Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Africa's Oil Giant Runs on Empty ; Nigeria, the World's Sixth-Largest Oil Producer, Does Not Have Enough Fuel for Its Own Citizens' Cars

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Africa's Oil Giant Runs on Empty ; Nigeria, the World's Sixth-Largest Oil Producer, Does Not Have Enough Fuel for Its Own Citizens' Cars

Article excerpt

It's like not being able to buy ice cubes in Alaska or not finding lobsters in a Maine market.

In Nigeria - the world's sixth-largest oil producer and the source of 800,000 barrels of oil used by the United States each day - citizens have a hard time filling up their gas tanks.

Drivers here either wait in lines hundreds of cars long or pay as much as five times the official rate on the black market.

It has long been the case that Nigerians - who occupy a land rich in gas and oil deposits - saw little of the proceeds from their nation's vast mineral wealth. Africa's most populous country has earned more than $280 billion from oil sales over the past 30 years. Yet most roads here remain unpaved, towns unelectrified, and people uneducated due to a series of fabulously corrupt governments.

But Nigerians thought their newly elected democratic government, the first nonmilitary regime in 15 years, would stop the sporadic gas shortages that have stalled this country's development. Thus far, the government has launched a major rehabilitation of its four dilapidated refineries - which would more than meet domestic demand for gas, if they worked - and stepped up fuel imports.

Still, corruption, malfunctioning equipment, and general mismanagement keep tanks on empty. Residents of Nigeria's oil-rich delta can find oil residue in their water wells and farm fields, but little at the pumps. Across this nation, the fuel shortage has inflated prices of household goods, doubled the price of a commute to work, and forced some factories to close.

Ordinary Nigerians have developed a habit of driving around town with their gas gauge perpetually on "E" - having long ago calculated exactly how far they could make it on dregs and tank fumes. They buy black-market gas - one gallon here, one gallon there - hoping beyond hope that a fleet of oil tankers will pull into town and rescue them.

Not surprisingly, intersections are often blocked by cars and trucks that let it go just a little too long. Highways are littered with vehicles that either ran out of gas or broke down as a result of using black-market petrol, which often contains cheap fillers like kerosene. …

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