Friday, January 27, 2012

Across ECOWAS, cautious relief trails Nigeria’s strike call-off

Smugglers still smiling to the bank at N97/litre, filling stations empty again as buyers return to roadside vendors

The suspension of a nationwide strike which paralysed Nigeria with enervating toll on neighbouring nations was greeted with relief, amid speculation that the last has not been heard about the hike in petroleum products’ pricing in the country.
Pic 1

In Cotonou, the economic capital of Benin Republic, many roads are crowded once more. Aside the countless pedestrians and hawkers, the streets of Cotonou are once again bustling with vehicular traffic and the attendant noise from hooting of horns with reckless abandon as well as environmental pollution arising from the soot spewed by numerous automobiles with engines dying from want of servicing.

From Krake near Seme Podji to Agblagadan on the eastern outskirts of Cotonou; to Cocotomey, linking Godomey on the way to the ancient slave port of Ouidah; on the western fringes of the Beninoise economic hub; life is back to normal. And, after several days monitoring the trend in select member-nations of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS); mauricearchibongtravels can authoritatively reveal that the situation is similar.
Pic 2

Life is back to normal and, everywhere, there’s relief in the air. This means that in Cotonou (Benin), Lome (Togo) and Niamey (Niger Republic) as well as many other settlements in the sub-region; the streets are full of automobiles again. Along Cotonou’s avenues, for example, one could see that things are truly back to the status quo ante: Roadside petrol sellers are once again the darling of local fuel consumers.

Welcome to Cotonou and the entire Benin Republic, where official gas stations are empty again. Unlike the situation during the latest labour strike in Nigeria, when petrol users in this country formerly called Dahomey queued for as long as three hours to take their turn at the pump, the filling stations are deserted once more. 
Pic 3

Until January 1, 2012; the roadside traders offered a litre of petrol (Essence as the Francophones call it) at 350CFA (roughly N130), whereas the same volume of fuel sold for 570CFA (about N200) at regular filling stations. Practically all roadside fuel sellers get their supplies from smugglers, who bring in petroleum products through Nigeria’s porous borders. In Benin Republic and across other West African countries, most fuel users prefer to buy from roadside vendors, who offer bargain prices, which is why regular filling stations rarely see customers.

But, on January 1, 2012; the table turned: roadside traders began to sell a litre of petrol at 800CFA (N280 approx), against the roughly N200 per litre price still applicable at regular gas stations. So, with the exception of those under intense pressure from time, virtually every Beninoise petrol buyer gravitated toward official filling stations.
Pic 4

Interestingly, on Tuesday, January 17; barely 12 hours after the strike in Nigeria was called off; the price of petrol at the roadside dealers began to drop. It could be recalled that a litre of petrol sold for 1,000CFA (about N350) at some roadside merchants’ store by Wednesday, January 11, 2012. Two days later, on Friday, January 13 petrol could be bought at 800CFA (roughly N280) at some roadside traders’ spots. This explained why people were prepared to queue for hours at regular filling stations to buy petrol at the equivalent of N200 per litre.

The Nigerian Government had initially increased the pump price of petrol from N65 to N141.50k per litre with effect from January 1, 2012. In response, organised labour and civil society groups had launched a nation-wide strike that left the country’s social and economic life comatose. Since Nigerians account for roughly 50 percent of the ECOWAS population, it came as no surprise that a shut-down in their country had adverse spillover effects on neighbouring states.
Pic 5

Indeed, the situation was such that Nigeria’s temporary economic and socio-political asphyxiation left indegenes of neighbouring countries literally gasping for breath. Thus, what was supposed to be a Nigerian crisis took on a regional dimension. As a result of the biting impact of Nigeria’s social and economic crises on neighbouring countries, millions of those that prayed fervently for an end to the strike were actually nationals of other states.

Apparently, these supplicants’ prayers were answered on Monday, January 16; when the nation-wide strike was called off, following the reduction from the N141.50k earlier announced by the Nigerian authorities; to N97 per litre of petrol. And, viola! On Tuesday, January 17; the price per litre of this fuel dropped to 600CFA (N210 approx) at the roadsides dealers in Cotonou!

It is worth noting that by Wednesday, a litre of petrol sold at 600CFA (N210) and 570CFA (N200) at the street vendors’ and official gas stations respectively. At that point, the average Beninoise motorist, it would seem, found it more expedient to sacrifice 30CFA (roughly N10) per litre of petrol bought from roadside merchants than waiting for hours to buy at official gas stations.

