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Fuel Price Hike: Nigerians Dump Personal Cars For Public Transport, Car-Sharing, Bicycles

When the price of fuel was N86.50 per litre, Lagos-based Mr. Raji Olanrewaju used to fill up his Toyota car fuel tank with about N7,000. Now that it is being sold for N145 per litre, he now spends almost N12,000.

Two weeks ago when he drove to and fro Ibadan from Lagos (280km, according to Google Maps) to attend a social function, he spent about N4,500 on fuel at the old rate of N86.50.

A week later when the new price was announced, he spent around N9,500 to drive to and fro Ijebu-Ode, Ogun State, from Lagos (174.6km).

Meanwhile, his salary has not increased and so he is unhappy.

Although fuel scarcity, coupled with high cost of buying fuel, had persisted in the country since last year, it was last week’s development that made Olanrewaju to understand the new reality.

He said, “Food prices have gone up. The amount to fill up my car fuel tank has risen. But my income has not. Now, I have abandoned my car. I have to face reality. I now go to work by public transportation. I go by Bus Rapid Transit. The convenience is no longer there like what you have when you drive your own car, but what else can one do?

“I used to take my children to school with my car, but now that’s no longer feasible. They now go via public transport. They too are feeling the economic reality. I hope things will change for the better later.”

A Lagos-based bachelor banker, Mr. Olatunde Ayinde, lamented to Saturday PUNCH that between last Saturday and Monday, he spent around N12,000 to run his V6 engine-powered Lexus SUV.

But before, he used to spend about N5,000 to fill up his car fuel tank to cruise around the city at weekends.

“Now, there is no more cruising,” he said. “My income has not increased and it will be foolish for me to keep spending such an amount on fuel alone.”

Ayinde added he was going to take the car only to church on Sundays.

He said, “I’ve parked my car in my compound now. I have promised myself to only take it to church on Sundays or maybe special functions. I may not attend every friend and family function again. To be hopping from one public bus to another is not easy. It’s not convenient. But with the new fuel price, I’m going back to public transport.

“Things are no longer easy, I must confess. Prices of foodstuff in the market have also skyrocketed. Electricity bills have gone up. Meanwhile, my salary has not been increased by my employer. So, it just doesn’t make sense to live the lifestyle I’m used to.

Students of OAU have taken to cycling
Students of OAU have taken to cycling

“Now I have to cut down on some expenses. I don’t buy what I don’t really need these days again. It is not easy going back to an old lifestyle, but what can a man do but to adjust?”

A Lagos-based engineer, Mr. Kola Olaoluwa, bought a car for her banker wife who works on Victoria Island in January 2016, even though he has yet to have one for himself.

They live at Berger, 35 kilometres apart from Victoria Island, and the purchase of the car was to make life comfortable for her, he told Saturday PUNCH.

“I told her right from the beginning that she would be the one fuelling it. I didn’t want my wife sweating to go and come back from work every day. That’s why I bought her the car,” he said.

But the new pump price of fuel, together with the usual daily stress encountered on driving to Lagos Island, has made her wife dump her car at home and go to work via the BRT.

Olaoluwa said, “My wife usually drives her car to work on Victoria Island from Berger, but now she has started going by public transport. I am not happy about this due to the stress involved when you go to work by public transport.

“You get delayed sometimes due to the bus drivers stopping here and there. Another passenger could be carrying a bag of tomatoes or onions or pepper and be sitting beside you in a public bus. Before you know, they can stain your clothes. I have experienced this many times.

“They have stolen her phone before in a public bus alongside some money. When you look at all the downsides of public transportation, it just makes sense to have your own car, especially in a city like Lagos.

“But with this new price of fuel at N145, she has gone back to the previous lifestyle. She complained she was spending more money on fuel. It makes economic sense to me too to dump her car for now, that’s why I didn’t argue with her. She has to do other things with her money. I would have been supporting her but I’m not financially buoyant now. I just hope things get better soonest.”

An oil company worker who lives in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, Mr. Tari Sekibo, told Saturday PUNCH via telephone that the new fuel pump price was also biting hard for him and his family.

Without the prompt payment of salary again by his employer, he said it was “not realistic for now” to continue driving his fuel-gulping V8 engine-powered Toyota SUV.

He said, “It’s not funny anymore. I can’t remember when last I went somewhere by public transport. But believe me, I did so last Saturday when a friend of mine was getting married in Warri, Delta State. It looked awkward, but I couldn’t pretend.

