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Investigation: How filling stations short-change consumers

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Filling stations are still engaging in the fraudulent practices of short-changing consumers despite Department of Petroleum Resources’ reported efforts at curbing them.

In view of the endless complaints by motorists and other consumers of Premium Motor Spirit (PMS), otherwise called fuel, about the sharp practices perpetrated by most filling stations in Nigeria, I visited 12 filling stations to ascertain the veracity of some of these complaints. I randomly chose six filling stations in Port Harcourt, Rivers State and six in Lagos State. In each of the filling stations I visited, I bought fuel like every other Nigerian, but I kept my eyes wide open unlike many.

To achieve a high level of accuracy, my investigation in each state was conducted on the same day using a newly-purchased plastic can. All the filling stations I visited, both in Lagos and in Rivers State, dispensed fuel at the official pump price of N145 per litre, except NNPC which sold at N143 per litre.

Port Harcourt, April 16, 2018

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hPozpL6WbaE?feature=oembed&w=900&h=675]

On Monday, April 16, 2018, I arrived at Rainoil Filling Station on Station Road, Port Harcourt, at about 9am with a brand new 4-litre plastic can. I told the attendant, who gave her name as Jennifer, to fill up the can. I kept my eyes glued to the metre and by the time the can filled up, it read 4.15 litres instead of 4 litres. In other words, to fill a 20-litre plastic can in this filling station would require the consumer paying for 20.75 litres instead. Similarly, a consumer who pays for 20 litres of fuel here goes home with 19.25 litres of the product.

Leaving Rainoil Filling Station, I quickly emptied the can of fuel and in a few minutes, I was at Karibi Joy Intl Ltd, located opposite Salvation Ministries Church, on Iwofe Road.

Karibi Joy Intl Ltd, Iwofe Road, Port Harcourt

A middle-aged female attendant who told me her name was Obele got up immediately she saw me with a can and excused herself to switch on the generating set. When she reappeared, I told her to fill up the can. She did and hung up the nozzle. When I looked at the metre, it read 4.35 litres and the price was N630.75. I told her 4.15 litres costing N600 had filled the same can only a moment before.

“I don’t understand,” the attendant said as she sat down.

We argued back and forth, until the manager sauntered in and asked what the problem was. I explained.

“You can only complain if the difference is up to 0.5 litres, but the 0.2 litres is nothing. There is no argument in zero point something,” the manager told me.

“If it’s up to 1 litre or 0.5 litres, you can argue. Turn the fuel in that can into another container and go back to that first filling station, you might not get exactly that 4.15 litres,” he said.

When I told him I’d do as he advised, he got irritated.

“You can be doing that, measuring fuel from one filling station to the other, if you like to do that. You can be checking like that,” he said and walked away. I paid and left as a vehicle drove in.

From my calculation, a consumer who paid for 20 litres of fuel at this filling station would go home with 18.25 litres as 21.75 litres of fuel, and not 20 litres, would fill a 20-litre can.

At Anele Filling Station, which is a few minutes’ drive from Karibi Joy Filling Station, I met a young lady who told me they had fuel but could not dispense because there was no power supply. Anele is located beside Clen-phil Hotels and Suites and opposite Adah Shopping Mall.

Anele Filling Station, Iwofe Road, Port Harcourt

From there, I went to Soltech Energy Services Limited on Ada George Road, just opposite Cosy Plaza. Here, 4.16 litres of fuel filled the 4-litre can at the total price of N603.20. This means that the quantity of fuel that would fill a 20-litre can at this filling station is 20.8 litres. If a consumer purchased 20 litres of fuel here, that consumer would go home with 19.2 litres.

My next stop was Chinda Petroleum Ltd on Ikwerre Road. At the far left end of the filling station is Rivers State University, Nkpolu-Oroworukwo, while adjacent to it is the Nigerian Police Divisional Headquarters building. Here, I paid N623.50 for 4.30 litres of fuel to fill the 4-litre can. The implication is that a 20-litre can would require 21.5 litres of fuel to fill up at this filling station. If a consumer paid for 20 litres of fuel here, what would be dispensed would be 18.5 litres.

