Barely a week after the fuel scarcity across Nigeria subsided in major cities, long queues of motorists have resurfaced at filling stations in Abuja, Lagos and other parts of the country.
The fuel scarcity lasted through the Christmas and New Year celebrations forcing thousands of motorists to spend hours queuing for petrol. Although things appeared to return to normal in Lagos and Abuja after the celebrations, motorists in many other states have been forced to buy petrol at prices far above the official N145 per litre.
On Thursday, officials of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, made frantic efforts to assure Nigerians all was well.
“As far as NNPC is concerned, there is a robust stock of fuel for Abuja, Lagos and other parts of the country, sufficient to serve for more than 30 days,” NNPC spokesperson, Ndu Ughamadu, told PREMIUM TIMES in a telephone interview.
“Our plea is for motorists not to engage in panic buying of any petroleum products. We are just watching out to see what is going on.
“All I can say is that there is enough stock of petrol in all our depots. More truck-outs from our depots are coming into Abuja,” Mr. Ughamadu added.
However, he said the NNPC was suspicious that the bulk of products sent out for distribution across the country were being diverted to states where they are being sold above the approved retail pump price of N145 per litre.
During the last fuel crisis, the NNPC Group General Manager, Maikanti Baru, alleged that over 4,500 trucks of petroleum products were diverted to unknown destinations by unnamed marketers.
Mr. Baru made the allegation when he appeared before the joint Committee on Petroleum (Downstream) of the National Assembly.
The Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Ibe Kachikwu, also told the same committee that internal and external diversion of petroleum products was a cause of the scarcity.
He explained that the external diversion involved fuel being smuggled to neighbouring countries, while the internal involved products taken to the hinterlands and sold at almost double the approve pump price, despite ex-depot price remaining at N133.25 per litre.
One of the independent marketing firms, MATRIX Energy, also told our correspondent that the reason for the current scarcity defied explanation.
“There is sufficient fuel everywhere. Nobody knows what is causing it. There is massive loading from the depots. Even in our depot, about eight million litres of products was loaded Wednesday. Today, we have about 31 million litres. We are doing 24 hours loading of products,” Aliu Adisa, Chief Executive of the company said in a telephone interview late Thursday night.
Although the NNPC advised motorists to report to the Department of Petroleum Resources, DPR, any marketer found either hoarding petrol or selling above the official price, PREMIUM TIMES reporters in many states of the federation found the price of the commodity remains high, just as the scarcity persists.
In Jos, the scarcity has created the environment for petty fuel hawkers to thrive on the roadsides.
Long queues, which had been a common feature in most filling stations since late last year In Plateau State, has remained.
On Thursday, only Albabatou Oil filling station on Bukuru Express-way, along Nasco Foods Limited, sold fuel in Jos. The other stations stopped business shortly before noon.
The NNPC mega filling station along Secretariat Roundabout/Dogon Kerfe Road, Jos, was the only station selling at government approved pump price of N145 per litre.
But, only vehicles belonging to security agencies and those bearing government registered number plates received preference in service.
Other members of the public were forced to join long queues stretching up to three kilometres.
Most filling stations, from Mararaban Jama’ar roundabout, to Plateau State Polytechnic, Jos campus, did not have or sell petrol.
The stations included two belonging to Total at Jeney, two NNPC mega stations, Mobil, Tayan, Dipdat, Rito, Oando and Bok.
The only independent petroleum marketer, Basaco filling station, which had fuel had long queues of motorists, despite selling at N195 per litre.
In contrast, the population of roadside petrol vendors, including women, particularly at night, has continued to grow.
A four litre gallon now attracts about N1,200 with the emergency vendors, despite complaints about the quality of such fuel and the impact on engines.
Despite the obvious risks consumers face using fuel bought from the illegal sources, officials of the regulatory authorities, the DPR, were nowhere to be found in most locations visited throughout Plateau State.
Regardless, head of the DPR field office in Plateau State, Jeremiah Mashat, said the agency recently sealed one filling station in Barkin ladi Local Government Area for selling petrol above government approved pump price.
In Abuja, Total and Azman filling stations along Sultan Abubakar Way in Wuse Zone 2 did not have fuel on Thursday.
The attendants at the Total filling station, who said they just ran out of products a few hours earlier, said they were expecting another truck.
At Azman, the attendants said the station last had fuel Thursday last week.
Although Total filling station at Wuse Zone 2 junction had fuel, a long queue of anxious motorists stretched almost down to Wuse market.
The story was the same at Oando filling station at Herbert Macaulay Way, off Sudan Street. Customers impatient due to the long queues could be seen lobbying, while black marketers were offering their products to potential buyers.
None of the filling stations within Berger axis had fuel. The few that had were chocked up with unending queues causing mild grid locks on the roads. All the stations visited still fixed pump price at N145.
In Kaduna State, only few filling stations belonging to major marketers in Kaduna metropolis sold at official N145 pump price, with long queues stretching into the distance.
Although Mobil filling station along Independence Way, which opened earlier in the day closed at about noon after exhausting its stock, anxious motorists continued to wait in queues outside the station in anticipation of the next supply.
“I will rather leave my vehicle in this queue, no matter how many days it takes for the next supply to come, because this is the only filling station in Kaduna that is reliable in terms of accurate gauge and orderliness,” a motorist told our correspondent.
At Oando, another major marketer’s filling station, located at Ungwan Sarki, fuel also sold at N145 per litre, with about 50 vehicles waiting on the queue.
“I have been on this queue for more than six hours, yet only three vehicles have been ahead of mine,” one of the motorists on the queue lamented.
“It’s so frustrating. The station attendants are doing business. They collect money and sell to those who are not on queue and black marketer operators with big jerry.”
At NIPCO filling station, Kawo, a truck was seen discharging petrol into the underground tanks, the first consignment for the week.
With many of the independent marketers’ filling stations without fuel, the number of those involved in black market fuel business on the streets kept increasing. A gallon of four litres sold for between N1,500 and N1,700 on Thursday.
Other independent filling stations along Ali Akilu Road, which claimed not to have products in the day time, were selling at night at about N220 per litre.
The National Financial Secretary and former Chairman, Petroleum Tanker Drivers, PTD, Gambo Tuge, advised the DPR to focus their monitoring on private depots, instead of filling stations.
“Many of these private depots in Lagos, Port Harcourt and Warri are the major factors that DPR should focus on. They are the ones hoarding millions of litres in their depots and not these petty filling stations that DPR is always invading.
“These depots have two accounts, they will ask for deposit of money for official price per litre in a separate account and give another account for extra money per litre they charge . So, how do you expect somebody who bought a litre at the rate of between N180-N200 to sell at official pump price?” he asked.
In Ondo and Ekiti, most filling stations sell above N145 per litre.
In Akure, the Ondo State capital, some of the marketers still sell between N190 and N200 per litre.
Sieve Petroleum located along Oda Road had been selling at N195 per litre, whereas Mercyway Petrol sells for N200.
However, Bovas and Oando in the township sell at N145, but there were long queues.
The situation remains the same in Ekiti, where only Bovas and NNPC mega stations sell at the normal price and were attracting very long queues.
In Osun, the situation is slightly different as most of the fuel stations sell at N145.
PREMIUM TIMES, however, learnt that some fuel stations collect additional money for every 10 litres purchased.