Anger, pain for elusive litre

Sign of the times... A locked up filling station PHOTO: LAWRENCE NJOKU

Sign of the times… A locked up filling station PHOTO: LAWRENCE NJOKU

Nigerians Recount Ordeal, As Fares, Cost Of Living Soar
It takes a really agonising spell of fuel scarcity to bring out what the precious liquid means to Nigerians. At such times, it becomes clear how low they would stoop, how loud they would cry, and how long they would be willing to sleep at fuel stations in order to lay their hands on the darling fluid.

For the past two weeks, Nigerians have faced what some believe is the mother of all shortages of the commodity. While scarcity of PMS (Premium Motor Spirit), otherwise called petrol, is not entirely new, none perhaps has made a mess of the naira’s reputation, daring the alarmed currency to pick a single litre for as much as N400, against the official N86 price!
Expectedly, many who felt searching for fuel was not worth the trouble, parked their vehicles and hopped into commercial alternatives. But the public transporters, who had paid through the nose to get the product from opportunist black marketers, charged passengers according to how sad they felt about the situation.

A trip from Maryland to Oshodi, which used to be N70, cost N100/N150. Oshodi to Mile 2, formerly N100, stood at N150/N200. Gbagada to Yaba, formerly N100 cost N200. Yaba to Obalende also jumped from N100 to N200.

In Lagos, last week, many routes were gridlocked, due to activities around fuel stations: hundreds of motorists either were purchasing fuel or simply waiting in hope that the pumps would dispense. This was the case at Airport Road, Mile 2, Apapa, Orile-Badagry, Agege Motor Road Abule Egba, Oshodi, Mile 12, and Ikorodu axis, to mention but a few. At the Isolo/General Hospital end of Okota road, Friday morning, the queue of cars at the filling stretched well over 400 metres, as customers waited for the pumps to come to life.

Filling stations were a sea of heads and scenes of angry exchanges of words and often fists, as frustrated residents took on fuel attendants or simply turned around and devoured one another. Sometimes, disbelieving buyers were shocked at information from the stations that the commodity “just finished now now” or that some technical ‘problems’ forced the pumps to stop for the day.

At Mobil filling station in the Ire Akari Estate area of Lagos, Friday morning, hundreds of prospective buyers formed a ‘standing committee’ around the premises. Two heavily pregnant women stood out of the crowd with their bulging tummies. Each clutching a jerry can, they cut a pathetic sight. The very snakelike queue of gallons wound from the station, spilling its curves unto the road. The entire area was, of course, gridlocked, as car owners fought to meander past.

At Mobil filling station, Abaranje, in the Ikotun area of Lagos, late Thursday night, passersby might have thought no activity was ongoing at the premises. But for a handful of cars outside the station, everywhere was pitch darkness. It was sheer camouflage, however. At the pumps, stood about a dozen silhouettes.

An angry Franca Onyeka, resident in Maryland, said: “Movement has been curtailed and the cost of food stuff has gone up. I work in Isolo. In the morning, I came out to board a commercial bus, only to discover that the fare had jumped from N100 to N250. I have no option but trek to my office. I cannot afford it. My salary has not increased and I have a family to feed.”

Filling stations were a sea of heads and scenes of angry exchanges of words and often fists, as frustrated residents took on fuel attendants or simply turned around and devoured one another. Sometimes, disbelieving buyers were shocked at information from the stations that the commodity “just finished now now” or that some technical ‘problems’ forced the pumps to stop for the day.

Black marketers, meanwhile, were seen around many shut filling stations; men and women who somehow had managed to get what the stations (the authorised sellers) didn’t have. Or were they proxies for the station operators? For N250 and above, per litre, these traders sold the product well into the night.

One eyewitness in Akure, Mr. Olumide Aliu, narrated how a particular filling station in the town often took delivery of fuel diverted from two major marketers (who mustn’t dispense above the controlled price) and in turn sold a litre for N200/N220.
Aliu and other sources, who spoke to The Guardian, accused the major marketers, security agencies and the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) of conniving with private marketers to extort people.

“Officials of the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) arrived the private filling station, to the joy of buyers on the long queue, who believed the officers had come to intervene. To our surprise, they walked into the office of the manager. After a while, they emerged, stepped into their patrol van and drove off. Immediately, the petrol attendants resumed sale at N200!”

But the Ondo State Commandant of the NSCDC, Mr. Fasiu Adeyinka, said that in line with the directive of the Commandant General of the Corps, Alhaji Abdullahi Gana Muhammadu, the command has commenced 24-hour surveillance of petrol stations.
Adeyinka noted that the move seeks to curtail activities of black market operators. He said the order became necessary as the scarcity bites harder, causing untold hardship to people. He warned marketers to abstain from any illegal conduct, saying infractions would be dealt with in accordance with the law.

Last week, NSCDC personnel in the FESTAC Town area of Lagos State opened fire at a filling station, killing a young man who protested attempted seizure of his jerry can. The officers immediately fled the scene after the incident.
“They said they were on a special mission to wage war against black marketers. He refused to release his gallon and then poured the petrol on himself, saying it is better than giving it away to the Civil Defense.

“To my greatest surprise, they started shooting. They did not even turn their guns skywards; they pointed them at people, which led to the killing of Ikechukwu. He was shot three times. Bullets hit him in the shoulder, throat and stomach. He died instantly. Others who were badly injured are Dero Okowope, Smart and K.B,” said a witness.