Chinda Petroleum Ltd, Ikwerre Road, Port Harcourt

Again, I complained, but the attendant, who gave his name as David, said to me, “Your money is supposed to be N700. I’m surprised seeing N623.50. It’s N700 that normally fills this kind of can but maybe yours is smaller. You are not supposed to complain.”

When I pressed further, he pointed at the price displayed on the metre, saying, “This is what our metre gave us and it’s okay, or do you work with DPR?”

“Do I look like someone who works with DPR?” I asked.

“Then, just pay what you see there,” he said and started dispensing fuel to another customer, a motorist.

Seeing I was persistent in seeking further explanation, he said, “I don’t know. That’s how the metre runs. That’s the best way I can explain it to you.”

I requested to see his superior but he said he was the only one around. Just then, the motorist he had just dispensed fuel to offered to help.

“I’m not justifying what they are doing,” said the motorist who could be in his late fifties. “There is an unwritten agreement between independent marketers and NNPC. So, they adjust their metre to 0.2.”

When I told him I knew of an error gap of 0.5 for 20 litres and 0.25 for 10 litres, he paid the attendant and, turning to me, said, “That is their agreement with NNPC, but as for this other one, the metre, I don’t know.” He threw his hands into the air, signalling he had given up on me, entered his car and drove off. I paid and took my leave.

Next, I went to NNPC Filling Station at Lagos bus-stop, but the attendants insisted they don’t dispense fuel in cans. I pleaded all I could but my pleas fell on deaf ears. So, I left for Conoil in Rumuomasi on Aba Road.

At Conoil, 4.13 litres of fuel filled the 4-litre plastic can at the total price of N598.85, which means that 20.65 litres of fuel from this filling station would fill a 20-litre can. If a consumer pays for 20 litres of fuel, what is actually dispensed into his gallon is 19.35 litres.

From Conoil I went back to Anele Filling Station. The electricity company in charge of the area had restored power. I asked the attendant to fill up the empty 4-litre can and, to my amazement, it took 4.43 litres of fuel to fill the can at the total price of N642.35. What this means is that 22.15 litres of fuel is needed to fill up a 20-litre can in this filling station. As such, a consumer purchasing 20 litres of fuel would go home with 17.85 litres.

“What!” I exclaimed as soon as the female attendant hung the nozzle. She smiled, fetched a rag and began cleaning the body of the gallon as if she was instructed to do so. When she was done cleaning, she stood staring at the metre and smiling. I told her I had filled the same can with N600 earlier in the day, but all she did was smile.

I requested to see her manager but she laughed. Apparently, she found that amusing.

“You want to see my manager?” she asked, looking away. “She is not around.”

I told her I was not going to pay more than N600 which was what I paid for the same quantity of fuel not longer before. At this point, we were joined by the young lady I met earlier. She asked what was wrong and I explained.

“Auntie, we only sell, we don’t know about metre,” she replied.

I asked if they had been receiving complaints from consumers about their metre and they replied in the affirmative.

“They used to complain but we only sell,” the young lady volunteered while the attendant who sold fuel to me stood smiling.

When I asked if they didn’t relay the complaints to their manager, the lady said, “She knows.”

I insisted on paying N600 but they pleaded. I paid and took my leave.

Lagos, April 18, 2018

TOTAL Filling Station, Ilupeju, Lagos.

On Thursday, April 18, 2018, I was in Lagos State. I searched for a 4-litre plastic can at different retail stores but seeing none, I opted for a 5-litre can.

My first stopover was at Total Filling Station at Industrial Estate, Ilupeju, a walking distance from Taiwo Odukoya’s The Fountain of Life Church.

As usual, I requested for a fill-up. 4.99 litres of fuel filled up the 5-litre can and my bill was N723.50, which means that 19.96 litres of fuel would fill up a 20-litre can. I paid N725 and left.

