Since 2022, Nigerians have been grappling with lingering fuel scarcity. While the situation has unleashed untold hardship on people and affected economic activities, filling stations and thugs are cashing in on the situation in seemingly coordinated operations while regulatory agencies turn a blind eye. TheCable’s JAMES OJO, who went undercover in Lagos and Ogun communities, reports. It was 8 am on February 3. Oluwole Hakeem wore an angry and tiring look as he scouted for passengers at the Ojodu-Berger axis of Lagos. Since the fuel scarcity started, things have been difficult for the driver, who shuttles between Lagos and Sagamu as well as Ijebu-Ode in Ogun state daily. On this day, his anger was due to the fact that some passengers — including the reporter — complained about the hiked fare. Lagos to Sagumu used to be between N800 to N1,000. But not anymore. “It’s N1,500 to Sagamu and N2,000 to Ijebu-Ode. Seems you’re not aware of happenings in Nigeria; fuel is very expensive now,” he told the reporter with a burning rage. “You should be happy that we pegged the fee at this rate. At times, we sleep at filling stations just to get fuel and buy between N300 and N350 per litre.”


Hakeem is one of the millions of Nigerians livid over the persistent fuel scarcity in the country. Despite the growing outrage and protest across the country, there is seemingly no end in sight. FRUSTRATION, ANGER… NIGERIANS GROAN AMID PROLONGED FUEL SCARCITY The lingering fuel issue — which is happening at the same time as cash scarcity — has had a ripple effect on the citizens. From hiked fares to an increase in the cost of living, Nigerians are lamenting the harsh realities imposed by the situation. For Adegoke Damilola, a mother of four in Idimu axis of Lagos state, taking her children to school and providing for them has been anything but easy. “It has been difficult for me and my children to go out due to the hike in fares. Before the fuel issue, we pay N150 to go out but now it’s around N300. Also, we pay little to grind beans, pepper among others before; but now, the reverse is the case,” she said. “Things are really difficult for us. Whenever we complain, the drivers will tell us they get fuel at N330 per litre.” Amarachi Ezekoli, a resident of Ibeju Lekki, is another Nigerian who is sad about the situation of things. “This fuel issue is becoming a nightmare for us; we’re really helpless. To go out alone is N800,” she said.

A resident laments after buying fuel for N340 per litre in Sagamu, Ogun

While the situation is rattling families, businesses are also bearing the brunt. Precious Eze, a fruit supplier in Surulere, Lagos, said the fuel scarcity has disrupted her sales. “We find it difficult to supply fruits to customers because there is no fuel. The customers usually get angry and often opt for other vendors. This is taking a toll on our business,” she said. Osagie Samuel, a tailor in Akute, Ifo LGA, Ogun state, has a similar pathetic story. “The fuel scarcity is killing my business. We need electricity for almost all our activities. Since December, we’ve not had a good supply of electricity. The fuel scarcity has worsened the situation and resulted in low productivity. Customers are finding it difficult to trust us. When you want to increase the price, the customers will feel cheated. So, the fuel issue is a big setback for us,” he said. The story of Ibidapo Kolawole, who sells drinks in Akute and travels to local markets to buy food items for sale, is also touching. “The suffering is terrible and too much to bear. It is really affecting my business. I am jobless at the moment. I can’t go to the market again because of the exorbitant fares. I cannot buy fuel to power my shop too due to the cost of fuel,” she said. HARDSHIP FOR CITIZENS, BOOM FOR FILLING STATIONS While the prolonged fuel scarcity is causing pain to residents, filling stations and thugs are benefiting from the situation. At various filling stations visited by TheCable, extortion is the norm. The majority of the filling stations, operated by members of the Independent Petroleum Marketers Association of Nigeria (IPMAN), sell between 250 to 350 and above per litre. On the other hand, findings showed that prices of fuel across members of the Major Oil Marketers of Association of Nigeria (MOMAN) range from N180 to N240 per litre. Due to the price gap, Nigerians prefer to patronise filling stations owned by MOMAN members. When TheCable visited some of these filling stations in Ogun and Lagos communities, it was a case of survival of the fittest. The filling stations had long queues of vehicles — which span a few kilometres — and a large crowd of people jostling to get fuel after long hours of wait. The tense atmosphere at the filling stations also resulted in occasional heated brawls as frustrated residents flare up at the slightest opportunity. The reverse was the case during visits to filling stations owned by IPMAN where there was hardly a queue. Only those who could muster the courage to buy fuel at exorbitant prices demanded by the independent marketers patronised them.