To make matters worse for operators of regular gas stations, the price per litre of petrol at the roadside dealers further dropped to 500CFA (roughly N160) by Saturday, January 21. This is the reason filling stations in Benin, Niger Republic, Togo et cetera are practically empty again!
Pic 6

Three weeks ago, we ran into a young Beninois man, Kouassi, who told us he was planning to trade-in his state-of-the-art motorcycle for a bicycle. When we reached him again on January 18; to find out, whether he has changed his mind now that the irritating queues have disappeared at filling stations; Kouassi said his plan remains unchanged. He is still looking for a buyer, revealed the young man, who reached this decision after spending more than two hours penultimate Friday on a queue at one of Cotonou’s filling stations!

And, after waiting over 120 minutes before he could get his turn at the pump; Kouassi discovered that, at the official pump price of 570CFA (roughly N200), the 3,000CFA (N1,050) he budgeted to spend on re-fuelling his motorcycle could only pay for roughly 5 litres.

Despite the return to roadside petrol sellers, whose prices trump official gas stations’ offerings; Kouassi is still keen to dispose at a give-away price, of his eye-catching Rabbit brand motorcycle, which he bought with the equivalent of over N80,000 a few months ago, for a bicycle because he fears the last has not been heard of the fuel price subsidy issue in Nigeria, yet.

Aside having to spend more money for less petrol, Kouassi is also worried that should another crisis erupt in Nigeria over petroleum products’ pricing, every subsequent visit to any filling station in Cotonou would cost him hours as well. This is why Kouassi is still keen to sell his motorcycle and buy a bicycle: With the latter, you only need to put your feet on the pedal and away you go! “With a bicycle, you will not waste time at any filling station before wasting more money also”, Kouassi mused.
Pic 7

With Nigerians accounting for almost 50 percent of the entire population of the 15-nation ECOWAS, it was to be expected that the West Africa region would feel the pinch of whatever afflicted Nigeria. However, it would seem that even the most pessimistic under-rated the extent to which Nigeria’s crisis was going to impact on other ECOWAS states’ nationals. Truly, the end of what most people thought was a Nigerian crisis has brought huge relief to nationals of neighbouring countries, especially those whose means of livelihood depend on the endless flow of Nigerians that daily traverse the sub-region.

Countless Nigerians criss-cross the ECOWAS region everyday. Almost all these Nigerian commuters travel by road and thousands of commercial vehicle drivers that hail from Benin Republic, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Niger Republic, Togo et cetera earn a living ferrying Nigerian wayfarers. Thus, the majority of commercial vehicle drivers in different ECOWAS countries literally went home hungry everyday during Nigeria’s shut-down because the passenger traffic had thinned down to a negligible trickle.

At Parc Jonquet, the 12,000CFA (roughly N4,000) fare for travelling from Cotonou to Idumota in Lagos Island has not changed. Mr. Opaayinde Idrissou said the local transport workers’ union was monitoring developments. However, along the Cotonou to Hilla Condji, Togo route, where fares had been hiked since Janaury 1, 2012; passengers have only been offered marginal reduction (from 5,000CFA to 4,000CFA), whereas the Nigerian authorities had brought petrol price down roughly 30 percent; to N97 against N141.50k earlier announced.

From January 9 to January 16, when Nigeria practically shut-down following the federal government’s withdrawal of the so-called subsidy on petrol, virtually every business went into forced hibernation. Since January 1, 2012, when the latest reduction in fuel price subsidy came into effect and this product’s pump price skyrocketed from N65 to N141.50k or more, per litre; neither Nigeria nor any other country of the entire ECOWAS region was at peace.

With the call-off of the latest protest, which led to resumption of work and return to normal economic activities, millions of Nigerians and citizens of the entire ECOWAS-member states are definitely relieved. However, there is a sense of apprehension beneath this veneer of relief. The belief that we have not yet heard the last of petroleum products’ pricing and possible strike over this issue in Nigeria is hinged on the fact that, for as long as fuel smuggling remains a lucrative venture the so-called subsidy could be likened to robbing Peter to pay Paul.

At the going rate of 570CFA, the equivalent of N200, per litre of petrol at regular filling stations in Benin Republic, smuggling still promises dividends; considering that a price of N97 applies in Nigeria. Evidently, the over N100 margin means that fuel smugglers are still in business across the ECOWAS region. Are Nigerians, through their government’s fuel prices’ subsidy, willy-nilly paying for fuel consumed by nationals of neighbouring countries?

If, truly, this is the reality; how does the Nigerian Government get its citizens to understand the situation and consequently agree to more “subsidy removal”? That is the question, and it would seem an acceptable answer has eluded successive leaders in these parts for decades.

1. Empty again: A filling station yearning for consumers in Cotonou, Benin Republic.
2. A roadside petrol vendor in Cotonou.
3. Bustling with traffic again, automobiles on Avenue Steinmentz, Cotonou.
4. Scene from Tudu in Accra, Ghana.
5. A view of Kojo Thompson Road, Accra.
6. 500CFA at the roadside.
7. 570CFA a regular gas station.

No comments:

Post a Comment