How Fuel Scarcity May Mar Yuletide

Fuel-Scarcity• Generators Run Shorter Hours
• Travellers Groan Over Fares Hike
• As Black Marketers Thrive Unfettered
• FRSC Tasks Motorists On Safety, Unveils Preparedness

BARELY five days to Christmas, there are indications that celebrations may be blighted by acute shortage of Premium Motor Spirit (PMS) popularly called petrol. While for decades the festive season has gained notoriety for sporting long queues at fuel stations, the peculiar lead up to this year’s holiday suggests the pains could hurt deeper.

Since it is guaranteed that Power Holding Company of Nigeria will withhold electricity from millions of homes, many celebrants will be forced to fall back on generators. But they will have to ration use of the device. The reason is too obvious: sound from a gen filled at N200 per litre (as against N87) is louder, noisier. And Nigerians are a quiet people. As it stands, there could be less TV watching hours, less refrigerated drinks, and less fun.

What had been epileptic supply of the product took a turn for the worse less than a month ago resulting in frustrating queues, boom in black market sales and dry pumps. With unscrupulous owners of fuel stations courting greedy black marketers, the duo may be tempted to carry their lucrative romance as long as the authorities snooze.

In Kano, last week, long queues were spotted in the few filling stations that had the product, as a litre was sold for N125/N130. NNPC (Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation) stations sold fuel at the approved retail price of N87, but the queue is “very, very long!” exclaimed one resident, who resorted to buying from a black marketer across the road at N140, because he found the wait exasperating.

The town was literally awash with black marketers who plied their trade very close to the stations. Sometimes, under public glare, these marketers could be seen purchasing the product from the same filling stations that earlier had claimed they ran out of the product. Meanwhile, the fare from Kano to Bauchi, what used to cost N2200, now dithers between N2500 and N3000, and is expected to soar to N3200 by Christmas.

In Gombe, also last week, petrol stations that had the commodity sold N120-N140 in what was attended by long queues. Black marketers swarmed around these stations, giving away their own litre for N200. And wherever they were magnanimous enough to peg the price at N180, they attracted large numbers of desperate buyers. Far from the state capital, residents, at filing stations, could purchase a litre for N140, if they were willing to make the ‘journey’.

The petrol profiteers ruled, as long as men of the DPR (Department of Petroleum Resources) were away. When they storm the stations, however, they force the managers to revert to the approved pump price.

The Department recently alleged that 10 stations in Gombe and Bauchi diverted 800,000 litres of PMS. It went on to seal 17 stations in both states for what it described as sharp practices.

DPR officer, Bernard Amos, who led the enforcement team told reporters in Gombe that some filling stations owned both by independent marketers and one by NNPC had their hands deep in the unwholesome practice of selling above the pump price, and to black marketers in jerry cans.

fuel scarcityAmong the sealed stations were: Danlami Petroleum along Maiduguri road, Bauchi (diverted 33,000 liters of PMS); Sumsons Enterprises Ltd, Km 6, Kano-Kari road Misau, Bauchi State (diverted 110, 000 litres of PMS and 80,000 liters of DPK i.e., Dual Purpose Kerosene); Al-ihsan Transport Nigeria Ltd in Yana, Shira, Bauchi State (diverted 210, 000 liters of PMS).

Amos noted that the Department was constrained to be mild because of the high demand for petroleum products, else the punishment might have been more stringent, to serve as deterrent to defaulters. He vowed that the Department would intensify surveillance of retail outlets with a view to sanitising the activities of marketers.

Meanwhile, a trip from Gombe to Bauchi, formerly N800, had climbed up to N1000, with the Gombe chairman of the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW) urging commercial drivers not to add to the suffering of travellers by inflating fares.

Transporters planning to ferry passengers from Lagos to the East and North may face a shortage of passengers as a result of the fuel scarcity and increase in fares.

At the Young Shall Grow Motors, last week, the fare from Lagos to Maiduguri had risen from N7,500 to N8,050. And this could still spike further. Already, some passengers are finding themselves on the unhappy side of fares.
When The Guardian visited some motor parks in Iddo and Oshodi, it discovered some travellers were forced to abort their trips, as what they had hoped to pay fell short of what transporters demanded. Some of the parks included Young Shall Grow Motors; Gobison Motors; Ezenwata Motors; and Bonnyway Motors.

Decrying the scarcity, a driver at Izuchukwu Motors, Theodore Harrison, said: “We buy 50 litres of fuel for N7,000 from black marketers. This is with uncertainty whether the product is genuine or adulterated because on several occasions our engines develop faults. It is rumoured that some marketers mix petrol with kerosene, in order to maximise profit, and this is dangerous to the health of our vehicles.”

Asked if he thinks the scarcity would ease, he said: “I see no indication that that would happen before Christmas; rather it would get worse, as a result of increase in activities that precedes the festival. The crisis began before December, sadly, since that time, the federal government has not been able to contain it.”

Harrison noted that his company could increase fares by 20 per cent during the celebration. According to him, “We increase fares during Christmas, whether there is fuel scarcity or not. Fares would particularly jump by December 25.”

He added: “I feel very bad because things are difficult in the country today. I am not even sure my family would travel for the Christmas celebration. Fewer people will travel this year because of the fuel situation, insecurity and financial hardship. In the past, beginning from December 5, we always had large numbers of passengers wanting to travel. They would arrive with bags of rice and other items for the celebration. But now, there are no passengers because of the hardship in the country.”