Gridlock caused by fuel queue at Ojodu-Berger, Lagos

At Alwajud Service Station in Iperu road, Sagamu LGA, for instance, a litre of petrol is sold for N340 while Mangeborn Energy, and Randuk filling station in Akute sell a litre for N330. At G & G oil and gas limited in Ogba, Lagos, a litre goes for N320. Other independent marketers at Alimosho, Ikeja, Oshodi, Mushin and other LGAs in Lagos followed a similar pattern. Due to the hike in price, independent marketers did not ask for extra charges. “If they (independent marketers) ask for charges before dispensing fuel in addition to the price they are selling fuel, people won’t hesitate to burn the filling stations,” Israel Adewole, a resident of Ogba, said. The situation, findings showed, leaves many of those who visit filling stations owned by MOMAN members at the mercy of extortion. At the Nigerian National Petroleum Company (NNPC) Limited filling station in Ilaye, Sagamu, a litre was sold for N189 per litre when TheCable visited. However, commercial motorcyclists, known as Okada riders,  and tricycle riders were asked to pay N200 before being attended to.

A female attendant at NNPC, Ilaye, collects N200 from people before dispensing fuel

The female fuel attendant declined to attend to the reporter — who held a 10-litre gallon to convey the impression that he was looking for fuel — citing the management’s order against selling to those with gallons. A few motorcyclists who complained about the N200 fee were berated by their colleagues. “How much is N200? If you are not comfortable with the arrangement, go to where they sell for N330 per litre,” some of them yelled. The story is the same at NNPC in Oremeji, Ifo LGA, and Ojodu Berger in Lagos — which sell at 184 per litre — but demand an extra N200 before dispensing fuel to residents. Other branches of NNPC in Mushin, Lekki charge as high as N500 and N1,000 to dispense fuel.

Commercial motorcyclist paying N200 extra charge to a fuel attendant at NNPC, Akute

“My husband bought N25 litres of fuel at NNPC filling station, Majek bus stop, Lekki-Epe Expressway, Ajah on February 3 for N5,000 and paid N1,000 extra charge because he did not have a choice,” Ezekoli told TheCable. Like NNPC, some other major marketers also charge multiple fees from residents before selling fuel to them. At Oando filling station along Alagbole-Akute road in Ifo, a litre of fuel goes for N189 but TheCable found fuel attendants demand N500 as a “service charge”. “If you buy fuel for N5,000, you will pay an extra fee of N500. That is how we do it here. Anything above N5,000 attracts N1,000 charge,” a fuel attendant said. At the Total filling station at the Olorunsogo bus stop, Agege Motor Road in Mushin, a litre of fuel is sold for N180 per litre but fuel attendants charge an extra N500 fee. Due to desperation, people are forced to pay extra charges. “Petrol attendants are now kings and queens. It’s really telling on us,” Oladejo Adebayo, a resident of Ogun state who works in Lagos, said. Like fuel attendants, thugs are also taking advantage of fuel scarcity to make money. At some of the filling stations visited, thugs were seen manning the gates and demanding extra fees from residents before gaining access to the facility, while those who refused to “settle” them are often harassed unchallenged. Findings showed that the fee paid at the gate is different from the one collected by fuel attendants. At NNPC in Berger, a driver told this reporter that vehicles are required to pay N500 gate fee to facilitate their entry. “I paid N500 to enter. If you don’t do that, you’ll wait till eternity,” he said. Steven Moses, an Uber driver in Lagos, told TheCable how thugs bullied him at various filling stations across Lagos. “I bought fuel at Total filling station at Palm Groove recently and it wasn’t a pleasant experience. The thugs were everywhere helping people that were not on the line to jump queue while collecting bribes from them and the filing station manager was there looking at them,” he said. “When we complained, the manager said it is not his concern. They are selling a litre at N185 though and did not collect 500 or 1,000 extra charges as other filing stations but the thugs were the problem. “I also experienced this around the Oando filling station at Idimu. I struggled with those thugs before I could get fuel.” Adebayo also has his own share of experience with thugs at Ardova, on Oba Akran road, Ikeja. “That day, I was running out of fuel and decided to refill my tank but I was confronted by a thug who asked me to pay N1,000. I pleaded with the guy just to gain access to the filling station,” he recalled. “It’s not even a guarantee that I will get fuel, yet he insisted I pay him. I pleaded with him to collect N500 but he refused. I had to drive back.” NO FUEL FOR CITIZENS BUT BLACK MARKETERS HAVE IT IN ABUNDANCE In spite of the fuel scarcity, black marketers seem to have the product in abundance. They are heavily patronised by those who lack the patience to endure hours in queues at filling stations. At Total Energies in Sagamu, fuel is for the highest bidder. When the reporter arrived at the filling station, there was a long queue of vehicles and motorcycles. Some of the drivers told the reporter that they came around 4 am. But when the filling station started dispensing fuel, black marketers were given more priority. The facility was littered with women and men with loads of 30-litre gallons waiting to be attended to.

