Many corrupt practices at retail outlets of the Nigerian National Petroleum Company (NNPCL) Limited have continued to compound the fuel scarcity that has hit the country for several months, investigation by Daily Trust on Sunday reveals.
These corrupt practices, according to findings and observations in states like Kano, Jigawa, Benue, Kogi, Gombe and others, include, but not limited to bribery, touting, diversion of the product to black marketers as well as dispensing with few pumps to increase queues which discourage motorists from waiting to buy at the approved price.
Despite the acquisition of Oando’s OVH Energy, a move aimed at growing the portfolio of the NNPC and the rebranding of Oando’s stations that followed, motorists said they had not felt the impact of the increase in the company’s retail stations.
But NNPC officials in Abuja told Daily Trust on Sunday yesterday that the essence of having many official filling stations across the country was to mitigate the effects of gradual deregulation of the oil sector on the poor.
One of the officials said that while the NNPC, with great pain, would continue to supply the products to its outlets and others; community leaders, security operatives and citizens must work together to tackle shady deals and make the product accessible to all.
‘Season of racketeering’
Activities of black marketers around NNPC filling stations have subjected motorists to staying in long queues for hours, overnight and day long, especially in Kano State, Daily Trust on Sunday observed.
With many of the independent marketers increasing the pump price to as high as N320/litre, few stations like A.A. Rano, Salbas, Aliko and NNPC retail stations that retain the N184/litre pump price are always besieged by motorists whenever they have reports that the stations have received supply, with many motorists spending the entire night in their vehicles despite the biting harmattan.
But many of the motorists that dared the impact of cold to queue for fuel at these stations end up not getting to buy as some of the station managers have devised ways of diverting the product to black marketers for extra money, and after dispensing to few vehicles on queue, they (stations), shut down and announce that they are out of supply, only to return in the midnight to sell to black marketers, investigation by Daily Trust on Sunday revealed.
It was observed that the main beneficiaries of this product are black marketers who flood the stations whenever there is fuel. Some have privileged information beforehand and arrive as early as possible; while others arrive late and still bypass motorists on the queue to get it based on underhand dealings with station managers, attendants and touts delivering returns to station managers.
In Kano, the NNPC mega station situated at Hotoro has been turned into a black marketers’ haven. This is obvious by the high number of cars and motorcycles with jerry-cans always flooding the area, mostly without engines customized to contain large quantities of fuel.
Daily Trust on Sunday also observed that most of the cars deployed by the black marketers sometimes have provision for spare tanks constructed inside the car for the purpose of buying more fuel. This is also beside the jerry-cans, and in some, drums inside the vehicle. The cars usually have tinted glasses for disguise.
Also, motorcyclists mostly fill their tanks, move out of the station, offload in an empty jerry-can and go back to refill.
It was further observed that this happens in rounds or multiple trips; while others who are there to get little to take care of their businesses, are still on the queue.
N13,000 bribe for N50,000 worth of fuel
It was also gathered that while others give out bribes to get their ways into the stations to get the fuel, some black marketers pay as much as N13,000 bribe on every N50,000 worth of fuel.
Suleiman Isah, who was in transit to Adamawa, said he queued for eight hours at the Kano NNPC mega station but could not get fuel.
“Honestly, what they are doing is not good. And it is not hidden; you can see for yourself. Look at this tricycle (pointing at a tricycle being pushed into the station), they have entered more than five times today, and as you can see, it doesn’t even have an engine, they constructed a large tank and just pushed it. It is just a tank on wheels.
“While the government, and by extension, the NNPC, is spending billions to import and subsidize the product, some unscrupulous elements are sabotaging all the efforts. I am not ruling out corruption at all levels, but the one we see is in the hundreds of outlets in the country that are meant to directly benefit the poor.
“What they do is pay a bribe and get their way – N13,000 for every N50,000 worth of fuel. They give priority and other privileges to people who are mostly their friends and associates. They will call them on phone, and when they arrive, they ask you to remove your car and give them a way to get it in. They will go in, get the fuel and move,” Isah said.
Another motorist, Baba Alkali, said, “This is nothing; we are used to it. Whoever knows this place is aware of these corrupt practices.
