Friday, September 17, 2010
COOKING GAS SCARCITY IN BENIN
“Water, water everywhere, but not enough to drink.” Today, it is cooking gas that is in “short” supply that it cannot meet the needs of domestic consumers.
Benin has two licensed cooking gas distributors – SONACOP which is the government-owned petroleum marketing company, and ORYX a private concern. For the past one month, SONACOP has been monopolizing the distribution of this essential commodity throughout a country of nearly three million consumers. ORYX which has its installations close to the Cotonou harbor was stopped from operations on allegations that their bottling plant has been found to be substandard and constitutes environmental hazard.
In effect, SONACOP apparently unprepared for the upsurge of consumer demands, has been unable to combine refilling cylinders of the two types, thereby causing not only long queues both at its gas stations but also at all the newly-established proximity service centres. Consumers deposit their bottles and have to wait for more than a week before lifting the product.
This development has brought untold hardship to both domestic and industrial consumers of gas in the country. People have resorted to inevitable use of alternative fuel or heat energy sources such as firewood, charcoal, kerosene and saw-dust. Some who cannot afford any alternative have to travel across the border to buy gas from neighbouring Nigeria. Herein lies the real danger as most of the users of these alternative fuel sources are not knowlegeable on how to manage any crises that might arise therefrom.
This trans-border purchase is already posing a lot of dangers as it has become common to see a single motor-bike loaded with about six 12kg cylinders plying to and from Nigeria and covering a distance of more than 80 kilometers on a very busy highway. Pick-up vehicles loaded with gas cylinders have become a common sight on this international route.
Critics of government are saying that the closure of ORYX on allegation of non-safe is a political gimmick calculated to stifle a powerful political opponent who happens to be a Director of that multi-million gas company. It will be recalled that Presidential polls will hold in Benin during the first quarter of 2011.
Surely, this kind of situation could have been averted, had the sub-regional gas pipeline project promised by former President Olusegun Obasanjo not become a pipe-dream.