Photograph — Leadership

#Trekathon Diaries

The scene around the Berger, Obalende and Ikeja axis in Lagos state this morning, was almost straight out of a Hollywood movie set in New York city, with a throng of people dressed for work, walking in different directions, an uncommon sight in Nigeria. However, the only difference is, while there are options for buses and subway transportation in the movies, Lagosians are engaging in ‘Trekathons’ not because they want to, but as a result of the extravagant fares for public transportation, due to the current fuel scarcity.

Many lower and middle class Nigerians already struggle very hard for their daily bread, now they have the added burden of fighting for fuel, kerosene and diesel in order to keep their businesses afloat and be comfortable at home. While the whole country is going through tumultuous times with the fuel scarcity, Lagos state is probably the worst hit as it is a highly populated commercial city.

Several people wondered when the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) would issue a statement calling the government and independent marketers to order and eventually, they did, but their prolonged silence was worrisome as there are antecedents showing them stepping into the picture before the situation got too bad.

In a statement released on Monday, the NLC called on the government to resolve the issue or face mass action. “Electricity has become an essential commodity, public utilities have since gone to the dogs, petroleum products have grown wings and vanished, compounding an already bad transport system, reducing Nigerians in all parts of the nation to compulsory trekkers,” the statement said.

In the past, the NLC initiated several strike actions for less pressing situations. Everyone remembers the Occupy Nigeria movement of 2012, after the removal of subsidies, fuel pump price increased from N65 per litre to at least N141 in fuel stations and from N100 to N200 on the black market. How is it possible, then, that Nigerians are just satisfied with suffering and smiling watching President Muhammadu Buhari continue his foreign trips unperturbed, while he blames the country’s woes on the past administration?

Also, in May 2015, the NLC threatened strike action over what it described as a conscious attempt to subject 170 million Nigerians to economic suicide and the fuel pump price was only a little over N120 per litre at the time. However, now Nigerians are struggling with a far more exorbitant price for fuel and the NLC has taken an unprecedented amount of time to respond. “In many fuel stations that deliberately sell fuel only during scarcity, fuel goes for as much as N350 to N400 per litre and people still buy,” said Mr. Adesola, an Edo state resident.

Even after several strike actions initiated by the NLC, we find ourselves in the same predicament over and over again. So, after this time, what happens next? Respite for a few months only to go through the same situation months from now?

With different crowds at major bus stops in Lagos, ‘free rides’ in a vehicle with a full fuel tank during this period are seen as a gift from God, the beneficiary cannot help but be grateful for the amazing opportunity. This was exactly how I felt this morning after a ‘good Samaritan’ came to my rescue, after which we drove the long distance from the Lagos Island to Ikeja, on the mainland. As we made our way, we were confronted with many pictures mirroring the horror and helplessness of the Nigerian people in their daily struggle against this fuel scarcity. The angry faces, the screaming matches between law enforcement agents and motorists, the black market pushers now being chased by motorists who cannot afford to stay in queues for days on end, thousands of pedestrians who were braving their way by trekking long distances, especially salary earners who have just one source of income, are just a few.

Although the NLC has threatened a strike action, what is the lasting solution to this recurrent problem? Some have said Dangote’s prospective oil refinery will provide a lasting solution to this problem, but the refinery will start refining petroleum products in the first quarter of 2018 and we are here right now with a need to put a stop to this ‘suffering and smiling’ way of life as it encourages the powers that be to further insulate themselves from the pain felt by the Nigerian masses.

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