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Nigerians Hope for More Gasoline with New Government

Many Nigerians hope their new president, Umaru Yar'Adua, will urgently address the issue of gasoline scarcity after he is sworn in today. Even though Nigeria is Africa's biggest oil producer, massive exports and poor refineries mean Nigerians often face long lines when trying to get gasoline for themselves. VOA's Nico Colombant reports from the main southern oil-producing city, Port Harcourt.

It is the rainy season, right now here in the oil-rich but gasoline-poor Niger Delta. The mud is not making long lines at gas stations any easier.

Motorists and motorcyclists wake up early and battle traffic to try to get their hands on gasoline at this station. It offers some of the cheapest prices in town.

But the wait can be costly, according to a taxi driver who blames the government. "Many of us now are supposed to be making the money and we are using that time here on this line. They are supposed to look after this for us."

People are also late getting to work.

Nigeria is Africa's biggest producer of oil, yet because most of the crude is exported and the country's refineries are in a very bad shape, this situation is not unusual.

The unfortunate irony is not lost on Maurice Piebe. "Why are we suffering in abundance of natural resources?” he asks. “This is a serious case and pathetic really."

Some of the motorists are used to long lines, but they say it has not been this bad in a long time. One man who says his full name is Obi believes it is a bad sign as a new government is about to take office. "We produce oil here. We have refineries and they do not work. I do not think it is a good omen. It is quite unfortunate," he says.

When the wait is too long, some, like Ima King, just give up. "I will use legs and go to where I parked my car. I cannot drive any further. The car is empty."

Others try to get some illegal gasoline sold on the side of the road. Quality must be tested by dipping a finger into what is for sale. It is not always good gasoline.

A seller prefers to remain unnamed since he is doing something illegal. He explains the price is double or even triple the cost in the local naira currency than at normal stations. One dollar is about 125 naira. "I would like to sell at 1500 [naira] per liter. Twenty liters for 2500 [naira]. It is a black market."

To make matters worse right now, refinery workers are protesting the recent privatization of several of Nigeria's refineries. They say they were not properly consulted and that the process was not transparent.

Government officials say privatization is needed to make the refineries more efficient, and to attract more private investment into producing gasoline for the local Nigerian market.

But unions are threatening a long shutdown of the refineries if negotiations do not make progress, and the privatization scheme is not reviewed.

Union leader Adamu Abubakar Umaru, says he understands this could make lines even longer, but that ordinary Nigerians, must understand it is for everyone's good. "We are doing it for the interest of the common man. And for the common man, it is painful. They will suffer for our actions."

In the meantime, many gas stations simply run out of gas, making a dire situation even worse, and bringing lots of internal economic activity to a standstill.