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Criminals Blamed for Fuel Shortages in Nigeria - 2003-10-07

Local communities in Nigeria, which is the 7th largest oil producing country in the world, are experiencing a scarcity of petroleum. The country's oil producing states blame the problem in part on foreign -- and local -- criminals. Acute fuel shortages have led to very long queues by motorists at all filling stations across the country. In some parts, a litre of petrol is sold at 250 percent above the official price.

Alhaji Sani Yau Babura is the Secretary General of the Independent Petroleum Marketers Association of Northern Nigeria. He says only about 20 percent of the petroleum designated for the north by the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, or NNPC, reached consumers.

He says the solution is to resume the exploration of suspected oil deposits in the basins of lake Chad, and in Sokoto and Benue States in Northern Nigeria. Exploration began as far back as 1975 but was suspended by the government about four years ago. The exploration was stopped because the government said it was not certain there were oil deposits in the area.

Dr. Shettima Ali Monguno is a former minister of petroleum under the late military ruler, General Sani Abacha. Dr. Monguno says President Olusegun Obasanjo is playing politics with the exploration of oil in the north. He says he has expert reports on the presence of large quantities of gas and oil in the region.

The Governors of the two major oil producing states of Delta and Bayelsa in the Niger Delta, James Ibori and Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, describe the theft of oil on the Nigerian high seas as the major problem affecting Nigeria's oil supplies.

Lt Col. Gar Dogo is the Commanding Officer of the Nigeria Army in the oil rich City of Warri in the Niger Delta. He says his command has arrested 13 foreigners from African countries and 3 Nigerians in connection with piracy and theft of Nigeria's crude oil.

He also accused criminals of vandalizing the pipelines that take the commodity from the oil wells to where ships are loaded for international transport. He says they syphone the oil into privately owned ships and container - carrying boats. Investigations to determine the owners of the ships and possible involvement of oil workers is still going on. All the arrested are still being questioned by detectives.

Nigeria's Minister of Police affairs, Mr. Broderick Bozimo, says any African country linked to the theft of Nigeria's oil will be held accountable. He says the Nigeria police may soon arrest some big names linked to the thefts. He accused some undisclosed African countries of buying the oil stolen from Nigeria.

Observers say broken down refineries also account for the acute scarcity of the products at local filling stations.

Mallam Ibrahim Shekarau is the Governor of Kano State in Northern Nigeria. He says most of the industries in the North have folded due to the scarcity of petroleum products to generate their machines. He says no industry can survive without alternative sources of power to counter the sporadic supply of electricity. He says users of automobiles and agricultural machinery are also suffering from a lack of petrol.