About 30 percent of Nigeria's refined fuel is being "diverted" and often smuggled into neighboring countries, Emmanuel Kachikwu, state minister for petroleum resources, told a town hall meeting in Lagos, the commercial capital on Monday. None of the trucks transporting fuel across the country are being tracked, despite on and off shortages in the past year, he said.
"We need a whole army to stop this from happening," he said, referring to the widespread theft.
The most severe fuel scarcity in a year in Africa's most populous nation has left motorists paying more than double the government's official price for gasoline and put increasing pressure on a stagnating economy that's been hit by tumbling oil prices. The national statistics office blames the shortages for contributing to an 8 percent drop in labor productivity in the fourth quarter.
"They've done this before," Dolapo Oni, the Lagos-based head of energy research at Ecobank Transnational Inc. said, referring to Project Aquila, which put trackers on gasoline trucks. "Drivers tampered with them. It sounds like an interesting idea, but it's difficult to implement unless you have a sanction for all those operating without a tracker."
The government of President Muhammadu Buhari, who came to power last year on a wave of support for his change and anti-corruption campaign, has been hit by criticism for failing to deal with huge queues at fuel stations across the country.
The latest crisis has been worsened by central bank foreign-exchange controls that have left retailers paying higher costs to import supplies at a time when the government has removed subsidies and imposed a price cap at 87 naira a liter ($1.67 a gallon).
Kachikwu told the Lagos audience to "please give us your patience" as the government deals with the shortages. "This one is challenging for us," he said, before asking the crowd to stand and recite a pledge to "help this country change."