By Stephen Ubanna
For years, Contonou, Capital of Benin Republic and its environs including other border Communities in the neighbouring Niger and the Central African country of Cameroon, have been surviving on smuggled petroleum products, particular, Premium Motor Spirit, popular, Petrol, from Nigeria, thus leaving many filling stations in most parts of the country empty and their staff idle.
The situation was so bad that past and present governments have been concerned on how to stop the smuggling of petrol across the borders with the neighbouring countries in the country. The fallout was the ban on the closing of all the filling stations some 20Kms to the border Communities by Hameed Ali, a retired Army Colonel and Comptroller General, Nigerian Customs Service, NCS, a the instance of President Muhammadu Buhari, a retired Army General.
A visit to Seme, idiroko, Owode and Ilaro, shows that the Buhari policy measure which had been implemented to the latter by the Ali, the Customs Comptroller General, have begun to hit hard on the eneighbouring countries , though petrol and diesel, particular, are still being smuggled into Benin Republic market but not enough to meet the demand of the motorists.
The Katsina born Nigerian President may have made matters worse the neighbouring countries by clipping the wings of the across the border petroleum products smugglers by increasing the price of a litre of petrol, twice,I the country between 2020 and now. With the increase in the pump price of petrol , the Nigerian President may have found an answer the smuggling of imported petroleum products for local use to Benin, Niger and Cameroon.
The increase, according informed sources had actually hit hard on the filling stations in the major cities and towns in these neighbouring countries. The situation was worse in Cotonou, the Benin Republic Capital of and its environs where most of the modern filling stations built by Patrice Talon government are now empty and the staff idle.
The Value News visit to Cotonou and Wait Cities in Benin Republic on Wednesday, February 24, 2021, opened The Magazines eye to what is happening in the country with the tight security at the seme Land borders and other and border Communities across the country done. Take for instance, what Mohammed Jibo, Comptroller, Seme Command , has done in the last nine months.
He was said to have blocked all the illegal routes used by the smugglers to carry out their nefarious activities of smuggling tens of 50 litres of Jerry cans of petrol to Benin and its environs in the past. Comptroller Jibo who may have sent a message to the across the border petrol smugglers on assumption of office last July that it is no longer to be business as usual was said to have put his feet down, to ensure that the right thing was done.
A Beninois who spoke to The Magazine in Cotonou, confirmed that since the pump price petrol was increased to N165.00 , in Nigeria and which had also reflected in the unofficial pump price in Benin Republic as it sells slightly more in the filling stations.
He disclosed that there had been a lingering fuel shortage in his home country, Benin, since December 2020 and now as the Talon g the overnment had been dragging its feet in in authorizing Petroleum Products price hike sought by importers to take account of a rapid rise in price in the international oil market.
Giving that most of the filling stations in Benin cities and towns are empty, the Magazine which took time out to drive around Seme –Krake joint border to Cotonou and Port Nuovo, the country’s old Capital city to Idiroko, a joint border Community between Nigeria and Benin, but what was seen on the roadsides was very amazing : sell of petrol in Ragolis wters.
The undercover Reporter had found thousands of motor cycles or Mopeds as they are called and motorists queuing up to fill their tanks with petrol allegedly smuggled across the border from Nigeria at bursting stalls around the roadside. One of the dealers who call himself Jacques, who spoke to The Magazine disclosed that he gets two Jjerry cans of 50 litre drums each on a daily basis from his Nigerian supplier. He pointed that when the 50 litre drums of petrol or kpayo, as it is called in Benin , arrives Benin his workers will transfer it into small, medium and big bottles while in some other places the roadside petrol dealers use Ragolis bottles to sell to motorists and Motorcyclists by the road side.
Given that the petrol mostly sold in bottles on the roadside are smuggled, The Magazine findings shows that it is 20 percent cheaper than the pump price of the product at the filling stations which are currently dry. The illegal trade is conducted openly as the Gendarmes are not doing nothing to stop it because they were said to also be filling their vehicles from the roadside petrol seller. The open tolerance of petrol smuggling from Nigeria , many believe reflects what is happening in the murky waters of Benin politics.
Indeed, most of the Beninois car owners may have found a way of beating the high cost of filling their fuel tanks by taking advantage of the reopened land borders with the neighbouring West African country to make a weekly run to fill their bunker tank at Seme, Badagry, Idiroko, Ajilette, Owode, Ilaro, Ilara and other border Communities in the south west. The Magazine cited some of the vehicles with Beninois numbers at Idiroko , late Afternoon, on Wednesday February 24, 2021.
Many Business analysts believe that the current petrol shortage in different parts of Benin Repulic, was akin to what to what happened in the country in 2005 during the regime of Matthew Kerekou.
In spite of the fact that Petrol shortage had hit the three neighbouring Countries of Benin, Niger and Cameroon, Ali, the Customs boss , may have have a heaved a sigh of relief that the Area Comptrollers of Seme, Ogun 1, Idiroko, Oyo and Osun , and Federal Operations Units , FOUs, across the country as well as other Interventionist Commands and adhoc Teams, are doing what is expected of them by ensuring that akk the across the border petrol smugglers were crippled and thrown out of the illegal business.