Today is December 25. It is Christmas – the day accepted and celebrated all over the world by Christians as the birthday of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Annually, the Yuletide is a season of celebration. It is a season of glittering Christmas lights, of colourful fireworks, of hampers and gifts, of Christmas trees and Santa Claus, of feasts and festivities. In the streets, on the roads, in churches and religious assemblies, in pubs and in pizza shops, in hotels and everywhere you go, “Merry Christmas” is the usual salutation that flows forth from sundry mouths all through the Yuletide.
But at the moment across Nigeria, this Christmas appears bleak and black. From Ajangbadi in Lagos to Ajaokuta in Kogi, from Auchi in Edo to Bauchi, what you see on the faces of most people is neither mirth nor merriment. Indeed, in place of merriment, sheer misery has evidently descended upon the nation. In the cities, towns and villages, outright chaos has taken the place of street carnivals, and a pall of confusion has displaced the spirit of camaraderie that should pervade the atmosphere at Christmas.
As the seemingly intractable fuel crisis gets worse by the day, the boisterous ambience of Christmas has vanished, with despair taking a permanent space on many faces.
In many parts of the country, the crowd at the beaches has thinned out considerably, while the parks have not been having their usual share of fun-seekers. Many motorists now spend the majority of their time at fuel stations, seeking the elusive premium motor spirit for their vehicles.
In many parts of Lagos, the fuel stations are under lock and key. Those presumed to have some stock of petrol are thronged by hundreds of motorists and those with no vehicles, each armed with a large or medium-sized jerry can or plastic keg.
“This Christmas is not merry,” an exasperated gentleman, Chika Obi, informed the correspondent on Saturday evening. He – and his Honda CRV – had been standing in a queue for hours at an NNPC fuel station around Irawo in Ikorodu, Lagos. The insurance broker, who lived in Shangisha, said he had been told that the station was dispensing fuel and had come there to meet a long line of vehicles waiting to buy the scarce commodity.
Another gentleman, Abiodun, who lives in the neighbourhood, said that his plans to take his family to his hometown in Ifon, Ondo State, had collapsed. He said his kids, who had looked forward to spending the season with their grandparents at the countryside, were particularly jolted by his sudden change of mind.
“My wife understands, but not my kids,” he explained. “I can’t blame them though. What do they know? They have been sulking since. But I have been waiting here for hours now, and no one has any idea whether the station would even sell today. Nobody is telling us anything. How then would I take my family home to Ifon in Ondo State when I have no idea whether I would get fuel for the car? What if we get there and there is no fuel to take us back? These are things that one must consider. It’s so unfortunate that we are being treated this way by those we elected to lead us.”
Across the country, it has become obvious that many people would remain indoors all through the Christmas and New Year celebrations. Moving from place to place is as difficult as passing through the eye of the needle. Fuel queues have spilled to the roads and highways, causing considerable gridlocks. Transport fares have skyrocketed, with some commercial transport operators raising transportation costs by as much as 300 per cent. Prices of foodstuff and other items have also increased astronomically. Many automated teller machines (ATM) have stopped dispensing cash, while a number of point of sale (POS) terminals at the supermarkets have been rejecting debit cards.
In Lagos, virtually all the popular bus stops are crowded from morning till night, and getting a space in the few vehicles that show up is like war. Getting out of the city is even far more problematic.
In Lagos on Sunday, illegal petrol marketers were having a field day. With full kegs and containers, they lined up the road between China Town at Ojota and Ogudu, along the Third Mainland Bridge, where they sold a litre of petrol for N500. Bereft of an option beyond getting stranded somewhere on the highway, this writer was forced to patronise one of the N500-a-litre petrol hawkers. They were also conspicuous on the Gbagada-Oshodi Expressway.
Job Osazuwa, a features writer with Daily Sun, who went round the city on Sunday morning, discovered that a trip from Lagos to Benin, which used to be N2,500 now goes for N6,500. A space in a bus travelling from Lagos to Lokoja rose from N5,000 to N11,000, Lagos to Warri skyrocketed to N7,500 from N3,000 while Port Harcourt-bound passengers each paid between N11,000 and N12,000. The fare used to be N5,500.
The hike in fares is also applicable to intra-city transportation within Lagos. On Friday, commercial drivers collected N500 from Oshodi to Sango Tollgate, which used to be between N150 and N200. Agege to Oshodi also increased from N150 to N300. A bus ride from Ile-Epo to Command in Alimosho Local Government Area that was previously N100 now costs between N200 and N250, while Abule Egba to Agege increased from N50 to N150.
Across the South West, the situation is also dire. Daily Sun’s Oluseye Ojo informed the writer that, in Ibadan, residents of the Oyo State capital are groaning as a result of the fuel scarcity afflicting the city like a terrible plague.
Many filling stations have for days not been dispensing the commodity to motorists. Their gates have been locked. For the few that have their gates opened, it is to provide other services such as car servicing, wheel-balancing, alignment and operations at the mini supermarkets.
Many stations have been selling above the N145 official pump price, with some selling for between N180 and N200.
