For several months now, Nigerians have been subjected to biting scarcity of Premium Motor Spirit (PMS) which is commonly referred to as petrol. The scarcity, which started like a child’s play continued unabated and even ran through the entire Christmas festive period, a period most people expected the fuel scarcity to have been dealt with.
With the crisis, unimaginable long queues became the order of the day at the various petrol stations as motorists and others whose businesses depend on petrol thronged the filling stations. Checks revealed that some motorists sleep in filling stations while awaiting the availability of the product.
The commodity scarcity is inflicting untold hardship on the citizens of the country and there is no sector of the economy that is untouched by the negative effect. As it stands today, nobody has been able to come out with another reason for the scarcity other than that marketers are deliberately hoarding the product to create artificial scarcity. This is even more worrisome because the NNPC has declared that they have 1.8 billion litres of PMS for February and March. One begins to wonder what is really going on.
The situation is so bad that a litre of petrol is going for as much as N800 in some places while the lowest price remains N185 at NNPC mega station in Asaba and other places.
As a result, some motorists and other users spend the night on queue at the mega station in order to get the product early the next day.
Because of the epileptic nature of electricity, many businesses in Nigeria depend on power generators to power the various appliances deployed for their businesses. For these people, it has been a harrowing and excruciating experience to continue doing business. The profit margin of their businesses has been eaten off completely by the expenses on petrol to generate power.
Consequently, consumers are at the receiving end of all these as prices of commodities have gone up tremendously. Transportation of goods and persons has been made more difficult as few transport vehicle owners are able to grapple with the high cost of PMS. Therefore, cost of transportation has gone up astronomically and the reflective effect on the economy is not encouraging.
Prices of food items have soared uncontrollably because farmers can’t easily move their products to the market. In the same vein, consumers are left with no option than to pay more for food items.
As usual, Nigerians are bitterly crying out in situations as usual but whether the cries yield any meaningful result is a different matter. Families are sleeping hungry, many now deeply indebted. Many Nigerians have expressed their displeasure over the fuel crises and accusation fingers have been pointed at the federal government for doing close to nothing and allowing the fuel crisis to degenerate to the present state.
The marketers have since embarked on sharp practices unhindered thereby subjecting the masses to undue exploitation. For instance, the pump prices of petrol varies from one filling station to another. What is, however, strange is the fact that some marketers are not selling at the same price at their various outlets. One begins to wonder if the products were not from the same source.
The price difference might just be as a result of the sharp practices by the managers of the various filling stations. Sometimes, buyers are made to pay some amount of money before they can buy. This apply more to those who buy in containers, probably to power their generators or other appliances.
As a result, the Delta State government decided to establish a Petroleum Monitoring Team, a committee saddled with the responsibility to monitor movement and prices of petroleum products in the state.
The petrol monitoring team, which is headed by the commissioner for Oil and Gas, Delta State, Prince Emmanuel Amgbaduba, has been going round the entire state to monitor the fuel situation in the state.
On the other hand, the current twin problem to fuel scarcity is the cash crunch which was occasioned by the change in currency design by the Emefiele led Central Bank of Nigeria.
Since the Central Bank’s redesign of the naira notes, the suffering of Nigerians became worse. As if the suffering meted on Nigerians by fuel scarcity was not enough, the scarcity of cash has made the situation extremely unbearable.
The Central Bank of Nigeria had redesigned the N1000, N500 and N200 notes and had fixed February 10 as deadline for the use of the notes as legal tender without printing enough money to replace these old ones.
Many Nigerians quickly deposited the old Naira notes at their disposal to the banks in line with the Central Bank directives that the old notes would cease to be legal tender after February 10.
Consequently, the shortage of the new Naira notes has created a lot of suffering of unimaginable proportion in Nigeria, especially among the poor because they have money in the bank yet they can’t access cash.
The various paying outlets were rendered inactive as a result of lack of cash. Even the Automated Teller Machines of the various banks are not dispensing money as banks complained of no cash despite claims by the CBN that it had released enough cash for circulation. In the midst of the confusion, the people have become victims, forced to become economically powerless and even physically demobilized.
