- Black marketers, smugglers having field day
Hundreds of legitimate workers, including drivers and fuel station attendants, are now idling away following the ban on the supply of petroleum products to filling stations in Nigeria’s land border communities, Daily Trust reports.
However, the border closure has paved way for fuel racketeers and smugglers to make fortune by selling the products at exorbitant prices for Nigerians living at the edge of the borders and much higher in the neighbouring countries.
The federal government had on November 6 directed that no petroleum products should be sold in any filling station within 20 kilometres to the country’s land borders.
With an area of 923,768 sq.km, Nigeria is bordered by Benin, Cameroon, Chad, and Niger republics, and also shares maritime borders with Equatorial Guinea, Ghana and São Tomé and Príncipe.
Almost all the countries that share land borders rely on Nigeria’s subsidized petroleum products for their domestic consumption with black marketers making a lot of money from deals.
Our correspondents, who visited many of the affected communities, report that while people residing in border communities in Ogun, Adamawa, Cross River, Kebbi, Katsina and Borno states, were grumbling over the suspension of fuel supply, hundreds of workers at filling stations located within the affected areas have been rendered jobless.
Black marketers are said to have taken undue advantage of the situation while some dealers have devised new ways of smuggling the product to neighbouring countries.
There are no fewer than 161 filling stations within the restricted border communities in Ogun State with more than 600 workers. Some of the communities affected are Idiroko, Agosasa, Ihunbo, Ajegunle, Iwoye – Ketu, Ilara, Oja – Odan and Imeko – Afon.
Our correspondent who visited Idiroko, Agosasa axis of Ipokia Local Government Area observed that about 40 filling stations along the area had closed shop, a development that rendered many attendants idle.
A petrol attendant in Iwoye-Ketu, Matthew Gabriel, told our correspondent that each of the affected stations had at least four employees.
By implication, about 644 workers were affected following the closure of operations at the affected filling stations.
“We are now idle and an idle mind is the devil’s workshop. We are doing nothing for now, but we are hoping that government would have mercy on us,” he said.
“Our employers are not paying salaries because if the business is not running, how would they pay salaries?” Gabriel asked.
Daily Trust findings showed that black marketers have taken over petrol business in the affected communities, selling at between N450 and N500 per litre instead of the official rate of N145.
A trader in Idiroko, Mrs. Elizabeth Lawal, told Daily Trust that the fuel restriction has compounded the woes of the border communities who were hitherto battling with border closure that banned importation of goods like rice, vegetable oil and other commodities.
“We were suffering from the border closure, and now they have restricted the supply of fuel to this place. No filling station is selling fuel in Ipokia LGA. How do they expect us to survive?
“Prices of almost everything have increased. Transport fare from Idiroko to Oshodi in Lagos used to be N800 but now it is N1,200,” she lamented.
The Chairman of the Community Development Association (CDA) in Iwoye-Ketu, Ahmed Ismaila, said the government was treating them like aliens in their home country. “Is it an offence for us to reside in the border communities? We are being denied our rights,” he said.
Our correspondent reports that residents of border communities in Katsina were suffering the brunt of the on-going border closure and the recent ban on the sale of petroleum products.
Between Daura and Kongolam, a town that shares border with Niger Republic, no fewer than 20 petrol stations are out of business while many of their workers have been thrown back to the labour market.
In Jibia, there are over 70 petrol stations that have closed up with each having over 15 people as direct workers. Most of those affected by the closure are fuel pump attendants, cashiers and mechanics.
Some people spoken to said life was becoming more unbearable for the border communities as many have to buy the commodity at exorbitant prices which has equally led to rise in the prices of food items and other consumables.
A petroleum marketer, Aminu Lawal, said: “This is just going to further impoverish our people who are Nigerians and found themselves living at the borders.”
Daily Trust reports that following the directive, residents have to travel to towns along Kazaure road to buy petrol or settle for black marketers who were having a field day selling the commodity at between N350 and N400 per litre.
On the other side, petrol now cost at least N700 per litre in communities on the Nigerien side. Hundreds of youths spent several hours overnight using motorcycles to convey petroleum products loaded in jerry cans across the border.
“Petrol is now more lucrative than rice,” said Mahe Abubakar, a 20-year-old diploma holder.
“We sleep during the day and go out for petrol business at night. We see the deal as legitimate because there is no alternative…We go to as far as Kazaure to buy the fuel and bring it to Kongolam in buses. We then fill jerrycans, load them on our motorcycles and cross the border. It is a priceless commodity now,” he said.
“While we appreciate the effort of government towards making us self-sufficient, there should have been some mitigating measures. I think it is wrong to ban selling the fuel around the borders completely; why not restrict the supply to certain quantity and then put an eye on how the stations discharge them?
“Up till eternity the border communities would be there, does that mean the people there would never enjoy the benefit of being Nigerians?” he asked.
Officials of the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) told Daily Trust that there are 123 filling stations located around the border in Adamawa State.
“We are currently trying to establish how many of them fall within 20 kilometres radius,” said the head of DPR in the state, Ibrahim Chiroma.
However, a source said so far, more than 70 fuel stations have been sealed in the border communities, causing job losses, increase in prices of basic commodities and hardship.