“We are just gambling; if we get it, that’s what we want, if we do not, we leave and the time would be wasted.”
Daily Trust on Sunday further observed that some fierce-looking individuals see an opportunity to get money at fuel stations.
This set of individuals pick up sticks and join security men, pretending to be controlling the crowd and queues, but in actual sense, they are also collecting bribes from individuals to facilitate entrance into filling stations. They go back on the queue, negotiate with customers, especially private car owners, to collect as much as N1,000 per vehicle to take them in.
In Dutse, Jigawa State Capital, despite limitations set on the amount of fuel to be bought with jerry-cans and motorcycles, motorists said black marketers still have their way at the NNPC mega station and give bribes to get fuel in whatever quantity they want.
The motorists said they were abandoned on queues by some privileged personalities and black marketers.
Bashir Abdullahi, a driver, said he usually spent the whole day on a queue waiting to refuel his car, but saw many black marketers that find their way.
Also, Garba Salisu, another motorist, said he once stayed from morning till evening, but was told that fuel had finished, only to find out later that black marketers were still being attended to.
Isah Ibrahim, a black marketer in Dutse, said he and his collueagues usually got to NNPC mega stations to buy fuel because it is sold at the government-approved rate.
“If we buy fuel at the rate of N300, we cannot realise better profit, but at the mega stations, our profit is good despite what we give out before getting the fuel,” he said.
Communities at high risk of fire incidents
While all these are happening, host communities and vehicles are usually at a high risk of fire outbreaks.
Last Tuesday, courtesy of the same corrupt practices, a vehicle loaded with fuel inside jerry-cans was engulfed by fire at the entrance of NNPC filling station at Club Road, by Murtala Muhammad Way in Kano.
Eyewitnesses said the vehicle burst into flames as they were about to leave the filling station.
Daily Trust on Sunday learnt that while there was no life lost, the driver sustained a minor injury and ran away from the scene of the incident.
Jafar Muhammad Ahmad, popularly known as Sanjo Badawa, who was present at the station when the fire incident happened, told one of our correspondents that motorcyclists inside the station were “more than 300, but they refused to attend to us. They were just giving these guys (black market operators).”
A similar fire incident occurred about a week ago at the NNPC mega station in Dutse, Jigawa State, involving a vehicle which was said to be buying fuel with jerry-cans concealed inside the vehicle.
Authorities deny allegations
While he accepted waving the trouble of spending much time on the queue to some privileged individuals, the assistant manager of the NNPC mega station in Kano, Shafi’u Aminu, denied collecting bribes from anybody.
He said the station was a public place and was committed to serving the public.
“Whoever told you that he has been here since 8am and did not get fuel is lying because we are doing the right thing. Those in the queue are our priorities.
“I don’t know of those tricyclists, for the ones I know, their tanks don’t take more than N1,300 or N1,500 worth of fuel. When we take in cars like six or seven times, we take motorcycles, then tricycles.
Black marketers use fabricated tanks to lift fuel in Gombe
In Gombe, black marketers of petroleum products are making brisk business from the current fuel scarcity being experienced in the country to the detriment of motorists and the general public.
A major dealer in the black market business, Muhammad Kabir, a resident of the Tudun Wada area of Gombe metropolis, said he bought the fuel at N195 per litre from the NNPC mega station after bribing his way into the fuel station.
He said he paid the security at the gate N5,000 before he could be allowed in with a tinted vehicle, specially fabricated with a big drum that can contain over 5,000 litres of fuel.
According to him, they have a special arrangement with the management of the NNPC mega station, where the N6 difference is meant for the management and the fuel attendants will also be settled.
“After getting the fuel, we usually sell to roadside black marketers at the rate of N275 per litre, and sometimes it is more than that, depending on how cheap we got the fuel,” he said.
Another black marketer along the Biu Road, Sagiru Dana, alleged that he got fuel from major dealers who had struck a deal with the management of the NNPC mega station.
He said they bought a 31-litres gallon at the rate of N8,500 from major black marketers and subsequently sold at N12,400.
