In the south of Benin, near the border with Nigeria, the toll from the disaster is very heavy. At least 34 people were killed on Saturday in a fire at a smuggled fuel depot, Interior Minister Alassane Seidou announced.
“This morning a serious fire occurred in the town of Seme Podji. We unfortunately recorded 34 deaths including two babies,” he declared, specifying that “the cause of the fire was smuggled fuel.” The bodies were found charred at the scene, the minister said. Twenty people were also injured, some seriously, and admitted to hospital, he said. The exact circumstances of the fire were unclear at this stage.
A resident “still in shock”
” I am still shocked. We heard people screaming for help. But the intensity of the flames was too strong for people to try to approach,” said Innocent Sidokpohou, a local carpenter. “I got gas for my motorbike to go shopping. I left and barely five meters further, I heard an explosion. When I turned around, there was only black smoke,” he said.
“I live not far from the tragedy,” said Semevo Nounagnon, a resident by bike. “I can’t really tell you the cause of the fire, but there is a big petrol depot here and cars, tricycles and motorbikes come there from morning to evening.”
End of fuel subsidies in Nigeria
For decades, fuel kept at artificially low prices thanks to government subsidies in Nigeria was transported illegally by road to neighboring countries, particularly Benin, where it was resold on the black market by a multitude of informal sellers.
When Bola Ahmed Tinubu, the new president of Nigeria, a major oil and gas producer, came to power in May, he ended fuel subsidies, leading to an immediate spike in prices. He saw these subsidies as an unsustainable financial pit, and denounced in particular the immense smuggling of subsidized gasoline to neighboring countries. The end of subsidized fuel in Nigeria immediately had an impact on the prices of black market fuel sold in Benin and other neighboring countries.
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