PERSONAL experienceVanguard INSIGHT's experience at NNPC Kosofe bus-stop, along Ikorodu/Mile 12 Road, in Lagos was an eye opener in this regard as some motorists who were on queue for more than three hours on a particular night could not get the commodity to buy. However, information later filtered in that it was being sold at a nearby taxi park. Approached for information on fuel purchase, one of the attendants actually advised our correspondent to go to the taxi park to source for the commodity.
Most of the motorists made a bee-line for the place and were soon buying the product at a cut-throat price of N2,500 instead of about N700 for five litres of PMS. They also complained bitterly about being short-changed since, according them, the measurement fell short of expectation. When one of the hawkers was taken to task over this, he said: "It is a black market and so you don't expect the measurement to be accurate or correct. You have to manage it like that".
The entire scenario was repeated the following day that Vanguard INSIGHT visited. After a few hours, the manager came out to ask the attendants to stop selling and shut down the pumps, informing that the product had been exhausted.
But about 30 minutes later, officials of the Department of Petroleum Resources, DPR, visited the station and ordered the manager to open the fuel reservoir for inspection by way of dipping a pole gauge into it. After this was done, it was discovered that there was a lot of fuel inside the reservoir. The now rattled and agitated manager informed that what was in the reservoir was actually stock reserved for the staff and pleaded with the DPR officials not to tamper with the reserved stock. But his pleadings fell on deaf ears as the DPR ordered that they should resume selling to motorists, excluding those buying with kegs.
In the event, hundreds of motorists were able to buy petrol that day under the supervision of DPR officials. The selling continued several hours later much to the displeasure of those with kegs who Vanguard INSIGHT later discovered were mostly agents of the petrol station manager and his staff and that they were operating under an arrangement that requires them to remit a particular percentage of monetary returns to the management of that petrol station. It was also discovered that the arrangement obtains in other filling stations owned by different petroleum products marketing companies in Lagos and across the country.
To buttress this set up, a visually impaired man in Macaulay, Igbogbo area of Ikorodu was always sufficiently supplied with petrol during periods of scarcity which he sold at the rate of N500 per litre to commercial motorcyclists plying the roads around Macaulay.
Indeed, Vanguard INSIGHT saw the visually impaired fuel hawker in action, using a chartered motorcycle with which he made numerous trips hauling 250 litres gallons of fuel to his illegal depot which as usual attracted a lot of customer traffic due to the scarcity of the commodity.
Ojo Cantonment fuel hawkers
The Ojo Cantonment Barracks bus-stop, along Mile 2-Badagry Expressway in Lagos, is regarded as one of the beehives of fuel hawkers in the state. These hawkers, made up mostly of women and children of secondary school age, don't seem to have resuming or closing time.
They sell with impunity unlike their counterparts in other areas who are always apprehensive of raids by police and other security agents, and are therefore always on the look out for them. The popular belief is that the Ojo Barracks hawkers have links with soldiers inside the barracks. A source told Vanguard INSIGHT that some time the sentry guards do visit them (hawkers) for "settlement" which they oblige and are allowed to carry on with their business.
A regular buyer of fuel there told Vanguard INSIGHT that there are two categories of fuel: the clean fuel which is from the filling station and the bad or contaminated one, which they get from tanker drivers at Dantata Bus-stop along the same expressway. According to the buyer, these hawkers usually sell the bad fuel at night to unsuspecting motorists who may have run out of fuel after spending hours in the usual traffic jam in the area.
When Vanguard INSIGHT visited the popular Dantata Bus-stop, the entire walkway had been taken over by Jerry-cans and drums of various sizes belonging to the hawkers.
When tankers are queuing to load products from the nearby tank farms at the Ijegun/Satellite axis, the remnant are collected by the tankers' conductors into waiting drums. Hawkers from Barracks and neighbouring dealers get their supplies from these drums. A motorbike operator told Vanguard INSIGHT that the fuel from these tankers are adulterated, adding that unknown to many people,it could and must have damaged the engines of many cars, motorcycles even electricity generating sets.
A tanker conductor said there was no fixed price on a drum or jerry-can of 50 litres. According to him, what determines the price is the demand of fuel in the market.
The conductor informed our reporter that the road side fuel business is thriving along that axis is because there is no bus-stop one cannot find a fuel seller along that route. According to him, at night, as from 9 pm, filling stations usually close operation. Motorists, both commercial and private, have no choice but to patronise the hawkers when they run out of fuel. Even those who use it for domestic purposes also have to patronise them for the same reason.
He concluded that, "This is how we survive,because there is no way our tankers wont have left over; it is the left over we feed on."
DPR, NNPC react
It's not our business --DPR
Smugglers to blame --NNPC
When confronted with the situation, the Department of Petroleum Resources, DPR, absolved the department of blame. According to a source in the agency: "That's not DPR business, what we have here is a situation of criminality. Once the product is out of the filling station or depot, it's no longer a DPR problem.
