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Special Report: Fuel shortage brings Nigeria to a standstill

8 May 2024
Reading time: 8 minutes

Drivers, commuters, traders and students groan as the shortage of fuel bites harder and petrol and transport costs soar.

The shortage of fuel in Nigeria has resulted in queues of cars snaking for up to 3km outside garages across the country as drivers wait patiently – sometimes for up to 24 hours – to fill their tanks.

For more than four weeks now, there have been long queues at fuel stations in major cities – including Abuja and Lagos – and in several states.

In Borno State it is no different.

In Maiduguri, the state capital, the fuel shortage is being felt by all drivers, some of whom say they have had to wait in line for up to 24 hours to get petrol.

The shortage – which has lasted for more than four weeks with no apparent end in sight – has seen the price of fuel soar. Transport costs have also skyrocketed, as have food prices.

On April 25, the Nigerian National Petroleum Company (NNPC) announced that the shortage was caused by logistical issues and called on Nigerians to refrain from panic buying.

It warned that increased demand at available fuel stations might result in congestion on nearby roads and said the shortage could affect business operations and transport services.

Related protests were increasingly possible, notably if fuel scarcity persisted, the NNPC said.

The National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) cancelled its planned nationwide demonstration on Tuesday, May 7, opting instead for “a dialogue on the fuel crisis” with the federal government, its senate president, Akinteye Afeez, said.

The government started a nationwide 15-day emergency fuel supply six days ago, but the shortage and the queues persist.

The official price of petrol per litre at government-run filling stations is less than ₦700 but in the past four weeks the price has risen sharply and it is taking its toll on citizens who are already struggling with the country’s cost-of-living crisis.

Retail outlets in Lagos and Abuja are selling fuel for more than ₦850 a litre. Outside the major cities the cost has soared to between ₦1,000 and ₦1,200 per litre.

Drivers say the shortage and the inevitable queues for fuel – some have gone without petrol for more than 48 hours because they have not been able to access it – is forcing them to go to retail filling stations despite the huge difference in the price.

Passengers and travellers say the staggering rise in transportation costs is having a serious effect on their ability to commute.

Many cannot afford the increased fares and have to struggle for seats on public buses or walk long distances to work.

Root cause

Haruna Babagana, an independent fuel dealer in Maiduguri, said government-owned filling stations were being subsidised, while commercial filling stations were left to their own devices and were taking advantage of the shortage by hugely inflating fuel prices.

In previous years – until May last year when President Bola Tinubu announced the removal of the fuel subsidy – both government and retail outlets received financial assistance to reduce the cost of petrol for consumers.

Babagana said even though Nigeria is one of the top crude oil producers in Africa, fuel shortages were commonplace.

“The shortage is nationwide. There is not enough fuel for the demand. Independent dealers spend days or even weeks at the depots in Lagos waiting for supplies. That’s why, when we manage to get supplies, we are unable to sell the fuel at a lower price. Demand is high, supply is short, the cost is up. It’s as simple as that.

“And what is compounding the problem is widespread corruption. Fuel meant for the public is being hoarded, diverted and smuggled to neighbouring countries which trade in foreign currency so the exchange rate makes the deals extremely lucrative.

“Fuel companies have often been accused of exploiting shortages to maximise profit.”

Nigeria relies heavily on imported petroleum products.

The biggest refinery in Africa – the $19 billion Dangote Refinery and Petrochemical Company – was commissioned in May last year but commenced production only seven months later. The privately owned facility still produces only diesel and aviation fuel.

The refinery has the capacity to produce 650,000 barrels a day. It was hailed as the answer to Nigeria’s fuel problems. The government said that once it became functional there would be no need to import petroleum products and it would put an end to fuel shortages. This has not materialised yet.

Babagana said the removal of the fuel subsidy had added to problems.

“The government’s decision to eliminate the fuel subsidy immediately resulted in the price of all commodities, particularly fuel, soaring. Petrol now costs much more and many Nigerians simply cannot afford it.”

