Nagging fuel, power supply crises leave Nigerians groaning

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By Cosmas Omegoh (Lagos) and Uche Usim (Abuja)

Nigerians – particularly residents of Lagos and Abuja –have been having a rough patch as fuel and power crises persisted for several weeks.

Many who have been enduring the long hours on the queue, hike in transport fares, business shutdown and more as the fuel crisis persisted are telling tales of pains. Untitled20 6  

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Not left out are individuals who also have had to deal with living without electricity – another huge burden coming on the heels of worsening national challenge.   

Many in the latter group have been having no power supply just as they cannot buy fuel at the exorbitant prices it is being sold at the moment to power their power generators. They too have been telling their own experiences at night time as the hot season attains its annual peak.       

Sadly, after long weeks of surviving on limited supply or no Premium Motor Spirit (PMS) at all, Nigerians are yet to enjoy any respite. 

For everyone, it has been untold hardship since early February when the fuel scarcity situation began to emerge. Untitled22 3

For about eight weeks running, the Nigerian economy has been strained by protracted scarcity of petrol, which has led to business slow down, shutdowns and loss of man hours for consumers who stayed on fuel queues for hours unending. No part of the country seems to be spared from the horror. For states not experiencing petrol queues, petrol sells for N210/litre and above.

When the crisis first started, no one knew it would last much longer than anticipated. Now, it is a long walk. For almost a month, some filling stations have had no fuel. Their pumps are dry.

But wherever the scarce commodity is found, vehicles are seen queuing for long hours. The pump prices never stayed the same as long as the commodity is available. They are unstable, oftentimes selling well above N220 per litre as against the N162 official price.  

Gradually, what presented like a problem that would be solved in days has lasted much longer than anticipated, yet there seems to be no visible solution in sight to break the jinx.

The NNPC angle

It is unfortunate, that week after week, the Nigerian National Petroleum Company Limited (NNPC) regaled frustrated Nigerians with soothing claims of having billions of litres of petrol in stock. 

Yet, the filling stations paint an opposite scenario, with long queues of vehicles snaking almost a kilometer long.

Just last week, the national oil company in its weekly evacuation report for February 21 to February 26, 2022, said that it distributed 381.88 million litres of petrol nationwide.

According to the latest report, the distribution of PMS decreased by 1.4 per cent compared to the total distribution of 387.59 million litres between February 14 and February 20, 2022.

The oil firm said that it recorded an average evacuation of 63.65 million litres daily – an increase of 14.6 per cent from a total of 55.5 million litres daily average recorded in the previous week.

“Eighty per cent of all evacuation took place at the top 20 high-loading depots, while 20 per cent of evacuation took place at other loading depots.

“On the top high-loading depot chart, Pinnacle-Lekki accounted for the highest evacuation at 43.2 million litres; AITEO accounted for 22.4 million litres, while AA Rano also evacuated a total of 22.4 million litres,”report said.

It added that Ardova Plc, Sobaz Nigeria Limited, and Mainland accounted for the lowest evacuation at 8.8 million litres, 8.9 million litres, and 8.8million litres, respectively.

Many have picked holes in the aforementioned figures, doubting the veracity of it. This is because industry statistics puts Nigeria’s daily consumption at an average of 56 million litres. 

So, if the NNPC supplied the right volume of petrol as claimed, the queues should naturally disappear.

However, aside the rationed reticulation of petrol, there are also concerns over the alleged trans-border smuggling, compounding the scarcity imbroglio. 

To this end, the Group Managing Director of the NNPC, Mr Mele Kyari, said that the company was working closely with security agencies to tackle the matter and safeguard tankers and the drivers who now work round the clock.

“This will ensure that scarcity created by panic buying will now be freed so that normalcy will return to filling stations.

“Typically, in situations like this, people go to the filling stations and buy in excess of what they need and this is what additional supply will resolve. I am very sure that very soon we will see relief from this,” he assured.

On viral rumours about using the scarcity to prepare Nigerians for a post-subsidy era, Kyari rebutted such claims, insisting that there were no plans to increase the pump price of petrol. He urged marketers to sell at the approved government price.

He added that Major Oil Marketers Association of Nigeria (MOMAN), Depot and Petroleum Products Marketers Association of Nigeria (DAPPMAN) and Nigeria Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG) were on the same page with the NNPC to sanction defaulting stakeholders.

