Nigerian cellphone provider needs fuel to prevent shutdown

Nigeria's leading cellphone provider said Sunday it urgently needs diesel to prevent shutting down services countrywide - the latest business hit by a months-long fuel crisis in Africa's biggest oil producer.

Many aircraft have been grounded with foreign airlines diverting to other African countries to fuel for flights abroad. Some radio stations have been silenced.

Nigeria's woefully erratic electricity supply keeps businesses dependent on diesel generators. Nigeria produces more than 2 billion barrels of petroleum a day, but imports almost all refined fuel because its refineries aren't maintained.


Nigeria's Muhammadu Buhari
AFP | Getty Images
Nigeria's Muhammadu Buhari

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The party of President-elect Muhammadu Buhari on Sunday accused President Goodluck Jonathan's government of deliberately wrecking the economy.

"The whole scenario reeks of sabotage," spokesman Lai Mohammed said in a statement. "Never in the history of our country has any government handed over to another a more distressed country: No electricity, no fuel, workers are on strike, billions are owed to state and federal workers, 60 billion dollars are owed in national debt and the economy is virtually grounded."

Buhari takes office on Friday.

MTN Nigeria, which has 50 million-plus customers, tweeted that cellphone service will start deteriorating in 24 hours if it doesn't find diesel. Some customers already are experiencing problems and Nigeria's landline network collapsed years ago.

"MTN's available reserves are running low and the company must source for a significant quantity of diesel in the very near future to prevent a shutdown of services across Nigeria," corporate services executive Akindale Goodwill tweeted.

The crisis began when oil suppliers, hit by tightened credit lines and unpaid interest, said the government owes them as much as $1 billion for fuel and subsidies going back to October 2014. They said they could no longer afford to supply fuel.

Oil tanker drivers unpaid by the suppliers started striking last week and were joined Thursday by other oil workers.

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The government, reeling from halved international prices for petroleum that provides more than 80 percent of its revenue, is so cash-strapped it is borrowing to pay salaries, the finance minister said earlier this month.

Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala denied the debt on Friday, telling journalists the suppliers are asking the government to pay their foreign exchange differential losses caused by the naira's slump from about 160 to the dollar in December to today's 218.

She accused oil suppliers of holding Nigerians to ransom and said she has asked the Central Bank of Nigeria to verify the figures because "there has been so much fraud allegations and scams in this business of oil marketing."

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