A few days ago, the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), Lagos State Command, sealed off 13 petrol stations in Badagry area allegedly for short-changing their customers.
The agency said the offending patrol stations were discovered to be under-dispensing premium motor spirits (pms) aka petrol to their unsuspecting customers.
Public Relations Officer (PRO) of the command, Miss Kenny Bada, said her agency carried out a raid on the affected stations in conjunction with the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR), following an intelligent report.
The incident brought to the front burner, recurrent public complaints that some petrol station operators across the country are actively involved in various sharp practices among which is under-dispensation of fuel. Those who have experienced the trend insist it is no mere allegation but a practice that has been on over time.
Daily Sun gathered that various petrol filling stations had their own ways of perpetrating the act. Not too long ago, for instance, this reporter while on an overland journey to Onitsha, Anambra State, encountered one of such ways.
At the old Benin Toll Gate near the Benin Bye Pass, along the Ore-Benin Road, the driver had pulled over to buy fuel. The exercise did not last long. Every eye was fixed on the dispensing metre, as it raced away. When the tank was full the driver paid and demanded for a receipt, which was promptly given to him. Armed with receipt, he had his proof that he filled the car tank in Benin. When he kick started the car, the fuel gauge clearly indicated that the car tank was full of fuel. So, he hit the road.
Barely 15 minutes into the journey had he begun to spot something strange. The car’s fuel gauge was showing that the car’s fuel tank was three quarter full. Call it the America Wonder! The driver became alarmed. He was worried about what he would tell his boss went wrong. He said by the time he got to Onitsha, his car’s tank was supposed to be half filled with fuel. That was the tradition over the years he had worked with his boss. This time round, he didn’t know where to begin telling his misfortune. There was evidence that petrol was sold to him but the reality was that the fuel was not in the tank. Some hot air was pumped into the vehicle’s tank as fuel and he paid for it.
In Lagos, according to Daily Sun investigation, a certain filling station on Agbebi Street, in Ijeshatedo, Surulere, was fond of under dispensing fuel to customers, who visit their facility come to buy the product with kegs to power their generating sets. This happens often during evening rush hours. Rather than follow the readings on their metres, the male attendants sell, at least, a litre of fuel short for every three litres purchased, sometimes intimidating the buyers while doing that. They usually have their army of thugs on the ready to fight off anyone, who might begin to question their action.
Daily Sun was told that some petrol station attendants under-dispense by interrupting fuel flow through the dispenser nozzle. By intermittently halting the regular flow of fuel, some quantity is caused to be retained even after it has been dispensed. Over time, a small quantity of fuel, which has been fleeced from the customers grows into large volumes of the product.
A former manager of a filling station, who did not want to be named told the reporter that there were other ways retail outlets used to cheat their customers.
“Usually, the attendants retain the value of the previous sale on the metre, especially if it is a small amount. This, they usually pass over to the next customer if he fails to check to ensure that the metre is at zero mark before the attendant starts dispensing. After the day’s sales, they usually subtract their gains before rendering account. This might be happening with or without the knowledge of the manager of the station.
“Some other filling stations simply adjust a particular metre and dedicate it for their nefarious activities. Such metre begins to read even before petrol starts flowing through the nozzle. What that means is that less fuel is dispensed to the customer than they actually pay for.
“Besides, you need to be wary of petrol stations using very long dispensing pipes to sell fuel. Usually, the fuel travels through the long pipe before emptying into the fuel tank. When the metre stops reading, the fuel it had previously dispensed may or may not reach the customer’s fuel tank before the attendant withdraws the pipe. Through this, a large quantity of fuel flows back to the underground tank. Overtime, a large quantity of fuel is gained,” he said.
An analyst believes that through under-dispensing, most petrol stations across the country conserve as much as 12 million litres of petrol. Under the current N145 per litre price regime, he estimated that they make close to N1.74 billion daily.
Even when it is believed that some petrol stations are feeding fat on the ignorance of their customers, drastic measures don’t seem to have been taken against them as deterrent.
However, Head of Public Affairs, DPR, Mrs. Dorothy Bassey, whose agency monitors petroleum products retailing, explained that sanctions were often meted out to erring retail outlets, depending on the magnitude of under-dispensing discovered.
She said that retail outlets where such act had become a stock in trade had over time, had their operating licences withdrawn to serve as a form of deterrent to others.
She also explained that those with reasonable level of under-dispensing were equally sanctioned through payment of fine, which she said was usually up to N100,00 or the sealing of the under-dispensing pump, pending when complaints of the fault(s) were resolved.
“Beyond fine, we usually station our officers at such retail outlets to ensure that the remaining fuel in their stock is sold under strict monitoring condition in order to ensure that customers are not in any way short-changed,” she said
On the contrary, she revealed that there had been cases of over-dispensing too, which she said nobody talked about, but actually did exist, adding that, that was why DPR was very careful in meting out sanctions because the same retail outlet accused of under-dispensing could also be over dispensing at the same time.
“In a retail outlet, for instance, there could be five pumps, and out of these, one could be malfunctioning, leading to little drops of under-dispensing. In this situation, DPR would use its discretion to know the level of sanction or caution to mete out to such marketer because the action sometimes is not deliberate,” she stated
Bassey advised motorists to be conversant with the fuel tank capacity of their vehicles so at to monitor their fuel gauge level to determine actual sale volume. This she said was to ensure that they didn’t fall prey to the antics of dubious marketers.
“A lot of people don’t monitor what they pay so as to ascertain the equivalent in litres. I have equally been a victim of such myself, but unfortunately for the retail outlet, they never knew I was conversant with my tank capacity. That knowledge helped me to take up the case with them,” she said.
She also advised motorists to match their fuel purchase with a specific amount and avoid the idea of fill up, stressing that they could easily be cheated through that because many hardly know the capacity of their tank and the volume of fuel in the tank prior to the purchase.
She urged members of the public, who had complaints, relating to under-dispensing or other forms of sharp practices to call to the following telephone numbers: 1.+234 (1) 279 0000, +234 (1) 1903 7150 and 234(0)805 609 9175, saying auto voice prompts were available in Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba languages.
She enjoined those who were social media savvy to reach out to DPR through its Twitter Handle @dprhotline or email: firstname.lastname@example.org., while advising members of the public to be specific about the retail outlet’s name, address and nearest bus-stop while making complaints to make redress as quick as possible.