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Wednesday, 25 March, 1998, 21:40 GMT
Nigerian fuel crisis worsens
Nigeria: Oil-rich, but petrol-poor
Armed soldiers are being deployed to keep order at petrol stations in Lagos, the main commercial city in Nigeria, where a fuel crisis is crippling economic activity.

Queues of cars stretched outside the few filling stations with fuel to sell after the military authorities brought in 17 million litres of petrol and pledged to calm fraying nerves in the city of eight million people.

Troops fought off frustrated crowds at petrol stations using whips and their fists. Earlier this week, police had to use tear-gas when irate youths burned tyres on the road in protest.

On Tuesday civil servants held a peaceful march in Lagos when the buses which usually ferry them home, had no fuel.

Defence ministry officials have ordered troops to escort petrol tankers from depots to filling stations.

Businesses in difficulty

Transport costs have rocketed, pushing up the price of food. Many businesses are grinding to a halt.

"It's really terrible. Businesses are suffering triple jeopardy. Normally power supply was irregular and businesses had to depend on fuel to power their generators. But now there is no power, no fuel and costs are rising," said Adekunle Olumide of the Lagos Chamber of Commerce.

Nigeria is the fifth largest producer in the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (Opec), but its four refineries are unable to meet local needs because they are badly maintained and run-down.

The fuel shortage also has its roots in an attempt by the government to reduce Nigeria's dependence on fuel imports.

The refineries complain that they get such a tiny fraction of the government subsidy on fuel that they are unable to cover the costs of production, let alone maintenance of plants.

Calls from hard-hit businesses as well as the World Bank for refineries to be privatised and for the lifting of subsidies on fuel have been largely ignored.

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