By Eric Amazu
Beyond the lessons which the religious leaders draw for the rest of us as the essence of Christmas, the Christmas has lots and lots of personal meanings for individual Nigerians. It could be time to take a deep rest after a long year characterised by work or studies.
It could also be time to undertake that long journey away from one’s city of abode to the real home that determines one’s state of origin when one is called upon to do so as is norm in Nigeria’s public space. The essence of this is reunion with extended family members , friends, and old school mates, among others. Thus, whenever a Nigerian travels for Christmas he does so with all or some of these objectives in mind.
The fuel scarcity which bit hardest during this year’s Christmas period ensured that many Nigerians who had hoped to achieve any of the stated objectives had their hopes dashed. Transport fares suddenly climbed iroko trees such that it would take a real courageous man to dare to travel during the Christmas holidays. In doing so, he must have spent part of his 2018 income in advance and be ready to live with the faith that God would forbid any sort of emergency expenditure coming his way for the earliest part of the year.
It was with this faith that I decided to travel to Markurdi, to commiserate with Dr Philip Tachin, the Benue State Chairman of SUBEB who buried his mother on the 23rd of December.
I had set out to Markurdi on the evening of Friday, the 22nd of December with little fuel in my tank. My plan was to stop over at Mararaba to fill my tank along the way. But I was disappointed. Mararaba, like Abuja, had no fuel. So I settled for a black market at the price of N250 per litre. Apparently, the woman that sold the fuel to me had cashed on the scarcity of the moment to make a gain. Originally she sold snacks along the road, and it was in front of her kiosk that she kept the gallons of fuel she sold. I was about to pay her when two policemen jumped down from a slow-moving patrol and walked up to me.
“Oga, don’t you know that selling and buying of fuel in the black market are forbidden in Nigeria?” one of them asked me.
I explained how I had exhausted all hope of buying in a filling station and that the only option left for me was to abandon the car at the point and may be create another security challenge for them. They sympathised with me and bid me safe trip. They were about walking away when I noticed that the black marketer and her son had scampered away while I talked to the policemen. They watched proceedings from afar and only came back when they left. I paid them their money and took off. I was late already, and my google map was the only guide I had since I had never been to Markurdi.
The distance between Akwanga and Mararaba took me about two hours to cover. But it was a two hours of trepidation as my fuel gauge was doing Usain Bolt on the dashboard. When I got to the ever busy Akwanga junction it was clear to me that only little of the 50 litres of fuel I bought in Mararaba was left. I stopped and looked for a black market dealer. This time again it was a woman; apparently, a young Fulani girl who covered her head with a hijab. She sold a litre at N350 to me and said she had only five litres in all. I had no option. I paid and continued on the journey.
Just two kilometres away, I saw a filling station and was able to refill my depleted tank.
I returned to Abuja on the 24th December and took up another journey on the 27th, this time to Anambra where I hoped to meet with some of my relatives. Before this journey, in the morning of 26th December, I fruitlessly roamed Abuja in search of filling stations to fuel my car. The stations were all locked up. In their places were young boys who ran after you with their black market products. I bought 20 litres of fuel for them and exhausted this too in the course of the search. When I later saw an open filling station, it took me three and half hours of queuing on the line to buy fuel and fill my tank. This time I bought at the official price of N145.
However, it did not take me as long as Lokoja to discover that buying at the official pump price should be nothing to celebrate. About three-quarter of the fuel was gone by the time I reached Lokoja, and this in a car that would normally take me on a full tank to Enugu. I queued again at Lokoja and paid N255 per litre to refill my tank. This lasted me throughout the duration of the journey.
The entire experience had left me with a question: why would a full tank bought in Abuja at the official government approved price last me only for two hours on a seven hour journey and a full tank bought in Lokoja at a higher price last me the remaining five hours journey?