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15.06.2016 Feature Article

Woes And Gains Of Fuel Scarcity By Hawkers

Woes And Gains Of Fuel Scarcity By Hawkers
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As scarcity of Premium Motor Spirit (PMS) punched hard on the country in February 2016 lasting for about two months, the economy was grounded and filling stations turned to bedrooms of some sorts to motorists, while commuters paid transport fares through their nostrils.

“The official slouches was that the fuel scarcity would end by the first week of April but it may take about four more weeks to get fuel into the country due to the long process of ordering petrol from refineries,” reported Emmanuel Asiwe, Publisher of Huhu Online, 10th April 2016.

The fate that befell motorists was not different from other users of the product like generator sets users. According to Asiwe, “This crisis was inevitable, when the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), in a fit of bad judgment reduced the import allocation ratio of private companies from 60% to 22%.”

Nigeria was at a crucial turning point. Anna Rosenberg, director of sub-Saharan Africa research at Frontier Strategy Group, said. “It could muddle through this year with relatively low growth, but only if the government adjusts monetary policy and lets the naira devalue.”

Wayside hawkers otherwise called black marketers had a field day; they took on the opportunity to make money genuinely, covertly and overtly by selling ‘any type of fuel’ at their disposal to unwary public.

They sold 10 litres jerry can of petrol that ordinarily shouldn’t cost more than N1000, between the rate of N2, 000 or N2, 500. That was based on the level of the scarcity. Some sold the same litres of fuel between the rate of N2, 800 or N3000.

That was against the official price of N86 per litre. Asiwe believed that, that happened because “the NNPC was expected to import the entire balance in supply of petrol requirements for allocation to oil marketers for eventual distribution” but it failed.

“Indeed, the NNPC even argued that this option would not only be profitable but also checkmate any hanky-panky by oil marketers over the volume of fuel imported,” Asiwe added.

Some houses gutted fire as a result of hoarding petrol in houses, while a few black marketers paid the great price with their lives in the infernos and in the hands of authorities, while others were thrown into prison.

Observations
Conversely, many people shouted against the touts that they made the product’s price skyrocket. But many motorists who ran out of fuel late night were saved by the black marketers who stayed put in the business from dusk to dawn.

Noticing the atrocious adulteration in PMS during the period, the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) didn’t shy away from admonishing all operators of petroleum products depots from objectionable actions of sullying, hoarding, alteration and manipulation of the product.

Perils Of Hawkers
The scarcity attracted both international and local attention. “Nigeria is no stranger to fuel scarcity,” as according to Bloomberg News. “Despite its massive oil wealth, years of mismanagement have left state-owned refineries working at a fraction of their 445,000 barrels per day capacity.”

The Forte Oil Petrol Station on 21 Road in the FESTAC Town area of Lagos State on April 6 2016, was thrown into disarray when a young man who hawked PMS and simply identified as Emeka, was supposedly shot by personnel of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC).

Two other hawkers whose names were given as Smart Ogabor and Oladiran Atolagbe were also shot.

While Emeka was said to have died on the spot as later confirmed at Lagos Mainland General Hospital, Yaba, the other two that were alive were hurried to a hospital.

Confirming the incident to newsmen, a resident who was simply identified as Abiodun, said, “I was present at the filling station. The hawker was killed by one of the NSCDC men.

“Out of the four persons the officials who were taskforce that came to the filling station to seize jerry cans shot, one died; others were rushed to the hospital.”

Eyewitnesses said that there sin was their involvement in selling PMS in jerry cans due to the scarcity of the product in the state, when government had reportedly ordered petrol hawkers to desist from what it called “illicit trade in petroleum”.

“We were on an official duty, monitoring the area to see if there were filling stations selling more-than the pump price,” said the NSCDC Lagos State Command, Mefor Chibuzor.

Police Interference
When the gun shots were noticed, youths who wanted to stage a protest after, in condemnation of the act by the NSCDC, were prevented by the Area E Command, after the officials of the NSCDC denied killing anybody.

In a statement issued by the Lagos State Police Public Relations Officer, SP Dolapo Badmos, it was gathered that the NSCDC personnel shot unsystematically when they arrived the filling station.

