The Upper West Region is renowned for the quality of its pito– a local alcoholic beverage brewed from fermented guinea corn. All the same, there is another liquid that has also become very popular though in bizarre circumstances.
The latest liquid is found in transparent bottles of different sizes and shapes and is commonly stood on high tables by the roadside. In fact, it is not uncommon to mistake the content of the bottles for an appetising soft drink. But woe betide anyone who consumes the drink, as this may lead to early death. The liquid in the bottles is petrol and it is sold in tots!
Fuel sold in tots
A tot is a small amount of drink sold in a special tot glass. In Ghana, taking tots is popular in celebrated ‘blue kiosks’ - these are drinking bars quite famous in slums and rural settings. But, in the Upper West Region now, tots do not only describe a small amount of drink, it also implies a small amount of petrol or fuel that is bought into a vehicle.
As a region that is uniquely distinctive for having more motorbikes than motorcars in a ratio of about 5:1, the light-brownish liquid (petrol) in the transparent bottles comes in handy, especially for motorbike riders who are commonly seen on the streets of Wa and towns in the districts.
The screeching sounds of tyres that come to a dead stop at the edge of a street very often announces a rider or driver in urgent need of fuel. An observer cannot miss the sight of vehicle owners pouring their tots of fuel into their fuel tanks sometimes so conveniently without the aid of a funnel. A medium bottle of petrol or fuel is about half a litre or so and cost a modest GH¢1.00.
The practice of selling fuel in bottles has become brisk business for many who are now into the ‘oil business’ and have become retailers for filling stations.
Said Sulley, a 22-year-old who is into the sale of petrol in tots and also sells phone recharge cards in Wa, said: “It is a rewarding business. All motorbikes in town cannot queue up at the filling stations to refuel all the time and so they find the next convenient fuel seller in the corner, get their needs met and they are off.
“I took over the business less than six months ago when a cousin who was doing it gained admission to the university and as such could not be available at all times,” he explained.
He admits that selling fuel in this ingenious way was bringing in quick and good returns.
He dreams to expand the business into a full shop one day, but like the many others who occupy vantage spots along the streets, he is content with supplying the energy needs of vehicle owners and other businesses in the Upper West Region.
With population growth, social development, spread of wealth and so on, the demand for fuel, including petrol, will continue to be ever present. Particularly for the Upper West Region where population growth and economic activities are accelerating at a high speed, the surge in the number of motorbikes, for instance, has ensured increasing demand for fuel sold by the roadside traders.
Nearly every household in the region has a motorbike because having one is a source of pride among the people. The ability to maintain it and regularly buy fuel to operate it says a lot about one’s standing in society.
This phenomenon hardly portrays the Upper West Region as poor, giving the number of people who own motorbikes. In Wa motorbikes abound because taxi services are nonexistent unless they are hired from elsewhere.
According to Sulley, however, the recent frequent hikes in fuel prices have scaled down profits.
“Everybody is complaining about not making profit and the fear is that vehicle owners, particularly motorbike riders who are our main clients, may stop buying from us altogether because of the high cost of fuel,” he said.
The fuel retailers surely dread the possibility of losing their customers but the likes of auto mechanic Adams Yakubu provide reassurance for the retail merchants.
“I am very busy and do not have the time to go round looking for fuel stations when I need just a small quantity to take me around town. I find the fuel retailers very useful because they are everywhere. After all, they buy from the filling stations on our behalf.
“When I run out of fuel during my rounds, they rescue me very easily,” he said.
And that summarises it all!
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