ESSENCE DU BÉNIN
In Benin, a country in the Gulf of Guinea bordering Nigeria, a vast network of illegal trafficking of petrol from Nigeria exists. Benin does not have enough petrol stations to cover the population and also cannot compete with Nigerian petrol prices. From this need emerged a lucrative business opportunity. A few decades ago, Beninese traffickers started to buy petrol in Nigeria, where it is much cheaper because Nigeria is the leading producer of petrol in Africa. They then started to sell it in roadside stalls around the entire country, at a price lower than it is in the petrol stations.
Over the last few decades, the trafficking bosses have reached a lot of power in Benin. Politicians have surrendered to them and the police turn a blind eye in exchange for a few CFA (the Beninese currency). Many women, people with disabilities, university students and even children depend on this activity. All of them are exposed to the harmful gases that petrol emits and to the danger of explosions that can be caused by small accidents that happen while transporting the petrol. These have caused hundreds of deaths in recent years. The streets of Porto Novo, the capital, are full of traffickers who transport drums of petrol by motorbike. They are commonly known as “human bombs”, because they often have accidents when the petrol they transport explodes.
The route begins in Nigeria, where Beninese traffickers fill their tanks at the Nigerian petrol stations. Along the border, which spans almost 800 kilometres, there are thousands of roads which traffickers can use to transport the petrol into Benin. Petrol is also transported on the large Nokoué Lake and on small rivers connecting Nigeria with Benin. There are also clandestine sea routes in the Gulf of Guinea. The traffickers pass through police checkpoints during their trips to Nigeria. However, the authorities often let them go if they pay them off.
Traffickers distribute the petrol amongst their boss’ customers throughout the country. It is an extremely well-organised business within the Association des Importateurs Transportateurs et des Produits Revendeurs Petroliers (AITRPP), which is a legally registered association. Joseph Midodjoho, popularly known as Oloyé, is the president of AITRPP and is actively involved in politics. Under him, there are representatives for the twelve departments of Benin who control seventy seven regions. On the bottom level there are presidents of the districts, neighbourhoods and towns and the street stall sellers.
The stalls are extended along the streets and roads. Everyone has a friend or relative who works in this illegal business, as they are better paid than official workers. In Benin, there is also high unemployment and it is hard for people to find good jobs. This business generates billions of CFA each year for the Beninese traffickers, and none of this money goes to the Government. If the Government blocks this activity, there is a danger of popular revolution. Both the people and the stability of Benin are completely dependent on it.