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Niger's black market threatened by the end of petrol subsidies in Nigeria

Niger's black market threatened by the end of petrol subsidies in Nigeria
A woman sits next to jerrycans as others queue to buy fuel at a petrol   -  
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On the national road linking the capital Niamey to Zinder, Niger's second city in the south, illegal warehouses and intrepid touts waving funnels at passing cars have disappeared from view.

The cause was severe shortages on Niger's flourishing black market, supplied from neighbouring Nigeria, an economic giant and one of the world's leading oil producers, where prices tripled after the government abolished petrol subsidies at the end of May.

In the capital Niamey, residents of the suburbs no longer watch the spectacular chases between customs officers and street vendors selling petrol.

Even the endless shuttles of cars and motorbikes loaded with cans of petrol that used to cross the border under the noses of customs officers "have stopped", says Adamou Guéraou, the mayor of the commune of Dan-Issa, the smugglers' gateway to southern Niger.

Before the end of subsidies in Nigeria, a litre of petrol on the black market in Niger used to fetch between CFAF 250 and CFAF 275 (€0.38 and €0.40). Today, it varies between 550 FCFA and 700 FCFA (0.83 and 1.05 euros), more expensive than at the pump where it costs 540 FCFA (0.83 euros).

Since 2011, Niger has been producing some 20,000 barrels of refined petrol and diesel a day, but the scourge of smuggling is causing it to lose "billions of CFA francs" (several million euros) in revenue, according to the authorities.

The current shortage on the black market is causing a rush to the few service stations, especially in the large areas close to Nigeria, such as Zinder, Maradi (south), Tahoua and Dosso (south-west), which rely heavily on smuggled petrol.

- Impact on armed groups -

"The petrol is no longer flowing, we're screwed", complained Dari Amadou, one of the many Nigerians who were pacing the alleys of Niamey to sell the petrol that had "fallen off the lorry", the smuggled fuel.

Ilia Mahamadou, another vendor and father of four, is worried: "The future is bleak, we're inevitably heading for a total drying-up of our main source of income".

And this could also have an impact on the funding of armed jihadist groups in the Sahel: a recent report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) noted that fuel smuggling from Nigeria "even finances terrorist groups" through "taxes" levied for transit and storage in areas under their control.

According to the Nigerian Oil Ministry, official sales "doubled" between May and June. They even increased "tenfold" in Zinder, Maradi and Tahoua, according to Kabirou Zakari, Director General of Hydrocarbons at the Niger Ministry of Oil.

"As black market stocks run out, demand at the pumps increases", Bio Abdourahamane, head of communications at the Société nigérienne des produits pétroliers (Sonidep), told AFP.

Sonidep has "been far-sighted" and for the time being is managing "to meet the high demand" thanks to its own reserves and those of the sole refinery based in Zinder, he assures us.

- Avoiding a general shortage -

But he acknowledges that "when these reserves run out, we will have to make arrangements: Niger will have to buy petrol elsewhere or run the Zinder refinery at full capacity to increase production".

The end of subsidies in Nigeria is already having a direct impact on the lives of millions of Nigeriens.

Trade unions have announced increases in transport fares, especially on the roads leading to Nigeria where petrol is becoming scarce.

These increases also affect freight: in some markets, a 100 kg bag of maize has suddenly risen to 28,000 FCFA (42.6 euros) instead of 24,000 FCFA (36.5 euros).

In Zinder, the price of motorbike taxis and motor tricycles, the main means of transport, has risen by 50 FCFA (0.07 euros).

And in N'Konni, a town on the border with Nigeria, "business is slowing down" as a result of the turbulence on its glittering black petrol market, says Daouda Kaka, a local journalist.

The fuel smuggling networks "are a lifeline for thousands of young people: if this activity disappears, some of them could fall into delinquency", warns Abdoul-Wahab Soumana, a socio-anthropologist and lecturer at the University of Zinder.

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