“Before, when the price was N86.50, I could just buy N10,000 worth of fuel to go for such a journey. Last week Friday when I calculated what I would spend if I should drive my personal car, it was around N23,000. And for quite some time now, since last year when the global oil prices fell, we’ve not been getting our salaries regularly again.

“Now our salaries are being paid on the 40th or on the 50th. You know what that means? It means we now get paid 10 or 20 days into the second month. I had to dump the car in Port Harcourt to go to Warri via public bus. If not for the closeness to my friend, I wouldn’t even have gone.”

While many people are abandoning their cars to mitigate the economic effects of the fuel price hike, another Port Harcourt resident, Mr. Solomon Gagbe, said he had bought a bicycle which he would be using to transport himself to short distant places where he used to take cabs to.

He said, “Transport fares have doubled. How many people can cope with the development? There are many expenses apart from transport that one needs to make, so I can’t allow just one aspect to gulp all my income.

“I have bought a bicycle. I used to ride before, but I stopped. Right now, I’m going back to riding bicycles. I need no fuel. Cycling doesn’t know traffic. There is not much maintenance to make, and I’ll still be able to go to anywhere I’m going to, except for long distances.”

Last week, a monarch, the traditional ruler of Nawfia in Njikoka Local Government Area of Anambra State, Igwe Chijioke Nwankwo, had asked Nigerians to change their lifestyle so as to beat the fuel price increase.

His recommendation: “Nigerians should start riding bicycles.”

He said, “I don’t know what the cost of petrol is in all the countries of the world, but in some places I have visited, especially in Europe and America, Nigeria enjoys the cheapest petrol price regime.

“In such areas, you would see people ride bicycles to go to work because the cost of transportation is high due to high cost of fuel. Nigerians should be encouraged to start riding bicycles and bicycle allowances should be re-introduced, particularly for civil servants.”

Criticising the Federal Government for not making due consultations with all the stakeholders before the decision was taken, he added, “Nobody is happy. Life is extremely difficult. The economy is generally bad. The whole thing is having a devastating impact on the people.”

In Osogbo, Osun State, commercial bus drivers were said to have withdrawn their vehicles from the road “because passengers don’t want to pay and we have to pay almost double for a price of one litre of fuel,” a commercial bus driver said in a report.

Passengers now trek short distances in the city, our correspondent has learned, especially as the state government is owing workers several months of salaries.

In Lagos, some commuters are now also opting for bicycles due to the hike in fuel price.

A resident of Egbeda, a furniture maker, Mr. Badmus Alade, told Saturday PUNCH he was done with his personal car for the time being.

He said, “I’ve been cycling to work since last week. I have dumped my car at home. The economic condition had been really hard since last year, then they increased the fuel price. It was just devastating. Even my children now go to school via public bus. It is not too safe for them, but what can we do for now?

“The only place we will be taking the car to now is if we have a family function at weekends or when we are going to church on Sundays. Apart from these, I’ve already covered the car with tarpaulin.”

At the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Osun State, the Vice Chancellor, Prof. Idowu Omole, has also encouraged the students of the institution to start riding bicycles.

However, the main reason cited by the don for the development was to combat pollution, and not necessarily due to fuel price hike.

Saturday PUNCH learned that this has spurred many of the students to form cycling clubs among themselves.

In 2001, a former Minister of Transport, Chief Ojo Maduekwe, advocated a greater use of bicycles by Nigerians in a bid to reduce gridlock on the roads.

On Wednesday, July 18, 2001, while he was cycling to attend a Federal Executive Council meeting in Abuja, two buses knocked him down into a ditch.

Hence, his advocacy for the use of bicycles was criticised, particularly because of the poor state of the country’s roads, coupled with the fact that there are no lanes for bicycles in the country unlike what is obtained in the developed countries.

Another way some Nigerians, especially in Lagos, have responded to the increase in fuel price is by adopting carpooling.

Carpooling, also known as car-sharing or ride-sharing, is the sharing of car journeys so that more than one person travels in a car.

This is how it usually works: a car owner states on an online carpooling platform his route for a particular day and then fixes a price for commuters who might want to join him for the ride — that is, those going to the same destination as him. They then book for a space in the car.

On the agreed day, the driver picks up those who booked for seats in his car and then gets paid.

A Lagos resident, Mr. Sola Gbadebo, told how his friend who lives at Egbeda but works on Victoria Island sold his Mercedes Benz saloon car to buy an 18-seater bus.

