Nigeria’s petrol queues bring misery in festive period

By Ben Ezeamalu
Posted on Wednesday, 28 December 2022 18:32, updated on Friday, 30 December 2022 11:45

Cars queue outside a petrol station in Lagos, Nigeria, Wednesday, June. 22, 2022. (AP Photo/Sunday Alamba)

Nigerians spent much of Christmas day (25 December) queuing for petrol, angering many who not only hoped to spend the holidays celebrating, but who see another failure on the part of the government to keep one of its promises.

Outside a Northwest Petrol Station in Lagos, Segun Faluyi’s hand rests on his car’s ignition. Every few minutes, he turns the key and the car sputters into life: he drives a few metres and switches off the engine. It repeats every five minutes. There are over 30 cars ahead of him but he’s optimistic he will fill up his tank within three hours.

“This is the first time I’m queuing for fuel on Christmas Day. It’s bad, totally bad” says Faluyi, a taxi driver, hurriedly wiping a pool of sweat off his forehead and fixing his gaze on the car before him, for the next sign of movement.

The queues at petrol stations in Nigeria’s commercial capital and several cities across the country persisted on Christmas and Boxing days (25 and 26 December) as motorists continued their search for the product across. In Lagos, several petrol stations were closed due to lack of petrol. The few ones that were open had long queues of cars and a few people with Jerry cans.

“I’m supposed to be in the church or at home with my family. But I have no choice because I use this car to make money and to provide food for my family,” says Faluyi.

Nigerians’ economic hardship persisted in 2022, with inflation rising to 21.47% in October, the highest since September 2005. Unemployment and poverty rate remain high.

Fuel shortage at petrol stations, also, remained a recurrent issue throughout the year.

In January, claims of a plan by the government to remove the subsidy on petrol triggered a shortage of the product at filling stations in most parts of the country.

In February, the importation of a methanol-heavy petrol led to another round of shortage of petrol in the country. The simultaneous collapse of the electricity grid that month caused untold hardship to citizens who rely on petrol generators to power their homes and businesses.

In November, the Nigerian National Petroleum Company Limited (NNPC) blamed the shortages on road construction projects in Lagos, although industry players believe a huge shortfall in NNPC’s importation and dilapidated infrastructure were responsible.

Clement Isong, Executive Secretary of Major Oil Marketers of Nigeria, told The Africa Report that the stretched supply chain for petroleum products is largely the cause of the shortage.

“I think that any disruption anywhere along the supply chain, any logistics disruption causes outages at the pump, causes the queues,” he says.

“Is there any one reason? No. It is because the system has degraded over time and the built-in compensatory systems are no longer in place.”

Persistent queues

The latest episode of fuel shortage began several weeks ago, but Nigerians had believed the problem would be resolved before Christmas: It’s been nearly five years since Nigerians experienced fuel shortage during Christmas.

I can’t put my urine in the car. If you know you want to move, you want to get your family from one location to the other, you just have to stay in the queue, no matter how long it takes. As Nigerians we have to prepare for it at the end of every year.

“I don’t know, maybe the administration is going out and they don’t care about what the experience is for the electorate, anything goes for them since they are not seeking reelection,” says Kayode Adedotun, an entrepreneur.

On Christmas Day, Adedotun had spent over an hour in a queue at an Oando Petrol Station In Lagos.

“We don’t have any choice,” he says.

“I can’t put my urine in the car. If you know you want to move, you want to get your family from one location to the other, you just have to stay in the queue, no matter how long it takes. As Nigerians we have to prepare for it at the end of every year.”

Further down the queue at the Oando Petrol Station, Olu Victor said the fuel in his car had almost run out.

“It doesn’t make any sense [to be here], it’s disheartening,” says Victor, a businessman.

Achike Chude, a civil society activist, says the scarcity is a failure of the current government and the incompetence of the party that took over from the Peoples Democratic Party.

“The present administration has this knack for blaming the previous administration they took over from for exactly this same scenario. They accuse them of incompetence, mismanaging the oil sector, and promised that all the deals that trailed the oil sector then, including the queues that we kept on having will be resolved by then once and for all” says Chude, the vice chairman of Joint Action Front.

“And to make matters even worse for the present administration, the minister of petroleum – who happens to be the president – was one of those who made promises that the woes of Nigerians, in terms of queuing at the filling station, will be over. What we are seeing is a rehash of the past.”

‘Empty depots’

At an NNPC petrol station at Isheri Road in Lagos, the long queue of vehicles resulted in traffic gridlock along the road. Such queues are common at petrol stations still selling at the government-approved price of N169 ($0.37) or N170 per litre. Those selling between 250 and 300 Naira witnessed a low patronage.

Isong said petrol depots, under normal circumstances, ought to be full and pipelines pumping the product across the country.

I don’t think our own president listens to news because he doesn’t know the pains Nigerians are going through. And nobody is talking about this fuel scarcity.

“NNPC have 21 depots all over the country. These depots normally provides strategic stock, the depots are everywhere, Gombe, kano, Gusau, Kaduna…currently they are empty. They are all connected by a pipeline, currently those pipelines are not working.

He said for the first time, the infrastructure for receiving petrol importation into Atlas Cove using pipelines to the Lagos depots “is down.”

“Because the pipelines have all been vandalised.  And if you try to put products through that system you can lose up to 60%. The national infrastructure is not functional and we are therefore using the private sector infrastructure as back up.

Magic bullet?

Isong said although the Dangote Refinery would “go a long way” in solving the petrol problems, full deregulation remains “the silver bullet.

“The problem you currently have is not that you don’t have petrol, the problem is your distribution system has collapsed. You are carrying your petrol throughout the country by truck, on roads which are mostly in bad shape. Your distribution system is by trucks and your volume is too big for your distribution system to be by truck.

“And that volume is that big because you are under-pricing your product and encouraging people to come from outside the country and buy the product and go and sell in their own country. Dangote refinery will work but we need to get the economics right. We should stop deceiving ourselves and stop allowing other people deceive us.

After over an hour at the Northwest Petrol Station, Faluyi still had about 10 cars ahead of him in the queue. He said the 2023 election is a chance for Nigerians to elect a president that “can take this country to the next level.”

“I don’t think our own president listens to news because he doesn’t know the pains Nigerians are going through. And nobody is talking about this fuel scarcity.”

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