AFRICA/BENIN - The death of 35 people in a fire due to a fuel depot blast raises the issue of fuel smuggling

Monday, 25 September 2023 economy  

Porto-Novo (Agenzia Fides) - At least 35 people (including two children) died in the explosion of a clandestine fuel smuggling depot, which occurred on September 23 in Sèmè-Kraké, a town located on the border between Benin and Nigeria. The fire destroyed the warehouse, located not far from the local Catholic church. The fire spread throughout the area, destroying several parked vehicles. It took firefighters about 10 hours to extinguish the flames. Fuel smuggling from neighboring Nigeria fuels an informal economy that the Benin government wants to stop. For decades, subsidies offered by the Nigerian government have kept fuel prices artificially low. Fuel purchased at a subsidized price in Nigeria is illegally transported by road to neighboring countries, particularly Benin, to be resold on the black market by a multitude of informal sellers. The end of subsidies decreed by the new President of Nigeria, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, has led to an immediate increase in prices at Nigerian pumps and, consequently, an increase in fuel sold on the black market in Benin and other neighboring states. The Sèmè-Kraké depot explosion has also reminded everyone that fuel smuggling (called "kpayo") is a dangerous as well as illegal activity. For several months now, the Benin government has launched a program to retrain people involved in the illegal fuel trade. In several cases, illegal outlets have been transformed into regular distributors that comply with safety standards. In Benin, 54,000 "kpayo" sales points have been identified and the government, through its program, aims to convert those involved in petrol smuggling into proper economic agents. (L.M.) (Agenzia Fides, 25/9/2023)