Black marketers with gallons at Total Energies in Sagamu

This happened despite the presence of police officers at the filling station. Some of those rankled by the situation had confronted the fuel attendants and this degenerated into chaos before peace was later restored. “They (black marketers) usually pay N1,000 to buy a 30-litre gallon of fuel. That is how the filling station makes their money,” an insider at the filling station told the reporter. Many black marketers in Sagamu buy fuel at lower prices from major marketers and resell it at exorbitant rates to helpless residents. This reporter went undercover to Sabo in Sagamu, which is the home to black marketers, with his 10-litre gallon. He had barely alighted from the motorcycle when young boys and others thronged him to buy fuel from them. After a while, the reporter bought five-litre for N2,000 from Ibrahim — at N400 per litre. At Alimosho, Ikeja and other parts of Lagos, the black market is also flourishing. Black marketers sell at expensive rates which range from N400 to N1,000 per litre. Findings further showed that in some places where filling stations operated by major marketers decline to dispense fuel to people with gallons, the black marketers use either generators or motorcycle tanks to buy and resell.

Buying fuel with generator/motorcycle tanks is a common strategy by black marketers in filling stations where gallons are not allowed

WHERE ARE THE REGULATORS? The extortion of residents by filling stations and thugs has continued to elicit concerns among Nigerians and relevant stakeholders, with many blaming the situation on the lack of proper regulation of marketers. The Nigerian Downstream and Midstream Petroleum Regulatory Authority (NMDPRA) is tasked with regulating the downstream sector — which deals directly with the sale of petrol to the end users — as stated in its mandate. Commenting on the development, Ambrose Igboke, a policy analyst, said the lingering fuel scarcity in the country is a result of the failure to “revamp our refineries over the years and the scam associated with fuel subsidy”. Igboke also said the attendant extortion of Nigerians by filling stations and thugs showed alleged connivance between “unscrupulous marketers and government regulatory agencies”. “Because the regulators have become complicit, they could no longer enforce it. So, even when the product is available, they hoard it and start playing with market forces and demand. Those days, I remember that when you mess up with the pump price, your filling station would be shut down,” he said. “But nowadays, filling stations openly display their exorbitant pump prices.”

Price of a litre of petrol at a filling station in Akute

The public affairs analyst also argued that what Nigerians are experiencing is “artificial scarcity” created by oil marketers. “What we have is artificial scarcity. Hoarding of the product to increase the market price. So, there is fuel. If there’s none, filling stations will not even open. Nigerians are being taken for a ride,” he added. “They do it because they know there’s no consequence because those who should regulate the situation and punish offenders will never do so. That’s what gives them the audacity to behave the way they are doing.”
Total energies

Despite security presence, black marketers operate unchallenged at Total Energies, Sagamu junction

‘FILLING STATIONS COLLUDING WITH THUGS’ Igboke, who is the chairman of Enugu state chapter of public affairs analysts of Nigeria, called on relevant agencies to stop the extortion of Nigerians by filling stations. “You see, there is a collaboration between non-state actors and state actors. Why are filling stations — including NNPC mega stations — allowing thugs to man their gates? Who are they collecting the money for? So, it’s a racket,” he said. “They know what to do. Both the security and government agencies know what to do but they turn a blind eye because there is a kind of connivance going on between the owners of the filling stations and the touts. “How can a tout be in front of your filling stations collecting fees with all the security agencies available at their disposal and you say you don’t know?”

A commercial motorcyclist laments after paying N200 fee to buy fuel at NNPC in Oremeji, Akute

‘ANYONE CAUGHT WILL BE SANCTIONED’ Speaking with TheCable, Clement Isong, executive secretary of MOMAN, said any of its members found extorting people will be sanctioned. “Any member caught engaging in such activities will be fined. Some of them are misbehaving due to the fuel scarcity,” he said. Isong also said the association is “working with members to make sure they sell at the government-approved price”. Kimchi Apollo, NMDPRA’s spokesperson, and Mike Osatuyi, national operations controller of IPMAN, did not respond to calls and text messages sent to them on the matter.

This is a special investigative project by Cable Newspaper Journalism Foundation (CNJF) in partnership with TheCable, supported by the MacArthur Foundation. Published materials are not views of the MacArthur Foundation.

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