One motorist, Rauf Abdulganiyu, regretted the highhandedness of military personnel at filling stations. According to him, “you needed to have seen the way they whipped us yesterday at Total filling station in Ifako, Gbagada!”

Mr. Tosin, a petrol seller in Ikorodu Road, Lagos, wondered why people continued to request fuel even when there is none. “We pity them because some of them think we have it. They come, wait for hours and then go home. Some lucky ones might be around when a consignment arrives. This, we sell quickly to our customers. As soon as the supply is exhausted, we shut down and lock the gates. But then others come around only to be told the sad news. It is not our fault. We no longer get supplies like before,” he said.

‘Operation show your gen’...Buyers standing beside their generators at a filling station  PHOTO: LABA ESEOGHENE

‘Operation show your gen’…Buyers standing beside their generators at a filling station<br />PHOTO: LABA ESEOGHENE

Helen Oshikoya, CEO of Nobelova Gradani Psycho-Educational Services, cried: “At the moment, we are unable to meet our clients’ needs. Most of our facilitators cannot get to their places of work. The cost of transportation is extremely high. We have been unable to get fuel, so we do not go out. In fact, we are considering shutting down for now. I have been working from home when there is electricity supply.”

Also lamenting the scarcity, Nifemi Fagbohun, a beauty expert, said the situation is affecting business adversely. “Sometimes, getting to our clients’ place poses a challenge because of the traffic and rowdiness around filling stations. It wears someone out even before the makeup job gets done. The power supply situation has been poor, necessitating use of a generator. It takes serious calculation before using the generating set in the office because, at times, we end up buying fuel from the black market. Last Sunday, my husband and I left Egbeda, all the way to Total filling station in Maryland in search of fuel, which we eventually got at N87 per litre.”

Mr. Ero Paul, a resident of Ojodu Berger, was sad that the fuel shortage coincided with a nationwide drop in electricity supply. He said: “This fuel crisis is annoying. My phone has been off for two straight days. I had to use a small phone to keep in touch with people. I missed two important jobs because I was unreachable. As if that was not bad enough, I cannot even get fuel in my car; my fuel tank is in the red. Everything in my refrigerator has gone bad. What kind of government is this?”
Last Monday, fuel stations that sold the product for N160 and N170 per litre in Enugu State adjusted their meters to N250 per litre, consequently increasing the pains of residents. As at the time of filing this report on Friday morning, most independent marketers had adjusted their pumps to N270.

Officials of the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) arrived the private filling station, to the joy of buyers on the long queue, who believed the officers had come to intervene. To our surprise, they walked into the office of the manager. After a while, they emerged, stepped into their patrol van and drove off. Immediately, the petrol attendants resumed sale at N200!

The NNPC filling station at Naira Triangle where the product was being sold was a war zone. Vehicles hit one other amid maddening frenzy to join the queue. Residents exchanged blows freely and traded insults.

The promise by the Minister of State for Petroleum, Ibe Kachikwu, to make the product available during the week and bring an end to the long queues has gone unfulfilled. Rather than disappear, queues increased and may even get worse next week.
Investigations showed that many people who could not afford exorbitant fares trekked to their destinations. The usual chaos associated with morning rush hour disappeared, as few vehicles took to the roads.

The development was felt in every sphere, as prices of goods and services increased. Business centres charged N10 per photocopy, instead of the usual N5. Barbers also jerked up the cost of a hair cut from N200 to N300. Also, a trip from Enugu to Nsukka, which used to be N300, became N700.

“This is a clear failure of leadership. And the President of the Federal Republic, who also acts as the substantive Minister for Petroleum, has not deemed it fit to address the nation on the urgent need to redress this problem, which has in the past few months thrown most of the citizens of this country into sufferings and abject poverty,” said President, Civil Rights Realisation and Advancement Network (CRRAAN), Mr. Olu Omotayo.

Asked how he was coping with the situation, a banker, Joy Onwe, said: “I have since parked my car. The last purchase I made was N120. When I went back and they said N170, I refused to buy and decided to park the car. I heard they are now selling for N300 or thereabout. Well, I can’t afford that. Let the car be. What is important to me is how to feed my family and not a car. Prices of goods have skyrocketed and that is what I am worried about.”

In Port Harcourt, as at Friday, a litre of petrol was sold N180/N200. Despite the cost, the product was largely out of reach. Filling stations, especially those of major marketers, like Oando, Total and MRS, were closed. The few others who had supply were attended by very long queues.

A hairdresser in the Old Ojo Road area of Lagos, Mrs. Mabel Osayande, has a peculiar problem. Government agencies trying to end the scarcity by truncating the activities of black marketers, ruled that fuel should not be sold into jerry cans for any reason whatsoever. Generator owners have to drag the appliance to the station or bring the fuel tanks. But not all generators can be wheeled around easily or tampered with anyhow. At least, not the kind Mrs. Osayande has. And coupled with her customers’ unwillingness to pay reviewed rates, she was forced to make a decision.

“This scarcity is becoming a normal occurrence in this administration. After I bought my new big generator, I vowed I would always buy fuel from the filling stations because the black market quality cannot be trusted. But even after struggling to get the fuel, the customers still refuse to pay the new price. This is not good for business. On Saturday, the Department of Petroleum Resources ordered that if you want to buy fuel, you had to bring your generator, not a jerry can. But how am I expected to pack a generator as big as mine? As a result, I have stopped doing anything in my salon that involves use of electricity. This decision will continue until the situation improves. The stress is simply unbearable,” she exclaimed.



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