Angst over continued scarcity of petrol in Nigeria – Africa’s largest producer of petroleum products, is seen spiralling into protests, fights at filling stations with the potential to engender mayhem across the country, analysis shows.
On Monday, anger over persistent petrol scarcity spilled into protests and shutdown of business activities in Benin, a major transit hub to different parts of the country.
Many young people took to social media to express outrage over the lingering scarcity.
“Mass protest ongoing in Benin City, the heartbeat of the nation; fuel price hike is unbearable. Cost of living is killing the living due to government failure,” said a tweet from a resident in Benin with pictures of burning tyres across the road.
There were notices advertised on social media calling for fuel hike shutdown in Benin City on Sunday. Residents were asked to come out to express their displeasure with protests and marches planned on Ugbowo main gate, Sapele road, Ring road among other notable locations.
The risk for the country is that with the increasing tensions in the country, a little spark could ignite a mass protest and lead to ENDSARS 2.0. And this time, the consequences could be more devastating as the reasons for outrage have multiplied.
Long queues at fuel stations across the country had led to loss of productive hours, disrupting business activities and worsening traffic situations along major highways.
The Nigerian Midstream and Downstream Petroleum Regulatory Authority (NMDPRA) last Thursday said there was over 1.6 billion litres of petrol both on land and marine in a statement.
“The current distribution hitch is heightened by activities of cross-border smugglers, who divert petrol meant for the Nigerian market to neighbouring countries where the prices are significantly higher than Nigeria’s regulated price. We are engaging and collaborating with the Nigeria Customs Service to address this issue,” the statement said.
“The price arbitrage between Nigeria and neighbouring countries has continued to grow due to inflation and the regional impact of the Russia-Ukraine conflict on the global energy value chain, including international freight rates and coastal vessels charter rates,” the regulator said.
The regulator also said that the Nigerian National Petroleum Company (NNPC) has made a firm commitment to supply more volume of petrol for the months ahead to guarantee national energy security and nationwide availability at the government-regulated price.
Read also: Regulator blames petrol scarcity on cross-border smugglers
But this has offered little or no consolation at all to Nigerians whose lives have been upended by the petrol scarcity.
Meanwhile, independent marketers are selling for as much of N300 in major cities, including Lagos. Those outside Lagos and Abuja are fixing the prices according to their discretion.
According to the latest Nigerian Bureau of Statistics (NBS) data, the average retail price paid by consumers for petrol rose by 24 percent in the 12 months to December 2022.
Some officials of the major marketers who sell at N185 per litre have resorted to sharp practices charging extra N100 or more for cars or for selling in jerry cans.
One motorist told BusinessDay that some filling stations along Airport road in Lagos have perfected an arrangement to sell to black market operators.
The black market operators disrupt an orderly queue and upon the threat of violence, get attended to, thereby further extending the queue and testing the patience of vehicle owners.
“I suspect they are colluding with the fuel attendants,” said Iniolu, a vehicle owner, who witnessed the situation.
“Apparently, the black market operators transfer money to a bank account agreed with the filling station attendants. They quickly get attended to, move the products outside and sell to those who are too impatient to wait on a queue that rarely moves and return again,” Iniolu alleged.
These poor government policies are inflicting untold suffering hardship on Nigerians and setting the stage for a conflagration that could plunge the nation into avoidable crises.