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Fuel shortages dog Africa's biggest oil producer

Published on NewsOK Modified: April 5, 2014 at 10:05 am •  Published: April 5, 2014
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LAGOS, Nigeria (AP) — The man in the large SUV forces his way to the front of the line at the gas station, ignoring the blaring horns and threats of fisticuffs from drivers who have slept in their cars and waited for more than 12 hours for the scarce fuel.

Raw anger and frayed tempers give way to resignation as the big man wins, waved in by fuel attendants, no doubt expecting a bribe.

Nigeria, despite being Africa's biggest petroleum producer, has been dogged by a fuel shortage for weeks.

In this West African nation that does not only mean scarce gas to keep cars on the road. It means no diesel to run generators that are the lifeblood of industry in a country where frequent power cuts last hours. It means no kerosene for stoves used to cook meals by tens of millions of poor people.

And drivers in Lagos use more gas than most, burning it up in chaotic traffic jams that can turn a half-hour ride into a four-hour ordeal. Some commute for hours daily from out of state because they cannot afford wildly expensive rents payable a year in advance in the commercial capital that is home to an estimated 18 million people.

"We have no lights (electricity), no decent hospitals, no decent roads. I can't pay school fees or put enough food on the table. And now I can't work," said an exhausted taxi driver and father of five, Bola Ogunlesi, in a line for gas on Lagos' Ikoyi Island.

There, gas was being sold for up to 300 naira ($1.81) a liter instead of the government-subsidized 95 naira (58 cents).

Nigerians don't refer to fuel shortages, only fuel "scarcity," an indicator they are aware that there is no real shortage.

"It's embarrassing in a country that produces petroleum," said political analyst Femi Adebayo. "The problem will continue as long as those in the corridors of power continue to give out contracts to their cronies to import fuel at highly subsidized rates."

Nigeria does have oil refineries — four of them— to turn the crude oil into fuel. But hundreds of millions of dollars allocated over the years to revamp them has disappeared or been ill-spent. The state-owned Nigerian National Petroleum Corp. reported last month that three refineries performed at just 19 percent of their capacity in the first nine months of 2013.

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