Mon, 24 Jun 2019

It's only September but Nigerians are already dreading Christmas. For years, the holiday season has been marred by paralysing fuel shortages, grinding business to a halt.

"Every December, I guarantee you, fuel scarcity will happen," said a barber in the prosperous Ikoyi district in Lagos, the country's commercial hub.

It wasn't supposed to be this way.

When he became president in 2015, Muhammadu Buhari appointed himself oil minister and vowed to end the shortages, the result of an inefficient and graft-riddled fuel subsidy scheme.

But raising the price of fuel at the pump turned out to be politically explosive so he agreed to compromise.

Instead, he cut out the fuel marketers, effectively making the state-run Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) the sole importer of fuel.

Supporters say the strategy is fortifying the country against future shortages but opponents believe it makes the NNPC more opaque and susceptible to graft.

The subsidy bill has spiked and as February elections approach, questions are being asked about the government's management of oil sales and earnings.

"Dramatically is not quite the word, it's astronomically rising," said Cheta Nwanze, research head at SBM Intelligence, a Lagos-based advisory firm. "It's dangerously unsustainable.

"The NNPC is seen as a piggy bank for whoever occupies the presidency. We were promised more transparency in the operations of the NNPC and that has not been delivered.

"Now it's all in little black books."

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