esidents of border communities in Ogun, Lagos, Adamawa, Katsina and Sokoto states are groaning following the Federal Government’s suspension of fuel supply to areas within 20 kilometres to the nation’s borders.
On Thursday, the Comptroller General of the Nigeria Customs Service, Hameed Ali, had directed that no petroleum products should be supplied to any filling station within 20 kilometres to the borders.
Investigations by our correspondents in Ogun, Lagos, Adamawa, Katsina, and Sokoto states showed that the government’s order had triggered fuel scarcity and hike in the prices of petroleum products.
For instance, investigations by one of our correspondents showed the Federal Government’s order had led to fuel scarcity in communities such as Ihunbo, Ilase, Ajegunle, Idiroko and Agosasa in the Ipokia Local Government Area of Ogun State.
Also, at the Seme border in Lagos on Monday, there were fuel queues as only two filling stations were selling fuel.
Many filling stations shut in Ogun
There are several filling stations within 20 kilometres to the border in Ipokia, close to Benin Republic had been shut by the Federal Government’s task force on border closure.
One of the residents of Ipokia, Elijah Akinola, in an interview with The PUNCH, accused the security agencies in the area of sabotaging the economy of the country.
He asked, “Can you imagine buying a litre of fuel at the rate of N600? Before we can get fuel for N145 in Ipokia, we will need to go to Owode, which is 28 kilometres away. We don’t know what we can do to survive.”
“Before the Federal Government’s order, they (security agents) used to take bribes from marketers before allowing them to export fuel to Benin Republic. Now that the Federal Government has stopped supply of fuel supply to border communities, we are the ones suffering. Artisans, even medical personnel, are the ones suffering.
Task force brutalises people at filling stations
Idowu said, “Just yesterday, (Sunday) the joint task force men, comprising soldiers and others sealed many filing stations. They brutalised people they met at the filling stations. Fuel is now sold for N600 per litre in Idiroko and Ipokia. They sealed many filling stations at Idiroko, Ipokia, Ajegunle, Ilase and Oko Eye.
“Everywhere was deserted as if the Federal Government had declared a curfew. Fuel is even not available at the black market. People are lamenting and complaining of the situation.”
On the alleged harassment of the people by the security agencies, Akinola said, “The security agents are harassing people. We cannot go out of this local government. If we are coming from Owode with five litres of fuel, they will harass us.”
“Some filling stations that have fuel in their underground tanks have closed. They (security agents) did not allow them to sell it before they started implementing the policy.”
Efforts to get the reactions of the Public Relations Officer, Nigeria Customs Service, Mr Joseph Attah, did not succeed. He neither picked calls to his mobile telephone nor responded to a text message sent to him.
It was gathered on Monday that only two out of more than seven filling stations at the border between Nigeria and Benin Republic in the Seme area of Lagos were selling fuel.
A resident of Seme, who is also a commercial motorcyclist, Anthony Ukit, told one of our correspondents that he had not been working since the directive was issued.
He said, “I heard that only two filling stations are selling fuel. I have not gone out since last week. I am planning to go out tomorrow (Tuesday). Business is really dull here. No passengers.”
A customs agent and Chief Executive Officer of Fleming International Services, Mr Khally Momodu, confirmed that two filling stations, including a Total filling station close to Badagry and another one very close to it, were selling fuel.
Momodu, who has an office at Seme, said he usually filled his car tank before going to his office.
One of our correspondents also gathered that more than 1,000 trucks belonging to Nigerians that could not cross the borders were still stranded.
It was gathered that some exporters, who could not cross the border, wanted to return the goods to their warehouses, but were prevented from leaving the Nigerian side of the border. They were told to go to Abuja to get approval.
Momodu appealed to the customs top management to do a re-evaluation of the trucks and release them to the owners.
While applauding the action of the customs, Momodu said the people that were left to suffer were legitimate businessmen.
He stated, “We are appealing to the customs to do a reassessment of the trucks and release them to their owners who have legitimate business to run.”
While responding to our inquiry about enforcement of the fuel distribution order, a source at the customs who pleaded anonymity said no arrest had been made as the directive was still very fresh and had coincided with a public holiday.
At Illela border town in Sokoto State, there was fuel scarcity on Monday. Investigations revealed that residents and motorists at Illela travelled to Gwadabawa, another local government to buy fuel.
Before the Federal Government’s directive, a litre of fuel at filling stations in the border town cost N200 while it was sold in the black market for between N250 and N300.