How it is affecting transportation

Many private vehicle owners have “parked” their cars and do not use them because they cannot afford fuel.

They also do not want to spend 24 hours waiting in line to get fuel.

Sulieman Muktar said he had parked his car and hung up the keys.

“The shortage of fuel has resulted in even higher petrol prices. Before this hike, I used to buy 10 litres of fuel and that would last me for five days. I used my car to get to and from work.

“But now I have no choice. I cannot afford fuel so I use commercial and public transport. It’s frustrating because it takes me up to an hour or longer to get to work. It took just 20 minutes in my own car.

“I am grateful that there is public transport because many of the commercial drivers have also stopped working. They told me the high cost of fuel has put them out of business.”

Commercial driver Modu Mustapha said he decided to park his car because he was operating at a loss.

“I parked my car four days ago and still don’t know when I will start driving again.”

Hassan Damasak, a passenger who was waiting for transport at the Baga Motor Park in Maiduguri, told RNI that the cost of travelling to Damasak in the Mobbar Local Government Area of Borno State had increased from ₦1,500 to ₦6,000.

“I would not go but I have an urgent appointment. Transport has never cost this much before.”

Aisha Modu, said the cost of travelling to Gajiram in the Nganzai Local Government Area of Borno State had increased from ₦1,700 to ₦2,500.

“It is most disturbing. I need to go to Gajiram but I don’t know if I will have enough money for the return journey. I am just praying that Almighty God will see me through.”

Muhammad Abatcha, a resident of the 202 Housing Estate in Maiduguri, said: “I went to the Post Office area of the city today. I paid ₦200. I’m pretty upset about this because the usual cost is only ₦100. Why are we being forced to pay such high prices? Life is hard for everyone in Nigeria. These high transport prices are just adding to our hardship.”

School and university activities

Schools in Maiduguri opened for the third term two weeks ago but some pupils have not returned because it is difficult to find transport.

“My children are yet to resume school. The fuel shortage has resulted in fewer commercial vehicles operating. My children are missing classes and I can’t do anything about it,” said Fanta Aji.

Yagana Shettima said: “I prepare my children for school around 6. 30am or 7am. Today we waited for almost an hour for a tricycle. When my children got to school, they had missed the first period lesson.”

Mallam Ahmed said: “My children’s learning is being severely affected. Every day they have to wait for transport. The school’s management even asked me why they were arriving at school so late. I had to explain that my children had to wait for transport.”

“Since the fuel hike I have been arriving late at class,” said Bulama Yusuf, a student in the University of Maiduguri’s department of business administration.

“It is such a problem finding affordable transport. Sometimes I don’t even feel like going to university.”


Nigeria’s annual inflation rate soared to 33.2% in March, a 28-year high. The higher inflation is mainly driven by the sharp fall in local currency coupled with the removal of fuel subsidy.

Food inflation, which accounts for the bulk of Nigeria’s inflation basket, continued to climb and hit 40% in March, the highest since August 2005.

The latest data from the National Bureau of Statistics marks the 15th month in a row that consumer inflation risen. It was 31.70% in February.

The statistics office said food and non-alcoholic beverages were the biggest contributors to the pickup in inflation.

Ba Bulama Massa told RNI that the price of food had gone through the roof.

“A bag of onions now costs between ₦20,000 and ₦25,000. Last year the same bag cost only ₦4,000.”

Traders at the Gamboru Market in Maiduguri said the high cost of food was a “major concern”.

Modu Suli said: “I sell perishable goods. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t affected by the increase in the fuel price which in turn has led to a rise in the price of food. People complain when they see the high prices.

“We traders have to explain the increases over and over. Take, for example, a pack of peppers. It used to cost ₦20,000; now it costs ₦50,000. I would sell it for less if I could. Consumers think we are just trying to make a huge profit. But we are not putting up the prices out of self-interest. I wish consumers could understand.”



About the author

Rukaiya Alibe