As early as 6 O’clock in the morning, you find them by the roadside, where they ply their business, struggling to make ends meet not minding the risks involved.
These women, who are mostly housewives, pregnant women, breastfeeding mothers, young girls and even children have suddenly taken into the business of hawking fuel as a trade to keep body and soul together.
Notwithstanding the dangers associated with selling these highly inflammable products, most of these women do not even have the preventive equipment needed to protect themselves should the product go up in flames, especially as they sell the product under very harsh weather conditions.
They can be found everywhere in the Federal Capital Territory, especially in the satellite towns running after motorists, tricycle operators, motorcyclists and other customers, wanting to sell their product.
This is, indeed, the world of the Abuja female fuel hawkers.
Their day usually start as early as 4 O’clock in the morning when they wake up, prepare their children for school before heading for their usual business spot to start work.
To become a fuel hawker, most of the women who spoke to Sunday Sun said that all they needed was between N5,000 and N10,000 initial capital.
With this amount, one would be able to buy one 20 litres of jerry can, one 10 litres jerry can, four litres jerry can, one four litres paint container, one litre keg, one or two soft drink plastic bottles and a small size hose to create a funnel and a plastic chair or bench.
With these items, the women are good to go in the sale of fuel as scarcity of the product gets worse by the day.
In this interview, most of the women told Sunday Sun that they get their products from fuel stations they call “black market petrol stations” because these stations sell their products for N220 per litre, far above the government approved retail pump price.
The product, they said, could be purchased at anytime of the day provided you have your money.
Interestingly, some of these women sell their products right in front of fuel stations while the stations attendants and workers watch helplessly.
Sunday Sun spoke to some of the hawkers on how they have been selling this very dangerous product. Hear them:
“My name is Mrs Glory Chika Eze. I am 39 years old from Akwa Ibom State. I am selling fuel in jerry cans because I don’t have anybody to help me. My husband does not have a good job and we have children that have to go to school.
“I heard the government has been helping women, but such help has not come to my side. Or maybe the people they gave such monies to give to women are not distributing these monies. I am suffering and this is the only way I can provide for my family. Things are very expensive in the market that if I don’t engage in this kind of business I will go on begging. We can no longer pay the school fees of our children that was why I went into the business.
“I started selling fuel with the money I borrowed from a money lender. I don’t like this fuel business, but I am doing it because I don’t have any other choice and I don’t have a helper. I stated the business with N10,000 and I have been doing it for about six months now.”
Getting the product
“Sometimes, I buy from motorcycle operators, sometimes I get from black market petrol station where they are selling between N230 and N250 per litre.
“When I buy for this amount, I sell for N300 per litre even at that people will still be begging me to sell for N250. There is not much profit compared with the risks involved in this fuel business. Sometimes I make between N1,000 and N1,500 on a 20-litre jerry can and this amount is nothing to write home about if you calculate the kind of suffering that I pass through. I start in the morning and close about 10 O’clock depending on the market.
“This business like I told you has a lot of risks, but I am still doing it because I don’t have a choice. If only I had enough capital, I will go into selling foodstuff. Some of the risks we face is that sometimes we get arrested by the police who seize our product and collect the little profit for us to bail ourselves.
“Because I know the risks involved in this business, I make sure I sell everything before I go home. I don’t go to my house with fuel because I am living in a rented apartment.
“I start my day between 6 O’clock and 8 O’clock, depending on what I have to do at home. But sometimes it is difficult to sell a jerry can. Like me I don’t use to come out everyday because I am not too strong, so I come out maybe four or five times in a week and other days I go to my farm because I’m also engaged in farming.
“I have three children and I put all of them in government schools because of the school fees which I am even finding difficult to pay.
“My husband does not have a reasonable job that he is doing right now. I don’t like selling fuel, I am calling on government to help me with money to rent a shop and start a small business. If I get N100,000, I will be able to start a good business.”
Other fuel hawker narrated how she is coping in the business thus:
“My name is Juliana Ransom. I am from Oyo State, and I am hawking petrol because I don’t have a good job or trade that I am doing right now. I do not like selling fuel because it is like I am suffering. I started selling fuel over five years ago when the product stated becoming scarce in Abuja.
“I started the business with N5,000 with which I used to buy one jerry can and from there I bought other items that I need, that’s how I started. When I started selling fuel was when the government increased the pump price to N165, but we buy at N230.
“For me, I usually start my business from 8 O’clock after my children must have gone to school and I close around 11 O’clock in the night. “What happens is that my children will come and meet me here when they close from school, collect the house keys to go and change their clothes and eat before joining me to sell.
“I buy between two and three jerry cans of 20 litres of fuel depending on the market. Sometimes I am able to sell all and some other times it is difficult to sell even one jerry can. Like today, I have been battling to sell one jerry can since morning, there is no market. Because of the scarcity, we now buy one jerry can for N7,500. I sell a litre for N300, but sometime people will refuse to buy unless I sell for N250. The profit is not usually much, sometimes I make, N500, N700, and N1,000, per jerry can.
