Fuel scarcity: Jobless graduates take over black market

Some black market operators selling petrol to motorists
In the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, one source of headache for residents is the activities of “black market” operators. The usage of the expression usually becomes popular whenever there is fuel scarcity, when they move to sabotage the normal system.

While a black market is a forum whereby goods or services are exchanged illegally, it is however interesting that what makes the market “black” can either be the illegal nature of the goods and services themselves, the illegal nature of the transaction or both. For example, while the buying and selling of fuel in Nigeria is not illegal, the transaction enters the black market when the good sold is illegal. In Nigeria, black marketers take advantage of fuel scarcity to rip off vehicle owners, while the burden also falls on commuters.

The situation also provides an opportunity for fuel marketers and dealers to make fortunes as they tend to cheat unsuspecting customers by adjusting their fuel pumping machines. Many of these marketers choose to sell the product at night, also between 12am and 5am to ensure profit maximisation at the expense of customers. But investigations have revealed that majority of the black market operators in Abuja and its satellite communities are jobless university graduates who want to eke a living. Some of them are women aged between 25 and 32.

With the return of long queues witnessed in several filling stations in the FCT, another round of fuel scarcity is biting hard. A visit to many of the petrol stations, including the Mobil filling station and that of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation in the Central Business District, will reveal sad tales from the black marketers. Although they come from different ethnic divides, the illegal business appears to have united them.

A physically challenged black market operator, Usman Danfulani, told The PUNCH that since the country experienced a nationwide protest against fuel subsidy in January, many graduates have been trooping to Abuja and have actually been part of the team involved in hawking fuel on the streets at exorbitant prices.

He said, “One of the greatest problems of this country is youth unemployment. Some of us have been looking for job for the past five years. In an atmosphere of joblessness, an idle mind is the devil’s workshop. The only alternative is to devise any means, no matter its oddity, to escape the stress. I can confirm to you that many of the people in this business are university graduates. Between January and now, about 30 graduates have come to Abuja through my efforts.”

Among the problems confronting the Nigerian society in this period of economic downturn, graduate unemployment accounts for 65 per cent. The hope of getting the right and suitable placement in the shortest possible time seems unending. Worse still, square pegs continue to find themselves in round holes. As an analyst simply puts it, idleness is the refuge of weak minds.

The jobless youths are lured into evil practices for survival and most times, these youths become so entrenched in the illegality that they feel reluctant to withdraw from the ‘business’. This explains why unemployed graduates have invaded the terrain of illegality in the black market fuel business. The young graduates who constitute 60 per cent of the population are the strength and nucleus of any nation. Where they have no job, illegalities reign supreme.

A social worker, Dr. Philip Ogbemudia, succinctly captures the scenario, saying, “Unemployment is seriously staring Nigerian graduates in their faces. Having failed to get jobs, people devise means of surviving the harsh environment – idle minds brew evil practices and thus societal vices multiply. Most of the youth involved in this fuel-hawking business are unable to secure jobs after several years of graduating from school.”

Graduate unemployment has continued to be a great challenge to successive administrations in Nigeria, both at the federal and state levels. With the huge number of graduates produced yearly, the already saturated labour market can no longer sustain the output. But government’s intervention alone cannot solve the problem. According to experts, self employment would go a long way in reducing the menace of black market touts who now constitute a nuisance. Most fuel stations in Abuja have been turned into black market as petrol now sells at high prices — depending on the location.

Political pundits argue that poverty occasioned by depressed economy, job losses, closure of industries and mass youth/graduate unemployment is now a pan-Nigerian phenomenon. According to them, overdependence on oil revenue is one of the reasons for graduate unemployment in Nigeria.

A visit to the NNPC mega station in Central Business District revealed that many of the fuel hawkers were graduates who had spent no fewer than five years in the unemployment market. One of them, Kayode Aminu, said if the youth were encouraged by government, crime and other social vices would be reduced drastically.

He said, “Our problems are much and they are worsened by government agencies and dubious job recruitment firms. I have once been compelled to part with money for purchase of dubious employment forms and in the end, I lost N300,000.”

He added that the development led him to seek solace in black market operation from which he currently feeds his family.

But how justified are these graduate touts? Must government be responsible for the employment of everybody? Many would believe that the touts can source for other means of livelihood but definitely not dealing in illegal fuel market business.

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