By Jude Atupulazi
Some days ago the Anambra State governor, Willie Obiano, threatened to seal any filling station that sold fuel above the normal price of N165. The task force saddled with its enforcement followed it up by going round to monitor petrol stations to ensure compliance.
In the course of their duty, a popular petrol station just after Regina Junction in Awka was sealed. For sure, that threat to petrol stations by Obiano was well received in several quarters.
As many already know, the citizenry have always been held to ransom by fuel dealers who show no pity to consumers. For instance, when the price of the product is reduced, they refuse to reduce theirs on the pretext that they still have old stock. It may take them two days to readjust their meter.
But when the price goes up, it doesn’t take them up to five minutes to shoot up their prices, this time, conveniently forgetting that they have old stock which they bought at a cheaper rate.
Once any of these things happen, I often go round to monitor compliance or non-compliance. Yet, the people that do this are people who profess the Christian faith.
They are those who will come to church on Sundays and clap and dance more than everybody. They are also those that will be the first to criticize government policies and tell you how devilish government is. But when it comes to their own turn, they do worse.
Just a few days ago, the people of the Southeast experienced a steep rise in the price of petrol. At a stage it sold for N250 per litre in some filling stations. It might interest you to know that no filling station was left out of this madness and roguery, including ones owned by the Church, our Church, in Awka. Yes, you heard me right: our Church.
What I will set out to say may not be palatable to some people but I believe that if we only criticize others and keep mum when we ought to be criticized, then we will be doing a disservice to society. In fact, I recall one day when a priest of the Catholic Church called me on the phone to ask why we did not report an incident concerning the protest by some people on the siting of a filling station owned by our Church in a residential area against government’s directive.
He said he was unhappy that we did not lead by example by carrying the story like other secular media houses did. I told him I wasn’t aware of the incident which was true.
So you can see that some people are always watching and looking up to the media to say things as they see them, especially when that media outfit is faith based. And that is why I’ve decided to talk about our own.
I’ve noticed, like many others whom I’ve discussed this with, that our own filling station in Awka has not been covering itself in glory with the way it sells fuel to the public. I recall the time during the height of the coronavirus pandemic when the federal government directed a reduction in the price of petrol to ease the suffering of the masses. Our own filling station did not immediately comply as I was told they still had old stock.
I went to other filling stations and got the same explanation. I wasn’t surprised at their own as we had already become used to their antics. But it rankles when the one you expect to lead by example joins others in committing the same ”crime”.
Again after the federal government directed a return to status quo in prices, I went round again. Other filling stations wasted no time in readjusting their meters to reflect the increase. They did not remember that they had old stock. I then returned to our own and the same thing played out.
They had quickly shot up the price, and, like the others, forgot they still had old stock. Too bad, I must say. I was really very angry and I’m sure any unbiased mind will see with me.
I asked myself, of what use is the Church being in business if she cannot lead by example; if she cannot be any different from the crowd? Mind you, even though I say ”the Church”, it is not the diocese that tells them how much to sell. It is the prerogative of the operators to determine how much to sell based on market forces. But at the same time, market forces or not, they are expected to do so with the milk of human kindness.
Back to our discourse. During this last fuel wahala, our own petrol station did not waste time in shooting up the price of the product, just like others. Again. It forgot that it had old stock. But when the price came back to normal, it was among the last to return to the old price regime.
Indeed, on the Saturday of September 18, while fuel sold for N165 at MRS Amawbia, our own filling station was selling fuel at N190 a litre! While the argument may be advanced that they sell according to how much they buy, one would also wonder why they were the last to sell at normal price after things normalized.
Now, let’s get down to the nitty-gritty. When the Church decides to go into business, she must be ready to sacrifice more than others in order to lead by example. She must not be seen to be competing with others in unwholesome practices.
If the Church is not ready to lead by example in business and show a difference, then let the Church avoid doing business at all and leave business to business people. It will be embarrassing to the true faithful to see their own Church establishment doing the very bad things others are doing in business.
Indeed, our filling station should be one place where people will expect to always go and get a fair deal. I will not accept any such tale that we are selling according to how much we buy or that our meter is good. Where do the others selling at cheaper rates buy theirs? Some of their meters are also good.
I just said the MRS at Amawbia sold fuel at N165 that particular Saturday that we were still selling ours at N190. Indeed, I’ve always noticed that the MRS at Amawbia is always quick to readjust downwards whenever the need arises, while ours is always among the last to do so. This is very bad and unacceptable.
If we are not ready to make a difference, a very positive difference, then let us close down that station and turn it to some other thing. It doesn’t pay to pontificate when it concerns others, only to keep silent when it concerns us. I’m aware that some concerned people have spoken with those concerned without result.
In Igbo Land they say that if you keep mumbling something to a king and he refuses to listen, you wear a mask and tell the hard truth to his face. The Church should be the last hope of the long suffering masses of Nigeria and if that hope is quashed, then it will be clear that all hope is lost; that society is doomed.
We cannot be accusing traders of cheating while we inadvertently do the same thing. If we have old stock but shoot up the price of our petroleum product at the slightest hint of an increase in the price of the product, then it is nothing but cheating. There are no two ways about that. We are merely joining the others in trying to maximize profit at the expense of the suffering masses.
It is only when we lead by example that we can look any trader in the eye and tell him that he is not doing the right thing. We must avoid being swallowed by the crowd and should always bear in mind that one with God is majority. We must be ready to sacrifice and evangelize through our business. It is not only when we mount the pulpit that we preach the gospel. We can and should preach it via our business and the way we do it.
I just hope that the authorities concerned should urgently look into this knotty and vexatious issue and act appropriately. For sure, it may be difficult but it’s something that must be addressed. I’ve done my part by saying it as I saw it, and, perhaps, still see it.