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Agreement Ends Nigerian Fuel Impasse

  • James Butty

FILE - A gas station in Nigeria.

FILE - A gas station in Nigeria.

A major fuel strike which left domestic airlines grounded, gas stations dry, and banks closing early has been resolved.

Fuel wholesalers had stopped distributing petroleum, claiming the government owed them $1 billion. Government officials said the wholesalers had been fully paid.

Peter Akpatason, recent president of the Nigeria Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG) and now a lawmaker, said the fuel distributors felt pressured to end their strike.

He said that if they didn’t, Nigerians would hold them responsible for any collapse of the economy.

“One of the reasons is that, in Nigeria, we’ve never had it this bad. The effect on the economy is so bad that they are feeling, if they don’t do this now, Nigerians may take up arms against them. So, I think because of that awkward position that they find themselves in, they decided to shift ground,” he said.

Akpatason said no deal was offered except the understanding that the issue of subsidies may be looked into and that where a genuine case of outstanding non-payment is discovered such payment should be made subject to due process and proper verification.

He said the genesis of Nigeria’s fuel crisis lies in the country’s neglected oil refineries coupled with a badly managed national oil company due to bureaucracy and lack of transparency.

“As a result of that, the four refineries in Nigeria are not producing up to maximum capacity. Therefore, we depend on importation of petroleum products,” he said.

The end of the fuel crisis comes days before Friday’s inauguration of Nigeria’s president-elect Muhammadu Buhari. Akpatason, a member of Buhari’s All Progressives Congress party (APC), said the current fuel crisis is politically motivated.

“A lot of Nigerians believe that the strike itself was politically motivated both by elements in the outgoing government, who own some of these companies by proxy, as well as some of their associates who believe that, now that a transparent president is coming in, the unjustified subsidies will not be paid and so they have put the government under severe pressure so that it would be hoodwinked into paying the subsidies whether there’s justification or not,” Akpatason said.

He said one way out of the country’s fuel nightmare is for Nigerians to come up with a homegrown initiative to fix its four refineries and build new ones that work.

Akpatason called on wealthy Nigerians who, he said, are investing their money outside of Nigeria to invest at home.

“The global investors are not interested in building refineries because there’s excess capacity in the Western world. They produce more than they can consume so they need a market to sell their product. So, they will not bring their money to come and build refineries in Africa, or in Nigeria. Rather, they would want to continue to produce over there and sell to us,” Akpatason said.

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