In no time I was at General Filling Station in Gbagada, opposite Lagos State Internal Revenue Service office on Oshodi-Oworo Expressway.

“This keg looks neat. Is it the first time you are buying with it?” a male attendant at the filling station asked when he saw how neat the can was. I replied in the negative. He went on and filled up the can as instructed. The can took 4.91 litres of fuel at the total cost of N711.95. This means that 19.64 litres of fuel would be required to fill up a 20-litre can at this filling station.

One thing was clear to me by this time: this white can which had the number ‘5’ boldly written on it was less than 5 litres.

From there I moved on to the Island. At Mobil Filling Station, just a stone’s throw from Federal Palace Hotel and Casino and beside Nigerian Army Bonny Cantonment on Victoria Island, the can took 4.77 litres of fuel at the total price of N691.50. This suggests that 19.08 litres of fuel would fill up a 20-litre can at this filling station.

Mobil Filling Station, Victoria Island, Lagos.

Few minutes later, I was at NNPC Filling Station by Palmgrove bus-stop, which is located beside Mama Cass and opposite Ijebutedo Primary School. I told the male attendant, who gave his name as Ibrahim, to fill up the can. He started dispensing fuel but after dispensing 1.29 litres, he became nervous.

“This is a new keg o!” he said to himself. “Is this the first time you want to use it or you have used it before?” he asked in Pidgin English. I told him I had used the can before.

“For where?” he queried. “For where you go buy am?”

I ignored the question but he persisted, “You don’t want to answer me, Madam?”

I kept quiet while he continued to dispense fuel. While he was at it, a female attendant drew close and asked him how many litres I was buying and he replied, “Fill-up”.

When he was done dispensing, the metre read 5.56 litres and my bill stood at N795.08. I asked why a plastic can that was filled up with less than 5 litres of fuel at another filling station less than thirty minutes earlier would now consume almost 6 litres. The female attendant licked her lips and walked away, leaving Ibrahim to do the explaining.

“Your money is N795, and you will pay N30 for keg,” he said and looked away.

I tried to explain again that I had used the can to purchase fuel barely few minutes earlier, but he interjected, visibly irritated, “N795! Shebi you can see it there, or can’t you see? You will pay N30 for keg. So the total money I will collect from you is N830.”

At that point, I told him he was right about the can being a new one but that I had used it to purchase fuel earlier that day.

NNPC Filling Station, Palmgroove, Lagos.

His facial expression changed.

“Where did you buy the fuel?” he asked.

“Mobil Filling Station,” I replied.

“I thank God you were here when I sold the fuel to you, you didn’t go anywhere, and you saw it,” he said in self-defence. “If you had gone somewhere and you were not here the time I sold fuel to you, you would have thought in your mind that I cheated you. Thank God you were here.”

I requested to see the manager but Ibrahim called the supervisor instead. I told the supervisor I wanted to understand why 4.77 litres of fuel filled the can a while earlier whereas it took almost 6 litres to fill the same can at their filling station. He couldn’t explain. I told him something was wrong with their metre and requested to see the manager, but he said the manager was not around.

Turning to Ibrahim, the supervisor told him in Yoruba language to collect N700 from me, but I refused and insisted on paying N690, which was what I had paid at Mobil Filling Station.

At this point, another supervisor named Taiwo joined us and told me they usually filled a 5-litre can with N750. When I told him I had filled the same can with N690 a while earlier, he rubbed his head and kept quiet. I told him I wanted to see the manager and he asked, “For a 5-litre jerry can?” I asked if he knew how much they would be cheating consumers who buy as much as 20 litres or 25 litres of fuel.

“Oya, give Ibrahim the N690,” he said. “But the fuel is more than N690.”

I insisted it wasn’t. Both supervisors walked away leaving me with the attendant, who then said, “No be me get metre. It’s not my fault.”

I paid N690 and began to leave, but the attendant called me back, gave me back my money and took the can of fuel from me.

