Several Nigerians have started to lament the hardship brought about by the lingering fuel scarcity across the nation. While many had looked forward to a blissful holiday season devoid of chaos and confusion, the opposite was what happened, as many were forced to spend long hours at fuel stations, thereby cutting down on the merriment and bliss of the Christmas season.
Nightmarish. That was how Calabar –based banker Samuel Akpan described his experience searching for fuel in the days leading to, and during the Christmas festivity.
Not many Nigerians would disagree with him. Others will probably go for harsher adjectives to describe what they went through during the period. And the agony is not yet over, despite promises by top government officials that the end is in sight for the fuel scarcity that has paralysed economic activities across the country for the their week running.
“I think I have spent more time on fuel queues than I have with my family this Christmas,” 40-year-old Akpan told newsmen in Calabar.
His decision to buy from filling stations rather than the black market stemmed, partly from his experience. He once bought fuel from the black market and he does not like what happened to his car afterwards: the engine was damaged apparently by the adulterated fuel he was sold then.
Besides the quality of petrol, he said he could not bring himself to cough up between N250 to N400 for a litre of petrol by the road side. Consequently, he had to spend up to 12 hours on the queue at a filling station to enable him get fuel at the official N145 per litre.
The nightmarish experience, according to him, ended up taking the joy out of the yuletide season, although he was quick to add that fuel scarcity at this time of the year in the country is not particularly new.
“We must not forget that this is not new to us,” he said. “I see people make it seem like it is all about the president, Buhari. Let us not forget that in the past this always occurred during this season and I dare say, some even worse than what we are facing now.
“We always seem to forget too easily. My disappointment with this government is that despite all its promises, it still allowed this situation to persist. We were thinking that with all the assurances it gave us, this kind of experience would remain in the past, but what we are experiencing right now is a real shame.”
A fellow Calabar resident, Miss Affiong Etim, could not stand the hike in transport fares caused by the fuel scarcity.
Her words: “No light, no roads, no water, no money, and now no fuel. The money we don’t even have we now spend on transport alone. And it is not just transport, because as a market woman, I can tell you that the price of everything has gone up.
“Transport fares have doubled or trippled. My brother, people are suffering. As I am to you, I have been standing here for close to one hour and I still cannot get a vehicle to enable me go and do my business. It is bad.”
Mr Chinedu Nwosu, who was on his way to Umuahia, Abia State, said he had to pay N2,500 as against the normal fare of N1,500.
Blaming government for the situation, Nwosu said: “I can’t blame transporters because it is business they are running and they buy petrol at this crazy price. It’s all government’s fault. It has to do something urgently about it.”
The agony of motorists and commuters continues in Ilorin metropolis, the Kwara State capital, and other parts of the state like Offa, Ajase Ipo, Omu-Aran, Omupo and Idofian, as only a few filling stations are dispensing fuel.
Only NNPC mega station and retail outlets along Asa Dam road, have regular supplies to sell. Same goes for Bovas filing stations along Fate and Offa Garage Roads.
Sadly, there are long queues of vehicles waiting to buy fuel. Accordingly, transport fares have gone up astronomically.
Black marketers are having a field day with five litres now going for between N1,800 and N2,200 in Ilorin township. The situation has also affected the prices of food items and other essentials.
Recounting his ordeal, a motorist who gave his name as Johnson Abiodun, said he had to park his car at home.
“I now take motorbike to my workshop,” he said. The situation is not palatable at all. It marred the Christmas celebration”.
A Jos motorist, Monday Azi, is surprised that government’s promise that the increase in the pump price of petrol to N145 per litre would ensure an uninterrupted supply of fuel in the country has now failed.
“That deregulation has gone on for two years over and market forces have not brought down the price of petroleum.”
A commercial bus driver in Jos who chose not to be named said: “Since December 23, once I close in the evening, instead of going home to rest, I go and queue at the station to enable me get fuel for the next day.”
Another commercial taxi driver in Jos, Sunday Abah, said: “For me to get fuel by 7 or 8 in the morning, I would join the queue by 10pm of the previous day.
“It began as a joke; we thought it would end quickly. But here we are, nobody knows when we will be out of the problem”.
A major fall out of the fuel scarcity in Jos is the December 15 tanker explosion at a filling station in the tin city. One of the five tankers waiting to off load their content unexpectedly exploded.
Three of the tankers were completely burnt and the remaining two partly burnt.
Two lives were lost in the inferno.
A Port Harcourt commercial driver, Onwuchekwa Precious, revealed hat the situation was getting unbearable for him.
“Things are so bad; the pain is unbearable. Sometimes I sleep at petrol stations to be able to get fuel to do my business. Christmas did not go as planned at all because since the fuel scarcity started, the price of almost everything has gone up. Times are very hard, I must confess.”
Another commercial driver, who identified himself simply as Isaac, said: “We did not have a wonderful Christmas at all, if you ask me. It is just that we Nigerians are so used to suffering and smiling, according to the music icon Fela. The fuel scarcity ruined my plans for the Christmas.
“I had planned to go home (Anambra State) with my family but I couldn’t do that because the cost of fuel was too high. I am buying petrol at the rate of N250 per litre and black marketers are selling at N400 per litre. As a result of this, I have no choice than to increase transport fare.
A traveller, Sefiu Olabisi, said: “It is so bad we are ending this beautiful month on this note. I normally pay N4,500 for a bus ride from Port Harcourt to Lagos, but it suddenly went up to N10,000.”
For Mr. Femi Olutade, a Lagos resident, this year’s Christmas will linger in his memory for ll the wrong reasons.
“Transport fare increased four times over,” he lamented, adding: “I boarded Ketu to Berger, which was usually N50, at N200 on the 23rd and 24th December. Berger to Oshodi, which used to be N150, went up to N500.
“This fuel crisis made Christmas to be less memorable for a lot of people who couldn’t travel to see their loved ones. Many motorists couldn’t do their businesses efficiently because it was hard to get fuel.
“They were forced to cut down on the number of trips, hence reducing drastically the number of vehicles that could convey the teeming population”, he lamented.
Mr Olutade believes that until the constitution of the country is strengthened and regulatory agencies become independent and transparent in their activities, fuel scarcity may persist.
“Marketers wouldn’t have the nerve to hoard fuel if they know the DPR is watching and has the constitutional authority to arrest and prosecute any offender”, he submitted.
Olumide Ogundele, an Osogbo resident, simply remained indoors during the festivity to avoid the chaos that characterized the period. The fuel scarcity made the Christmas holiday boring,” he said.
“I had to stay indoors to maintain some sanity. The few places I had to travel to, I couldn’t get fuel and that means missing out of what would have been a wonderful celebration with my family.
“Visiting some places within the metropolis also became a chore. Transport fare was jacked up and we even had to make do with squeezing ourselves, as four people were packed to occupy a space made for three persons”.
It was the same case of retreat from fun activities for Amos Abah, a youth corps member, who couldn’t travel home for Christmas as a result of the fuel scarcity.
“Fuel scarcity in Owerri gave my Christmas celebration a solitary and less exciting outlook. The ripple effect that resulted in a hike in transport fare within Owerri made me retreat to the comfort of my room to avoid engaging drivers in arguments over transport fare.
“The fare from World Bank to Wetheral Road, which was usually N100, was doubled and in some cases quadrupled, with drivers charging outrageous fees whilst taking advantage of helpless passengers”.