By Isiaq Ibrahim 

Life took a dramatic turn for Alhaji Abubakar Agaka, also known as Bigman, when the president of Nigeria removed the fuel subsidy, impacting thousands like him. 

Once living a glamorous life, Bigman, a native of Ilorin, Kwara State, opted for a tricycle, or keke napep, after decades of driving cars. 

Despite being over 60 and having spent part of his life in Ghana, he returned to his roots in Ilorin with his parents. 

Now, navigating the streets on his keke napep, Bigman adapts to the changing economic landscape, facing the challenges with resilience and determination.

During President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration, the proposed removal of fuel subsidy raised concerns among Nigerians about potential price hikes.


From Jonathan’s Reversal to Tinubu’s Removal

In 2012, the removal was announced, leading to a price increase from N65 ($0.14) to N140 ($0.30) per litre and sparking the Occupy Nigeria protests, prompting Jonathan to reverse the decision.

The protests, which lasted from January 2nd to 14th, 2012, were a response to the fuel subsidy removal by President Goodluck Jonathan’s government and took place nationwide, including in Abuja, Surulere, Minna, Ojota, and at the Nigerian High Commission in London.

However, following his inauguration on May 29th, President Bola Ahmad Tinubu also removes fuel subsidy due to non-functional refineries, necessitating petroleum importation. The removal aimed to address issues like currency strain, subsidy abuse, and petrol smuggling to neighboring countries.

The removal of fuel subsidies posed both challenges and opportunities. It caused a 150% to 200% surge in fuel costs, affecting small and medium-sized businesses’ access to affordable power.

Data discrepancies regarding daily petrol consumption in Nigeria have persisted, with conflicting figures from different oil and gas sector agencies. 

Reports of up to 15.6 million liters of petrol being smuggled daily raise questions about the accuracy of consumption data and the possibility of subsidy abuse.

Following the subsidy removal in 2023, truck-out data published by the Nigerian Midstream and Downstream Petroleum Regulatory Authority revealed a significant decrease in petrol consumption, suggesting that the removal has curbed excessive consumption driven by subsidy incentives and improved transparency in the sector’s revenue management.


Tale of Economic Struggle

This reporter had an encounter with Bigman late last year at his shop in Okolowo community when he rode a tricycle with an inscription ‘for private user’ on its back. He bemoaned the situation of the Nigeria economy and tagged it as a menace that led to abandoning his car for keke napep.

Bigman narrated his experience of driving different cars, “I had been using cars for the past forty years, I had once used a Datsun (Toyota) in 1981 and used it for 5 years. I later bought a Benz 190, after one year, I bought a Mazda 260. At the time, Mazda was not used as a commercial car (Taxi). After some years, I bought Pegeout, MPV, and later I started using a big Selina.”

He explained that he realized his financial capacity, which is why he abandoned the car for keke napep. “I foresee that I cannot cope with the expenses when President Tinubu assumed office and removed fuel subsidy. In one month, I spent N150,000 to fuel my car which I used to drive from my house at Garage Offa to Okolowo where my shop is situated.”

“As a businessman struggling for livelihood, I called my wife and explained to her that we need to find another means of transportation aside from the car. This is because we spent up to N600,000 on fuel within the initial four months of the subsidy removal. In the sense that it costs us N5,000 daily.”

“Later on, we reached an agreement to buy a motorcycle. But, it was difficult to carry our three children, my wife and myself at the same time. I also envisaged that the children will grow older and the motorcycle would not be convenient for all of us. That was how we settled for a tricycle which has been useful for us,” Bigman explained.

As a means to lessen these difficulties, the Federal Government disbursed N5bn palliative for each state, including the Federal Capital Territory, to cushion the impact of the removal of the petrol subsidy.

The fund was shared in the ratio of 52 to 48. Fifty-two per cent of this money is given to states as grants, while 48 per cent of the N5bn is to be paid back in installments within a period of 20 months to the Central Bank of Nigeria by the states and the local governments in the country.

Bigman as Music Promoter

Bigman is a famous professional in Kwara state known for promoting fuji music. 

In history, he used to rent out musical instruments to musicians that used to visit the state to play, the likes of King Saheed Osupa, Adisa Owala, Remi Aluko, among others.

In 1989, Bigman established an association for audio and video recording in Kwara State; and the association of music promoters in Kwara State. The names given to the two associations are Music Advertisement Association of Nigeria (MAAN) and Music Promoter Union respectively. “I met people doing music recording but they did not have the thought of establishing the association,” he said.

He served as the second chairman of the MPU and the fifth chairman of MAAN despite being the founder. He said that he used to allow people to chair any association he created before he did and what he has done in the two unions are memorable.

Alhaja Awero, the mother of Iyabo Balu, Zaka Ojubanirẹ, and Salawo were among his customers that he used to lend music instruments to. “All the work that I am doing which include; music coverage, recording and promoter, nobody taught me, it was just a gift from Allah,” Bigman boasted.


More to The Tricycle’s Story

When Bigman bought the Keke Napep, many people (friends and family) were questioning him on what triggered him to drop his car for tricycle. 

He responded, “I bought Keke because I envisioned that if I continue with using a car and buying fuel at that amount to shuttle my shop everyday, I will later end up being a poor rat. Imagine spending N600,000 monthly on fuel, it’s a huge amount of money in a year. I bought the Tricycle at the rate of N2,000,000 in September 2023.”

“I believed that since I had made the decision to buy this tricycle, many people would also be interested to follow my step. Unlike before, I used to fill the tank of this tricycle with a sum of N5,500, and I would use it for four days. Even with the fuel, I will use it to carry my children to school before coming to shop,” he explained. 

Bigman advised fellow Nigerians to always cut their coats according to their sizes, and know their limitations in terms of financial constraints. “As a human being, try to know your standard. If you see that situation has changed, try to change with it so as to be balanced later. In this era of fuel hike, many car users had left their car in shambles, and also some had sold their own.”


Fuel Subsidy Removal Hits Nigerian Traders Hard- Expert

In an interview with Harbinger, Bello Audu, an economist from Uthman Dan Fodio University, Sokoto talked about the widespread impact of the fuel subsidy removal on traders across Nigeria, not just in Kwara State. 

Audu criticized the government’s approach, stating that the decision was executed poorly.

“The government’s action on fuel subsidy removal was flawed, but it was not done with malicious intent,” Audu explained. “They should have considered the potential consequences before implementing this policy.”

Audu elaborated on the adverse effects traders are experiencing due to the increased fuel prices. “Many traders are now struggling to make a profit because transportation costs have soared,” he said. “This has forced them to raise prices, which in turn reduces consumer demand.”

He warned that reduced consumption of goods due to higher prices will primarily hurt traders, pushing many to explore alternative business strategies. “Traders might start looking to sell their goods quickly, even at reduced profits, to minimize stress and losses,” Audu noted.

Advice to Traders and Government

He urged traders to adapt by exploring cost-cutting measures and diversifying their product lines to maintain profitability.

 “Traders need to find innovative ways to reduce costs and offer a variety of products that can attract different segments of consumers,” he advised.

To the government, Audu recommended a more phased approach to subsidy removal, coupled with supportive measures for affected businesses. “The government should consider reintroducing subsidies gradually and provide financial assistance or tax relief to help traders adjust,” he suggested. 

“Additionally, investing in infrastructure improvements could reduce transportation costs in the long term.”

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