“Armed with AK 47 rifles, petroleum product hawkers were raided on the 21 Road, FESTAC, by roughly seven operatives of the NSCDC, in a Toyota Hilux.

“They fired intermittently injuring Ogabor, Atolagbe and Emeka and absconded to unidentified place.

“This is one of the incidences the persistent scarcity of fuel that is habitually witnessed in the states across the country cause,” SP Badmos said.

Arrest Of Hawkers
Across the country, fuel hawkers were arrested during the scarcity. In Lagos alone, ten fuel hawkers were arrested on April 3 2016 by the Lagos State Task Force on Environmental and Special Offences (Enforcement) Unit for purportedly complicating traffic in the Oshodi and Ikeja areas of Lagos State.

Confirming the arrest, the unit’s spokesman, Adebayo Taofiq, said that the hawkers caused vehicular gridlock whereas the Chairman of the task force, SP Olayinka Egebyemi had given ordinance in no circumstance should there be vehicular clustering around filling stations in Lagos State, (perhaps due to hawkers).

Sentence Of Hawkers
A Gudu Upper Area Court in the FCT in the same month supposedly, sentenced seven fuel hawkers to two weeks imprisonment each “for hawking the commodity.”

The names of the convicts were given as Sani Bagudu, Kabir Abubabkar, Danjuma Bello, Lawal Rabiu, Abdulrahman Saidu, Yunusa Isa and Salisu Ibrahim – all of Garki, Area 1, Abuja.

The presiding officer, Alhaji Umar Kagarko, who reportedly sentenced them after they pleaded guilty to the charge, said, “Your action is hazardous and could cause fire outbreak in public places.’’ He, however, apparently gave them an option of N3000 fine each.

Police Rebuttals
In a swift reaction on April 30 2016, the Nigeria Police Force (NPF) frowned at the series of arrest made on fuel hawkers, and said that the order given by the Inspector General of Police, Solomon Arase, “on arrest of petroleum hawkers was targeted at those hoarding and diverting petroleum products” like the big marketers and not the street peddlers of the product.

“Further to the Nigeria Police Force directives on the activities of unscrupulous elements who engage in illegal sale of petroleum products, there is need to make some clarification that the directive was specifically targeted at those who are involved in hoarding and diverting the petroleum products,” contained in a statement signed by the Force Public Relations Officer, ACP Olabisi Kolawole.

The statement went further, “However, those with genuine intention to use the products for their legal and genuine business are allowed to purchase the products.”

Why Hawkers Are On Prowl
Many periods that scarcity of fuel has rapped the country, fingers were pointed at deregulation policy as a major culprit. Others were that major marketers were barred from importation.

The fingers lengthened to point at the fact that import licences were delayed by the NNPC; the latter being the main importer of the product never managed the downstream sector nicely.

An editorial in a national broadsheet of November 26, 2009, laughed at the NNPC’s boast that it had saved fuel for the country that was to take the country for a period.

“In the past two weeks, desperate motorists and citizens who need fuel have besieged the few filling stations where fuel is available. Stranded passengers bemoan the ugly situation,” said the editorial.

But the incessant scarcity always worsened with misinformation coming from government apparatuses. Sometimes, blame went to the NNPC of having importation and distribution management crisis.

“Fuel hawkers have a field day as black market trade in fuel thrives. A 10-litre keg of fuel that normally sells for N650 is sold for N1, 500 or more (in 2009).

“Ironically, the fuel attendants prefer selling to hawkers who in turn sell to motorists at cut-throat prices,” the source added.

2016 Fuel Scarcity
At the cook of the 2016 fuel scarcity, blames were traded with All Progressives Congress (APC) leader, Bola Tinubu casted indignation against Oil Minister, Ibe Kachikwu, as if the later did not know his job.

The bone of contention was that the Minister said that he was not a magician to solve the fuel crisis in one week. The NNPC had given assurances in different fora of providing fuel, but they were hardly met.

“Premium Motor Spirit (PMS) sold at between N130 and N200 a litre as against the official price of N86.50. The result was a hike in transport fares. Stranded commuters suffered untold hardship, and bemoaned the recurrent ugly situation, which showed no signs of abating as motorists waited endlessly to purchase fuel.

