World of Abuja black marketers
Category: Star feature
Ubiquitous in the Federal Capital Territory and other parts of the country, their activities, despite being illegal, bring succour to many residents.
In virtually every part of the capital city and other sections of the country, their activities are at a prominent high. On the numerous streets of Abuja they can be seen with different sizes of jerry cans containing combustible substance which they sell to motorists, many of which do not have time to join the queues at the regular filling stations. Their activities reach a peak especially during the constant fuel scarcity that hits the country. Theirs is a world that brings succour to many in a crisis ridden petroleum sector, but at the same time attracts criticism from the same set of people who oil their business.
At the area 11 section of the capital city, a drama is unfolding. It is one that has become a constant occurrence. The area hosts the Louis Edet House, headquarters of the Nigeria Police Force. Just a stone throw from the massive edifice is a gigantic Total filling station. Between the two buildings can be found tens of youths carrying jerry cans containing fuel, which they sell to impatient motorists who cannot stand the queue at the fuel station. But that is not what attracts the eye. There is a little side street where a form of unusual business is going on. Cars zoom into this avenue intermittently to discharge fuel to the black marketers who surround these vehicles in a jiffy. It is a growing business which entails the connivance of filling station attendants.
According to a black marketer who simply identifies himself as James, many of these car owners pay a token to the attendants manning the gates of the filing station, who thereafter allow them to ‘jump the queue’ and gain access to the scarce commodity. They do this as many times as possible, as long as they are able to ‘settle’ the attendants. After filling their tanks they drive into the side streets, where they discharge the fuel to the black marketers, who buy at a slightly higher fee. The marketers then add their own profit margin to the fuel they eventually sell to motorists. “That is how most of us get our supply. Private car owners are beginning to see the profit in the business, and many of them are joining the trend. That is why we are surprised when motorists accuse us of selling at high prices. If only they knew the arduous process through which we get the supply in the first place,” says the youth.
For the average motorist though, the lukewarm attitude of the police authorities who turn a blind eye to the activities of the innumerable marketers, calls for concern. “Imagine them operating boldly right in front of the force headquarters. That goes to show that the police is either shirking its duties, or they are colluding with the black marketers or how do you explain that? I have been queuing up at the filling station for long, yet I am not able to get inside the filling station, yet you see these boys getting their supply easily from the stations after bribing. What pains me most is the fact that the police is apparently not concerned about getting them off the streets,” says a 26 year old irate motorist, Samuel Bassey.
However FCT police spokesperson, Doris England, however says the command is not relenting in its efforts at chasing the black-marketers off the streets, stating that the police carry out sporadic raids on their locations. ‘It is not true that we are not doing anything to check their activities. We carry out raids on them from time to time. We have made a few arrests. Most of them run off immediately they sight our patrol vans coming their way. But we are not relenting in our efforts to remove them from the roads. Let me also state it categorically that sale of petroleum products on the streets in illegal and we view it as such. The only places where sale of petrol is allowed are the designated filling stations that dot the city,’ she states in a chat with Daily Trust.
A commuter, Haruna says the black marketers have constituted themselves into a formidable power bloc that cannot be broken for now. “Theirs is a powerful one. They dictate the price of the fuel one buys for consumption. Everywhere you go in the city you will find them in great numbers. At times these filling stations even prefer to sell to them, because they can do that at higher prices than the accepted pump price, so they can make more profit. Go to most filling station after closure and you will see attendants selling to the black marketers after they have turned back regular customers, on the assumption that they have run out of stock,” he enthuses.
But there are others who see the black marketers as indispensable. One of such is Sola Adetunji, a housewife. She frowns at any attempt to remove them from the streets. ‘They should allow them to operate. It is these people that we rely on when the filling stations have failed us, or refuse to sell. I only think their prices should be regulated. They should have a fixed price at which they sell. The only reason the government would have moral standing to clamp down on them is if there is enough fuel to take care of the needs of the people at the fuel stations. Even some filling stations sell at black market prices too, so what are we saying then? Some sell at N140 but just adjust their pump prices or machines to reflect a lower rate. So there is not much to choose between for the average consumer. Also these youths must survive as the government is not providing the much needed jobs for them. The whole system is corrupt as it is. So the government must first purge itself before cleansing the system, or clamping down on these youths who are only searching for a means of livelihood order than crime. No fuel at the filling station, no electricity at home. So what do we do? We must patronise these black marketers so as not to stay in darkness.’
Also Maliki Akwuchi, a media executive has this to say: “the government should leave them alone. If they cannot provide adequate fuel, and there is no other means for consumers to get their supply, why not leave them alone. If the government has been able to live up to its duty of providing enough fuel to power the needs of its citizens, these people would not be on the roads in the first place.”
For now the black marketers may continue to hold sway, for as long as the nation continues to battle with perennial fuel crisis.