BY TOPE TEMPLER OLAIYA
THE saying that every problem in Nigeria presents an opportunity to make money rings true for roadside black marketers of petroleum products. With many people finding it a task to go to a petrol station to buy fuel that will power their generators, before now, the unstable power situation in the country had not only created business opportunities for importers and retailers of generating sets, but also for black market hustlers.
Today, it is a different story for those who once hit goldmine on power outage.
What also rings true today is the maxim that one man’s meat is another man’s poison. While Nigerians are expressing optimism at the new improved supply of electricity, a few others are at pains on why there is light.
Until a few weeks back when noticeable increase in electricity supply became apparent, the sale of petroleum products outside designated and approved outlets had kept many youths busy aside from other common business ventures such as phone call centres and riding of commercial motorcycle, popularly called okada.
While the business thrived, no thought was spared for the risks involved, such as an outbreak of fire, which can be triggered by any slight exposure of fuel to fire, naked flame or answering of phone calls, which could even escalate into a wild fire, as many of the fuel retailers don’t have fire extinguishers.
Though dealers of petroleum products are mandated to register with the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR), for the agency to ensure full compliance to safety standards, the increasing number of micro-fuel dealers, especially in residential neighbourhoods, has boldly defied this procedure, thereby exposing the masses to a preventable risk.
OLALEKAN Akinbayo, a black marketer, cannot fathom how tides could change so soon in a space of weeks. Aged 38, Akinbayo is a family man with two children. He has been a petrol vendor for more than five years and had used the money earned from the business to raise a family and also help his siblings, who are pursuing their academic careers.
According to him, until the lull in the black market business, he made more than the money spent in buying petrol from the depot. The depot sells to him at N97 per litre, while he sells to end users at N130 per litre, making a profit of N33 for every litre sold.
“Usually, I buy over 300 litres of petrol daily from the depot and the gain from it in a day is enough to put food on my table and make me comfortable. But these days, the chant of Up Nepa and stable electricity is ruining my business.
“People come to buy from me because of the stress of going to the filling station, since it is only convenient for those who have cars to fuel their generators from the filling stations in town. But for most people, it did not make economic sense to transport themselves to a filling station to purchase a gallon of four litres.
“With our service, you just need to pay for the amount of fuel you are buying without taking a bus or waiting on a queue to be attended to. Nigerians don’t like stress; they liked to be served. Our business was booming because a lot of people used generators everyday but since the story has changed, we have been forced to changed too with the times,” he said.
Another roadside fuel retailer, Tayo Gbamila, who operates at Ikotun area of Lagos, said until the recent transformation in Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN), he sold his petrol for N110 to beat competition and attract more patronage, while mixing the fuel with engine oil at the cost of N20.
His words: “People that come to buy petrol are mostly people that use it for their generators. When they buy petrol for N110 per litre, they also need to buy engine oil, which they will use to mix the petrol. So, I sell at N130 per litre but with an added incentive of mixing it with engine oil.”
He, however, bemoaned the end to a lucrative venture with the advent of regular power supply in most parts of the country.
It is a different twist for residents, some of whom confided in The Guardian that they had always nurse the grudge that some sharp activities of black marketers in their area were compounding the non-availability of electricity, listing the alleged acts of sabotage to include stealing PHCN cables and causing transformers to develop faults frequently.
Olaotun Ayobami, a resident of Mafoluku, Oshodi, said until the serious attention given to power failure by the present administration, he had always suspected activities of the petrol mercenaries to have a hand in the situation.
“They have an association of their own where they talk about their business and other matters arising, which I don’t know about. What I hear is that they are now trying to bride PHCN officials not to give us light at night. And in the last one week since the removal of Prof. Barth Nnaji as Minister of Power, we have been having light steadily during the day but once it is 8pm, the light is off till the next day.
“Also, we noticed that our transformers are developing faults these days. I believe they have a hand in it, because whenever we invite PHCN officials to effect repairs on the transformers, they will discover that some fuse are missing and it will take us days or even weeks to get it fixed, since everybody in the area has to contribute money. It is during this period everyone in the area patronise them. Whenever there is light, you will notice they are not happy, because that (selling fuel) is their means of livelihood.”
He, however, calls on the government not only to check the activities of petrol vendors, but also allow petrol stations open sales outlets in neighbourhoods. “While I appreciate government’s efforts at providing regular power supply with ongoing power reforms. People won’t be so mischievous to keep us in darkness because they want to sell petrol.
“Also, authorized sales outlets of major petroleum marketers should be encouraged in residential areas, as they would keep to the safety standards required by regulatory agencies, while keeping the risk of power outbreak low in the communities,” he said.