Though this is not a new development in the city, Gbadebo said his friend did so last week when he heard that fuel price had been increased.

“He just sold his car and bought the bus so he could be carrying other passengers. I was marvelled. Now, he has some people who have booked for seats in his bus. They also work on the island,” he said.

Saturday PUNCH learned that some Lagos residents have now turned their cars to cabs in this way, while economists and environmentalists say it is “a good development.”

“By having more people using one vehicle, carpooling reduces each person’s travel costs such as fuel costs, tolls, and the stress of driving,” a Lagos-based economist, Babatunde Abraham, said.

He, however, said that more people dumping their cars also means more pressure on public transportation, “which is never enough in the first place.”

Environmentalists say carpooling is also a more environmentally-friendly and sustainable way to travel as sharing journeys reduces carbon emissions, traffic congestion on the roads, and the need for parking spaces.

In the developed economies, authorities have often encouraged carpooling, especially during periods of high pollution or high fuel prices, just like what is obtainable in the country presently.

For example, in the United States in 2009, carpooling represented 43.5 per cent of all trips in the country and 10 per cent of all commute trips, according to statistics.

There have been mixed reactions since the Federal Government announced an increase of fuel price from N86.50 to N145 last week in order to deregulate the oil sector.

While some say it was about subsidy removal, Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo said the development was not about subsidy removal, but a foreign exchange problem.

Whatever it might be, many Nigerians have called for either a reversal of the price to N86.50 or an increase in the minimum wage of workers.

A member of the Lagos State House of Assembly, Dipo Olorunrinu, with the Twitter handle @HonDipoO, said, “If fuel price must be N145, then we must review the income of workers as regards the minimum wage.”

Also, a cyber and information security analyst, Andy Madaki, with the handle @AndyMadaki, lamented on Twitter that increasing the fuel price to N145 without increasing the minimum wage of Nigerians was insensitive.

“Pegging fuel price at N145 when you’re not increasing minimum wage or giving three months notice is quite insensitive,” he said.

A pastor and lecturer at Ladoke Akintola University of Technology, Ogbomoso, Oyo State, Adeolu Afolabi, said on Facebook, “Nigerian self-styled leaders are fantastically corrupt morally. What they wronged in 2012 has now received their approval in 2016. Thank God you are not God. You would have pardoned the Devil by now… he (the Devil) could be a saint in our days.”

Economists argue that the country could have gone past this era many years ago when foreign exchange earnings were buoyant and the oil price was at its peak.

“Inasmuch as I support the removal of fuel subsidy, I am pained that the same people who could not see common reason for its removal. What somebody saw in 2012 is what some hypocrites are just seeing in 2016. My annoyance is their failure to apologise to Nigerians over their ill-informed decision,” Chinedu Odimegwu said on Facebook.

“We cannot be running this country by trial and error anymore. Good opposition is not antagonising every government’s policy. It must be critically looked into being critiqued. If the ruling party had done a good job when former President Goodluck Jonathan announced subsidy removal in 2012, they would have let him be. But because of politics, they antagonised what was good for Nigeria,” a Nigerian economist with a London bank, Oluyemi Babawale, told Saturday PUNCH via LinkedIn.

He added, “Subsidy removal in Nigeria was the way forward when Jonathan wanted to do it. But because the present ruling party wanted to get into power by all means, they antagonised him and unsettled his administration. Corruption is not only when you steal money, but when you use tricks to get into power.”

Notable among the critics of the fuel price raise is the Governor of Ekiti State, Mr. Ayodele Fayose, who said, “When they were seeking votes from Nigerians, they promised to reduce petrol pump price from N87 to N45 per litre, they promised to create three million jobs per year, they said $1 will be equal to N1 and above all, they promised to pay unemployed youths N5,000 stipends and provide one meal a day to pupils nationwide.

“Instead of fulfilling their promises, they have increased petrol pump price to N145 per litre, increased electricity tariffs, retrenched thousands of workers and imposed untold hardships on Nigerians.”

A Senator from Bayelsa State, Ben Murray-Bruce, however, appealed to President Muhammadu Buhari to consider the “immense suffering in Nigeria and increase the minimum wage to help workers cope with increased fuel price.”

The economist, Babawale, also said the Federal Government should as soon as possible implement the 2016 budget.

“Subsidy removal is good. It’s been a fraud all along. Deregulation is good for the oil sector to work. But if the budget is properly implemented, and there is electricity, there are railways, and so on, it will cushion the effects of the increase and the economy will bounce back,” he added.

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