“No matter how small a filling station is, it employs not less than 10 persons directly. This means about 1000 people are out of job and what about their dependents? The spiralling effect is telling on the lives of thousands of people,” the source said.
Attempts to speak to the chairman of the Independent Petroleum Marketers Association of Nigeria (IPMAN), was not successful as at the time of filing this report.
Findings reveal that fuel smugglers now cross the border in the night to convey the products to neighbouring communities in Cameroon.
It was gathered that smuggling of the products thrived at Ikom and Etung, two local government areas that share borders with Cameroon. Residents said such nefarious activities were going on long before the federal government announced the fuel ban.
Findings show that the perpetrators undertook this illegal business mostly at night through bush paths.
Economic activities have been adversely affected by the ban on petroleum products 20 kilometres from borders in Kebbi State.
At communities of Lolo, Kamba, Bachaka and Dole Kaina, many petrol stations have been closed, forcing the employees to look for alternative sources of income to take care of their families.
Many other filling stations in the border communities have shutdown, thereby compounding the economic hardship of people as prices of goods skyrocket.
A resident, Kabiru Kamba, while lamenting the pathetic situation at the border towns, said, “We face serious problem here. We have more than 17 petrol stations here but none of them is selling petrol now; we only get fuel from Benin Republic and it is very expensive.”
He said the situation was worst at Lolo border town. “People can hardly pursue their daily economic activities. Everything here is at standstill,” he said.
One of the attendants at Jaji petrol station in the area told our correspondent that life is difficult for him and his colleagues.
“Things are not easy here; we no longer sell petrol and to feed is becoming difficult. I have been taking care of my old parents from what I get here but as you can see, we are not selling anything now,” he said.
Findings show that there are eight stations close to the border in Kebbi and 18 in Kamba. Many of the petrol attendants are now jobless.
Even the few filling stations located before the 20 kilometre radius rarely get supply of the products. A community leader in the area, Malam Muhammed Lolo, said the situation at the border communities was becoming pathetic.
“Many of the oil dealers, before the ban was placed, preferred to take their petrol to Niger and Benin republics to sell. We used to cross over to Benin Republic to buy petrol at very high price but now we cannot get it even there,” he said.
Border communities affected by the fuel ban are located at Maigatari and Babura local government areas.
Maigatari is less than three kilometres away to the Nigeria-Niger international border while Babura, the headquarters of Babura LGA is about eight kilometres away from the border.
Following the restriction, dozens of people, including managers, pump attendants, cleaners and security men, working in the three filling stations in Maigatari are said to have lost their jobs.
The restriction has led to the closure of AA Rano, AA Babura and Musa Jika filling stations.
Auwalu Kaila, one of the pump attendants that lost his job in AA Rano filling station, said life has not been easy.
The father of two said he hardly feeds his family as he now buys food on credit, adding as a debtor, there was limit to what he could be allowed to access on credit.
Another affected worker who identified himself as Mallam Muhammadu, told Daily Trust that this was the most difficult period he was passing through, saying he lost his job at a period when his wife gave birth and his house rent was due.
In Borno, our correspondent gathered from residents of Damasak town neighbouring Niger, and Gamboru and Banki towns neighbouring Cameroon, that petroleum products were not available due to cut off of supply for many years ago as a result of the Boko Haram crisis.
“Since 2014 when the Boko Haram launched an attack on Gamboru and captured the town, supply of fuel was cut off and all the filling stations stopped operating,” a resident of Gamboru, who arrived Maiduguri for a visit, said.
“The scarcity continued even when we returned to the town few years ago…Petrol is very expensive, it is a priceless commodity,” he said.
“As I speak to you now, no one carries more than a gallon of petrol to Gamboru because the military have since the liberation of the town, banned supply of any petroleum products to the town,” he added.
Those charged with responsibility of ensuring compliance at the borders said the aim was to curtail importation of foreign products into Nigeria without following due process.
The Customs said while the exercise in the first phase may probably end by January 2020, its officials would continue the partial closure of borders until neighbouring countries complied with the ECOWAS transit protocol.
The Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, said on Monday that the closure of borders had curbed diversion of petroleum products from Nigeria to neighbouring countries.
He stated this when he led a government delegation to the Seme border, a settlement in Nigeria near the border with Benin, thirty minutes’ drive from Badagry on the coastal road between Lagos and Cotonou.
According to him, “local consumption of fuel has dropped by 30 per cent apparently due to the reduction in smuggling of petroleum products to neighbouring countries.”
Among those in the government team were the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama; Minister of Interior, Rauf Aregbesola; Minister of State (Finance, Budget and National Planning), Clement Agba; National Security Adviser, Babagana Monguno; and the Comptroller General of the Nigeria Immigration Service, Muhammed Babandede.
“In the area of security, the on-going exercise has recorded a number of seizures and arrests that would have had grave security consequences,” the information minister said.
“So far, 296 illegal immigrants have been arrested. Also, some items seized include: 38,743-50kg bags of parboiled foreign rice; 514 vehicles; 1,012 drums filled with PMS; 5,400 jerry cans of vegetable oil; 346 motorcycles; 10, 553 jerry cans of PMS and 136 bags of NPK fertilizer used for making explosives. The estimated value of the apprehended items is about N3.5 billion,” he said.