By Suleiman Yakubu

My sweet sleep was interrupted at about 4:30am by my wife’s persistent taps to get me up. I had to go and queue at the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) mega filling station in Minna to get some fuel. Suddenly there was scarcity of the product; the yearly fuel scarcity that characterized the Nigerian economy was back in most states and Minna, the Niger State capital, is also experiencing the stress. Sadly, most petrol stations, even those that still have fuel, stopped selling claiming scarcity of the product from the NNPC. But we all know that that they hoarded it in anticipation of a price hike by government or to sell to black marketers at an exorbitant price. It is always about making more money by all means for most of us.

Now fully awaked without even freshening up or brushing my teeth, I rushed out of the house in search of black gold. For your information, I hate the endless wait at filling stations. First it is very unproductive because it means that all your business and work that day is brought to a standstill and in fact, there is no guarantee that you will even get fuel at the end of the day. Therefore, as a last attempt to stop myself from going, I told my wife that perhaps we should sleep a while. But you know how adamant women can be, she will have none of it and as a way of encouraging me, she offered to come along. So it was settled, we set out to get some fuel.   

Thankfully, we got to the filling station on time, there were about 30 vehicles ahead of us. From our calculation, give and take, an hour after the sale begins, we should be out of there. But we should have known better, for it was the beginning of a very unpalatable wait, from 5am to 6pm.

First, there was no fuel at the station so we had to wait for the tanker to arrive from wherever. Mercifully, one arrived at about 7am and we became joyous, reasoning that in two hours the sales should resume; at most one hour for offloading and another for it to settle down. However, for whatever reason the sale did not commence until 11:45pm and even when they decide to sell, none of us on the main queue got to enter. They decided to service only those on the other line, those who somehow formed a double line by the gate in attempt to shunt. About 20 of them went in while we patiently hoped that they will soon buy and leave. But we should have known better, as our ordeal just began.

From where we were, we could see that the filling station was filled with cars but our line was stagnant. When we enquired, a lady coming from the station said there was no way out. Cars had blocked the exit gate and those that have been served are stuck. According to her, there were close to 100 cars at the gate and it does not help matters that traffic was high along that road as parents are trying to pick up their wards from Hinma School. It was about 2pm.

By this time, I was completely fagged out, without food and sweaty, I felt hungry and dirty and most disturbing was the fact that no vehicle on our line had been served. Yet, ours was the official queue. After waiting for two more hours without much hope at 4pm, along with three other guys, we decided to approach the manager so that we may ask for the reason for the delay. And since the entrance was locked we decided to go through the exit. There we found nothing less than 30 cars waiting to be let in and a brisk business going on. Those on this queue don’t go through the stress of waking early or even sleeping at the station, all they have to do is to pay their way in. I saw a lanky guy collecting N500 each as gate pass, yet, close to him are a policeman and a plain clothe security personnel at the gate.

We were stopped by the plain clothe personnel at the gate who guessing that we were an aggrieved party did not allow us to see the manager. He however requested that we tell him our mission. After we ranted about how unfair the process had been and how some of us had spent the night at the filling station but are still unattended to by 4pm; he seemed like a gentleman and tried to reason with us. He said as soon as they cleared the crowd at the exit gate they will start calling us in. My question is why should those who are genuinely on queue wait for those shunting before they can be served? Of course, we should know better, money was the key, and I have no doubt that all the security personnel and the management of the NNPC Mega Filling Station, Minna are all aware of the racket and indeed have their own cuts.

Knowing we could not do much, we went to wait further, hoping against all odds that our day at the station would not be in vain. It was 5pm now and many gave up out of frustration or anger at the injustice and left, so we were able to get closer to the entrance. It was indeed painful because the queue was no less than a kilometer long, the line extended from the NNPC to far beyond Mountain of Fire Church. Yet, people who just came were allowed in because of corruption. After the Keke NAPEPs (tricycles) were allowed in, next motorcycles had their turn. This was when the real deal began. Right before our very eyes, as soon as a motorcycle is filled they remove the tank at the gate and place a new one on the motorcycle. This way the black market boys got their fill. In fact it got to a time when caution was thrown to the wind and they were out rightly selling to black marketers in big rubber paint buckets while we were still waiting.

By this time, it was about 5:30pm, and from nowhere more cars came and formed a double line and when the gate was eventually opened, it simply led to a rush between some of us on the line and the new comers who are paying their way in. Severally, we almost collided with them as we tried to make our way into the station. I felt so bad that the boys just appeared and are competing for space with us, what I didn’t realize until later was that we got to enter into the station only by their grace. It was not difficult to see that they were the ones been beckoned in and since we can no longer be ignored, they allowed some of us to go in. To cut a long story short, that was how I got served at 6pm having been on the queue since 5am. Of course, mine was a success story since there were many more cars, over 50 of them, far behind us that didn’t get fuel that day.

This is what I had to go through in search of fuel and I am sure that many Nigerians went through worse nightmares as a result of the recent fuel scarcity. Yet, neither the government nor NNPC, Nigeria’s only importer of the product, had any plausible explanation for the yearly scarcity. It is a tradition now that we experience fuel scarcity every December during Christmas and New Year holidays. Yet, the NNPC insists that there is enough fuel to go round at the approved price, insinuating that the product is being hoarded. If this is the case then the culprits must be fished out for the untold hardship they bring on innocent citizens. The crisis often leads to high cost of commodities and transportation.

Be that as it may, it is clear that the only way to genuinely end fuel scarcity in Nigeria is by building enough refineries that can effectively meet local demands. Surely, the idea of importation of refined fuel is not the way forward and except we began to refine petroleum by ourselves, selfish marketers will continue to have a field day and hold our nation to ransom; subjecting innocent citizens to untold hardship like the one I recently went through at the NNPC Mega Filling Station in Minna recently.