Kyari stated that the NNPC was further intensifying efforts at resolving the distribution hitches being experienced in some parts of the country due to logistics issues. 

“We have engaged depot operators to load products round the clock to accelerate the restoration of normal distribution.”

The GMD also disclosed that he had engaged the services of government security agencies to ensure that all products loaded get to the right destination, and affirmed that sanction will be melted to any operator selling above the stipulated pump price.

The power supply drop challenge  

Sadly, as the days go by without any solution in sight, another major problem – power drop – has been added to the ongoing one. 

More and more people have been grieving over this latter challenge.  

Nigerians hardly enjoy a straight five-hour supply of electricity in a day. But, the situation has worsened. They no longer have any supply.  

The Federal Government had announced a sharp fall in power supply lately, characteristically blaming the perennial drop in the volume of water in the River Niger for the problem.

As it stands, Nigerians, aside the socio-economic trauma they have been experiencing, now have more than a handful.

Surviving without power  

Indeed, many Nigerians would have been unfazed if only there is fuel scarcity in town. They are further wounded because there is no power supply. This has pilled more sorrow on every weary heart.

Now, here is a little idea of what every distraught family feels every night as the hot season rages unabated.    

On this day, it was approaching 8:00p.m. The temperature on the night was hot and humid, the air still and torrid,  and if measured would less likely be below 43 degrees Celsius. The searing heat left everyone perspiring profusely.   

Mrs Peters (not her real name) and her three kids sat on a mat spread out on a concrete section of the soak away pit in their compound in Ijesha area of Surulere, Lagos. 

It wasn’t clear if the children were telling and enjoying tales by moonlight – just to while away time.

Their mother, of middle age, had her wrapper tied slightly above her breast region, sitting forlorn.   

Over the past weeks, hers was among the families that had devised this ingenious way of keeping cool and staying off the harm’s way every night. They would stay out-of-the room for a time that lasts deep into the night. 

But the idea comes with its own cost.

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On this occasion, Mrs Peters was armed with a locally-made hand fan with which she continuously fanned herself. Intermittently,  she slapped the kids’ bare body with the device to drive away angry and hungry mosquitoes foraging for food, having stepped up their terrifying onslaughts.

The Peters have a small power-generating set, the one many in Lagos call “I Better Pass My Neighbour.” Almost everyone living in the same compound – no less than six families – all have the same generating set. They turn them on to generate power to charge their cell phones and light to see and watch their televisions sets.

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But during this period, none of the families has hardly seen fuel to power their systems. Everyone was in darkness. Only the sound of a generator was being heard in two compounds away.

Some of the occupants of the building sat at various vantage positions wishing the long hours of the night were shortened by providence.  

“We have not had power supply in days,” Mrs Peters told our correspondent, trying to figure out the last time they had supply. “It was, I think two days ago, told that they flashed it in the evening. My cell phone had hardly chalked up one bar before the power went off again. Since then, we have been in darkness.”

She recalled that “before now, one could buy four litres of fuel to power our Gen just to get by. But now, petrol has become scarcer. Wherever it is seen, it is not even enough for the crowd gunning for it.

“The other day, one of the filling stations along the Oshodi-Apapa Expressway managed to buy fuel. I saw a market population there. The crowd was restive. Then, I asked myself: ‘Do I have the energy to fight for the fuel?’ So, I moved on.

“We have only resigned to fate, nothing less than that. We only hope that one day, things will change.”  

At Whitesand, Isheri-Oshun, a suburb of Lagos, a barber who identified himself as Yusuf, lamented the drop in power supply. 

“In this area,” he said, “Ikeja Electricity company placed us on one-day on, one-day off supply regime. What that means is that we don’t have power supply for six months in a year.

“Now, on the days we enjoy supply, we hardly see power for five hours. Now, even for four days in a week, we hardly have supply. When the light comes, it does not last up to two hours. How are we going to survive with this?” he queried.

He disclosed that he used to augment his power need with his small-capacity generating set. But the scarcity of fuel is making things difficult.

“Since we started experiencing this fuel scarcity, getting to buy five litres to power my set has become a big problem.

“We hardly see fuel to buy. Even when a filling station is said to have fuel, the crowd you will see there will frighten you. Yet, not minding the price they are selling, you are not sure you will be able to buy fuel after staying on the queue for long hours.”

He added that for that reason, “we buy from the black market. There, they sell between N270 and N300 per litre where you find it.”

