Lagos - CNN reports that Nigeria is Africa's largest oil producer, but fuel shortages have paralyzed the country that just a year ago was declared Africa's largest economy. CNN's correspondent Christian Purefoy reports as follows:
At one gas station in Lagos, crowds push at the gates waving empty jerry cans. Cars queue for a kilometre down the road creating gridlock.
Similar scenes are being repeated at almost every petrol station across Nigeria.
“I’ve been here since 4 a.m. It’s not good,” says local resident Abdulsalam Mohammed as he finally drives his car to the petrol pump. “Now it’s almost 3 p.m. Nobody can work today.”
“We are an oil producing country, very rich, a giant in Africa,” says Seun Olewale, another driver who is carrying empty fuel cans. “But the experience we are getting now is so hard.”
The shortages have been going on since March despite the fact that, according to the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, Nigeria produces about 2.5 million barrels of crude oil per day.
The problem is Nigeria does not have the capacity to refine enough of its own oil into fuel to meet the needs of its population of 150,177 million people.
Fuel in Nigeria is used not just to run cars and transport for goods and services, but also to power generators for homes and businesses; most Nigerians get only a few hours of electricity a day.
The companies that import fuel claim they have not been paid by the Nigerian government — and so they cut off the supply. As a result, Africa’s largest economy has ground to a halt.
Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Nigeria’s finance minister, told CNN’s John Defterios the situation was complex.
“You have to verify the claims of the marketers before they are paid, and because the government is coming to an end, they are getting quite nervous,” she said.
“They are pushing very hard and they are using this shortage as an instrument to try to get the existing government to pay them quickly, without going through the thorough verification, and we are not going to do that.”
Nigerians are no strangers to fuel shortages — the country was subject to similar shortfalls in 2012.
The obvious solution would be to simply pay the fuel importers, but the Nigerian government subsidizes the country’s fuel prices, and with oil prices falling, it needs to save money.
And that, says Seun with his two jerry cans, is the real problem. He says the government’s policies are hurting Nigeria’s economy, and hurting ordinary Nigerians even more.
“This is a war on the poor,” he insists.