“I have five children and they are all in school, so I have to struggle to pay their school fees, buy uniforms, books and feed them, it is not easy. I don’t have money to put them in private school so I put them in public school.
“I try to sell everything I have everyday, but per adventure I am not able to, I take it home and keep in my bathroom to prevent fire outbreak.
“The danger in this business in very high. Sometimes we get our products stolen by tricycle operators, sometimes people on motorcycle will just slow down pretending to buy fuel and before you know it they will carry a full jerry can of fuel and zoom off. At other instances, the police will arrest us while returning from buying the product and no matter how much you plead with them, they will carry all your jerry cans with fuel and go.
“So, apart from losing money, we also lose our jerry cans and you will be forced to start all over again. It’s not easy at all because going to buy the product is hectic, sitting down under the scorching sun and cold weather during the rains and getting harassed by the police and people who steal our products are enough suffering, but life goes on.
“I am calling on the government to help me and my fellow women who are doing this risky business. Election is around the corner and they will be saying go and vote and even when we vote, we get nothing and they have refused to help us.”
Another fuel seller said: “My name is Ugwu Martina. I am 25 years old. I am from Enugu State. I started this fuel business one year ago. I went into selling petrol because I don’t have a job and I don’t have a trade with which to feed my children with. So, I need help. As I speak with you, my children have stopped going to school because of money.
“There are several risks involved in selling fuel and I have gone through a lot. Like in one occasion, I got hit by a tricycle, while trying to sell petrol to a customer. It was at about 11 O’clock in the night and I didn’t know the tricycle was following one way and close because there was no headlamp. The rider just hit me and ran away. I broke my leg in the process and spent six months at home recuperating. But for the contributions from my church members who kept visiting me and providing the little they have, I don’t know what would have happened to me.
“I started this business with N10,000. I bought gallons and other containers, I bought 10 litres, two litres, one litre containers and 25 litres jerry can.
“I get my products sometimes from Mararaba, sometimes at Masaka, and other times I go to black market petrol stations. I usually buy the products sometimes at N165, N180, and N230, depending on the petrol station.
“Usually when we are going to buy, we go in groups and charter tricycle to reduce the fare because if you go alone, you can be charged as high as N3,000 to and fro. But when we go in groups, we split the money and share among ourselves.
“Because I sometimes buy the products from stations that still sell for N165, I can make say between N2,000, N1,500 and sometimes N1,000 per jerry can.
“I usually start work at 6 O’clock in the morning and I will close at 10 O’clock or 11 in the night. I have a six-month-old baby because I started doing the business when I was pregnant and resumed three weeks after I put to bed. I come here with my baby every morning. I only send her home when my children return from school.
“We prefer to stand by the road side because if we don’t, we will not be able to sell the product. The risk in this our business is much because one can get knocked down by a crazy or drunk driver and leave to suffer like the way I was knocked down. If I close from work, I usually take the remaining product to my house and hide it in the toilet.
“I need help from government because I don’t feel happy selling fuel. If I can get N50,000 because of the situation in the country I will quit this business and go into a business that does not have this kind of risk.
Yet another seller said: “My name is Mary Ngwoke, I am from Enugu State. I am 35 years old. I started selling fuel this year because I don’t have a job or a trade that I am doing, even my husband does not have a good job that he is doing.
“I started the business with N5,000, but now I use N10,000, to buy products. I bought all the necessary containers that are needed to do this business, but if I can get help from government or good spirited Nigerians, I will quit the business because it is very risky. Apart from being arrested by police, we sometimes get hit by vehicles and some criminals while pretending to buy fuel will just snatch the jerry can and run away. So, it is only by the grace of God that we are surviving.”
For Mercy Dawung, from Plateau State, it is the same tale.
She said: “I started selling fuel about two years ago when there was scarcity. I started with N10,000 and then I used to buy two jerry cans, but as the business grew, I now buy sometimes six jerry cans of 25 liters.
“I went into selling fuel even though I know it is a very risky business because there is nothing else to do. My children are also helping me in the business because that is where I get money to pay their school fees after my husband lost his job during the COVID-19 lockdown.
“The business I can tell you is not easy at all and it is very risky because it can easily catch fire, but so far God has prevented that aspect because He knows I am using it to feed my children. I usually buy the products from black market petrol station where they sell at N230 per litre because they don’t have the usual queue that is usually associated with the ones where they sell at N165 per litre. Apart from buying at N230, I spend between N400 and N500 on transport for one jerry can. So, to make it easy for me, I charter tricycle with my colleagues and we will load say 10 jerry cans to go and buy and share the transport money amongst ourselves.”