By Enyeribe Ejiogu, Christy Anyanwu, Olakunle Olafioye and Agatha Emeadi
Throughout last week, queuing at filling stations to buy rations of petrol has been a hellish experience for private car owners, corporate drivers, tricyclists, motorcyclists and commuter bus drivers, as the present scarcity of Premium Motor Spirit (PMS) otherwise known as fuel has continued to worsen.
Agony, frustration and anger at the NNPC Limited and the various groups of companies in the downstream petroleum sector have grown.
Despite all the fancy reasons given for the scarcity, Nigerians are just fed up with the excuses for the annual punishment they are subjected to by the NNPC and the major importers and depot operators at the approach of the Yuletide season.
In the face of the transportation difficulties and the attendant high costs, commuters have found ways to adjust to the situation. Whoever came up with the aphorism that necessity is the mother of invention, probably had in mind a group of northern young male traders, who sell fruits and other vegetables on makeshift wooden stands and wheel barrows at the ever-busy Iyana-Ejigbo junction and Ejigbo-Idimu-Orisumbare axis of Ejigbo Local Council Development Area, Lagos.
Seeking to cut down the prohibitive cost of going individually to Mile 12 market to restock, they came up with a smart solution. They all agreed to send just two of them, Abdullahi and Mustapha, to the market to buy fresh supply of goods for all of them.
They even asked them to share one seat, with one carrying the other, to further reduce the transport fare.
Like worthy representatives, Abdullahi and Mustapha bought large sacks of fruits, salad ingredients, garden egg, spring onions, ginger, carrot, etc. Sighted while offloading the goods they bought, Sunday Sun engaged one of them, Mustapha, in a brief chat, and he shared their heart-warming story of sacrifice for the good of all, in Pidgin English:
“Auntie, you see say na small small things we dey sell. We think am well, well. We come see say if all of us go Mile-12 Market, the money wey we go pay for bus go too much; transport money dey too much now. If we sell finish, we no get profit. We agree say make two people go market, buy for everybody. Me and Abdullahi ‘lap’ for one seat reach the market. Wallahi, auntie, e no easy oo. Na so we dey change am, e carry me, I carry am, till we reach Mile-12. Na like that we take come back oo.”
Now, in Igando area of Alimosho Local Government Area, where Joy Anaele sells stockfish at her shop; from time to time, she would go to Oyingbo Market, a major distribution hub for bulk foodstuff such as crayfish, smoke-dried fish and, of course, stockfish, to restock her shop. Before the current fuel scarcity ensued, Anaele told Sunday Sun that there are particular buses that convey traders like herself to the market very early in the morning, the sharp increase in bus fares has been quite worrisome.
“I leave my home as early as 4:30a.m. Before we used to pay N600 from Igando straight to Mushin, where we take another bus to Oyingbo. This morning (referring to the day of the interview), we paid N1,200 on the same route before getting to Oyingbo. Returning from the market is more expensive. I paid N1,600 from Oyingbo to Igando. Then an Okada man (commercial motorcyclist) took me to my shop,” Anaele said.
As often happens in situations like this, fuel station operators are engaging in profiteering, further compounding the burden on the public.
Some of them, like the supervisor of the Oando station along Mushin Road (who did not disclose his identity), have taken to rationing petrol sales to motorists and people who buy in jerry cans for generators.
This has consequently made the pump price to shoot up further. “Right now, we have less than 200 litres. It can only serve about three or four vehicles and we are done for the day until the next day. We are a major marketer and take instructions from our headquarters. First, we were instructed not to sell to people with jerry cans. We were directed to sell only motorists at N240 per litre,” he told Sunday Sun.
At Peridot petrol station, Ejigbo, petrol was sold at N250 to N260 per litre while other stations were selling at N230 or N240. Because of the higher pump price, the state was not crowded by buyers. However, individuals who did not want to get involved in pushing and shoving at the stations selling at lower prices, simply drove into the Peridot station where they met four to five vehicles. They would wait for very short time for their turn at the nozzle, fill up and go their way. The NNPC station on Idimu Road as well as NPGC and Conoil stations in that axis, all sold at N230 per litre, but the attendants extorted N200 to N500 from each buyer. Unlike Oando station that refused to sell to buyers in jerry cans, the other stations sold to commercial motorcyclists (Okada riders), tricyclists (Keke Marwa) and vehicles. The mix of buyers made the stations rowdy and crowded. The station managers advised that some could buy in jerry cans and later transfer into vehicle tanks, just to de-congest the station.
In the Abule Egba area of Lagos, Mr. Nojeem Isiaka, a filling station manager, told Sunday Sun that he could not categorically say what caused the current fuel scarcity, noting that the reasons given by the the Independent Petroleum Marketers of Nigeria, IPMAN, for the scarcity is different from what the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC said is the cause.
“But for us, it is obvious that there is a major problem which is still being managed possibly in the belief that it will be resolved soon. And we hope it is resolved on time. As today, the depot price of one litre of petrol is N210 and when you add this to other costs incurred in bringing it down to the outlet here, the cost price will be about N220 if not more. So, we sell at N250 because that is the only way we can remain in business,” Isiaka said, explaining the reason for the high price.
Angrily, Ajibola Michael, a motorist who came refuel his car, fumed: “It is unfortunate that a litre of petroleum now sells for N250. This is not what we expected from this government from inception. I have been here for close to an hour, suffering because of the failure and selfishness of our leaders. My view is that God is using the current situation to show us the direction we need to follow next year. It is appalling that the government even finds it difficult to come straight on the issue of fuel in the country. All sorts of excuses have been given for the persistent scarcity including the most ridiculous claim that major road constructions going in Lagos is the the reason for the shortage of fuel. The government should be bold to tell Nigerians what the real problems are.”
At Lawanson bus stop, commuter bus drivers who spoke with Sunday Sun said that they had no option than to increase fares, after suffering and struggling to get the precious petrol at black market price of N1,500 for five litres, from emergency fuel touts. Commuters paid N800 for the buses bound for Lagos Island to Lawanson. On a good day, the price would have been N750 for five litres.
“We have to buy because we have to work. Look very well the numbers of buses on the road has reduced because they are on queues at the filling stations. Once they succeed in buying they will hike the price and commuters suffer for it,” the bus driver said.
Another motorist at the station, Mr. Owoseni, chipped in: “This fuel station is owned by NNPC, they also find it difficult to bring in fuel. They sold little quantity this afternoon (referring to the day of the interview), but it’s likely they will still sell tomorrow. The MRS filling station beside us hasn’t had fuel for three days now. So, it is that bad. If NNPC finds it difficult to get fuel then we are finished in this country,” he said.
Gbenga, an adolescent who has turned the scarcity into a ‘black market’ sales opportunity, came with a large jerry can, to buy more petrol to resell.
“We struggle to get fuel and even if you bring 10,000 gallon of black market here people will rush and buy everything within few seconds. We make our money here and we are happy and anyone who is not happy should go and talk to APC and PDP about what is happening in Nigeria.”
On the roads, commuters are stranded. Many resorted to trekking from Lagos Island to the Mainland. Aside the hike in transport fares, the long queues at filling stations has disrupted the smooth flow of traffic and caused gridlock. On Thursday, driving from Victoria Island to Costain was akin to war! After getting to Costain, linking up with Ojuelegba was another stress. Commuters got down at Alaka bus stop and turned their feet into “Legedes Benz” and trekked to their respective homes in Surulere.