“Hawkers threw caution to the wind, selling petrol in residential areas and along major roads in the country. Meanwhile, the power sector is facing its lowest moments which has plunged the nation into suffocating darkness, as fuel scarcity denies domestic and commercial consumers from operating private power generators,” Asiwe enthused.

Government Hand Tied
As the scarcity raged, the Federal Government in May 2016 said in Abuja that its hands were tied over the choice to raise the pump price of petrol.

The Minister of Information, Culture and Tourism, Alhaji Lai Mohammed was it who said this during a meeting with the national leadership of the ruling party, APC, in Abuja.

“We do not have other option because the regime before now was based on a process where some licensed oil marketers would go to the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and open a lot of credit.

“When a lot of credit is opened, they bring in the fuel but unfortunately the price of crude oil which accounted for over 70 per cent of our foreign exchange crashed from an all-high level of 100 dollars to under 30 dollars. As a matter of fact, for some parts of this year we sold crude for 28 dollars,” Mohammed said.

Some stakeholders of the party at the parley said that from 1999 a particular government did not save money for the rainy day, resulting to inflation in the country and people must devise means to eke a living.

"However, the market fundamentals neither support a return to subsidy nor an upward review of prices at the pump. The NNPC is grappling with fresh challenges as its operational deficit rose to N24.23 billion in February, from N3.55 billion in January.

"Ultimately, the NNPC reversed course with a new allocation formula that reverts the bulk of importation to the private marketers in exchange for a commitment not to engage in sabotage and hoarding. The decision to give a greater allocation ratio back to private companies will allow NNPC to focus on the key task of building domestic fuel reserves," Asiwe added.

Alhaji Mohammed opined that government expended over 1 trillion naira in subsidy in 2015 alone; he added that government didn’t have enough foreign exchange to open letter of credit for anybody who wanted to bring in fuel.

“Last month I was informed that the total amount of foreign exchange available to Nigeria was 550 million dollars and NNPC needed 500 million dollars out of it so you can see why it’s not working,” he said.

Nevertheless, Nigerians are still crying that the price of petrol is still on the high side even though it has been officially lapsed at N145 per litre after the three months fuel scarcity that motorists paid puffed-up prices to buy PMS for their vehicles at the filling stations across the country.

Hawkers Make Money
Poverty in the country caused by a demising economy was rife, leading to persons diversifying to make a living.

Across the country, many people especially the youths saw hawking fuel whenever there was scarcity as a blossoming business to survive on.

“Checks by Abuja Metro revealed that majority of them work for either fuel attendants or other unofficial middlemen, including taxi drivers, who buy the product at the official price of N86 per litre and sell to motorists at between N200 and N350 per litre,” reported Nigerian Journalists Isaac Anumihe, Dennis Mernyi and Gilbert Ejembi, April 20 2016.

They continued, “The hawkers confirmed that they make between N5, 000 and N10, 000 daily, thus lending credence to the saying that one person’s loss is another’s gain.”

Where They Go After Scarcity
In all the detonations and stimulations of fuel scarcity, Mr. Onoseme Moses, an entrepreneur based in Port Harcourt, the capital of Rivers State, said that some of the hawkers who have businesses they do, fall back to them after scarcity, whereas many do not have a paying job.

“I know of a bricklayer who goes to hawk fuel whenever there is fuel scarcity and he falls back to his occupation as soon as the boom is over.

“I believe there are hawkers like the bricklayer. Some of the fuel hawkers have table-stands where they sell the product after scarcity; they fall back at their fuel-stand.

“The truth is that there are persons whose business is fuel hawking; they have table-stands and are in the business from January to December.

“Many of the hawkers seen in the streets during fuel scarcity were mainly intruders who do not have paying jobs; so they take on the opportunity to survive and disappear into the streets as soon as the scarcity is over, for other opportunities they might get,” Onoseme said.

Odimegwu Onwumere is a Rivers State based poet, writer and consultant and winner, in the digital category, Nordica Media Merit Awards 2016. Tel: +2348057778358. Email: [email protected]

Odimegwu Onwumere
Odimegwu Onwumere, © 2016

The author has 590 publications published on Modern Ghana.Column: OdimegwuOnwumere

Disclaimer: "The views/contents expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of Modern Ghana. Modern Ghana will not be responsible or liable for any inaccurate or incorrect statements contained in this article."

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