“They said you should return the fuel,” he said.

He dropped the can and told someone to get him an empty container. Taiwo and the female attendant surfaced again. They communicated in Yoruba. A male attendant handed Ibrahim an empty 10-litre can and he turned the fuel in my can inside the 10-litre can. As he did, he shook the 5-litre can to remove the tiniest drop of fuel in it while Taiwo and the female attendant had a good laugh. Ibrahim handed me my empty can and I left the filling station.

It was then I did the math. If 5.56 litres of fuel filled a 5-litre can, it follows that 22.24 litres of fuel would be needed to fill a 20-litre can in this filling station and a consumer buying 20 litre of fuel here would go home with about 17.76 litres.

From there, I went to ASCON Filling Station on Osolo Way, located opposite the international headquarters of Vineyard Christian Ministries Inc. I asked for a fill-up and the attendant told me it was N700. I asked him to go ahead. 4.83 litres filled the can at a total price of N700.35.

At MRS Filling Station opposite Diamond Bank on Mushin Road, Isolo, 5 litres of fuel filled the 5-litre can and the price was N725. I requested for an explanation after telling the attendant that I had bought same quantity for N690 a moment earlier. I insisted on seeing the manager. Even though I knew I could not win the argument, I decided to try all the same.

“But it’s exactly 5 litres on the keg,” the manager said as I tried to explain that I had filled it for 4.77 litres earlier. “Had it been that it passed 5 litres, I would have known the judgment to give. It’s exactly 5 litres that filled the keg and I don’t know what to do about that.”

He had a point, I reasoned. So, I paid and left.

Going concern

An independent oil marketer who has been in the business for over 10 years let BDSUNDAY in on the different ways filling station owners and staff swindle unsuspecting consumers.

The various ways, according to the oil marketer who prefers anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, include adjusting the metre, selling low quality product, selling above the pump price or not wiping the last reading on the metre before dispensing to another buyer.

“Some directors could buy 30,000 litres of PMS at N133 per litre from the depot and 15,000 litres of Straight Rung Gasoline (SRG) at N120 per litre. When the average cost of the products is taken after the cost of transportation had been factored in, the cost price of the mixed product would be around N130 per litre,” he explained.

“The mixed product is sold at N145 per litre and the filling station owners make more profit than they should. Some greedy owners mix more quantity of SRG with less of PMS,” he said.

The oil marketer said the product does no damage to vehicles but it burns so fast, leaving the motorist worried that his vehicle is consuming much fuel and as such he spends money trying to get a mechanic to fix the problem.

“Some filling stations have accurate metres but they might be hitting consumers from somewhere else. Their metre may be 1 litre to 1 litre but they know they are not giving consumers real fuel. Consumers will be rushing there because it’s 1 litre to 1 litre, not knowing the filling station owner had compromised the quality of the product,” he said.

The mixing also happens with Automotive Gas Oil (AGO), popularly called diesel, and Dual Purpose Kerosene (DPK), he said, adding that the specific gravity (SG) which gives the acceptable range for AGO is 0.720-0.780 and that of fuel is 0.820-0.870 but some stations buy fuels or AGO which are not within the acceptable specific gravity.

“Some filling stations buy Kpo-fire (locally refined fuel) and mix with diesel or kerosene for more gain. Kpo-fire might go for as low as N100 while the standard fuel might be as high as N185. They mix and sell at the price of N195,” he said.

“This damages the nozzles of vehicles and generating sets. When mixed with kerosene, this causes explosions in homes, leading to possible loss of lives.”

He disclosed that the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) allows an error margin of 0.5 for 20 litres of fuel and 0.25 for 10 litres of fuel for fluctuation of pump, but most filling stations are not compliant.

“The DPR-approved margin for 20 litres is 20.5 litres, which means that what is needed to fill a 20-litre can must not be above 20.5 litres on the pump. It means that for every 20 litres dispensed to a customer, the least he should get is 19.5 litres,” he said.

