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Nigeria Not Subsidising Petrol, But NNPC Can Intervene At Intervals, Says Deputy Oil Minister Lokpobiri

Deputy oil minister Lokpobiri says Nigeria would be like Venezuela without subsidy removal and lauded Tinubu’s decision to remove it.

Minister of State, Petroleum (Oil), Senator Heineken Lokpobiri, has attempted to clear the doubts expressed by oil and gas operators, economists, as well as officials of global organisations that Nigeria has continued to subsidise petrol, despite President Bola Tinubu’s declaration to the contrary on May 29, 2023.

Among those that insisted that the federal government was still paying subsidy in recent times were former Bauchi State Governor, Ịsa Yuguda; former Kaduna State Governor, Nasir el-Rufai; and President, Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (PENGASSAN), Festus Osifo.

Others were Chief Executive, Pinnacle Oil, Robert Dickerman; International Monetary Fund (IMF), among others.

But speaking in an interview on the back of the 25th anniversary of Nigeria’s democracy, Lokpobiri stated that the Nigerian National Petroleum Company Limited (NNPC) had the statutory responsibility to step in anytime things were going out of hand.

The minister also said he had been told by the national oil company that Nigeria’s total daily petrol consumption now hovered between 50 million litres and 60 million litres.

However, the figure contradicted the one given by the regulator, Nigerian Midstream and Downstream Petroleum Regulatory Authority (NMDPRA), in October last year.

Chief Executive of NMDPRA, Farouk Ahmed, had told a gathering in Lagos that the country’s domestic consumption of petrol had significantly dropped from 66.7 million litres daily, before the deregulation, to 44.3 million litres per day after. Ahmed said the figure represented about 33.58 per cent daily reduction.

He stated, “Let me say categorically that the president had rightly said, on the day he was sworn in, he said subsidy is gone. The president was misunderstood, clearly. The last government did not make any provision for subsidy in the 2023 budget.

“And I can confirm to you that subsidy is gone. But there could be strategic interventions from time to time. But officially, subsidy is gone. If you look at the Petroleum Industry Act (PIA), the NNPC, as a national oil company, also has a legal obligation to also intervene from time to time.”

He argued that without subsidy being removed, Nigeria by now would have been like Venezuela, stressing that the president is not appreciated well enough for the decision to remove fuel subsidy.

Lokpobiri stated on the television programme that from what he was told by NNPC, the Port Harcourt refinery will start working before the end of the third quarter of the year. The company had scheduled December 2023 for the commencement of operations.

He stated, “I’m not there. I’m not there in Port Harcourt refinery. These were projects that I met on ground. When I came, I visited all the refineries. It is what they briefed me. The brief they gave to me, I told Nigeria that these refineries will be ready some time.

“I also do know that I went to Port Harcourt in December, when it first came on. I’ve also gone to Warri, and advanced work has been done. Port Harcourt, from reports available to me, shows that hydrocarbon has been introduced.

“But the point is that we are doing whatever we can to ensure that we complete the rehabilitation of these three refineries. The report available to me shows that within the next quarter…within means that it could be next week, it could be within the next quarter that hydrocarbon will be refined and be sold to the public.”

Asked why Nigeria was still importing fuel massively when consumption was said to have dwindled, Lokpobiri said it was better to invite NNPCL to defend whatever statements that they had made in public.

He said, “It’s not good, for me, sitting here to speculate whether whatever NNPC has said is right or wrong, but the point must be made that at the time NNPC made initial statements, I was not the minister.

“Now, I am the minister and I can assure you that look, we do an average of about 50 million litres to 60 million litres per day. That is the report they gave to me.”

On daily oil production, Lokpobiri stated that Nigeria was currently drilling an average of 1.5 million barrels per day, stressing that the country has been able to reduce oil theft to the barest minimum, which is the reason for the production increase.

The minister stated, “That is why you’re also seeing part of the output. Like I said, when we came into office, we were doing an average of one million barrels per day. The fact that we’re doing about 1.5 million barrels on the average is a 50 per cent increment. And I can assure you that we’ll do whatever we can to continue to increase oil production.”

Emmanuel Addeh

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