Police Come, We Settle Them,They Turn Back, Say Black Marketers

Black market...Gallons of petrol (foreground) for sale near a filling station along Airport road, Lagos

Black market…Gallons of petrol (foreground) for sale near a filling station along Airport road, Lagos

THE black market for Premium Motor Spirit (petrol) is booming. Although the trade is illegal and the product may not pass the quality test, it is sadly the most readily available supply outlet, and near-helpless buyers are availing themselves of it. Many consumers prefer getting the product from these black men rather than wait for hours on uncertain queues at uncertain filling stations. As long, therefore, as a buyer continues to find a seller, the dark traders may keep smiling from ear to ear.

There are two types of these marketers: those who engage in the business permanently, as a source of living, and have a fixed location for the purpose; and opportunists who cash in on seasonal scarcities to store the commodity and sell at multiple times the actual price.

Threats of arrest by law enforcement agencies do little or nothing to stop black marketers; it’s an all too familiar game, and they know how to play around it.

Police come to our area of business often. When they do, we just pay them as usual. Of course, we know the business is illegal; that is why we pay when they come. We are under a union that has an agreement with them. So, they collect the ‘settlement’ and go, instead of arresting us. People who are arrested or harassed are those who are not under the union’s umbrella. There is no specified amount we pay to the officers; we just give them anything we have.

Mr. Dare Akinsanya, a black marketer in Apapa, said he belongs to a trade association, which offers a degree of protection. He added that the marketers also have an understanding with the police. Hence, when the latter show up, they simply settle them with bread and they are left to carry on with sales. Failure to belong to the union amounts to risking arrest.
“Police come to our area of business often. When they do, we just pay them as usual. Of course, we know the business is illegal; that is why we pay when they come. We are under a union that has an agreement with them. So, they collect the ‘settlement’ and go, instead of arresting us. People who are arrested or harassed are those who are not under the union’s umbrella. There is no specified amount we pay to the officers; we just give them anything we have.”

It is a known fact that when there is severe scarcity of fuel and many filling stations are closed, black marketers still operate. They can be trusted to have fuel at any day and at anytime, a feat they justify by the high prices they demand. Their products are fetched from different sources. Some get fuel directly from depots. Others do from pipeline vandals. When their supply is short, the pipeline exploiters are forced to buy from fuel stations. This, of course, eats into their profit margin. Fuel stations sell per litre; depots on the other hand simply fill the kegs.

I get my fuel from oil depots at Coconut and Marine beaches. Sometimes, a guy supplies me from pipeline vandals. So, we are always in business because we buy directly and that pays better. When the scarcity is so bad and we have to buy from the stations, it does not profit much. The stations sell per litre to us but the depot would fill it to the brim, not minding the fact that the kegs have expanded beyond their normal size due to constant use,” said one marketer, who asked to remain anonymous.

Some sellers have informants at filling stations who notify them when fuel is available. They buy the commodity in large quantities and wait for desperate consumers to come calling. Often, the product is sold quite close to the fuel station, from where people, frustrated by endless hours on queues, could have a rethink.

Fuel scarcity is not the fault of the black marketers. So much insanity attends the situation and they exploit it, and feed on people’s desperation. They buy in large quantities knowing they could double or even triple prices. They are, however, helpful to people who can afford it,” said a motorist, on a queue in Gbagada.
But as profitable as the business is, people often forget the risk involved in storing large quantities of the highly inflammable product in residential areas.

Blacky, a marketer at Olodi Apapa, who has large drums of the product outside his apartment, said: “Before now, a lot of houses went up in flames due to careless handling of fuel. Now, we are more cautious; we have learnt from our mistakes and have taken note of the do’s and don’ts. It is not advisable to sell fuel near residential buildings. But with lack of employment in the country, one has to survive, one way or the other.”



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