Jochua Leoto, a Beninese trafficker buys petrol in a Nigerian fuel station, very close to the border of the region of Plateau (Benin), for its subsequent transportation to its home country. In the transaction they use the naira, the Nigerian currency.
A Beninese trafficker buys petrol in a Nigerian fuel station, close to the border of the region of Plateau in Benin, for its subsequent transportation to its home country. In the transaction they use the Naira, the Nigerian currency.Javier Corso
Jochua Leoto, a Beninese trafficker buys petrol in a Nigerian fuel station, very close to the border of the region of Plateau (Benin), for its subsequent transportation to its home country. In the transaction they use the naira, the Nigerian currency.
An employee of the Nigerian petrol station pushing a barrel full of petrol.
One of the employees of the Nigerian petrol station counts the money of the transaction together with the trafficker. Simultaneously, another employee fills the petrol tanks.
An agent of the gendarmerie in roadside check. The local authorities, both the Nigerian and the Beninese, profit from the illegal trafficking of petrol. The unregulated transportation of fuel is an illegal but frequent activity. The roadside checks of the gendarmerie and the army turn a blind eye or extort the drivers, who have no choice but to pay to ensure that the others don’t seize their goods.
The area of Ifagni, on the region of Plateau, is the cradle of the illegal trafficking of petrol between Nigeria and Benin. There’s one of the shortest and safest waterways to bypass the border controls, to unload thousands of drums and to distribute them among the drivers who are responsible for delivering them by land in the country.
When the goods arrive on Beninese soil, hundreds of drivers wait on the seashore with their motorbikes for the arrival of the drums marked with the initials of their leaders. The first task of the motorcyclists is to identify the drums to load them up and assure properly on their motorbikes.
A mild accident of these motorcyclists known as suicide bombers or kamikazes, may cause hundreds of deaths if it happens near the core of the population. In 2006 there was an explosion in Cotonou which killed almost a hundred of civilians.
The mission of the suicide bombers is to drive the vehicles on sinuous paths in the jungle to the paved roads which communicate with the core of the population.
The 100cc motorbike is the transport par excellence in the county. The illegal drivers employ them to travel around all Benin loaded with tens of litres of fuel. The most common model of motorbike is the BOXER and HONDA.
The children and the women occupy the last level of the hierarchy of the illegal trafficking of petrol. Normally they are the responsible of the market stalls. They spread out along roads and paths, and they agglutinate in villages and cities.
At the illegal refuelling stall there are usually two people: one takes responsibility for pouring the content in the vehicle, while the other one intercedes placing a funnel and filters the impurities with a rag.
A child counting the benefits of the petrol sale. Women and children are responsible for selling in exchange for low salaries, but which complement the economy of a home in which all of its members carry out a duty in the chain.
A Beninese trafficker buys petrol in a Nigerian fuel station, close to the border of the region of Plateau in Benin, for
... VIEW MORE

Javier Corso
1 of 13

Following Benin's Gasoline Smugglers

May 23, 2016

It's midday in Porto-Novo, Benin. The sun is at its high point in the small agricultural village as a man flies across the dirt roads on a 100cc motorbike, leading 20 other riders. It would be harmless, save for the eight handmade containers holding up to 53 gallons of gasoline strapped to the vehicle which, if it crashed in the village, would trigger a chain reaction that could kill hundreds.

Today, nearly 150,000 barrels of gasoline are pilfered each day to feed the illicit trade, supplying more than 75% of gasoline that Benin consumes. Beninese traffickers buy petrol in Nigeria, where it is cheaper. They sell it in roadside stalls around the entire country at sometimes half the usual price.

Spanish photographer Javier Corso traveled to Benin to investigate the vast network of gasoline smuggling from Nigeria to Benin. His photo essay, Essence du Bénin (gasoline, in English), is part of the first venture for the newly launched Oak Stories agency—a collaboration with journalist Neus Marmol and videographer Lautaro Bolaño.

Corso followed Kamikazis or human bombs, as they are called, from the Nigerian gas stations; to the road or lake as the fuel was transported; all the way to the stations manned by women and children in Porto-Novo, Benin.

Corso's high contrast black-and-white images offer an unfettered glimpse into the day in, day out of Beninese citizens living in a poor agricultural country with high unemployment rates. Many who work in the fields depend on additional employment to feed their family. With few other alternatives, illegal trafficking of petrol is necessary to survival. "We cannot wipe away this illegal trade without starving thousands of families in Benin," Marmol tells TIME. "The problem is so intertwined with all parts of the population that to end it overnight would both paralyze the nation's economy and spur a revolution."

Javier Corso is a documentary photographer based in Spain. Neus Marmol is a producer and journalist. Both are founding members of OAK Stories Agency.

Rachel Lowry is a writer and contributor for TIME LightBox. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

TIME may receive compensation for some links to products and services on this website. Offers may be subject to change without notice.