Monday, May 25, 2015

Nigeria's economy grinds to a halt as fuel crisis continues

Nigeria is facing a full-blown national crisis as virtually all sectors of the economy has grounded to a halt as the fuel scarcity bites harder across the country.

As the economy races to breakdown, the Nigerian government appears helpless, with President Goodluck Jonathan merely counting days to hand over the problem to the incoming government of Muhammadu Buhari on Friday.

From the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, to the 36 states of the federation, reports are that virtually all public and private institutions have shut down in the face of shortage of fuel to maintain normal businesses.

Worse hit are hospitals, schools, banks, transportation companies and telecommunication operators, which have either suspended normal operations or issued notices of closure or scaling down on full business hours for lack of fuel to power the engines that power their activities.

For most part of last week, several airline operators announced plans to significantly alter their normal flight schedules, blaming it on their inability to get aviation fuel for their aircraft.

“Due to the current scarcity of Jet-A1 fuel being experienced in the country, we regret to inform you that all our flights will not operate regularly as scheduled,” one of Nigeria’s premier arlines, Aero Contractors, informed its customers on May 22. “We regret any inconveniences the changes will cause. All efforts are being made to ameliorate the situation and revert to our regular flight schedule.”

At the airports in Abuja and Lagos, thousands of travellers were stranded as most airlines cancelled their scheduled flights.

Both MTN and Airtel, two of Nigeria’s major telecommunications operators, have all notices to their customers to inform them that their services might be disrupted till the fuel supply situation improves.

The text message from Airtel management to its customers on Sunday read: “Dear Valued Customer, this is to inform you that due to nationwide fuel crisis our services may experience some strain. We are doing everything possible to manage the situation. Thank you for understanding.”

In a similar message on Sunday, the management of GTBank issued notice of early closure of its branches nationwide.

“The current shortage of petroleum products in the country has limited our ability to supply diesel to all our branches, in order to continue normal branch operations.

“Due to this, we unavoidably have to close our branches nationwide at 1 pm, from tomorrow Monday, 25th May 2015,” the bank said in the text message.

In its own notice to customers, MTN announced that the intractable fuel shortage might force it to shut down some of its base-stations that are powered by diesel-operated generators.

“The management of MTN states that the current diesel scarcity in most parts of the Nigeria is posing threat to quality of services and the ability to optimally operate the network,” the company said in a statement released on its Twitter handle.

“MTN’s available reserves of diesel are running low and the company must source for significant quantity of diesel in the very near future to prevent a shut down of services across Nigeria. If diesel supplies are not available within the next 24 hours the network will be seriously degraded and customers will feel the impact.”

Car dealer, Cosharis Motors, has also warned buyers of its new BMW cars to park them until fuel is available, apparently in other to avoid using adulterated fuel purchased from the black market to run the vehicle that may cause serious mechanical damage in the cars. Experts say the new BMW cars have zero tolerance for adulterated fuel.

Throughout last week, as the fuel scarcity took its toll on businesses, parents experienced difficulties transporting their wards to school and back, as no filling station opened for business following the continued strike action oil workers.

Some schools’ management in Abuja and environs were compelled to order early closure of their schools for mid-term break, as most teachers and parents could not cope with the unprecedented pressure imposed on them by lack of fuel.

On Sunday, the Divine Scholars School in the Lekki area of Lagos informed parents it is closing for mid-term break till June 1, although insiders in the school said the forced holiday was caused by the biting fuel shortage

A visit to some public hospitals, including the National Hospital and Garki General Hospital, witnessed significant reduction in activities at the weekend.

Similarly, churches and other places of worship in the Federal Capital Territory also witnessed low turnout of the usual population of worshippers, most of whom found movement difficult.

At Jabi and other locations where there are motor parks, the usual hustle and bustle of activities by travellers were almost absent, as very few commercial transport operators were on duty.

The Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI) on Sunday called on the incoming administration of Muhammadu Buhari to consider the deregulation of the oil and gas downstream sector as a priority on assumption of office.

The President of the Chamber, Remi Bello, said the current fuel scarcity and power supply situation in the country have grounded the economy
Mr. Bello said only the immediate deregulation of the sector would help resolve the recurring problem of scarcity of petroleum products in the country.

The Chamber identifies massive corruption in the fuel subsidy regime, collapse of the country’s refineries, dwindling investment in the downstream sector and loss of jobs as some the key challenges the sector was facing.

The current fuel subsidy regime and government’s direct involvement in the operations of oil and gas sector should be stopped if normalcy is to be restored in the nation’s economy.

Regardless, while the people continue to suffer untold hardship as a result of the fuel supply crisis, the oil marketers and the outgoing government continue to bicker in their unending blame game over unpaid subsidy claims.

The marketers, under the umbrella groups of Major Marketers Association of Nigeria (MOMAN), the Depot and Petroleum Marketers Association (DAPMA) and the Independent Petroleum Marketers Association of Nigeria (IPMAN), have continued to accuse government of refusing to pay outstanding claims of about N200 billion.

But the outgoing Minister of Finance, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, on Saturday accused the marketers of blackmail, claiming that government had agreed with marketers that N159 billion would be paid after a reconciliation by a committee constituted for that purpose.

Meanwhile, another systems collapse has been reported at Shiroro Power Plant on Sunday amid the worsening energy crisis.

The latest systems collapse reported at about 4.10 pm on Sunday by the Abuja Electricity Distribution Company (AEDC) said the development has left the zone with just 15 mega watts (MW) at about 5.05 pm.

The AEDC said at about 6.50pm, only sensitive installations within the Central Business District had electricity supply.

The Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Power, Godknows Igali, had on Friday reported that power generation nationwide had dropped from 4,800MW to 1,327MW, leading to the massive load shedding ongoing across the country.

The AEDC said it has sent alerts to customers in the FCT, Kogi, Nasarawa and Niger states to apologise to them for the difficult situation caused by the huge drop in power supply from the national grid, from about 450MW daily to less than 200MW in recent times.

The company said allocation to the zone for Friday, May 22 was 145MW, while allocation for both Saturday and Sunday, May 23 and 24, was 115.6MW.

“The situation has been worsened by the system collapse at Shiroro this evening, which brought our supply down to 15MW,” the company said in a statement.

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