Abuja is cleaner than Harare, can you imagine!
Nevanji Madanhire recently in Abuja
As you drive from the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport it becomes clear you are entering a purpose-built city. The roads are better than you have ever seen in this part of the world; even the best roads in Johannesburg and Gaborone come second best.
The trees lining the roads are green and well pruned. Not a single pothole on the tarmac!
The street lights work and, come to think of it, the drivers kind of drive well too, even if, to the Zimbabwean eye, they are always “wrong”. The Zimbabwean visitor has to adjust quickly to the roads and the traffic flow.
To get along fast you have to take it that Nigerian cars have their steering wheels on the wrong side and drive on the wrong side of the road. So, the rule of thumb is, when crossing the road always look on the wrong side. Get it?
In Zimbabwe, when crossing the near lane you look to the right for on-coming traffic; when crossing the far lane, you look to the left. In Nigeria, where they drive on the right, everything is wrong, call it reversed if you like. I survived because I took everything on the road to be wrong!
Nigerian motorists themselves seem not to be quite sure too, hence they are always hooting at each other; indeed the horn is their most important driving accessory.
By the way, Abuja is Nigeria’s capital city since December 1991. The head city used to be Lagos in the south. Political and commercial expediency dictated that the capital move to central Nigeria. Lagos had become not only too southern to make any sense, but also too congested to work. And, there was too much country up north for rulers to remain in Lagos, so to speak.
But Abuja’s physical beauty it rather too true to be good!
It disguises everything that is wrong with Nigeria. I had a sense of the sinister when I was almost denied an entry visa at the embassy in Harare. The consul said the Nigerian government didn’t want visiting journalists during an election period. Indeed, a journalist colleague I was supposed to travel with failed to travel for that reason.
I only got mine when I sold him a dummy. I told him, feigning disgust for his whole country, that I didn’t wish to go to Nigeria anyway and I wish I had never been invited there.
I painted a hopeless picture of his country based on Zimbabweans’ perception of it. I said I didn’t wish to mix and mingle with all those witches I saw in Nigerian movies, some of whom had been to Zimbabwe to kill our beloved president. I told him I had no wish to travel to a country where prophets did not see the collapse of their churches.
After all, I said, our own prophets can make women lose weight in an instant and withdraw money from ATMs without ATM cards.
I think he wanted me to go and see for myself how wrong I was, so he granted the visa. “But if you write anything on the elections, you will be summarily deported,” he warned grudgingly. I gave him my word I wouldn’t report on the elections.
This is the reason I wrote mostly on their food; the slimy roast beef in okra and the incredible grilled catfish. I kind of liked the food though, but this was mainly because I had read about it all in Achebe.
On the day we arrived, it was six of us from this part of the world, we went around looking for the fabled jolof rice which we got soon enough at a fast food store.
We settled to eat and were all agreed that jolof rice was good when one of us came across a properly cooked cockroach right in the middle of a juicy morsel. My considered advice to her was to vomit it all out but, give it to the Nigerian cooks, she chose to continue with the meal as if nothing had happened.
All along the streets of Abuja I saw a sight that made my heart beat in disgust. “What are those?” I asked the driver. “Those are fuel queues,” he said. For sure and young men lined the streets holding plastic containers and bits of hose, selling black market fuel to the motorists.
Fuel queues in a country that produces so much crude oil! According to statistics its oil reserves make Nigeria the tenth most petroleum-rich nation, and by the far the most affluent in Africa. It produces a maximum of 2,5 million barrels of crude oil daily, according to the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation.
I was puzzled. This was the first question I asked the first literate Nigerian I met. The Major Oil Marketers Association of Nigeria has an explanation for it.
It says the fuel scarcity was triggered by refusal of the Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency to release the approval for the first quarter fuel importation. But this is all hogwash: the scarcity is caused by poor leadership. Period!
60% of all crude produced in the country is exported by the multinational organisation that extract it. The 40% that Nigeria itself should purify and pump into the market also has to be exported because each of the four or so local refineries is defunct.
