The popular saying, “when a dog bites a man it is no news but when a man bites a dog it makes headlines” seems to have found expression in Nigeria’s recent desire to romance with Niger Republic. Many Nigerians were taken aback when the news filtered the airwaves that the Federal Government intends to construct a standard-gauge railway system to connect that country. While speaking recently at the opening of the maiden edition of the International Association of Port and Harbours, IAPH, Africa Regional Conference, organised by the Nigerian Ports Authority, NPA, the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi disclosed that the initiative would begin from Kano through Dutse, Kazaure, Daura, Kastina, Jibia and terminate at Maradi in Niger Republic. Nigerians have wondered why the country under this administration has suddenly become head over heels in love with the Republic of Niger.
Another important question begging for an urgent answer is what economic impact would spending a whopping sum of $1.96 billion in a foreign nation bring to Nigeria? Have we completed the standard-gauge railway system across the country that would warrant our looking elsewhere to spend tax payers’ money needlessly? Well, the reader would recall that our transport sector saw a glowing Nigerian Railway Corporation. The railway not only connected the South and North but enhanced a smooth voyage from Port Harcourt through Aba – Umuahia, Otukpo, Makurdi, Kaduna, Kafanchan, Bukuru – Jos, Zaria to Kaura Namuda. What does this reveal? That 60 years after, Nigeria has not been able to improve upon colonial legacy. Instead, the nation appears okay with mediocrity, complacency and misplacement of priorities.
While Nigerians have not finished swallowing the bitter pill of investing on a zero-profit venture, the Minister of State and Petroleum Resources, Timipre Sylva shocked the nation with the news that Nigeria would now import petroleum products from Niger Republic – a country that only started commercial oil production in 2011. With this came screaming headlines like: “Africa’s Biggest Oil Producer Signed MoU to Import Fuel from Niger Republic.” Whereas Egypt and Algeria lead African operations with 13 refineries and a combined capacity of 1.4 million barrels per day, Nigeria is busy celebrating its ultimate “saviour” Niger Republic’s Soraz Zinder Refinery owned by China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC). The deal was sealed with the recent signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between Nigeria and Niger Republic on the subject matter of purchase, transportation and storage of petroleum products.
Although Nigeria’s sweet crude is relatively low in sulfur, it is surprising that we are going for Niger’s oil which is a blend of heavier crude that could trigger environmental challenges. We have not finished contending with Nigeria’s “dirty fuel” and black soot yet we are intent on importing “trouble.” What this translates to is that we are unable to fix our moribund refineries in Warri, Port Harcourt and Kaduna despite billions spent yearly on turnaround maintenance (TAM). The mark of integrity is fulfilling one’s promise. Part of the manifesto which made this administration to clinch the reigns of power in 2015 was that they would fix all the four refineries in six months. Even when Nigerians gave them the benefit of the doubt and six months graduated to six years, the only information the populace is getting is that we would import oil from neighbouring Niger. Is it not disgraceful that a nation which prides itself as the most populace Black Nation on the earth would bend low to seek assistance from a country it should help? It appears to this writer that Nigeria is a reckless mother who instead of feeding her child is busy feeding on the baby’s milk.
Anyway, when a giant persistently walks like a dwarf, chances are that the former would soon become like the latter. Well, while this drama lasts, the Republic of Niger is the better for it. With access to electricity, oil purchases and an almost free of cost rail project from Nigeria, Nigeriens are smiling big. As a nation, we seem to be moving in the same place without making any progress. If not, why would every administration promise to fix our refineries only to renege on that promise and blame previous administrations for failing to do the needful? Are the efforts made in pleasing Niger borne out of its proximity to the north, similar culture and religion? One would have expected government to partner with the Dangote Oil Refinery Company (Dangote) towards speeding up the integrated refinery and petrochemical complex at Lekki, Lagos to cushion the effects of refining oil abroad. There are other prospective investors who are willing to invest in the sector. However, this can only come about if government agents are sincere.
Chances are that some pockets would become bigger on account of the Nigerian-Nigerien oil deal. No thanks to many years of wastefulness, neglect, lack of clear vision and planning, Niger Republic has become Nigeria’s heartthrob. The banal understanding of “he who fails to plan, plans to fail” comes to play here. By systematic attempt to improve the fortunes of another country over and above their fellow citizenry, those who hatched this plan have sold Nigeria for a piece of stockings. The onus lies on Mr. President to do the needful. As Minster of Petroleum, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) is under his watch. Therefore, he needs to act swiftly to counter the conspiracy narratives in the air. The National Assembly should wake up from its slumber to make the Executive alive to its responsibilities. Government cannot persistently behave like a rascal parent who prefers to feed other people’s children above theirs. In the interest of the existing social contract and our common patrimony, handlers of the nation must act fast to salvage the nation from eminent collapse. God bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria!
• Fr. Dyikuk is a Lecturer of Mass Communication, University of Jos, Editor – Caritas Newspaper and Convener, Media Team Network Initiative (MTNI), Nigeria.