“I have made over N900, 000 within this short period, that is almost a million naira. Since I have been in this jerrycan business, this is the first time God is blessing me. I really thank God and I wish this fuel scarcity would continue forever. “For years, I have been praying to God to look with pity upon me. I have been paying my tithe, so why will God not bless me in a time like this?” Those were the words of Olaide Hassan (not real names), one of the numerous jerrycan sellers and black market operators, who spoke with Saturday Telegraph on their new found fortune, arising from the current hardship occasioned by the lingering fuel scarcity and power outage in the country. Like a popular local idiom says, ‘one man’s meat is another man’s poison’, investigations by Saturday Telegraph revealed that the petroleum scarcity and power outage has become a major blessing to some illegal marketers, while major business owners are lamenting the huge cost of running their businesses. The Minister of State for Petroleum, Ibe Kachikwu, had promised Nigerians that the fuel scarcity would abate by April 7.
However, the shortage has continued to linger, while jerrycan sellers and black market operators are laughing all the way to the bank. While artisans, such as, barbers and welders are lamenting that the non-availability of fuel is crippling their businesses, it has been the other way for jerrycan sellers and those who deal in road-side selling of the product. Truly, this had become different tales for different folks, as the Organised Private Sector (OPS) has said that the ongoing fuel scarcity and epileptic power supply in the country, has cost manufacturers over N100 billion to run their businesses. Market survey revealed that prices of 5,10, 25, and 50-litre kegs and jerrycans which were previously sold for N100, N250, N400, and N500 are now being sold at N150, N350, N500, and N1,000 respectively owing to the rush for its use. In Delta State, artisans, like barbers, jerrycan sellers, fashion designers, sachet water sellers, among others, are having a field day, having made fortune from the lingering fuel scarcity. The product rose from the arbitrary pump price of N200 per litre to N220 in Asaba and its environs.
A plastic keg seller in Asaba, who identified himself as Tony said he relocated from his store in Ogbeogonogo Market along Nnebisi road in Asaba to the front of a popular petrol station (name withheld) along Okpanam Road, to sell his kegs for those struggling to buy petrol. Tony said since the scarcity began over 30 days ago, he has sold almost 2000 pieces of plastic kegs, breaking it down as 360 pieces of 10-litre kegs, 670 pieces of 25-litre kegs and over 700 pieces of 50-litre containers.
Tony, who estimated the fortune he had made in the course of the crisis to about N700, 000 said, God had answered his prayers through fuel scarcity. He attributed the fortune he made in the ongoing fuel crisis to the seed he had been sowing in his Church. “For years, I have been praying to God to bless me. I have been paying my tithe regularly, so this is the time for me to reap the blessings”. Corroborating Tony, a tailor at Umuagu Quarters in Asaba, Ojo Ade, said the shirt and trousers, which he used to sow between N1, 200 and N1, 500, now goes for N3, 000, owing to the price of petrol to power his generator, saying he made more money in the troubled situation.
“The situation permits me to charge customers arbitrarily”, he said with emphasis. In Umuahia, the Abia State capital, the price hike did not affect the sale of jerrycans but filling stations are making huge sales. One of the attendants at a filling station told Saturday Telegraph that filling stations with product even sell higher than the black marketers. “Some of the independent marketers are selling but at cutthroat price. The price has gone higher than N200 per litre, it was N194 last week, but the margin has been increased with about N10. Checks in Kaduna show that the prices of commodities have doubled because petrol is being procured at 250 per cent more than the official price at black market, in spite of the ban on illegal operators. A four-litre gallon of petrol that used to cost N800 now sells at N2, 000, and that is even when a buyer is fortunate to get one. In Enugu and its environs, jerrycan traders and some artisans were praying for the period to last longer.
Saturday Telegraph’s findings in some of the markets visited revealed that a new five-litre jerrycan, which sold for N100, now sells for N500. Some jerrycan hawkers revealed that the profit made during the period has made them to order for more from suppliers in Onitsha, Lagos and Aba while majority of the shops visited were empty.
Those who spoke with one of our correspondents said before the fuel scarcity, they were closing shops between 5pm and 6:30pm, but now, they close by 10pm to enable them to attend to black market operators. A black-market dealer, Mr. Peter Ugwu, said since the scarcity began, he had made much money than he ever made, saying “if not for the hardship posed by non availability of the product, I would have loved it to continue”. He further revealed that those selling jerrycans have made huge gains within the period, as sales became a daily occurrence. In Lagos, the situation has turned many unemployed graduates to petrol vendors, while touts are taking advantage of the situation, selling jerrycans along the line. A litre of fuel in many areas visited across Niger State sold for between N200 and N250. One of the artisans cum black marketer who was simply addressed as ‘General’ told the Saturday Telegraph that law enforcements agents were aiding their illegal business. “The business is lucrative and the security men are very cooperative. The only problem we have is when the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) visits the filling stations. Even NNPC sells fuel to us at night for N190 and we re-sell for N220 or N250 per litre. “If you come at night, you will see a lot of wrong things between staff of the NNPC and the Independent Petroleum Marketers, then why won’t we (black marketers) do our own business? A Jerrycan seller at the Tunga Market, Mrs Fatima Abdullahi, said the scarcity increased the sales of only jerrycans as other products were not patronised.
Another Jerrycan seller, Suleiman Gajera, said, “I have really made some profit, the gallon we use to sell for N250 is now N350 and the industrial one we formerly sell for N500 is now N800 and people are rushing to buy. “The people that use to supply us also increased the prices, the sales of jerrycan increased.” In Osun, the scarcity has enriched many people, especially artisans and those selling jerrycans. Others, who also benefited from the rot, were those who sold the commodity in the black market. Saturday Telegraph investigations revealed that, artisans colluded with some petrol attendants at various filling stations in the state who sold it for them at the rate of N200 to N220 and re-sell it for motorists between N300 to N350. A motorist who spoke with one of our reporters said: “these petrol attendants always sell the products for their targeted artisans in jerrycan instead of selling it to motorists who are in queue at their filling stations for hours.” The motorist who identified himself as Adekunle Adelani said: “They do this because at the end of the day, both the petrol attendants and the artisans who are majorly mechanics and road side hawkers would share the profit make out of the black-market sold to members of the public.”
In Rivers State, especially in Port Harcourt, the situation took a turn for the worse as black marketers, who openly hawk fuel in jerrycan are those in continuous possession of the product, while filling stations were without fuel. One of the hawkers at a filling station along Aba Road said his fortunes improved whenever there is scarcity. “I can’t tell you exactly how much I make, but fuel scarcity helps to raise my standard of living”. An operator of a soccer-viewing centre, who complained that he bought fuel at N200 per litre to power his generator, lamented that he had been unable to charge viewers extra, especially during football matches. In Onitsha, Anambra State, business and other activities have been totally grounded, following acute fuel scarcity that has lasted over four weeks. Checks show that the situation is getting worse by the day, as a litre of fuel now sells between 200 and 250 naira in the state, a situation some black marketers have attributed to divine intervention. “God has buttered our bread, black marketers now have field day,” a retailer said, even as the product is sold at a cutthroat price of 300 naira per litre. Mr. Kenneth Nworah who deals on the commodity along Oguta Road, told our correspondent that he made between N15, 000 to N20, 000 daily since the scarcity started, praying that the situation should last longer. “We are selling but some people prefer going to waste their time at the filling station and at the end they will buy at N250, what is the gain? If I have a car and I can’t buy the fuel then I will park it. I want the situation to continue to at least one month”.