cross-pressure and they are, by all descriptions, in a very critical situation; the kind that calls for immediate response.

President Buhari is trying to respond one or the other. He said, come rain or shine, the naira will not be devalued, as if the thing is not already devalued at N400 to the dollar. And last week, he left for Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states in search of solution. Since a correlation has been established between low price of oil in the international market and the low value of the naira, the plan is to do something at the supply end and push up the price of oil and ultimately add value to the naira.

Details of the efforts are still sketchy, although the president’s spokesmen and ministers have been upbeat about definite results. I think the whole thing will centre on how to reduce the 30 million barrel of crude oil that the 11 OPEC countries push to the international market everyday to push up price. This is not saying Nigeria, which is struggling to meet its OPEC assigned quota of 2.2 million barrel per day due to a combination of factors, including militancy in the Niger Delta region where crude is exploited and lack of investments in upstream operations, is also seeking to cut down on its production.

In fact, that is precisely why President Buhari is in the Middle East; to try and commute the impending OPEC’s death sentence on Nigeria to something less in impact. Saudi Arabia, Qatar, UAE and other Gulf States with hefty savings in Sovereign Wealth and other investments can actually do without oil but not Nigeria with less than $30b in reserves and other forms of saving. And so, in plain language, Buhari has gone to look for one or more nations in the Gulf Region that can die to save Nigeria.

Saudi Arabia with a daily production of 9.8 million barrels per day produces about a third of the entire OPEC’s output and also has about $800b in Sovereign Wealth Fund for a population of only 28 million. The holy land is therefore in a stead to spare Nigeria a lifeline.

United Arab Emirates (UAE) with less than 10 million citizens and a Sovereign Wealth Fund of $773b is even more formidable. It can afford, without shaking, to forgo its 2.8 mbpd OPEC quota altogether to help Buhari steady the sliding Naira. Kuwait with equal quota could pretty well act same way and nothing would happen. It has $600b in savings for a population of only 3.6 million, which is about the same number of human beings in Alimosho local government area in Lagos State.
Qatar’s quota of 700,000 bpd means very little actually. It can easily give up everything for Nigeria and if there are attendant shocks from the charity bazaar, its $256b savings is enough absorber to insulate the country’s two million citizens.

In real terms, they are the only countries in the OPEC Council with many lives that Nigeria can turn to for a lifeline in this matter of life and death. Others, namely, Venezuela, Libya, Iran, Iraq, Angola and Ecuador are also in dire need of fiscal oxygen and like Nigeria, looking for others who are better endowed, to undertake on their behalf, the proposed OPEC’s production squeeze.

It was reported that President Buhari would hold prayer sessions while in Riyadh, to apparently ask Allah to soften the hearts of leaders of these countries to accept the proposal to die for Nigeria. Pastors, imams and indeed all Nigerians should join in the prayer in the hope that the Almighty is more likely to be moved to issue quick answers when a whole nation is praying than when only one man even if he is the president is doing so.

There is one more suggestion. Since Buhari is in the Middle East, he should cross over to Jerusalem and round off the prayers in a manner that meets all expectations back home. I also want to add that every prayer will be useful in this critical situation and Buhari can stretch a little more to the Far East (instead of returning to plan another foreign trip for that purpose) to get some monks and adherents of oriental faith to add to the prayer package he is bringing home.

This does not necessarily mean that we are at a point of massive importation of Buddhism, Hinduism, Sikhism or Confucianism from the East to compound the spiritual mayhem already on ground in Nigeria. It is just that Nigeria is in a critical situation. In fact, it is dying and a dying man does not select which drugs to accept and which to reject. He swallows every clinical, spiritual and psychological concoction thrown at him in the hope of striking at a lifeline somehow.

While we await the magic from the Middle and far East after due consultations and prayers that is, other things outside oil price have refused to remain in place. The magic of Body Language that once ensured near optimal delivery of every social service has dissipated and the situation in that particular area has become critical. As I write, I have not had public electricity for two weeks in my area in Lagos State. And this is nationwide according to reports reaching me.

The DISCOs have obstinately taken to a new song called “No Tariff Hike, No Electricity” and a whole Buhari who had before now achieved compliance without speaking even a single word is not able to bark out harsh orders to call these disco dancers called electricity distributors to order. Meanwhile, heat is at optimum and not the best time for public electricity to go off the social service menu. What to do, households in Nigeria have been forced into creating IPPs (Independent Power Plants). Each night, neighbourhoods roar in a staccato of noise and fumes as all the IPPs come on stream.

In the heat of the moment, I remember with nostalgia my days in college. That latent piece of precise writing skill has been fired up by prevailing conditions and I do sincerely wish to wire a telegram to Buhari now: RESPOND PRESIDO SITUATION CRITICAL (Telegrams run without punctuations).

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