Nigeria disturbed by acute fuel shortfalls

·6-min read

Motorists queuing for several hours at petrol pumps in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, has become the new normal after an acute scarcity in fuel earlier this year. In February, the government announced that bad fuel containing a high level of methanol was imported into the country by oil marketeers and the contaminated fuel needed to be withdrawn from petrol stations across the country.

Coupled with the disruption of petroleum imports into Nigeria due to the Russia-Ukraine war, residents face even more shortfalls and delays.

“I have stayed on the queue for seven hours just to get fuel, yet when it finally got to my turn, I was told that the fuel is finished. This is painful,” Franklin Davis, a motorist, tells Africa Calling in Abuja.

The lack of fuel has forced many to turn to black market suppliers who sell petrol at around one euro per litre - three times more than the government’s approved price.

This also affects people who take public transport.

“You know how they say if you don’t drive the fuel issue might not get to you? That’s a lie, because it’s really getting to me”, says journalist Kikelomo Ajibade, speaking while flagging down a taxi.

Ajibade normally budgets 10 to 15,000 Naira (22 to 33 euros) for transport

“I am spending up to 25,000 naira (55 euros) per week depending on how far I am going or where I am going to. It is ridiculous,” Ajibade laments.

Businesses suffering

The prolonged shortage of fuel has prompted Nigeria's President Muhammadu Buhari to apologise to “all sections of the society” for the inconvenience, but he stressed that relief is on the way.

Commercial driver Samuel Adamu says making any profit in his transportation business is almost impossible.

“This is my only source of income; the little money I make I use to feed my children. But since I am forced to buy at a very expensive price from black marketeers, I can no longer make a profit. Passengers are not willing to pay the increased fare that I charge,” Adamu says.

When the price of bus fares rise, every aspect of event planner Peace Amaugo’s business is affected, making her run at a loss.

“I spend so much more to get my job done and it is just overwhelming, and then every other vendor who I meet for my events and weddings are already doubling their prices,” she tells RFI.

“Once transportation costs go up, it affects prices - everything just keeps spiraling,” Amaugo explains.

In addition to vehicles, some businesses rely heavily on petrol-fuelled generators, as Nigeria has never known a stable 24/7 power supply.

RFI spoke with Abuja-based graphic designer, Emmanuel Daniel, who says the crumbling power situation is cutting into his business.

“As a graphic designer, without light, you cannot power-on your system; in fact, you cannot even work that day. Even though you have generators, to get fuel for it is a problem,” says Daniel.

“When customers give you jobs to do, you will want to charge customers more so that it will cover the cost of fuel, but the customers will tell you that they don’t have such an amount,” he adds.

While he used to make 60,000 naira (130 euros) per week, he now struggles to make 20,000 naira in the same amount of time.

Grid Collapse

In Nigeria, when residents scream “UP NEPAAAAAA” it means public power has been restored. Nigerians are thrilled whenever their bulbs are lit, but that type of celebration is few and far between due to the increase in power outages.

The grid transmits electricity to all parts of Nigeria and breakdowns occur when there is an imbalance between the demand, generation, transmission, and distribution of electricity.

“Today, I noticed light has been stable for like 30 minutes. I said to myself, Grace, you need to dress up and let’s do this,” says Gracefill Godwin, a social media content creator who is affected by the erratic power supply.

She couldn’t set up her video in time before the next blackout.

“We could switch to the generator, but the background noise is frustrating” and loud," she told RFI.

Nigeria generates most of its power from hydroelectric dams but the Minister of Power, Abubakar Aliyu, says the reduction in water levels at the hydro power stations during the dry season has been responsible for the recent instability in power supply.

Nigeria also relies on gas powered plants, but again the Ukraine war has hindered access to gas from Eastern Europe, making the power situation even worse.

Experts say poor maintenance of the already weak and fragile national grid and vandalization of the power cables add to the problems.

There are, however, some possible solutions, says Saddiq Abba, an energy analyst.

“We need to get substantial investment throughout the value chain. From the generation side, we can explore more sources of energy and more investment in the transmission infrastructure whereby it can withstand whatever disturbance,” he says, adding that the infrastructure needs to be reinforced.

Diesel skyrockets

Both small and big businesses rely on diesel to run their plants because of the relentless power outages.

While Nigerians were lamenting about a fuel and power crisis, diesel prices skyrocketed to more than $2 (1.85 euros) per litre from less than $1 (.85 euros) a few months ago.

Some businesses have had to reduce their working hours to be able to survive the hit.

“Due to the diesel scarcity and the poor power supply, we would like to notify all Hot FM Abuja listeners and partners that the station will be adjusting transmission times until the current situation improves,” the Abuja-based radio station said in a statement posted on social media.

Flights disrupted

Meanwhile, Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON) announced plans to disrupt scheduled flight operations due to the scarcity of aviation fuel also known as JetA1.

According to a statement from AON spokesperson Obiora Okonkwo: “The scarcity is impacting negatively on the seamless conduct of air transport operations and would lead to flight rescheduling or cancellations.”

At the beginning of May, AON threatened to halt operations over the same issue, but the government pleaded with them.

“We are private investors who do not run our airlines with public funds to be able to continue to pay upfront in cash at 700 naira (1.50 euros) per litre for JetA1 which has increased our cost on daily basis to about 95 percent,” Okonkwo adds.

According to the statement: “This is totally unsustainable. And its consequences, if allowed to stay, will be borne by the passengers, which is what we are trying to prevent."

The scarcity of aviation fuel and its high cost will persist until the Dangote and Port Harcourt refineries begin operations, says Nigeria’s Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika.

Nigeria, Africa’s biggest crude oil exporter, imports virtually all refined petroleum products due to moribund government utilities.

Africa’s richest man, Aliko Dangote, has invested $19 billion (17.7 billion euros) to set up a 650,000 barrel-per-day petroleum refinery in the economic capital Lagos, which is set to be commissioned later this year.

He maintains this will cater for the petroleum needs of the populace, so that even if the power supply situation doesn’t improve in time, there would be available and affordable petroleum products in the country.

This story was originally heard on RFI's Africa Calling podcast.

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