Nigeria’s federal government on Monday announced that the commencement of operations at the 60,000 barrels per day Port Harcourt refinery has been shifted from December 2022 to the first quarter of this year.
In September last year, the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Timipre Sylva, who was speaking after a Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting, had promised Nigerians that the country’s biggest refinery would become functional by December 2022.
But that is no longer feasible, according to Sylva and the Group Chief Executive Officer of the Nigerian National Petroleum Company Limited (NNPC), Mallam Mele Kyari, who both spoke at the President Muhammadu Buhari Administration Scorecard (2015 – 2023) series, anchored by the Federal Ministry of Information in Abuja.
“The promise was to start the fuel plant, which is the 60,000 bpd component of this activity by the last quarter of 2022, but it is not practical. So, we will start it off in the first quarter of 2023, otherwise every other process is going on,” Kyari stated.
Sylva, who concurred with Kyari that the refinery would begin work before March, explained that the government had continued to buy stakes in most privately owned refineries in the country because of the need to ensure the nation’s energy security.
For instance, Sylva noted that the Dangote Refinery in which the national oil company holds 20 per cent shares, Waltersmith where it has 30 per cent and Duport where it holds 30 per cent would come on stream this year.
According to him, once these facilities begin operations, importation of petroleum products into Nigeria would most likely cease.
He further noted that the Dangote had already sealed feedstock sourcing deals with the NNPC.
Sylva reiterated his often-held view that petroleum prices should be market-driven since subsidy is no longer sustainable.
“The management of the supply situation under this subsidy regime is not easy. We must all agree; so much money is being burnt on our cars. But somehow we have to seek funds in order to keep the country wet.
“Sometimes, if you really think deeply, you begin to wonder what magic they are doing to even be able to keep this country wet, considering that you buy something, let’s say for N10 and you are to sell it at a loss.
“And then you are expected to go back and buy the same thing and come back and sell at a loss, so that at every point in time you are looking for more money to continue to buy it because you are mandated to sell it at a loss. If you are a businessman, look at it from that perspective, that you are in a business where you are mandated to sell at a loss to the population,” he argued.
On how he feels, seeing Nigerians buy petrol for as high as N300 per litre, the minister said he has no need to feel bad since he was aware of the happenings in the market dynamics.
“Frankly, if you ask me I will say I won’t feel bad (buying fuel for N300) knowing the actual situation. And if you compare Nigeria to other countries, then you will also understand. Then you convert the N300 to other currencies, you will probably understand.
“A lot of you travel to the United Kingdom and the United States. How much do you buy petroleum products? Even in Saudi Arabia and in the Arab countries that produce crude oil, convert to naira, you will find out that we are not doing too badly,” he stated.
Sylva further stated that the federal government should be commended for improving the security situation in the Niger Delta, which has helped raise crude oil production.
He stated that under a subsidy regime, no investor will come into the country, explaining that when the market is free, businessmen will put in their money.
The minister stated that the federal government has strengthened real-time tracking of supply and distribution and improved security in the operating environment.
He added that the ministry had succeeded in passing landmark statutes such as the Deep Offshore and Inland Basin Acts, as well as the Petroleum Industry Act (PIA).
The minister also listed the gas flare commercialisation programme, which he said was at the final stage of awarding the flare points to potential winners as one of the achievements, stressing that the ministry has encouraged more indigenous participation by facilitating crude access and ease of license approval.
The projected five per cent reduction in the cost of crude extraction, he said, was also achieved and surpassed during the period.
He also said kerosene which now sells for over N1,000 was no longer within the direct purview of the federal government, since the price has now been deregulated, admitting however, that it remains the fuel of the less- privileged.
In his remarks, the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, said beyond what he termed the unprecedented infrastructure development, the Muhammadu Buhari-led administration was leaving behind legacies of revamped security, social investment, self-sufficiency in staples and probity, among others.
Mohammed said critics of the administration that claimed that the government had achieved nothing and those that admitted that it was only in the area of infrastructure that the government had performed were both wrong.
According to him, the Buhari administration would be leaving a legacy of a social investment programme that is unprecedented in Africa and has enhanced the quality of life of the beneficiaries.
“Our pace-setting social investment programmes like N-Power, School Feeding, Conditional Cash Transfer and GEEP (Government Enterprise Empowerment programme) have benefitted millions of our citizens, both young and old, and this can neither be trivialised nor denied,” he explained.
He said that the current administration was also leaving the petroleum sector that could serve the interest of the nation, especially with the new PIA 2021.
According to Mohammed, the Act has provided legal, governance, regulatory and fiscal framework for the Nigerian petroleum industry.
Emmanuel Addeh and Olawale Ajimotokan in Abuja