“But some filling stations have set their metres in such a way that if the consumer requests for 20 litres of fuel, what is actually dispensed to him is 17 litres. If the consumer is dispensed 17 litres, what is displayed on the metre is 23 litres.”

He also said attendants short-change consumers by not wiping off the last reading on the metre before dispensing to another consumer.

“An attendant might sell 10 litres of fuel to a customer. If the attendant hangs the nozzle, the last reading clears off, but they pretend as if they want to hang it and bring it down quickly if the customer is not watching,” he said.

“The nozzle has to click and the metre should be at zero before the attendant starts dispensing. If this does not happen, the money for the extra litres goes into the attendant’s pocket,” he said.

He also told BDSUNDAY that some directors also set the price of the product above the approved price. The pump might show N145, but these directors instruct the attendants to sell above N145. Sometimes too, he said, the attendants could increase the price on their own, especially during scarcity.

According to him, the situation persists because DPR, saddled with the responsibility of managing the up and downstream in Nigeria’s Petroleum industry, does not move round as it should.

To avoid being cheated, he advised that consumers should have a good history of their gauge, buy fuel in cans that they know its true volume, or buy from filling stations where commercial vehicles always buy from.

“When tricyclists or motorcyclists buy N300 or N400 worth of fuel and shake their tricycle/motorcycle, they know if something is wrong with the metre. Same for commercial cars,” he said.

Motorists recount experience

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dn694skRt7Y?feature=oembed&w=900&h=675]

Many motorists, including commercial drivers, who spoke to BDSUNDAY recounted their ugly encounters in the hands of these cheating filling station owners and their attendants.

Richard Okoroafor, a Port Harcourt-based banker, told BDSUNDAY that once, while travelling to Owerri, the Imo State capital, he had pulled over at a filling station around Port Harcourt-Owerri Road to buy fuel.

“My fuel was on half tank and the capacity of the tank is 80 litres. I told the attendant to fill up my tank, but to my shock, she ended up dispensing 75 litres instead of 40 litres, which is the other half that would have filled my tank. I refused to pay a dime and requested to see the director,” said Okoroafor.

“The manager came and begged me to let him handle the situation. He said he would lose his job if I involved the director and promised to sack the attendant. I learnt the attendant did not wipe the reading from the previous sale and when I told him to fill up my tank, he thought my tank was empty. I was told to pay half of the bill, which I did,” he said.

A motorist at Whimpey Junction in Port Harcourt, who declined to give his name, said he purchased fuel from a Conoil Filling Station and the fuel almost damaged his vehicle.

“Conoil filling station on East-West Road sold fuel that was mixed with water to me. I complained to the manager of that filling station, he said they had noticed it and promised to do something about it,” he said.

“About two weeks later, I went back there and it was the same thing. I stopped going there to buy fuel. Even if they sell at N1 per litre or even give fuel for free, I would never go to that filling station because I know the damage that water caused to my vehicle. I won’t buy fuel at Ada-George Junction because their metre is not good. If I run out of fuel, I will park my car and take a can to another place and buy,” he said.

Ugo Ibezim, a commercial driver stationed close to Chinda Filling Station, said he bought fuel from Chinda Filling Station and his car began to jerk. When he reported, they didn’t do anything, so he had to buy fuel from another filling station to neutralise the effect of the bad fuel.

“When we drivers complained that they were under-dispensing, they said they would improve. I stopped buying fuel there. That is why the filling station has a bad name but now they are trying to correct themselves,” Ibezim said.

A tricyclist at St. Michael’s Junction by Iwofe Road also narrated how he had bought fuel from the first filling station on Ada-George Road through the Agip end, and before he could get to the junction, his tricycle was covered with smoke. He never went to that filling station to buy fuel again.

“The metre at Anele Filling Station is bad,” said Ejikeme Victor, a motorist. “If I buy 4 litres of fuel and check my gauge, I discover that it is not up to 4 litres.”