“I have not been able to do any business for weeks now because I have no money for transportation. Transporters within the city do not accept transfers so how do I move? I tried borrowing but who has? Those who bought at horribly ridiculous rates are hugging their cash like gold,” a service vendor, Mark Chuka told this publication.
The services at Point of Sales, popularly known as POS became unaffordable as the charges at these POS rose over 1000 percent. Before the cash crunch, one could get N10,000 for N200 charges but currently, the charges varies from N2000 to N3000 for the same N10,000.
Trust dubious Nigerians, even petrol filling stations that used to collect money through POS in the past now demand for cash before you can get fuel.
Investigation revealed that these filling stations hand the cash to POS operators with interest.
A POS operator revealed to National Point on condition of anonymity that they pay very high charges to the banks and these filling stations for the cash given to POS operators. This, he said, was responsible for the high charges POS operators demand from customers.
The situation became worse as a result of the security men clampdown on POS operators who were allegedly conniving with bankers to sell the new currency. The operators went underground and this made it even harder for the common man in Delta state.
The other alternative to make payment or receive was reduced to online. Even at that the online services soon began to experience difficulties in form of poor network, either from service providers or as a result of too much pressure on the network.
So many people have complained that in the process of transferring money through POS they were debited and the money didn’t get to their destinations. Yours sincerely is a victim here as I made payment through POS and I was debited whereas the money was not sent and it did not reverse. Getting into the bank to complain and follow-up is also a big hurdle as the crowds at banks keep increasing as access to cash gets tougher.
All these sufferings put together, made youths embark on violent protest in Warri and environs which resulted in the torching of some banks by the protesters.
A cross section of people spoken to expressed their displeasure over the suffering and the seeming indifference by the government. Many of the respondents remarked that President Muhammadu Buhari’s speech allowing the old N200 note to be used for now did little or nothing to ameliorate their suffering.
Samuel Olotu, a middle aged trader in Asaba complained bitterly over the terribly bad sales being recorded daily.
In his words, “The suffering is too much and we are appealing to the concerned authorities to do something about it and save us from this torture.
“Imagine, since morning that I have been here, I have not made a single sale. It would be better if I had stayed at home. There is no money anywhere and if you go to the bank it is as if you are wasting your time because after spending hours, you will not get money. It is terrible my brother. How do you expect someone who has not eaten to come and buy dress?”
Another respondent, Mrs Joy Okonkwo, who trades in vegetables lamented over the situation. She expressed worries that sales had not been good and her wares are perishable, exposing her to wastage.
“I sell vegetables and they are perishable. My fear is that the way things are going now, I might incur loss because if I don’t sell them in the next few days, they will go bad. I spent so much getting these vegetables, even more than it used to cost due to the fuel scarcity and now no cash for consumers to buy these things.”
She appealed to the government to quickly intervene before the situation gets out of control.
An elderly woman in her 70s described the situation as very sad and unbearable.
“In all my years, this is the worst experience. So sad and unbearable. You have money in the bank but you can’t access it and you have no cash to even buy food. It is frustrating. Women are devising ways to survive. I look for what I can dispense with in my house and find people who need them and have what I need in exchange. I am aware that in some communities people have gone back to trade by barter because we must live regardless,” she stated.
Other respondents who spoke to this publication also expressed their suffering over the current situation of fuel and cash scarcity.
While the traders among them complained of poor sales due to the cash crunch, others complained of no cash to buy things needed and noted that electronic banking had equally failed them.
They expressed worry over the insensitivity of government over their plight.
“What manner of people are leading us? They are happy watching people suffer and die? People are dropping dead on bank queues, in hospitals because cash is not available for their needs.
“With this approach will they be confident to keep money in the bank in future? The politicians they made us believe they were trying to checkmate with the new currency policy are spending dollars and have the new naira so why keep punishing us?” many ask.
The fuel and cash crises have lingered for too long and if something is not done to address the issue, a lot of things would go wrong in the very near future. Frustration has raised a groundswell of anger which the presidential election outcome has not helped.
As things stand now, the setting ablaze of some banks in various parts of the country might just be a warning sign of terrible things to come if urgent steps are not taken. A stitch in time,” the saying goes, “saves nine.”