Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Kerosene

As an expat (expatriate) living in Nigeria, the life we lead is not at all representative of "normal" life in West Africa. We live in an insulated bubble filled with lots of security and comforts, not typical for 98% of the people here. "People like us" have water and air conditioning and electricity as well as gas for cooking and fuel for our cars - ALL things that we take for granted in the USA. The average Nigerian has a much tougher life and must struggle hard just for the necessities. 

Lately, I have noticed long lines of people standing around the gas stations in Lagos and clearly many of them are not happy.  There's been a kerosene shortage for the past six months, but recently the situation has worsened to critical proportions.  As I see lines spilling onto the streets, I understand that people wait many hours in order to purchase kerosene, but due to limited supply, they often wait in vain.  A few days ago, our driver turned around abruptly in the middle of the street, in order to avoid an "altercation" due to this problem.    


Most households in Nigeria use kerosene for cooking, since the cost of cooking gas is exorbitant. The government has put an official price on kerosene at N50 per liter, but sellers of the product exploit this market. Due to the shortage, some stations are selling it at almost 10 times the regular price! However, many areas just can't get any kerosene at all, so people are understandably unhappy. 


It amazes me to think that Nigeria is one of the top 10 oil producers in the world, but the nation's decrepit state-run refineries force them to rely heavily on imports for their own oil products. To have a shortage of gasoline or to have limited supplies of kerosene just seems impossible.

I asked Gabriel, our steward, about how his family was dealing with the kerosene shortage. His reply was that his wife was complaining every single day about standing in line for many hours, only to find out that it was unavailable or that it was too expensive. He said that the price was so high that they were cooking only when mandatory. His family normally uses a liter of kerosene every 2 days. He said that this was really affecting them since they needed to cook their food to eat.  

I also spoke with Mutiu (our driver) about it. He explained that things were so bad in his community that the kerosene was not possible to find. They have resorted to cooking with firewood, which means that they start a fire in front of their house in order to cook. The problem is that firewood normally runs N50 for 4 sticks, but they are now paying N200 for 4 sticks of firewood due to the kerosene shortage. He said that his family of 7 is really suffering. He hopes that the government will do something soon.


Many think that the shortage is an artificial one meant to drive up prices, and the online paper that I read daily confirms this sentiment.     

From The Nigerian Eye Online:
Kerosene, the petroleum product used in many homes for cooking may remain scarce and costly for a very long time. Despite Federal Government’s directive to the marketers to make the product available, members of the Independent Petroleum Marketers Association of Nigeria (IPMAN) and Major Oil Marketers Association of Nigeria (MOMAN) are hoarding it to create artificial scarcity. The Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) yesterday confirmed that IPMAN and MOMAN have been starving households of the stock. DPR’s confirmation came on the heels of an impromptu but scheduled assessment of the efforts being taken by the department to give effect to government’s directive to stop the lingering scarcity of kerosene nationwide.

In a third world country, things don't work as well or as fast as everyone would like. Most people just accept it as 'fate' and deal with whatever is in front of them. The people here have so many disadvantages, but it seems magnified, when kerosene - a basic necessity for living, becomes like gold.  My heart just hurts for them, but unless supply is increased or they release additional fuel, the problem will continue.    

As I thank God for my blessings, I need to remember to say thank you for cooking gas.  Our eyes are opened here with the things we take for granted at home...and we are humbled.

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