A cab driver at Air Force Bus-stop in Port Harcourt, who gave his name as Eugene, said the tank of his cab takes about N6,000 to fill. “But when I go to buy fuel at this NNPC Mega Filling Station,” he said, pointing behind him, “over N7,000 fills my tank. I always make sure my fuel is on reserve before I buy fuel so as to know the difference.”

Prince, a cab driver at Rumuola, confirmed most of the complaints, saying it is only DPR that has somehow proved a threat to these cheating filling station owners.

According to him, DPR sometimes catches some fuel attendants in the act but releases them under unclear circumstances.

On Airport Road in Lagos, there is a Conoil Filling Station located beside Nigerian Aviation Handling Company Plc (NAHCO) Park and opposite National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF) office. Despite its proximity, all the drivers at the park avoid the filling station, which they say is notorious for under-dispensing fuel.

“N1,000 fuel takes me from NAHCO Park here to Ikeja for at least two trips, but when I bought the same amount of fuel from this Conoil, the fuel only lasted for a single trip,” said Ayokunle, a commercial bus driver at the park.

Ayokunle said he complained to the manager of the filling station and was told that the problem would be fixed, but when he told his colleagues, they warned him against buying fuel there and he stopped.

Another driver, who was scared to give his name, said the drivers only buy fuel from the Conoil Filling Station when they are in dire need of fuel to move their vehicles out of the park to a filling station with an accurate pump.

“I used to buy fuel from a Conoil Filling Station around Iyana-Ipaja, but when I noticed their metre was not okay, I told the manager that the fuel they sell to us is not always complete. The manager begged me and gave me small money,” the driver said.

“Many of us don’t buy fuel from this Conoil Filling Station. Their metre is not complete and their fuel burns quickly. Before you know it, your fuel is finished. If I complain to the attendant, she would say that’s how she saw it. I only buy little fuel when I’m stranded,” he said.

Cyril Anyikwa, a driver with Taxify, said he had been cheated many times but he had learnt his lessons.

“Once, I requested for N2,000 fuel, the attendant sold N500 fuel and stopped. I told him I asked for N2,000 worth of fuel, he apologized saying he thought I said N500, but I knew he was up to something,” Anyikwa narrated.

“He looked at me and pretended as if he wanted to wipe the previous sales of N500 off but he didn’t. He stopped at N1,500 and said plus the previous N500 he sold which I knew he did not wipe off. When he realized I knew what he did, he sighed, wiped it off and added N500 worth of fuel,” he said.

MOMAN, DPR react

When contacted for his reaction, Obafemi Olawore, executive secretary, Major Oil Marketers Association of Nigeria (MOMAN), said that when such irregularities are brought to their notice, such defaulting dealers are usually dismissed.

“Whenever such is brought to our notice, I let the managing director know. The MDs will send their own sales team to go and verify. Once they establish a proof, the dealer is terminated,” said Olawore. “I know two or three dealers that have lost their dealership because of such practice.”

BDSUNDAY contacted Paul Osu, head, Public Affairs Unit, Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR), to find out what sanctions the agency has for erring filling stations, including those that continue to default even after the sanction, and how often the DPR team monitors to ensure compliance.

“We are saddled with the technical responsibility of measuring quantity through the use of calibrated saraphin can during our routine monitoring and inspections of retail outlets. In some instances, we do it in the full view of the media to boost public confidence,” said Osu via email.

“The sanction for any infraction bordering on under-dispensing is the sealing of the defaulting pump and a fine of N100,000 per defaulting pump,” he said.

Apparently, these measures are not enough to deter erring filling stations as these infractions go on unchecked, with the unsuspecting consumers perpetually holding the short end of the stick.

 

This investigative report is supported by Wole Soyinka Centre for Investigative Journalism (WSCIJ) and the Facility for Oil Sector Transparency and Reform (FOSTER)

The post Investigation: How filling stations short-change consumers appeared first on BusinessDay : News you can trust.

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