Dana added that they sometimes got fuel from independent marketers’ fuel stations at N275 per litre and they, in turn, sold between N350 and N400 per litre.
“When we are lucky, we get fuel from other NNPC outlets at N250, that is after bribing security men at the gate and other workers. They mostly dispense fuel to us at night,” the black marketer said.
When our correspondent visited the NNPC mega station along Biu Road, officials said they had to seek clearance from their headquarters in Abuja before speaking to the media.
However, as of the time of filing this report, Daily Trust on Sunday could not secure clearance from the NNPC headquarters.
Allegations of sharp practices in Benue, Kogi
In Benue State, there have been allegations of sharp practices against workers of the NNPC mega filling station along the Otukpo road in Makurdi, the state capital.
Our correspondent gathered that some workers at the station charged motorists N200 each before allowing them entrance in for fuel purchase.
One of the motorists, who declined to mention his name, alleged that workers who engaged in that habit usually took undue advantage of motorists on queue.
“If you insist on doing the right thing, you would remain on queue for long hours. And it may even be that at the end of the day, you would have wasted your time because the station will stop selling,” he said.
A driver, who simply identified himself as Cletus, accused the NNPC station of selling to black marketers at night after the vendors must have parted with some money.
“At night they (workers) will sell to black marketers in big jerry-cans. They do these things subtly not to attract the attention of the public,” the driver said.
However, our correspondent could not verify this claim at the time of filing this report.
Some other motorists, however, said the common sharp practices that had made those on queues helpless was the N200 bribe for quick access to the product.
They alleged that when some motorists part with their money, the workers neck-deep into the íll practices would find a way either through the out-gate to open for such people to hurriedly buy and leave the station at the detriment of those on queue.
Daily Trust on Sunday reports that NNPC filling stations dispense the product at the normal government rate, which often makes the queues unending and a nightmare for motorists.
“Often, you remain on the queue forever, but if you part with some money or know someone at the station they will make way for you to obtain fuel and go your way.
Similarly, motorists in Lokoja, the Kogi State Capital, alleged foul play in the dispensing of fuel at the NNPC mega station.
A motorist, who plies the Okene-Lokoja-Abuja Road, Mallam Abubakar Ahmed, said, “There are strong indications that the station used to divert fuel to unknown sources. I have not seen it being done, but my colleagues have been saying so. And I have a reason to believe it because of the development at the station recently.”
Efforts by our correspondent to speak to officials of the mega station failed as the staff on ground claimed to be casual workers and could not speak for the station.
FG using DSS to address infractions – Official
Although the chief communications officer of the NNPC, Garba Deen Muhammad, did not immediately respond to enquiries by Daily Trust on Sunday on the alleged infractions, a senior official, however, said selling petrol to hawkers by filling stations was not only peculiar to NNPC outlets. He noted that there were bad eggs who would want to sabotage the efforts of the government in sustaining petrol supply and distribution.
“The NNPC Ltd has championed sanity for the market, and recently, in collaboration with Nigerian Midstream and Downstream Petroleum Regulatory Authority (NMDPRA), we partnered with men of the Department of State Services (DSS) who move across retail outlets to stop such infractions.
“The DSS has gone far in investigating stations selling to hawkers, those selling above pump price. Seven depots were even suspended by the NMDPRA late in December 2022 for hiking their prices even when the NNPC supplies to them at the official rate,” the senior official explained.
He also said the NNPC and President Muhammadu Buhari were considering the effect the total removal of subsidy would have on the masses, otherwise it would have gone since.
“We, at the NNPC, are doing a lot to ensure that petrol is available despite the global fuel crisis. For these infractions, we investigate them, and if we find our business partners operating those retail outlets to be guilty, we have the sanctions.
“I can also tell you that this week, the NNPC and NMDPRA met with the leadership of the Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS), all in a bid to address cases of smuggling of petroleum products from Nigeria,” he noted.
From Clement A. Oloyede, Salim Umar Ibrahim (Kano), Ali Rabiu Ali (Dutse), Haruna Gimba Yaya (Gombe), Hope Abah Emmanuel (Makurdi), Tijani Labaran (Lokoja) & Simon E. Sunday (Abuja)