By Okwe Obi, Adanna Nnamani and Charity Nwakaudu, Abuja
Residents of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Abuja, have had to bear the brunt of fuel scarcity since February this year. Although commuters said increment in transport fare was not uniform across the FCT, the situation changed when filling stations unilaterally changed the pump price of petrol last week.
Fuel queues did disappear, only to resurface after a few days, as long queues surfaced at various filling stations. This has become a permanent fixture of the FCT landscape.
Motorists narrated how they spent hours at filling stations before they could buy fuel. Some disclosed that they had to bribe security personnel and pump attendants before they could even gain access to filling station.
For those who couldn’t offer bribes, they made do with buying fuel at the roadsides, some very close to filling stations.
The black market operators hawk and dangle nozzles at almost every corner of Abuja, at a very high price. Four litres of petrol sold for as high as N2,500 to N3,000!
While the fuel queues lasted, operators took advantage of the situation to fleece motorists as some private car owners bought 10 litres for N5,000, while other bargained for N7,000, depending on one’s negotiating skills, regardless of the quality of the fuel.
While the problem persisted, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) as it was known then, traded blames with the petroleum marketers association of Nigeria. Government accused marketers of hoarding and the marketers fired back; accusing government of playing politics with it.
But little did residents know that a litre of petrol would later rise to between N175 and N200, depending on where you’re buying the product.
Minister of State for Petroleum, Timipre Sylva, claimed that petroleum subsidy was no long sustainable, a pronouncement that saw a clandestine increase in the pump price of petrol in the FCT, on Saturday, July 16, 2022.
Shoe cobblers, salon owners, mechanics, tailors, commerical drivers, beer parlour operators, electricians welders, computer centre operators among others, offered divergent opinions on the hike. They took a serious swipe at the Federal Government, accusing it of plunging Nigerians into abject poverty.
A trader in one of FCT’s satellite villages, Victoria Ngwu, grumbled that the situation led to hike in the cost of transportation: “From Giri Bus Stop to Suleja Market was N200. Now, we pay N350. To bring back the goods to my shop with a drop, from the market, used to cost me about N4,000 to N5,000 some months ago. Now, I pay as much as N8,000 for the same quantity of goods.
“When we complain, the drivers blame it on increase in fuel price. To recoup what I spent bringing the goods from the market, I adjusted the prices of my wares as well. I slightly increased the price of every item so that I can make profit.”
A federal civil servant, Happiness Joshua, said: “Yes, the increase in petrol price has really affected me. Some places I used to pay N1,500, I paid N3,000 last week to the place. Sometimes even seeing a taxi that is going to my direction is always difficult.”
NYSC members are also feeling the heat. Abdul Sani whose primary place of assignment is in one of primary schools in Garki District, said: “My allowance is now being eaten up by transport. The cost of transportation has increased and the prices of food items have doubled.
“The N30,000 allowance is no longer enough to sustain me because the value has totally diminished.”
A commercial bus driver, Godwin Amobi, said the hike in fare was completely inevitable: “We buy petrol at N185/litre. Some places, N220/litre. Engine oil that we used to buy N3,500 is now N9,000.
“New tyres that were N7,000 are now N27,000, I can go on. If we don’t increase transport fares, it’s pure business suicide.
“The increase is not much. We are all managing to survive. We feel commuters’ pains but we can’t help it. It’s the country we found ourselves.”
Omotayo Usman, a civil servant said: “This hike in price of fuel is becoming something else. There are places a litre is sold for N220 against the normal price of N165.
“It is not easy to get cabs to the office these days. Most commercial taxi drivers spend most of their time at the filling stations. After getting the fuel the burdens are transferred to we the customers.
“Salaries have not changed but everything both foodstuffs have increased due to the hick in fuel prices and most especially the scarcity. During that sallah celebration I paid N 800 from Nyanya to Kubwa, against the normal price of N400. We experience changes in transportation fares every day and it is becoming normal to Nigerians as no one is complaining again.”
Ann Ogwche, is another civil servant. She said she stopped driving because of the stress in getting fuel and decided to use public transport: “Though it is not convenient. Initially, it was cheaper and more comfortable when I drove to work.
“But, these days, I have stopped driving because it is very expensive. At times, I am not sure of getting fuel because the FCT fuel scarcity is unpredictable.
“You can see most stations selling before returning from work you will see everywhere dried. They will say it has finished, only for you to buy black market right inside the stations.
“These days, I leave home early. But I spend most of my time at the junction fighting for taxi due to scarcity.
“Anyone not physically fit may not be able to get taxi to work. There are limited caps on the road. Some spend days at filling stations before getting fuel.”
Titus Terna, a commercial taxi driver, said: “Our work is becoming something else. There is hardly a day we do not have issues with customers because of transport fares. Some abuse us but they do not know that we are not also enjoying the increase.
“We prefer black market because there is no much difference between the official rate and those boys hawking petrol by the roadside. You buy black market and work or you sleep in filling stations to work three days against six working days. The problem is worsening by the day and we cannot even understand the situation anymore.”
Adamu is also a commercial driver: “We are just managing to work because one can’t stay at home. A litre N230 after all the stress and still customers will be insulting you .
“I am tired of this country. The government needs to intervene very fast because the situation is getting out of hand.”
As painful as the scarcity is to some FCT resident, few argued that increment in the pump price of petrol was in the interest of the country.
A retired civil servant, who declined to be named said: “Are you happy that, every year, Nigerians experience fuel scarcity amidst low quality?There is hardly a year we do not hear of illegal oil bunkering or vandalism.
“If removing subsidy and increasing the price would put an end to fuel scarcity, then, so be it. Something like petrol should not be scarce. It is embarrassing that a country like Nigeria, that produces crude oil, would consistently run out of stock!
“It is a hard choice but we need to do it. I am sure with this, there is going to be an upsurge of refineries because there would be serious competition among oil marketers.”