At filling stations within the Gwadabawa Local Government Area of Sokoto State, price of petrol price per litre has increased to between N180 and N200, from the normal former price of N145.
However, investigations in Katsina State showed that filling station owners in the border towns of Jibiya and Kongolam continued to sell fuel on Monday despite government’s order.
It was learnt the stations selling fuel were mainly independent marketers. It was however observed that they were selling to only motorists and motorcyclists.
A station attendant at a fuel station in Jibiya said he had not received any instruction directing him to stop selling fuel ,even as of Monday.
The attendant said, “Nobody has told me to stop selling fuel. Even, the security operatives were here this morning (Monday) to buy fuel for their vehicles.”
Sale of petrol puts on hold in Bakassi
After the suspension, sale of fuel was put on hold in Bakassi, Cross River State. A source at the border town, where internally displaced persons are sheltered, said, “The four filling stations in the town were not allowed to dispense petrol to motorists after the ban. But after about four days, the security people considered that since most of the people of Ikang used Okada, they allowed them to enter the petrol stations to buy into their motorcycles.
“They also allowed drivers of commercial vehicles plying Calabar to buy the product. But they don’t allow people in jerricans.”
He said he could not ascertain if the price per litre was increased.
Meanwhile, the Nigeria Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas workers has said it will establish a task force and redesign its stickers so as to effectively enforce the recent order by the Federal Government banning the supply of petrol to border communities.
NUPENG on Monday said those who were still supplying petrol to border towns despite the Federal Government order were smugglers and not members of the union.
The General Secretary, NUPENG, Olawale Afolabi, told one of our correspondents that the union was aware of the Federal Government order stopping the supply of petrol to filling stations located 20 kilometres to border towns.
He said, “We are aware of the directive but smugglers are the ones taking products to these communities. It takes a lot of effort to stop criminals. In fact, we have also set up a task force to ensure compliance.”
“Most times you see the diversion of products that are supposed to go to the hinterlands. These products are taken to the border areas through diversion by armed smugglers.”
When told that some of the trucks used by these alleged petrol smugglers often had NUPENG stickers, Afolabi replied, “They are smugglers and not our members. But when you see their trucks, for them to escape easily, they will put our stickers.”
“So right now, we are trying to redesign our stickers and again we are setting up a task force to ensure compliance. The union is handling this. However, I want you to know that these smugglers carry arms and we cannot confront them.”
“Therefore, our task force will mainly educate our members at the depots and try to halt the sale of products to illegal marketers who may divert these products. So, only law enforcement agents have the capacity to confront these smugglers.”
The Comptroller of the NSC, Adamawa and Taraba Command, Kamardeen Olumoh, told The PUNCH that the command had directed his men to comply with the directive.
Olumoh said the ban on sale of fuel at the border communities was the outcome of an advocacy made by the Adamawa and the Ogun states customs to check the smuggling of fuel.
Investigations by The PUNCH showed that at the Mulduva, and Gella border communities near the Cameroonian border, the price of petrol which used to sell for N178 per litre had risen to N200.
A source, who spoke to one of our correspondents, said security agents had started enforcing the government order.
He, however, said the enforcement was still lax as smugglers still used jerry cans to smuggle fuel to Cameroon.
In a related development, the Nigerian Young Farmers Network has urged government at all levels to support the youth in businesses to grow the economy following the recent border closure order.
The National Coordinator of NYFN, Mr Promise Amahah, made the appeal in an interview with the News Agency of Nigeria in Abuja on Monday.
The NYFN is a network that brings together young people in Nigeria to engage actively in the agribusiness value chain and value added services, to bring about shared prosperity and socio-economic growth such as food security and wealth creation.
He explained that there must be a deliberate effort by the government to increase the participation of young Nigerians in farming business through soft loans to boost economy of the country.
He said strategic youth engagement was the best option for the country because of its huge population of young people.
The coordinator added that local production was a sure path, but the enabling environment must be created by the government and other major stakeholders.
Amahah enjoined the government to do everything possible to fix the power sector to ensure stable power supply across the country to guarantee economic prosperity.
He said attention must also be given to develop critical infrastructures to facilitate production.
He enjoined the government to also engage in alternative energy to fast track the power stability.
The coordinator commended President Muhammadu Buhari for taking such a bold step to address the border issues, saying it was long overdue.
Source: Punch News