So, in the end we have a major crude producing country having to import almost 100% of its fuel needs. One doesn’t need rocket science to know where the problem lies.
This is sick. One begins to understand what President Robert Mugabe has understood too late in his life that without beneficiation Africa will continue to sing the blues exporting raw materials and importing finished products at a much higher cost!
And, why are the refineries not working? Successive governments, we were told, have promised to resuscitate them but have failed to do anything due to inefficiency, skewed priorities, vandalism and corruption.
The Nigerian economy would compete against some of the world’s most advanced economies if crude was refined locally. Millions of jobs would be created, but as it is, the country is importing not just the fuel, but also the important by-products that accompany it.
All these imports cost the country $60 billion dollars annually when $3 billion can build two refineries. What this means is the country is exporting millions of jobs. This is evident with the multitude of youngsters selling all sorts of wares at the market.
It’s not that the powers that be in Nigeria don’t know all this; it’s the will that’s lacking.
Nigeria is a hot country. The sweltering heat cooks you up like you are in an oven. Every space therefore has to be air-conditioned. What that means is that Nigeria needs a huge amount of electrical energy. Unfortunately they don’t have it.
The country produces about 3 500 MW of electricity when it needs at least 10 000 MW to run normally. This economy, whose GDP, at $590,9 billion, is the largest in Africa (compare with South Africa’s $370,3 billion) literally runs on generators. Blackouts are common, so every building and every industry has a stand-by generator.
We went to the market a Wuse.
Oh, the generators! Every stall, every crook and cranny has to have some kind of air-conditioning, so the generators chortle and cackle outside every small entrance!
This looked all very familiar since Zimbabwe too has a power deficit, but our power problem is child’s play compared to that of Nigeria. The use of generators makes doing business a nightmare; imagine the amount of fuel that should be burnt every day to keep the generators running? Now with the scarcity of fuel hitting the country many businesses just might fold. Most fuel has to be bought on the black market.
And, the reason why Nigeria is not generating enough electricity is laughable. Nigeria is a gas producing country and should therefore not have any problems with electricity generation. When the power shortage persisted it was thought the privatisation route would solve the problem, but it came with its own challenges.
The provision of gas to generating plants is intermittent mostly due to vandalism. Often gas pipelines are destroyed in remote areas by people with nefarious political agendas or who just vandalise them for the hell of it. It is very likely people who benefit little from infrastructure feel compelled to sabotage it as a way of fighting the system. Journalists I talked to said the level of vandalism of gas and oil pipelines is shocking.
Only 40 million out of about 160 million Nigerians have access to electricity. The Minster of Power said in 2013 that the situation needed divine intervention.
Then there is the little question of Boko Haram!
Two of my colleagues went up to north to Kano and just after they left the guerrillas struck killing 50 people a mere 100 km from where they had been. It seems the government has failed to contain the insurgency.
It would seem foreign troops in the form of the Chad and Niger armed forces are doing a better job about it, Cameroon has joined the fight too because too much is stake for the region to let Boko Haram flourish.
Recently they pushed the terrorists from their territories into Nigeria and drove the insurgents out of two towns deep into Nigeria.
The fate of the 200 schoolgirls kidnapped last year remains unknown although President Goodluck Jonathan last week impotently claimed they were alive.
Nigeria is going into an important election on March 28. Initially scheduled for last month, it was postponed ostensibly for security reasons, but Nigerian analysts said the real reason was that the incumbent Jonathan faced sure defeat and forced the postponement to try to put his house in order.
Last week it was uncertain if the elections would go ahead considering the lack of confidence Nigerians generally have in their president and his propensity to want to postpone the poll. They think he has failed to handle the energy crisis and also the extremist insurgency.
On the contrary former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari’s star seems to be shining brighter, but his past as a military strongman just might come back to haunt him. But Nigerians are agreed they need a strong leader who can quickly change the country’s fortunes.
Some say the result of the election could be too close to call, but, good luck Mr Jonathan!