Commercial bus operators and motorbike riders within the Oyo State capital have arbitrarily increased their transport fares between 80 and 100 per cent. Inter-state transportation fares have also soared, sometimes by over 100 per cent.
It was gathered that a trip from Ibadan to Akure in Ondo State, which used to cost between N1,000 and N1,300, has been increased to between N2,000 and N2,200. Also, Ibadan to Lagos as at Saturday evening has gone up to N2,000 from N800 or N1,200.
Many motorists, motorcyclists, tricycle operators and individuals seeking to purchase fuel in jerry cans have been keeping vigil at the filling stations in the past three days. Black market activities have resurfaced in many parts of Ibadan, especially at the popular Sabo at Mokola, where people have been buying four litres of the PMS for between N800 and N1,000.
Right now, there are few vehicles on the road and many commuters have resorted to trekking to their various destinations after a long, fruitless wait at the bus stops.
But some filling stations have been accused of hoarding the commodity. A particular filling station at Bashorun in Ibadan that actually took delivery of the commodity has since refused to dispense, obviously hoping that the pump price of petrol would be increased soon.
One of the fuel marketers in Ibadan, when asked why his filling station has been selling above the N145 official pump price, simply responded: “We are selling what we bought.”
In Kaduna, transport fares have also skyrocketed. Commercial bus operators now bank on the excruciating fuel crisis to make more profit.
Sola Ojo, a Daily Sun correspondent in Kaduna, recalled that a few days back, a trip from Kaduna to Uyo, the capital of Akwa Ibom State, cost N8,000. It has since been jacked up to 11,500. Transport companies that hitherto charged between N5,500 and N6,000 for a trip to parts of the South-West have since raised the fares to between N8,000 and N9,000.
However, several filling stations are out of stock while the few ones that are dispensing are selling between N195.00 and N225.00. Black market operators selling in jerry cans by the roadsides sell at N250.00 a litre for motorists who could not stand the rigour of long queues at fuel stations.
Travellers to the South-East are also not finding the situation funny. Loveth Arinze, who travelled from Lagos to Onitsha in Anambra State at the weekend, lamented that she paid N10, 500 for a seat in a small bus at a popular park in Lagos. Until last week, the fare was N5, 500.
The fuel scarcity, as well as the attendant unofficial increase, is also biting very hard on residents and travellers within Anambra State. Daily Sun’s Aloysius Attah in Onitsha, informed that transport fares have increased by as much as 100 per cent. Even as the long queues continue to grow in length in most of the filling stations in Onitsha and Awka, pump prices have suddenly skyrocketed from N145 to N200 at most of the stations at the weekend. Not a few are selling for as much as N260 a litre.
Transport fare from Onitsha to Awka, which was N300 now costs N800. Onitsha to Nsukka, formerly N1000, is now N2000 while a trip from Onitsha to Abakaliki, which hitherto cost N1200, now costs N2000.
Operators of inter-state shuttles have also increased their fares by 100 per cent. Most residents who earlier planned to travel home with the entire family have cancelled such plans owing to the existential realities.
A public commentator, Jude Okafor while decrying the situation, lambasted President Buhari. He noted that as Petroleum Minister, the president has failed to rise to the occasion and address the situation.
Many Nigerians are absolutely incensed that in the midst of the fuel crisis, President Buhari, who doubles as Petroleum Minister, has not addressed them on the cause of the crisis and state efforts being made to tackle the chaos.
Meanwhile, as Nigerians continue to suffer at the fuel stations, the federal government and the marketers of petroleum products have been trading blames.
The Group Managing Director of the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) Maikanti Baru, alleged that the petroleum marketers were responsible for the current fuel scarcity in the country.
Also speaking, Dr. Garba Abari, Director-General of the National Orientation Agency (NOA) accused some “conscienceless and unpatriotic marketers” of causing the crisis to force government to increase the pump price of the products.
Abari said petroleum marketers had resorted to deliberate hoarding in order to subject Nigerians to unwarranted hardship during the yuletide.
National President, Independent Petroleum Marketers Association of Nigeria, Chinedu Okoronkwo, however, said the unending gridlock on Apapa-Oshodi Expressway, which has been preventing fuel tankers from having a seamless access to the commodity, is the major cause of the crisis.
The Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) has said the lingering fuel crisis is as a result of administrative challenges between the Federal Government and petroleum marketers, which has taken some time to be resolved.
The DPR has also said warned operators of fuel stations from increasing prices at their pumps beyond the official N145 per litre. The agency asked Nigerians to report such stations to the agency via the telephone line 08058298820. A number of fuel stations reportedly selling above the normal price are said to have been shut by the agency.
President Muhammadu Buhari and the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) have also apologised to the country over the unending scarcity. But not many are impressed.
“The president’s apology is okay, but it won’t solve the problem. What is needed now is a way out of this unending fuel crisis. Many stations are selling beyond the official price, and they are doing so openly. It’s hypocritical of the DPR to ask anyone to report erring stations, because they also know such stations,” Mr. Ade Joseph, a businessman, told the writer at a fuel station in Gbagada, Lagos on Sunday evening.