Sunday 24 May 2015

Fuel crisis could shut down our services , MTN warns

Nigeria’s biggest mobile phone operator MTN has
warned that its network faces shutdown due to fuel
shortages that have crippled the nation.

The company, the biggest subsidiary of the South
Africa-based MTN Group, said it needed a
“significant quantity of diesel in the very near future
to prevent a shutdown of services across Nigeria”.

“If diesel supplies are not received within the next
24 hours the network will be seriously degraded
and customers will feel the impact,” it added on its
Twitter account @MTNNG on Saturday evening.

Nigeria — Africa’s biggest economy and most
populous nation — has been increasingly hit by fuel
shortages in recent weeks because of a long-
running row over controversial subsidy payments.

Despite being Africa’s biggest oil producer, Nigeria
lacks domestic refineries, forcing crude to be
exported and products such as petrol and diesel to
be imported.

To keep costs to consumers low, the government
sets prices below the market rate and pays the
difference to importers.
But the global slump in oil prices has hit Nigeria’s
economy hard, squeezing government revenues
and devaluing the local naira currency against the
US dollar, and oil marketers claim they have not
been paid in full.

Fuel depots have closed pending payment of the
arrears, with the situation worsening after oil and
gas union workers walked out over the sale of two
oil blocks.

The crisis comes just days before President
Goodluck Jonathan leaves office, handing over
power to Muhammadu Buhari on May 29.

Many petrol stations have now run out of fuel, both
for vehicles and the generators on which most
people and businesses rely because of the woeful
public electricity supply.
On Friday, the Ministry of Power said electricity
production was at an all-time low of 1,327
megawatts, according to local media reports.

Diesel generators power most of MTN’s base
stations and switches across the country but fuel
supplies are running low, said the company’s
corporate services executive Akinwale Goodluck.

– Businesses hit –

The Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry
earlier this week warned the crisis could force
firms to lay off staff.

The warning from MTN, which has more than 55
million subscribers, is a sign that businesses are
now being hit.
Some domestic flights have been cancelled while
international airlines have re-routed services in and
out of Nigeria to pick up aviation fuel.
Virgin Atlantic flights from Lagos to London
Heathrow have diverted to Ghana’s capital Accra
and Majorca off southern Spain, while Air France
services from Paris have stopped in Dakar,
passengers said.

At least three Nigerian radio stations announced on
Twitter they would be going off the air to ration fuel
that powers its generators.
On Twitter, one user said on Sunday his local
church had merged its Yoruba-language and
English services because of the fuel shortage.

“Don’t bother to bring your charger to church, we
have disconnected all the plugs,” read the note,
which was signed: “Yours in Christ.”
Elsewhere Nigerians were facing up to the
shortages with customary good humour.

“Boko haram attacked Nigerian Army Base but
instead of fleeing in their vans, they surrendered
peacefully cos #AintNobodyGotFuelForThat,” one
Twitter user wrote.
But many blamed Jonathan for doing nothing to
alleviate the crisis, which began before the March
28 election that Buhari won.
Oil importers and marketers claim they were owed
200 billion naira ($1 billion, 910 million euros) in
outstanding subsidies.

Last month, outgoing Finance Minister Ngozi
Okonjo-Iweala, who has said the subsidy scheme is
open to corruption, said fuel importers were paid
156 billion naira.
She accused them of engineering the crisis to make
money out of blackmarket fuel sales.

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