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How I spent my fuel holiday


Last week, I revealed how I was not able to fuel my Christmas due to the current scarcity of petrol in the country. The situation has not changed much. Buying the stuff is still not as simple as driving into a filling station and leaving moments after with fuel in one’s tank. Instead, what has changed is the number of people explaining why there is no fuel in Nigeria where crude oil was discovered in 1956.

President Buhari spoke, apologising to Nigerians for the hardship precipitated by the scarcity. Vice President Osinbajo also spoke. He implied that subsidy is still being paid on imported petrol but added it is the NNPC and not the Federal Government that pays the subsidy to whoever that it is due. The NNPC’s GMD, Maikanti Baru, maintained there was enough fuel to go round the nation for at least 40 days and attributed, for the umpteenth time, the current scarcity to hoarding by unscrupulous marketers and panic buying by motorists.

The Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) was all over town with a big axe to hack open the storage systems of marketers who refused to sell fuel and dispense their reserves free-of-charge to the public. Much as I prayed, I was never lucky enough to be near any filling station where fuel flowed freely like rain water, courtesy of DPR. I only read reports of the largesse by the DPR after it had been given and received by the lucky ones. Petroleum Resources Minister of State, Dr Ibe Kachikwu, proclaimed close to half a dozen times that the situation would normalise before the weekend that preceded Christmas.

The appointed time came and passed and nothing changed. On my own I refused to be reckless with fuel consumption in anticipation of these promises. Engagements that would take me beyond the mainland to the island were either rescheduled or cancelled. My car had come low to a quarter of a tank. In normal times, I never allowed it to drain below half tank before topping. And apart from the nozzles at major filling stations, I never put fuel into it from surface and portable containers.

But the last three weeks or so in Nigeria had not been normal at all. I paid N7,500 with ‘I beg’ for 25 litres of petrol on Christmas Eve. My deputy in the office had just narrated how his engine developed a big fault after feeding it with fuel from the black market. The options before me were therefore very slim. If I was not taking the fuel that was available, I should be preparing to engage UBER and other commercial drivers on their own terms at a time of near complete absence of petrol. I prayed and instructed my driver to empty the stuff into the tank.

But on that Sunday night, it seemed as if the devil was cast from heaven for the second time and he landed in the Isolo-Ejigbo-Ikotun axis of Lagos. It was an unimaginable bedlam as motorists honked, cursed and pushed aggressively to escape a gridlock that was caused by nothing in particular on the Ajao Estate link road. We marked time on one spot for about an hour and half. By the time I got to my house, the fuel reading on the dashboard had returned to where it was before the black market topping.

At least I got home in one piece in my car. The Guardian was off the newsstand on Boxing Day and so I didn’t have reasons to worry on Christmas Day. I was just sleeping, waking up, eating and going back to sleep. That way, I became somehow renewed for the stress that followed on Boxing Day when I had to return to the office to begin again (BA). I didn’t know how to go about the whole thing. Maybe the excessive rest the day before had made me complacent. It was too much of a risk to put the driver on a wild goose chase of roaming the high streets for filling stations that were dispensing fuel. He could use up the little that was in the car without getting to refill and that would be double tragedy.

The night before, my wife had told me something that sounded tempting. She said one fuel attendant who worships in our parish offered to help but that we would have to come to the filling station somewhere at Jakande Estate on the Isolo-Egbe road in our cars around 12 midnight. Did we have to push that far into the night like nocturnal beings just to get fuel to drive our cars? The risks appeared heavier than the gains even if I had to send only the driver to the spot. I declined the offer.

But she didn’t relent at dawn. On her own, she roamed some of the fuel stations in the neighbourhood for luck and luck did smile at her. I didn’t even know she was out there searching for fuel. I had actually settled for the UBER option and working the app to wrap it up when she came on line. She was sounding very urgent and it was like so much depended on my prompt reaction to the matter she was presenting. She wanted me to dispatch the driver with my car and enough jerry cans to buy fuel for the other cars with immediate effect.

A filling station down the road just threw its gates open and was selling the scarce stuff quietly. Confusion had not started building and my wife wanted us to act very fast to take advantage. Take it that she was at the right place at the right time. But there was a little problem. She went there with her legs not in her car. Yet dashing back home to take a car and jerry cans before returning to take a position could spell a different outcome. She decided to hold firm her position in the fast evolving queue of confusion with her two legs and then placed a call to me to explain the situation and the need for me to react instantly without asking too many questions.

Halleluya! What was located in Sokoto in Northwestern Nigeria just manifested in my shokoto in Lagos! I called my driver who had the key to my car on his phone but the fellow surprisingly chose that crucial moment to be absent-minded and not pick his call one time. I rang him close to a dozen times in 30 seconds. As I did, calls from my wife who was at the frontline were beeping ceaselessly. We managed to talk and she said she was only three jerry cans away from the nozzle. That sounded like a dashed hope because it would be difficult to reclaim her position on the line once it elapsed.

‘No, this paradise must not be lost’ I promised myself! Just then the driver miraculously showed up. I was able to mop up N15,000 from what was left unspent on Christmas day for the operation. It was a successful one. We got N15,000 fuel at N145 per litre. The only extra cost was the N200 gate pass to the boys who usually become gatemen at filling stations when there is fuel scarcity and another N200 to the pump attendant who raised a point about an existing rule in the station to dispense fuel only into car tanks and not containers. My wife understood and the operation ended smoothly without issues. She was a true Amazon!

Since everyday is not Christmas or Boxing Day when fuel could be obtained in the neighbourhood without stress, something told me to be prudent with the stock I got through my wife and block my ears to the empty promises of government to normalise fuel supply within days. And so, I have been driving without activating the air conditioner in my car for one week now.

I am cool and I want to remind the Federal Government that today is the last day of 2017. Tomorrow is 2018. Technically therefore, this fuel scarcity that everybody in government had promised to solve within days would have lingered for one year by tomorrow; that is, from 2017 to 2018. Abi nor be so?
The holiday continues next week in the village. Happy New Year and enjoy your fuel holiday also!

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