He expressed worry at fuel being sold at exorbitant prices, lamenting that it has great impact on small-scale businesses that depend on power to survive.

Search and fight for fuel

Days ago, our correspondent launched out on a fuel-searching expedition, a move that revealed a lot about the real challenges the  generality of the people are suffering.

At Cele Bus stop along the Oshodi-Apapa Expressway, none of the filling stations around the area had fuel for sale. 

From that point up to Ago Palace Way, there was no facility selling fuel. The story was the same for those on the way to Ejigbo, including NNPC-owned stations.

As our correspondent headed for Ijegun, there was no station that had fuel. About a kilometer from the NNPC station at Isheri-Oshun, a filling station had some supply.

At that point, the commodity had just arrived. Soon, the news went viral. Crowds of people immediately built up and the same for long queue of vehicles.

In no time, the station was filled up with people – mostly those with jerry cans. Every inch of space was taken up. Tempers began to flay. The young men who were in charge had a big task on hand doing more of restraining the restive crowd than dispensing fuel. Now, locking the wedded mesh which served as barricade into the arena, they regained the upper hand.

The pump price on the occasion was selling for N185. Those who were buying were happy they arrived at the right time. Many who came in their vehicles carried no fewer than three 50-litre jerry cans. And for selling to owners of such containers, the attendants collected extra N1,000. Every other person who bought fuel in jerry can paid an amount ranging from N100 to N1,000 depending on the size of the container. More of the fuel was sold to people who brought jerry cans.

The moment people successfully bought fuel, they were happy they did and it showed. Their faces glowed; they were radiant, and only stopped short of celebrating.

When our correspondent returned to the same filling station three days after, the price of fuel per had risen to N220. Only few vehicles were on the queue, their owners waiting to buy. There were also fewer people who came with jerry cans.

“They are bold to be selling at that amount in the day,” a commercial motorcyclist was telling his colleague. “Some prefer to sell at that price in the night.”   

Transport fares increase on routes

While at the filling station, a commercial motorcyclist popularly called Okadaman kept telling his colleagues: “As this people de chop me, me I go chop others too,” meaning that he was going to raise his fares too.  

It was learnt that a tricycle shuttle in the area hitherto was N50. But now, the fare has risen to N100.

Similarly, fares have risen on all routes in Lagos – a by-product of the lingering scarcity that has been bedeviling not just the city, but the country. 

A resident of Jakande Housing Estate in Ejigbo, Damilola Abioye, who works on Lagos Island, told our correspondent that transport fare to and from work had increased astronomically. 

“It has doubled,” she said, adding “in fact, what now matters is seeing a vehicle to convey one to and from work. Safety of your job and the individual right now matter much than anything else until things normalise.    

Black market sales boom

A Lagos resident who identified himself as Abraham told our correspondent that some filing stations were not selling fuel because they preferred to sell to those who resold the commodity at the black market.  

“When you get to any filling station and find a long queue and a crowd with jerry cans, chances are that they are selling at a good price.  

“Some of those stations who close shop in the day, claiming they don’t have fuel are only pretending. They open from 9:00 p.m. They sell between N200 and N250 per litre. Don’t forget that this Lagos, those who will buy will always buy.

“At that time, people mostly buy with big jerry cans to resell.”

Consumers defrauded with bad meters

Over the years, some consumers have been complaining that some filling stations cheat. They adjusted their meters and dispense more air than fuel, while some of their meters run faster than normal meters.  

A commercial tricycle rider who introduced himself as Osas, told our correspondent that aside the high cost of fuel, getting real value for what is paid for is another big headache.

“Have you wondered why some filling stations tell you that ‘a litre  is a litre?’ It is because their colleagues are cheating. Almost every one of them has adjusted their meters to run far faster. Now, customers don’t get real value for their money.”

He disclosed that long before the scarcity began, Okada riders and tricylists had known cheating petrol stations.  

“If you see any filling station Okada and tricycles are flocking to, their meters are correct. How do we know this? When you buy like four litres of fuel, you know how long you work with it before you buy again. But if the fuel doesn’t last you for two hours, you will know that their meters are bad. And you know that Okada men and tricylists know themselves. We always share the news.”

 He expressed sadness that “right now, everyone is in an emergency situation. It is only where you manage to find fuel that you buy,” lamenting that “the situation is regrettable.”

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