"It's not DPR's job to chase roadside petrol sellers since they are not our licensees. We only regulate people we license. The state governors have to come up with a law to ban street hawking. So let them do their job. If the fuel hawkers don't have anywhere to hawk these products on the street, they will not go out sourcing for the products. We are aware that the Lagos State government actually enacted a law banning street hawking. So, they should go after them with their Kick Against Indiscipline, KAI."
The Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, on its part blamed the situation on the sustained nefarious activities of some cross-border fuel smuggling syndicates and hoarders, which have so far impeded efforts by the Corporation to sanitise the fuel supply and distribution matrix across the country.
The Group Managing Director, GMD, of the Corporation, Maikanti Baru, told the Joint National Assembly Committee on Petroleum Downstream that if activities of the fuel truck diverters and smugglers were left unchecked, it would be absolutely difficult to guarantee round-the-clock availability of petrol throughout the country due to the massive leakages wrought on the fuel supply and distribution networks by the smugglers.
In a detailed presentation to the Joint Committee, Baru informed that the sudden and unnatural shock in fuel consumption to record levels has over-stretched the Direct-Sale-Direct-Supply, DSDP, crude for product supply arrangement which was originally based on 35 million litres per day petrol consumption pattern.
He lamented that with the current unprecedented average daily fuel evacuation of 55 million litres since December 1, 2017 to date, it has become imperative for the security agencies to close-in on the smuggling syndicates who were cashing in on the obvious petrol price differentials between Nigeria and neighboring countries to make an illicit profit.
Baru explained that apart from stretching the ability of NNPC to sustain the prevailing 100 percent PMS importation in the face of increasing cost, the current situation was impacting negatively on NNPC's resources for servicing Joint Venture Cash-Call and other obligations.
He said that to sustain an adequate supply of petroleum products and national energy security, there was the need for the Federal Government to provide flush volumes in January and March 2018, as well as create an enabling environment for other oil marketing companies to participate in the importation of petroleum products.
He also stressed the need to double the supply to raise the fuel sufficiency template back to the 30 days threshold from the current 15 days by bringing in at least two vessels per day for 20 days. The NNPC GMD, however, explained that the Corporation would require additional funding outside the DSDP regime to achieve this.
The GMD listed the measures put in place to tackle the prevailing challenges to include: Engagement of the Nigerian Navy, Federal Road Safety Corps and Civil Defence to improve truck movement; engagement of the Nigerian Army Engineers to remove failed trucks on the Jebbba/Mokwa Road which had hitherto slowed down truck movement to the northern part of the country; repairs of about 10 kilometre stretch of bad roads and sustained assistance to tankers among others.
NNPC arrests fuel hawkers
Meantime, the NNPC Special Task Force on Filling Stations Monitoring set up to eradicate fuel diversion and bring normalcy back to the fuel supply and distribution chain has reportedly intensified its operations in the event of which it has succeeded in apprehending several fuel hawkers across the country. The essence of this, according to NNPC officials, is to sustain its crackdown on erring marketers and fuel hawkers.
For instance, in a raid on Thursday, February 8, in Abuja, the task force reportedly arrested four illegal fuel hawkers with jerry-cans of petrol. The hawkers identified as Mohammed Mubarak, Idris Idris, Abu Yakubu, and Bashir Usman have since been handed over to the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps, NSCDC. Other hawkers identified as Salihu Ibrahim, Ayuba Alilu, and Magaji Umar were earlier arrested and charged to the Magistrate Court, Wuse 2, Abuja.
And to buttress its claim that some marketers indulge in petrol diversion, the NNPC, through its spokesman, Mr. Ndu Ughamadu, informed that the NSCDC recently arrested one Mr. Kasim Lamido, the manager of Lamido Petroleum, a filling station in New Nyanya, Nasarawa State, for diverting 26,000 litres of petrol from New Nyanya to another location in Akwanga, Nasarawa State to sell at a higher price.
According to Ughamadu: "The latest arrest validates NNPC's position that the activities of a potent petroleum products smuggling and diversion syndicate contributed immensely to the shortage being experienced in some cities. This posed a challenge to the efforts by the corporation to sanitise the fuel supply and distribution chain across the country".
Confirming the report, a Chief Superintendent of the NSCDC, Yusuf Ayinde, informed that Lamido took delivery of 40,000 litres of petrol meant for his station but discharged only 13, 3000 litres, from one out of the three compartments in the truck
He added that the manger diverted the remaining 26,000 litres to a station in Akwanga where it would be sold above the N145 per litre official price. He said that the suspect would be charged to court by the Civil Defence Corps after ongoing investigation.
Additional reporting by Fred Okopie