By Bose Adebayo
Since plans by government to deregulate the downstream sector of the oil industry became public knowledge, fuel marketers have intensified efforts in doing what they know how to do best: That is to hoard the product.
This accounted for the long queues witnessed in most filling stations at intermittent intervals during the month of November.
In spite of assurances by the Nigerian National Petroleum Company(NNPC) that it has enough stock to checkmate the situation, the problem continues to linger.
Presently many filling stations in LagosÂ have been playing a hide and seek game with motorists and other consumers as either they are not selling based on claim of inadequate supply of the products or selling at prices that are excessively high.
When Vanguard Metro went to town recently, street urchins popularly called Area Boys were seen hawking the products in gallons and bottles and selling at exorbitant prices to consumers.
Even though some filling stations sell at the approved rate of N65 a litre, consumers are made to part with N100 or N200 before the product is dispensed.
At one of such filling stations in Ojota, for instance, a motorist paidÂ N360 while the attendant only sold fuel worth N250 to him. One of the attendants who pleaded anonymity told this reporter their marketer had told them not to expect fresh supply until January 2010.
Some outlets of Mobil at Maryland, Isolo and Okota witnessed a high turn out of consumers as many of them claim they enjoy the services at this stations.
Some motorists said most filling stations now sell between N110 and N120 per litre, while they buy at N150 in the black market.
As a result of the exorbitant price, many families say they cannot fuel their generating sets, complaining that the price has gone beyond their reach. Also, commercial vehicle operators have been taking advantage of the situation to increase their fares.
It was alleged that some filling stations too might have decided to hoard the product in anticipation of buffer margin should the government go ahead with the deregulation.
Some motorists told this reporter the long queues were due to the shortage of the product occasioned by the inability of the NNPC to get enough supply to the major marketers. Others, however, claim it was as a result ofÂ panic buying by people who suspected there would soon be an increase in the price of the product.
â€œI was trapped in the traffic while sourcing for fuel and I missed a vital appointment as a result. Only God knows when the scarcity will end. Lagosians are suffering O. Canâ€™t our government do something to help us,â€ lamented a private car owner who bemoaned his fate on Tuesday after spending several hours in the long queue.
A Three wheeler operator popularly called Keke Marwa alleged that some of the stations that were not selling did so deliberately to hoard the product and sell at an exorbitant price at night.
â€œI saw a fuel tanker few minutes ago discharging fuel here only for me to return later to be informed that there was no fuel again. This is ridiculous. It is obvious that this station is hoarding the product,â€ he alleged.
An attendant at Total Plc, Isolo who gave his name as Ede said some customers might have resorted to panic buying in order to take advantage of the current price before the government increases it.
â€œThe situation on ground does not call for panic but Lagosians are fond of running before they see what is pursuing them. I have just come back from Ibadan and there was no cause for panic everywhere; motorists there were having a good time.
But the situation changed as soon as I entered Lagos. Lagosians are always in a hurry. Even if filling stations do not want to increase the price, by the time they see an army of buyers, nobody would teach them to do so,â€ he said.
Jide Ayinde said his source of livelihood depends solely on power. â€œI donâ€™t know what to do now. NEPA will not bring light and there is no fuel. I sell sachet water in my area and people will not buy unless it is iced.
I have been using generator to do this since we are not sure of light, if I buy the fuel at N120 per litre, I know I shall run the business at a loss. The best thing is to close my shop until normalcy returns to filling stations,â€ he lamented.