Nigeria: Strike creates long lines at gas stations

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Panicked Nigerians formed long lines at gas stations to stock up on fuel and diesel Tuesday as the second day of a seven-day strike by Nigeria’s gas tanker drivers union took hold in Africa’s top oil-producing country.

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by Yinka Ibukun

LAGOS, Nigeria (AP) — Panicked Nigerians formed long lines at gas stations to stock up on fuel and diesel Tuesday as the second day of a seven-day strike by Nigeria’s gas tanker drivers union took hold in Africa’s top oil-producing country.

Lines spread like tentacles from gas stations in urban areas and spilled onto the roads, contributing to the traffic gridlock in Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial capital.

Nigeria is a major supplier of crude oil to the United States and many other countries, but the nation’s decrepit state-run refineries force it to rely heavily on fuel imports.

When the imported fuel arrives in Nigeria’s ports, it is delivered to gas depots by tanker drivers. But the drivers’ union said that they are tired of being victimized by security officials.

Igwe Achese, chairman of the Nigeria Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers, told The Associated Press on Tuesday that the tanker drivers started the strike on Monday to protest the November killing of a driver at a joint police-army checkpoint in northern Nigeria and the seizure of two tankers by the army.

The union’s gas tanker drivers’ unit is demanding that the government compensate the family of the killed driver and that the two seized trucks be returned before the end of the week.

Tanker drivers strikes are common just before the Christmas holidays as city-dwelling Nigerians prepare to travel home for the festivities.

Only a day after this year’s strike was announced, some gas stations have already stopped selling gas and long lines of motorbikes, cars, and buses have built up in gas stations that were still selling in Lagos and the country’s capital, Abuja. People also stood at gas stations with jerry cans to stock up for their generators, required in a nation where little electricity reaches the public.

Tayo Oshineye, 22, tried to restore some order to the chaos Tuesday by closing and shutting a small gate at a gas station in Lagos whenever it got crowded. He’d allow the occasional car in — in exchange for a small fee.

"In this country, people are just cheating," Oshineye said. "Some people have 250 million naira ($1.6 million) and they are still looking for money while others have worked their whole lives and they’ve earned up to one million naira ($6,600). Government should do something about the fuel scarcity."

Raphael Jubwe, 50, had been in line for two hours.

"By the time it’s my turn to be served they might say that the fuel is finished or that the managers asked them to stop selling so that they can make more money by selling on the black market after hours," Jubwe said.

Commuters like lawyer Patrick Chiazo worry about the ripple effects.

"It’s only been one day and my bus fare has doubled," Chiazo said. "If this continues, food prices will go up. … It’s a sad story. The same sad story."

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.

(AP Photo/Sunday Alamba)

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