The act of scooping "free" oil might seem to only have direct effects, but there are many warning signals blaring. Lets take a look at some of the implications.

A few days ago, a tanker carrying vegetable oil spilled its contents all over the streets in Ebute ero, Lagos. Some of the oil also spilled into the dirty gutters. As a result, some Lagosians jumped on the opportunity to get free oil by grabbing containers and scooping the spilled oil from the gutters.

The disturbing footage was posted by Instablog9ja on Sunday, showing some individuals scooping the oil, which had been mixed with the dirty gutter water, into the bowls and bottles.

This act has raised serious questions on why they would think it would be okay to do this and what implications the act could pose.

"Awoof dey run belle"

There is a popular saying amongst and about Nigerians, "We too like free thing", which means there is no other joy for us than getting something we did not pay or work for. This is why whenever there is any form of spill that could prove substantial, Nigerians rush to the scene of the accident to scavenge for what they can get, no matter how dangerous it could prove.

In 2015, a tanker carrying 32,000 litres of fuel rammed into a pavement on a bridge in Minna, Niger State, spilling the contents onto the road and into the various canals within the community. Residents quickly took advantage of the situation by scooping from the spillage.

There is also another popular saying, "awoof dey run belle," meaning freebies often come with some displeasure. This is evident in the morbid news reports that follow, whenever Nigerians try to scoop these free things from the street.

For instance, in 2012, an estimated 100 people were killed in Nigeria while trying to fetch crude oil from a crashed tanker. Also, earlier in 2018, several people were injured while trying to scoop fuel from a broken pipeline in Dagbo-Pogo community in Niger State. Many farmlands and houses from more than 20 villages were also razed in the process.

We do not predict that the case of these Nigerian women scooping vegetable oil from gutters into their containers will be an exemption to this rule, especially since the oil would probably be sold to unsuspecting customers or used to cook for families.

The deep rooted issue of poverty

Nigerians expressed displeasure and disgust over the footage when it was released, but it's obvious that even Nigerians, themselves, underestimate the poverty rate of their fellow Nigerians.

In June, Quartz reported that Nigeria had overtaken India as the world's poverty capital with 86.9 million people living in extreme poverty. Bear in mind that India has a population seven times larger than Nigeria’s. Also, Nigeria placed 157 out of 157 nations in a Commitment to Reducing Inequality Index ranking in October.

Only a people who feel they have no alternatives would think they hit gold by scooping "free cooking oil" from a dirty gutter, without thinking of the repercussions.

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A ripple effect?

The high rate of poverty tells on us in two ways.

First, a study reported by Nne Pepple's paper on Environment and Food Poisoning, 99% of working class Nigerians eat outside their homes. If over 50% of Nigerians are living in extreme poverty, not a lot of these people would be able to afford to eat at big restaurants with exorbitant rents and minimum quality health standards. Hence, a lot of these people are eating at low rate, cheap bukas and shacks.

On the other hand, bukas and street food shacks are a common phenomenon in Nigeria. These bukas aren't exactly known for their prime health standards or superior food sources. If Nigerians "too like free thing," the chances are that some of these bukas, struggling for a source of income, are using inferior goods to be able to sell at cheaper prices and to maximise profits.

Lagosians scooping oil from gutter
Lagosians scooping oil from gutter

On a small scale, the result of people scooping cooking oils from dirty gutters would tell on their immediate environment and families.

On a grander scale though, it is devastating to even imagine what would happen if bukas or unsuspecting families purchasing the vegetable oil scooped from that gutter. The repercussion? Nigeria would be staring down the barrel of a food poisoning endemic, if nothing is done to check this.