- Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo has announced "accelerated privatisation" paralleled with economic liberalisation as one of the major areas of reforms in the country. Concrete action in the country's troubled downstream oil sector is already planned.
President Obasanjo has unfolded a reform programme, which he said would "focus principally on providing relief to the average Nigerian." The broad areas of the reforms are accelerated privatisation, liberalisation and private sector development, anti-corruption, transparency and accountability, public reform and governance and industrial reforms.
The Nigerian President told the National Assembly, while presenting the 2004 Budget, that federal government already had achieved considerable success in the privatisation programme. This in particular went for the telecommunication, where reform had created many new jobs.
The sector awaiting the most profound reforms was however the downstream sector of the petroleum industry, which is failing to provide Nigerian consumers with oil products such as gasoline despite the fact that Nigeria is sub-Saharan Africa's biggest oil producer.
The Nigerian government so far has been unsuccessful in its attempts to partly privatise the sector's key problem; the four Nigerian oil refineries. Foreign oil companies have demanded wide-ranging liberalisation of the downstream sector and full control of the refineries' management before considering buying them.
President Obasanjo has now answered this demand by meeting in Abuja with representatives of the Nigerian National petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Petroleum Products pricing Regulatory Agency (PPPRA), the Major Marketers as well as members of Independent Petroleum Marketers to review activities in the downstream sector.
According to a press release signed by the Presidential Spokesman, the Nigerian government recognises "teething problems" in the sector's liberalisation process, which began in October 2003. This included "access to foreign exchange to place orders in a timely manner, inadequacy and vandalisation of existing distribution network and access to import and depot facilities."
At the Abuja conference, President Obasanjo informed the downstream sector that several decisions had been taken to meet the reform's "teething problems." Access to foreign exchange was to be improved by the Central Bank of Nigeria, state governors and security agencies were ordered to address the issue of vandalisation of oil pipelines and facilities and a trade malpractices committee would be put in place.
President Obasanjo further announced a general deregulation of the downstream sector and a phasing out of subsidies. He finally said the government would reform key aspects of power generation, transmission and distribution so that the National Electric Power Authority could be privatised.
Nigerian trade unions have already expressed distrust in the announced privatisation, liberalisation and in particular, in the phasing out of subsidies. The unions demand a significant role in the decision-making process of cases affecting jobs and consumer prices and have on several occasions launched powerful strikes, answering similar government initiatives.
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