The queues on the street of Abuja have disappeared and the fuel scarcity is not as worrisome as it was a few weeks back. However, one cannot say if this is temporary or we should brace up for another possible fuel scarcity – perhaps a worse one, anytime from now.
Most fuel stations are now discharging Premium Motor Spirit (PMS) popularly known as Petrol or Fuel, though most of them use one or two pump points even where there are as many as 20 discharge pump points. This means people who need the products may not be attended to immediately but what is a 5 minutes wait compared to a 5 hours queue? experienced at the peak of the scarcity.
The big question now is, why are black-market fuel sellers still lining up across some parts of Abuja city, with kegs filled with fuel and waving short pipes? On March 30, Media For Community Change Initiative tried to put a human face to the problem and understand the rationale behind the black marketers and their trade.After so much struggle, the young man understood that we were just asking what his name was and he replied, “Musbahu” without a smile as he tried to lift the 10 litres keg filled with fuel. Even with the help of an interpreter, he couldn’t tell what his age was, it didn’t seem to matter to him but he couldn’t be more than 12 years. We tried to ask if he was working for a Boss but it felt like the young boy was programmed to only tell the price of his trade “Na ₦3 500” and propose a reduced price of ₦2 800. Nothing else!
Just a few metres away, another young boy runs towards us with his 10 litres keg (popularly called jerrican), the keg boldly bears his name freshly written with a black marker, “Abdullahi”. He lifts and opens the content trying to convince me, “Oga, na better one!” He needed to do this for two reasons, the colour of the fuel in his keg was different from the others, slightly turning black. Secondly, he must have heard how weary people became with multiple news of vehicles engines being knocked off due to bad fuel.“What will you be doing if you aren’t here selling fuel”, I tried to ask him after confirming his name was truly Abdullahi as written on the keg. “Shouldn’t you be in school?” I sputtered in a mix of English and Hausa. He managed to explain “na my transport to go house I dey find, Oga,” there was silence and he walked away after a while!Awalu, another black marketer explained how just recently he has taken up this trade, “Me, I bi conductor for Utako, if work dey now I dey go – Lagos, Kano, Zamfara, anywhere.” He also agreed that the black-market business, “na quick money”, yet he would prefer to be gainfully employed elsewhere.Along the Airport Expressway, a few kilometres away from the City Gate, another black-market fuel seller crossed the road in a rush and almost pushed his 10 litres keg through the window. Suleiman was more expressive and seemed jovial. Couldn’t be that he had made much sales already at this early hour of the day; perhaps, this new line of work had brought in lots of returns lately.
When a black-market fuel seller tells you a 10-litre keg of fuel is worth ₦3 500, you do the maths and wonder why he is making a profit of over 100%, if he bought it at the standard cost of ₦165 per litre. After some haggling with Suleiman – we had a bit of back and forth. What I figured was that when black market seller reluctantly agrees to sell 10-litres of fuel for ₦2 800 or ₦2 500 but what they don’t tell you is that they bought at ₦2 200 or ₦2400 from the fuel attendants and only a paltry profit between ₦300 to ₦600 is made for every 10-litre black market fuel sold. At the peak of the fuel scarcity, it was possible to sell as many as 30 kegs at ₦3 500 each. So much profit – for an illegal trade!In an attempt to fill the puzzle of where the source of the constant flow of the black market fuel comes from, we tried to ask some fuel attendants, none of them was willing to share any thoughts. All we could get from them was, “we nur dey sell for keg” and it is not uncommon to see some attendants charging at people walking into the premises with kegs, “don’t bring that jerrican come here o.”
Over the last 8 weeks, this fuel scarcity has had its toll on various sectors of the economy. Small businesses had to resort to unscrewing generator tanks to get fuel, explaining why the cost of goods and services rendered by SMEs have shot up. In Abuja, we have seen transport costs rise by about 100%, in some cases 200%. No sector has been spared!
As we take in a breath of fresh air and smile at fuel attendants when we drive through the fuel stations, we dread seeing Nigerians back on the street, queuing for fuel or resorting to black market sources to fuel their day-to-day activities. So at the back of our minds, we ask ourselves, have we addressed the root of the problem? Will this be the end of fuel scarcity or should Nigerians brace up for another – perhaps a worse fuel scarcity, anytime from now?
Written by: Seyifunmi Adebote and Jimoh Oluwatobi Segun
Photographs by: Kim Dashong