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The BBC's Barnaby Phillips
"Local youths feel the only way they can benefit from the region's oil wealth is by stealing."
 real 28k

Wednesday, 19 July, 2000, 13:06 GMT 14:06 UK
Fuelling Nigeria's fires
Oil fire
Poverty and a thriving black market fuel the pipeline fires
Eniwoke Ibagere investigates the thriving black market in fuel, which is seen as a major contributing factor to Nigeria's oil pipeline fires

Despite being the world's sixth largest oil producer, Nigeria is often forced to import fuel to meet local demand.

And with the Nigerian transport system mainly restricted to roads, getting petrol is vital.

Such is the poor state of the electricity supply from the state-run power provider, NEPA, that residents and industries often have to rely on power generators which also run on fuel.

And when people become desperate to get petrol to operate their cars or generators they resort to purchasing from the black market run by unemployed youths.

Lagos-based Adebi Olusa has been in the petrol black market business for the past seven years and explains how it works.

Black market hoarding

"Whenever we suspect there's going to be petrol scarcity, we buy in large quantities from either the depot or gas stations and hoard them in large jerry cans.

Petrol keeps Nigerians moving
Petrol keeps Nigerians on the move
"Then, we hide them in the bush or beaches or in ships no longer in use. When it's time to sell, regular customers know how to contact us."

The black market defies the police.

The youths stay on the roads, carrying a four-litre jerry can filled with petrol, costing between $8-10, and go in pursuit of cars thumbing down willing buyers.

"If a buyer needs more than we're carrying, we take him to our secret 'depot'.

"Some of us even carry a 25 or 50-litre of jerry can filled with petrol to wait on the road for buyers," Olusa said.

Fellow petrol black marketer Ejo Ndubuisi added: "We're friends of the police because they know our hideouts and also buy from us. But when they want to pretend to be tough or make some money, they arrest us only to set us free later after getting a fee."

Nigeria's petrol black market operates on a wide scale - each city has at least one organised group which runs particularly during fuel shortages.

Payday

And when oil pipelines rupture, it becomes 'payday' for the youths.

"You get the petrol free of charge to boost your stock for the black market," said Ndubuisi.

Black marketeers are often blamed for the rupturing of the oil pipelines which transport gasoline from the crude-oil producing southern Niger Delta to other parts of the country.

Tragically this can easily end with local villagers dying in explosions.

But with little oil wealth trickling down to local communites, it is clear that there are still many prepared to take risks in order to cash in on the black market.

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See also:

13 Jul 00 | Africa
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Nigerian fire death toll rises
22 Oct 98 | Africa
Aid too late for pipeline victims
21 Oct 98 | Africa
Oil wealth: An unequal bounty
08 Jun 00 | Africa
Oil: Nigeria's blessing and curse
14 Jul 00 | Africa
Nigerian fire: A familiar tragedy
17 Jul 00 | Africa
New pipeline blaze in Nigeria
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