BENIN - The social and ecological drama of Nigeria's oil industry is a well-known fact in the West. A story that is directly connected but largely unknown, however, is how neighbouring Benin has become dependent on illegal oil smuggle from Nigeria for its fuel supply. One of the most conspicuous things about the Benin oil smugglers are the disabled smugglers on their strange Vespa tricycles.
Investigative journalist David Van Peteghem set out to find them along the southeastern border areas Sémé and Igolo. In a four-part series he's looking for the causes and consequences of the parallel trade in petrol that has been smothering Benin for the past decade.
Fuel supply in Nigeria's much smaller neighbour Benin is almost completely controled by the parallel trade in petrol. Cheap Nigerian oil, the demise of the burgeoning Benin petrol production and the liberalisation of Benin's petrol market enforced by the IMF, have made for various border areas between Benin and Nigeria to become hubs of oil smuggle. Across all of these border areas all kinds of transportation vehicles smuggle thousands of liters of kpayo from Nigeria into Benin every day. (Kpayo is a Goun word for 'poor quality' or 'counterfeit'.)
What inevitably strikes the eye in some of the southeastern border areas are disabled people that use their recycled and converted motorised Vespa tricycles to transport the black liquid. What makes these handicapped oil smugglers in south Benin so special, is that, despite their disadvantageous condition and in the context of poverty and suppresion in Benin, they have found a way to realise their economic potential.
However, finding disabled oil smugglers proved to be quite a challenge. During his search for the union president of the disabled oil smugglers in Sémé, David Van Peteghem was chased out of a slum in Sémé. Instead, he met a smuggling canoeist and an unemployed cook that explained how pirates rob an oil tanker. In Igolo Van Peteghem managed to meet some disabled people, but they had stopped smuggling oil years ago. Be that as it may, he tells about Benin's parallel trade in petrol in detail.