The ongoing fuel scarcity nationwide has been having huge toll on the small medium enterprises in the country. The situation is made worse by the drastic drop in electricity supply in the country. From commercial bus and car drivers, hair dressing salons operators, barbers, vulcanizers, restaurant operators, electronic repairers, moi-moi sellers, cyber cafe operators, bar operators, tricycle operators to commercial motorcycle riders, the cries are deafening, writes MIKE MBOYE
Nse Udoh, a 28-year-old father of two, is a vulcaniser at a spot near the popular Ikwerre Road in Port Harcourt. Udoh laments that since the current fuel scarcity began some weeks ago, his income has nosedived as his business has not been thriving as it used to be.
“Fuel now sells for N250 a litre and I need N1,000 to buy four litres of petrol to fill my pumping engine. I spent just N350 to buy the same four litres before this scarcity. I used to charge N100 to inflate one tyre but now, I have increased the fee to N200 to make ends meet,” he said.
Udoh’s predicament is that majority of his customers – commercial bus drivers and tricycle operators – have stopped patronising him because of the increased charges. Every day, buses and `keke’ (tricycles) come to my corner at a bus stop along Ikwerre Road to check their tyres.
“But they now find it difficult to accept the new prices I introduced. Honestly speaking, it is not my fault, I just have to make ends meet because I also have a family to feed at home,’’ he said.
Mrs Charity Braide, a mother of four who sells “moi-moi’’ (steamed bean pudding) in some schools, also shares similar sentiments. “It has not been easy for me since the current fuel scarcity began. Each time I go to the market, the prices of the ingredients and condiments I use for preparing `moi-moi’ keep on rising.
“Worse still, I now pay more for transport to go round schools to sell my `moi-moi’. I used to sell each wrap of `moi-moi’ for 50k but I have to increase it to 60k. Some teachers and students no longer buy it. I was forced to add some money to enable me to continue to be in business but some of my customers have not come to terms with the reality,” she said.
Braide says she will try her best to remain in business, in spite of the rising costs of doing so due to the protracted fuel scarcity. “With this little business, I feed my family and we manage to make ends meet. It has been quite tough for me but I will not lose hope; I will continue to work hard,” she said.
The current fuel scarcity could have been a very sad story for Mr Kufreabasi Essien and his family but for the quick intervention by a good neighbour. Essien, a mason and father of four, says he once asked his seven-year-old daughter, Ini, to buy fuel in their Elioparanwo neighbourhood, near Port Harcourt.
“However, her search for fuel took her outside our neighbourhood. If not for our neighbour who saw Ini in another area and knew that she had missed her way, we could have probably been in big trouble by now,” he said.
Essien recalled: “When my neighbour saw Ini, she was already crying and asking for her way back home. On our part, we became very restive when Ini spent over an hour for an errand which typically, could have lasted just a few minutes.’’
He appealed to the federal government to urgently look into practical ways of resolving the fuel crisis on time. “The effect of the fuel scarcity has been harsh on my business. I can no longer do daily business because the construction works where I am engaged have stopped for now. I earn at least N3,500 daily in the place I work because we are building an estate but work has stopped.
“Our client attributed the halt to fuel scarcity. I pray that the fuel problem will be quickly resolved, so that I can resume work and be able to feed my family,” he said.
Essien’s plight is somewhat similar to that of Chidi Oparaeze, a 22-year-old apprentice at the Ikoku Spare Parts Market in Port Harcourt. Oparaeze said he is not finding it easy to go to his place of work because of increased transport fares and feeding costs.
“My master gives me N500 for feeding and transport but I now pay more for my transportation to and from my home. I have to trek home at times, all in the need to save money. I have no alternative than to face the reality on the ground if I have to survive. Things have been quite tough but I have decided to trek at times to survive,’’ he said.
Mr Ajomiwe Ezuma, a Port Harcourt-based historian and analyst, believes the current fuel scarcity has particularly affected small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and low-income earners.
“This is this because the owners of SMEs, such as barber shops and hairdressing salons, will shriek if they tell you how much they now spend to buy fuel. The situation is more critical because there is epileptic power supply in all the neighbourhoods; the option left for SMEs is to use generators if they must remain in business. Now, they are creaking under the yoke of fuel scarcity,” he said.
Ezuma, nonetheless, appeals to the people not to lose hope in the ability of government to end the scarcity soon. “I am sure that government is aware of the harsh effects of the current scarcity on low-income earners and operators of small businesses. We are all expectantly waiting for the rainy day,’’ he added.
Expressing similar optimism, observers hope that the government will soon find lasting solutions to the fuel crisis which has somewhat become a recurrent occurrence. (NAN)