By Godwin Ijediogor
On this particular Tuesday morning at a Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) branded filling station in Alimosho Council of Lagos State, a young lady, looking hardworking passed the queue at the entrance of the station, waiting to buy petrol.
She was not the only one that had gone into the station with plastic containers/jerry cans to buy petrol; but she was unique. Not by the way she looked or dressed or anything near these; but she was carrying six yellow 30-litre plastic containers tied together on her back.
As she passed, everyone around looked at her and concluded that she must be a black marketer.
Ostensibly assuming that all eyes were on her, she looked back and turned stern, only to start laughing a few metres away.
For two hours, the queue did not move an inch, but those with plastic containers went in and came out with petrol.
And not long after, the same lady came out carrying two of the six plastic containers filled with petrol. She went in three turns and the exercise was complete- she had purchased about 180 litres of petrol at N100 per litre with ease, while motorists on the queue were still at the same spot.
Then, spontaneously, it dawned on all those on the queue that something was fundamentally wrong.
When confronted, the lady disclosed that she uses the money she realises from re-selling at N200 per litre to cater for herself and her two children.
When asked whether her husband is in support of her action, especially storing petrol at home, she frowned and shrugged off the question.
Suddenly, she was no longer friendly. “Which one concern you inside self? If it dey vex you, then go and buy jerry cans and join, if you think it is easy,” she said, raising her voice.
After calming down, as she waited to cross the road, she was queried about what happens when there is no more scarcity of petrol: “Another business go come. We go survive. Is it not better than stealing or doing prostitution?
“We have to hustle to make a living. If you no work, no food for you. At least, it is better than begging.”
“When my children come back from school, they assist me to sell, while I go home to prepare food for them and come back in the evening.
“Business is booming now and we have to do it before it ends. No be me cause the scarcity,” she said as she hurried to cross the road, carrying one 30-litre jerry can in each hand.
Then, one by one, those with plastic containers in their trunks came down from their vehicles in the queue, took the containers and went into the station, which was already crowded and was becoming rowdy with all manner of customers of all ages carrying different sizes of jerry cans.
In less than 30 minutes, they began to come back with plastic containers filled with petrol. And it became glaring that all was not well with the queues.
One hour later, it was announced that there was no more petrol in their tanks, as they had exhausted their product, to the consternation of the queuing motorists, who accused them of hoarding to enable them sell to their black market customers later, especially at nightfall.
At another independent filling station in Agege area were long queues on both sides of the entrance.
But rather than being allowed in in turns as would be expected, other vehicles not in the queues were allowed in through the exit gate on whatever pretexts. And in their trunks and passenger compartments were containers.
While some of the motorists actually came with one container to refuel their generators or whatever, others belonged to some customers who persuaded the motorists to assist them purchased the product, since the bold sign at the entrance read: “No selling in jerry cans.”
Sometimes, for over 30 minutes, the attendants filled all the jerry cans in just four vehicles, as those in queue watched helplessly.
In one particular commercial bus were eight 50-litre jerry cans and seven 30-litre jerry cans, all filled with petrol.
“What are they using it for, if not to sell in the black market?’ one frustrated motorist asked.
“This is what we are facing in this country now. Some people now store petrol carelessly in their homes. What is there is a fire outbreak?
“I think government should stop filling stations from selling more than 10 litres in any jerry can, except in riverine areas and places where there are not filling stations nearby,” he counseled.
This is becoming a common scenario in almost all parts of the city, especially in the hinterlands.