Desperate, he prayed that “God would deliver us from this fuel crisis; it is beyond what we can tackle alone. We are not making profit any more because passengers cannot afford the fare. Some of our colleagues who try to buy fuel in filling stations often spend more than a day in the process. Last year, this period, we loaded five buses a day. Now, we struggle to load one in an entire day.”

At The Young Shall Grow park in Iddo, Lagos, The Guardian met Demola, a passenger, who was asked to cough out N25,000, to have his goods transported to Maiduguri.

Fully ‘armed’ with four jerry cans and rolled up pair of trousers, a prospective buyer ‘storms’ a filling station, flanked by ‘armoured’ cars.

Fully ‘armed’ with four jerry cans and rolled up pair of trousers, a prospective buyer ‘storms’ a filling station, flanked by ‘armoured’ cars.

Visibly upset, Demola said: “The money is too much for me to pay. In fact, I am stranded. I expected them to ask for N10, 000. The things I want to move include a washing machine, four cartons of books, an electricity generator, a bag of food and a water dispenser. Now, I am even thinking of how to shrink the load, so that the fare would reduce. We pray that situations improve in the nation. The fare to Maiduguri per passenger is now N8,050. As at August, it was N7,500.”
Amaka Nwakama of Gobison Motors said: “We travel from Lagos to Abuja, Zaria, Kaduna, Kogi and Kano States. At present, we charge N5,050 to Kano, which is our last bus stop. I feel that by December 25, the fare would increase to N8,000. We do not have enough passengers. Instead of 55 passengers for our luxurious bus, we end up with 30. The federal government should move quickly and settle the misunderstanding it has with the oil marketers, in order to end the fuel crisis.”

Public Relation Officer, Bonnyway Motors, Chief Chima Asika, said besides the fuel crisis, transport operators hike fares because they borrow money from banks, and these banks often stipulate a short payback period.

He added: “We face a tough time on queues everyday to refuel our vehicles. We are, however, trying to adjust, to cope with the crisis because we do not need to stop our operations. Fares would increase during Christmas. But my worry is people returning to Lagos after the holiday; many exhaust their money merrymaking and face unfriendly fares when they plan to return.”

Ahmed Bello, a roadside vulcanizer in Iddo, who wanted to travel to Abuja, voiced frustration over the fare hike and fuel crisis. “For ordinary Nigerians, living has not been easy. But this fuel shortage has compounded matters; it is like the proverbial ‘frying pan to fire’. If government does its part by releasing more petrol into the market, transporters also would reduce their grip on fares. And if they have to raise them, it would be with a human face.”

Another passenger, Taiwo Lawal, blamed the fuel situation on corruption and mismanagement. He said: “To make fuel affordable, Nigeria has frozen the price of a litre of petrol at N87 naira, lower than the global market rate. Fuel importers expect subsidy payments from the government, to make up for the difference. When the government does not pay, fuel becomes scarce, causing panic. But the subsidy programme has been rife with corruption, including false claims and overpayments.”

A petty trader and passenger, Umar Sani, on his part, called on stakeholders in the transportation sector to prevail on commercial drivers to bring down fares, even as one motorist who refused to give his name, said: “It is a shame that an oil-producing nation, like Nigeria, is going through this hardship.”

In the same vein, Chinedu Kingsman, who wanted to travel to Onitsha expressed disappointment at how transporters, especially those who ply eastern and northern routes, hike fares arbitrarily, even when the pump price of petrol remains unchanged in some fuel stations.

“It seems these operators, at the slightest chance, are bent on making profit from the suffering of the common man. Although I was taken aback by the return of long queues at fuel outlets in Abuja, I never thought it would last this long, given assurances by the NNPC on availability of the product. But commercial motorists could, at least, show some sympathy to people, even as we look forward to the queues disappearing,” said Kingsman.
THE Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC) has urged motorists and other road users to exercise caution as they move about during the Christmas holidays.

Lagos State Sector Commander, Hyginus Omeje, warned that the Commission would wield the big stick for people who violate traffic rules during the season.

Omeje, who spoke to The Guardian in his office, last week, added that travelling in the period would not be business as usual, as the FRSC has mobilised patrol teams to enforce its mandate.

According to the road safety boss, the Commission has come up with a programme that would ensure critical corridors within Lagos State are gridlock free. These include Lagos-Ibadan expressway, Lekki-Epe expressway and Lagos-Badagry expressway

“All these roads would be properly managed. The Commission would maintain camps where our men would be stationed. We have camps in Ojodu Berger, Lagos and Mowe in Ogun State. We are going to provide 24-hour service. We held a meeting with private toll trucks operators. This is to ensure we have trucks in designated points. In the event of a vehicle breakdown, we can easily reach it and move the obstructing vehicle away.

“Also, we are going to set up tents for health purpose. This is to care for people who sustain injuries on the road. One of the tents would be at Ojota, Lagos, while another would be at OPIC, Ogun State. Our men will be in Ojota day and night to monitor vehice movements.”

Omeje, who said the FRSC would redeploy some of its personnel from commands in Ikotun, Ikeja and Oshodi, stressed: “We are moving our officers to these three major expressways. We have not less than 15 patrol vehicles for the mission. Our presence in the city would not be visible this period because there would be massive movement out of Lagos. And we are going to pay attention to the three corridors, to ensure traffic moves freely.

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