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In the Republic of Benin on Tuesday, my tour guide and I hailed a motorcycle rider. We wanted him to take us from Maria Tokpa to Sekandji, the downtown part of Port Novo.

The middle-aged Beninois who offered to take us through the city slammed a 4000 CFA bill on us for the 45-minute trip. My tour guide was outraged. Cotonou is home, but she is Nigerian.

“2500 CFA,” she said as they both negotiated in French.

“No, you know fuel is now expensive. We no longer buy it for the same price since the subsidy was removed in Nigeria,” he responded.

“How much is it now?” I was quick to ask.

A trip through Port Novo
A trip through Port Novo for 3000 CFA. Photo credit: Opeyemi Lawal/FIJ

“We used to buy fuel for 350 CFA, but now a litre goes for 650 CFA to 700 CFA,” the cyclist told FIJ. “It has also affected the cost of living. Prices have continued to soar.”

We agreed on a bill of 3000 CFA and set out. Several minutes into our trip, I observed him slow down to ask “How much?” from a man seated by a junction around Sekandji. I didn’t understand what was happening until I saw the seller upturn a bottle of fuel into the motorcycle’s tank.

The rider looked like he wasn’t pleased with the deal and said, “It’s too expensive getting fuel for N680 CFA.”

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“Things are way too expensive now,” he told me and my tour guide. “I wish the Nigerian government would overturn the decision to remove subsidy.”

“Is it Nigeria that is affecting your cost of living or the Beninois government?” My tour guide asked.

“Both are to be blamed, but I would blame the Nigerian government more,” the cyclist said.

Later that evening, when I went to Pekadis, a Nigerian restaurant within the city, the motorcyclist who offered to take me charged 500 CFA for a round trip.

All went well until we made our return trip. His fuel finished abruptly. When he found a place to buy, the seller said his one litre was 700 CFA.


Another black market fuel around Seme-Podji
Another black market fuel around Seme-Podji

He simply rode past him and kept talking about how fuel was almost unaffordable.

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“Fuel is now too expensive. One can’t almost afford it,” he told FIJ.

He kept pushing his motorbike until the fuel finished completely and I had to find my way to my destination on foot.

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I observed that there were more black marketers selling fuel than filling stations in the city.

“They don’t like patronising filling stations, and we don’t have a lot of them here,” my tour guide had said earlier.

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“They prefer to buy from black marketers than enter a fuel station. Even when the government started to build them, the act had eaten deep and everyone would rather buy from the roadside vendors.”

Also, during my visit, I saw only one fuel station around Seme-Podji, and my driver drove past it to patronise black marketers.

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I later learnt that the pump price for fuel in the country was 750 CFA.

My tour guide was kind to interpret most of my conversations. My little stint with the French language also proved useful. However, when they both switched to Fongbe, I would be completely lost.

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Source: FOUNDATION FOR INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALISM

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