ABUJA, March 28 (Reuters) - The national leader of Nigeria's ruling party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), has criticised the minister of state for petroleum over comments made about fuel shortages that have gripped Africa's biggest oil producer.
An economic crisis caused by low oil prices has created shortages because fuel importers cannot get the dollars needed to buy petrol and the state oil firm has not been able to sign agreements quickly enough to exchange crude oil for gasoline.
Despite being Africa's top oil producer, Nigeria relies on imported fuel for around 80 percent of its energy needs because its four refineries have never reached full production due to sabotage and poor maintenance.
Emmanuel Ibe Kachikwu, appointed both head of the state oil firm and minister of petroleum last year by President Muhammadu Buhari to oversee energy sector reforms, told reporters last week he could not perform magic to end the fuel shortages.
In a 10-paragraph statement entitled "Kachikwu needs to know that respect and good performance will do what magic cannot", Bola Tinubu, who leads Buhari's APC party, criticised the former ExxonMobil executive for comments he said had been "unhelpful".
"The fuel shortage is severely biting for the average person. They are forced to remain in lines far too long, for too much time, to pay too much money for too little fuel," he said in the statement, issued late on Saturday and seen by Reuters on Monday.
"This is no joking matter. Livelihoods and people's welfare are at stake. With so much on the line, Kachikwu's flippancy was out-of-line," added Tinubu, an influential politician and former governor of Lagos state, a commercial hub.
Tinubu, whose power base lies in the ethnic Yoruba southwest, played a crucial role in helping Buhari to win last year's election and to become the first opposition candidate to oust a president in Nigeria through the ballot box.
He rallied mainly Christian elites from the southwest around Buhari, a Muslim northerner, creating a powerful coalition, and the criticism is a rare public rebuke by him of a minister.
The Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), the state oil company, issued a statement late on Monday in which it said it was "determined to end fuel scarcity" within days and that it understood the plight of Nigerians.
"We genuinely empathise with the attendant sufferings and wish to reassure that we are focused and committed to bring an end to this situation," said spokesman Garba Deen Muhammed.
(Reporting by Camillus Eboh; Writing by Alexis Akwagyiram; Editing by Gareth Jones)
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