Nigeria's Buhari advised to end fuel subsidy: sources

Nigeria's President Muhammadu Buhari speaks during a news conference after the Summit of Heads of State and Government of The Lake Chad Basin Commission (LCBC) in Abuja, Nigeria, June 11, 2015. REUTERS/Afolabi Sotunde (Reuters)

ABUJA (Reuters) - Nigeria's new president, Muhammadu Buhari, has been advised by his transition committee to end a fuel subsidy program and privatize Nigeria's four refineries, senior sources in his party told Reuters on Sunday. Africa's top oil producer and biggest economy heavily subsidizes gasoline and relies on imports for the bulk of its domestic demand due to an underperforming refining system. The subsidy, which was revealed to have paid out more than $6 billion in fraudulent claims in 2012, is proving to be increasingly costly. Buhari, who was sworn in as president three weeks ago, is considering the recommendations made in the strategy report produced by a 19-member committee formed from his All Progressives Congress (APC) party. "The removal of the fuel subsidy is one of the recommendations of the transition committee," said a senior APC source, who did not want to be named. "The committee also suggested to Mr President that the four refineries be privatized so that the government stops wasting money on annual turnaround maintenance," he said. A second APC source also told Reuters that these recommendations were contained in the report given to Buhari earlier this month. Buhari's predecessor, Goodluck Jonathan, cut subsidies by 90 percent in the 2015 budget because government revenues have been hit by the slump in oil prices. Nigeria attempted to end subsidies three years ago, doubling the price of a liter of petrol overnight, in efforts to cut government spending. The move angered citizens who see cheap pump prices as the only benefit they derive from living in an oil-rich country, and led to eight days of nationwide strikes. The government later reinstated part of the subsidy to end the strikes. The prospect of the subsidy removal contributed to fuel shortages in the final days of Jonathan's administration as gasoline importers went on strike saying they were owed money from the government. Last week, the state-owned Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) said its four oil refineries would resume production in July. The ailing refinery system generally runs well below capacity, sometimes at just 20 percent, due to neglect and pipeline sabotage. (Reporting by Felix Onuah; Writing by Alexis Akwagyiram; Editing by Tom Heneghan)