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Africa

Nigeria: Handing over a country in crisis?

Just days before President-elect Muhammadu Buhari is sworn in, Nigeria's opposition has accused outgoing President Jonathan of handing over an economy in chaos. Shortage of fuel brought the nation to a near standstill.

Nigerian fuel marketers agreed to resume distribution this Monday after weeks of fuel depots closure that almost brought the country's telecom operators, banks and domestic flights to a halt. The agreement came just days before Muhammadu Buhari's inauguration as president of Africa's top oil-exporter on Friday.

Chinedu Okoronkwo of the Independent Petroleum Marketers Association of Nigeria told reporters that fuel suppliers had decided to call off the depot closures after meeting with Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and lawmakers. Okoronkwo expected the supply of petroleum products throughout the country to normalize within 24 hours.

Nigeria is Africa's biggest crude oil producer, but the country has to import almost all its fuel because domestic refineries are inadequate. Goodluck Jonathan's government has been carrying out a controversial fuel subsidies program that kept fuel prices below the market rate for consumers and paid the difference to suppliers.

Blame game over fuel delivery

Nigeria's worst energy crisis began when fuel importers and marketers shut fuel depots, saying that the government owed them money. On Friday, Okonjo-Iweala had denied that the government had failed to pay, adding that importers received money under an agreed installment plan.

"Whatever the case, it appears that the outgoing government is doing nothing to address the problem, " Garba Kare, a political scientist at the University of Abuja told DW.

A black market oil trader supplies a car with fuel. Photo: EPA/TIFE OWOLABI

In the past few weeks, the only people smiling were the black-market traders selling fuel in the streets

Hit by tighter credit lines and unpaid interest, suppliers said they could no longer afford to supply fuel. After not being paid by the suppliers, oil tanker drivers began striking last week, and other oil workers soon joined in.

According to Reuters news agency, Yakubu Suleiman, a spokesman for the marketers association, said Monday that the finance minister had now agreed to pay out 159 billion naira ($800 million, 733 million euros) to the marketers. "The committee to verify the payments will speed up the process, and we will be paid before the end of this government," the spokesman was quoted as saying.

'The economy is virtually grounded'

The energy crisis has almost brought Nigeria to a standstill. Airlines such as Arik and the rival carrier Aero have had to ground some of their flights for lack of fuel, while many businesses have been affected because generators that produce most of Nigeria's electricity ran out of fuel.

Yinka Makinde who runs an online marketing business told DW her business is grounded. "For the past couple of days we couldn't ship because my dispatcher lacked fuel for him to go to various locations.

Many households in Nigeria which rely on boreholes for water supply were also affected. "The fuel crisis is really affecting my home," Joy Agbonifo said. "There is no water at all because I need fuel to pump water from the ground. Those I can buy water from, they are not even selling water. To cook is another problem because there is no gas. Nigeria has not seen anything like this before," Agbonifo said.

Phone companies such as MTN and Etisalat reported disruptions of their services and were warning that they may be forced to shut down networks if they do not obtain the electricity to power base stations and switches. Several banks, including Guaranty Trust Bank and Union Bank of Nigeria, shut branches early on Monday. Even some radio stations went off the air. DW's correspondent in Lagos, Sam Olukoya, reported that the country's highways were free of traffic as motorists were unable to purchase fuel.

On Sunday, the All Progressives Congress (APC), the party of President-elect Muhammadu Buhari, accused President Goodluck Jonathan's government of deliberately leaving them an economy in crisis.

Supporters cheer Mohammadu Buhari

President-elect Buhari has not yet said how he will handle fuel subsidies

"The whole scenario reeks of sabotage," APC spokesman Lai Mohammed said in a statement.

"Never in the history of our country has any government handed over to another a more distressed country: No electricity, no fuel, workers are on strike, billions are owed to state and federal workers, 60 billion dollars are owed in national debt and the economy is virtually grounded," he said.

Political analyst Garba Kare said the allegations by the opposition started even before the elections were held. "Now things are becoming clearer, there is a 60 billion naira debt, an indication of the level of mismanagement and misgovernance that has characterized this country in the past few years."

Jonathan's successor Buhari had campaigned on a platform of fighting pervasive corruption in Nigeria. According to DW's Sam Olukoya, the fuel importation business is one of the sectors Buhari is expected to scrutinize.

gu (Reuters/AFP)

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