In recent weeks, petrol, an essential commodity, has been hard to get. The product in question has no substitutes, so one can imagine how discomforting the experience has been for Nigerians.
At about 9:30 am on Saturday, I visited the Nigerian National Petroleum Company Ltd (NNPC) retail station along Isawo road, Asolo, Ikorodu, Lagos. It didn’t take me much time to notice the extortion by the station’s officials.
“Who will sanitise this country now as both the old and young are corrupt? These people have taken advantage of this petrol scarcity to milk us unchecked,” an okada rider, who appeared to be in his 60s, lamented.
The fuel station has six dispenser stands and one storeyed building. The upper part of the building is an office, and the lower part is a Chicken Republic restaurant. By the exit point, a vulcaniser is doing his business and stubborn-looking Joint Task Force (JTF) guards manned the exit.
The retail station is bordered to the right side by Igbehinadun street and left side by UPE Primary School, Cole Village, Ajaguro, Ikorodu.
I approached a young man, who bought fuel into a generator tank, to know if he had paid an extra charge to the attendants and he said yes.
“I bought N4,700 worth of petrol and they collected N300 extra, making N5,000 that I paid. I just had to pay them because I have been here since 5am,” the man told this reporter.
I overheard a man telling others around him, as if he was lecturing them, about the extra fees to be paid before getting petrol at the fuel station.
According to the man, “If you are buying below N2,500, you will just pay N200 additional fee. If you are filling up a 25-litre jerrycan, that is N500 extra.”
Asked how much I would pay if I was not buying up to 25 litres, he said, “Why will you come with a 25-litre keg and not fill it up? You will only shortchange yourself.”
Only two fuel-dispensing machines were working and I moved closer to a dispenser where one salesman and two chubby salesladies were attending to visibly distraught customers.
The transaction process was seemingly organised, but not without intermittent disruptions. I saw two categories of customers: those who were reluctant to pay above the official N184 price and those who paid without questioning the extortioners.
To the right side was a pump machine manned by Tobi, Kemi and Adebayo. Bayo, as mostly called by his colleagues, was the one selling the fuel while Kemi and Tobi were collecting money from customers.
‘I CANNOT PAY ANY FOOLISH MONEY‘
After spending many hours on the queue, it was the turn of a heavily-built woman in a Sienna car. Bayo sold N10,000 petrol to her, and then Kemi demanded N11,000.
“I can never pay such money,” said the woman. “How can you ask me to give you N11,000 when I am to pay N10,000? What kind of foolish money is that?”
When approached for money, another buyer said, “What extra charge are you expecting me to pay when you decided not to sell fuel into my plastic can? The man before me filled up his three containers without a problem, but you turned over when it was my turn.”
When Kemi was dealing with such reluctant or uncooperative customers, she brought her negotiation skills to bear. Persuasively, she would say “it is not our fault”.
N5,000 MAXIMUM CAP PER CUSTOMER
Explaining why they were collecting bribes, Kemi told a customer in a measured tone that they were just being considerate for selling above the limit dictated by their controllers.
“Our leaders instructed us not to sell above N5,000 per customer. But we decided to go beyond that cap. So, you could see we are just being merciful,” a plump, round-faced Kemi explained to an angry customer.
‘LOPSIDED SHARING FORMULA‘
Although Tobi was not on duty, she joined her colleagues to do the day’s job. Like Kemi. Leaning on a silver colour car, Tobi explained how the bribes would be lopsidedly shared among the attendants and their managers.
“Our bosses are unfair and greedy. At the close of each business day, they would calculate how much we realised from the extra charges and give us our share,” said Tobi.
“I am not on duty today; tomorrow is my turn. Each of the salespeople on duty today will get N2,500 from the whole sweetener. The rest will be shared by the manager and top administrative officials,” Tobi explained to a female. She seemed displeased with the arrangement.
RATIONING THE PRODUCT
I gathered that the station had been rationing the sale of petrol.
When it was precisely 1:00 pm on my watch, Gbenga, one of the prominent men supervising the attendants, turned off the power-generating set of the station.
SPECIAL SECURITY TEAM ARRIVES
A three-man security team arrived the fuel station in a four-passenger car at exactly 1:25 pm. I presumed they were a monitoring team from the Department of State Service (DSS) to check the operation of the station.
“Were they selling fuel before? Why did they stop?” the leader of the team asked this reporter. I answered, “Yes, they were selling before, but they stopped about one hour ago. None of them told us why they stopped.”
The team consisted of two men of the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) and one DSS officer. Immediately the manager came out of his office, the NSCDC officials followed him into the Chicken Republic restaurant.
I was keenly watching them as they sat on a table for three. The manager ordered two bottles of small Eva water for them. Some minutes later, I went into the restaurant to buy a pie and a bottle water. My intention was to observe their discussion.
At 2:02 pm, they all came out of the fast-food shop, with one of the officers holding his half-empty bottle water. Emerging from their discussion with the manager, the security operatives asked the attendants to resume selling the fuel.
For some minutes, the manager passed a phone to one of the officers to speak with another person on the other end of the call. Shortly afterwards, the monitoring team left, but not without filling their car tank. Whether they paid or not, I cannot say.
‘THIS IS INJUSTICE, WHO CAN PICTURE THIS AND UPLOAD IT ON SOCIAL MEDIA?‘
A bow-legged man who identified as Michael F.F. ran back and forth in protest against the selling of the petroleum product in a blue drum stationed in a white J5 vehicle.
Clutching his hands on his head, Michael shouted helplessly, “How are these people like this? This vehicle was not on the queue before now. How can they even be selling petrol into this storage when they claim they are not selling into kegs?
“How I wish someone could just take some pictures here and spread it around on social media. This is injustice and it is absolutely bad.”
I later beckoned on Michael for a brief interview. During the conversation, he identified himself as a press man, but he would not mention his organisation.
“I am also a press man. For personal reason, I don’t just want to expose them. Otherwise, what I have observed today is solid enough to cause them some trouble,” he said.
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