OPINION: BUHARI/NNPC: WHAT IS IT WITH NIGER REPUBLIC?

Nigeria's president, Muhammadu Buhari

BEVERLY HILLS, December 03, (THEWILL) – Is there anything wrong with the brains of our people in government as manifested in the way they reason and the decisions they make? How can our leaders be making pronouncements and taking decisions that give credence to allegations by some disgruntled Nigerians that certain people in government came to push a clannish agenda?

Following disclosure that Nigeria has signed a contract agreement to begin importation of petroleum products from Niger Republic, the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Timipre Sylva, in a television interview said Nigerians should be proud that the Federal Government is set to resume the importation of petroleum products from neighbouring Niger Republic.

Either he does not know the implications of what he said or he may have been “high on something.”

According to him, “contrary to comments by critics of the government, the plan by the Federal Government to resume fuel importation from its West African brother should not be seen as an embarrassment but rather as a means of encouraging intra-regional trade.”

Featuring on Channels Television’s Politics Today programme, the minister said Nigeria is a big market that needs excess fuel products manufactured in other countries.

His words: “I don’t see that as an embarrassment at all. As a country, Nigeria is a big market, we need products, even if all our refineries were functioning, we will still need extra products.

“Niger Republic produces oil and they are landlocked as a country. They have a refinery that produces in excess of what they require as a country and they offered to sell to us in Nigeria because this is a bigger market.

“In the spirit of regional cooperation, regional trade development, we decided to buy from them. I don’t see anything wrong with that. If your neighbour is producing something that is required in your country and you buy from him, why is that a big problem?

“So, we agreed with Niger to buy the excess of what they don’t require in Niger because this is a big market.

“Nigerians should be proud that we are doing that to encourage sub-regional trade because we have been talking about sub-regional trade for a long time and this is how it should be between neighbouring countries. Niger should import from us what they have and we should be able to import from Niger what they have. Let us encourage intra-regional trade and this is one good example of trading within West Africa.”

Recall that bilateral agreements was signed sometime ago between the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (rtd.), and his Nigerien counterpart, Mahamadou Issoufou, and since then, talks had been ongoing between the two countries – through the NNPC and Niger’s Societe Nigerienne De Petrole. So what is beginning to manifest is the actual implementation of the deal. Sylva may not be aware of this because the agreement was signed when Ibe Kachikwu held sway as the junior minister.

First it was an idea to run a crude oil pipeline of over 600 kilometres from Agadem Oil Field in Niger Republic to the Kaduna Refinery. He uproar from Nigerians may have doused the drive of that project.

Secondly, this same government signed an MoU with Niger Republic to build a 100,000 barrels per day refinery on the Nigerian-Niger Border at Katsina state.

In July 2018, the two Presidents were in Nigeria to sign- off on the negotiated basis of this relationship.

The then Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Ibe Kachikwu in a podcast claimed it was a private sector relationship to build the plant. The private sector will be asked to put in the funding that they’ve indicated that they have, he said.

If we may ask, What does it mean for the Nigerian president and his Nigerien counterpart to sign an MoU on a refinery project, is it not that the two countries are jointly executing the project? You see the deceit in this whole Nigerien infatuation?

Why is our NNPC involved in the project? Is the NNPC the technical partner or a joint venture partner? So many questions! If the private investors have agreed that they have the money for the project, one would have expected them to be asking Nigeria just for the license to build the plant at the border town in Katsina state. Also they should on their own work out a crude oil supply agreement with Niger Republic. Why drag our president into this purely private initiative as we were told? You see!

Now let’s look at it: Niger Republic is a country with one small refinery at Zinder about 260km from the Nigerian border with installed capacity of 20,000 barrels per day. Nigeria has three and a half existing refineries with a combined installed capacity of 450,000 barrels per day. You deliberately ensured the Nigerian refineries don’t work and now you are embracing Niger Republic to meet your fuel needs as a good neighbour, abi?

If the President and his NNPC can hurriedly package this Niger Republic deals, why has it become impossible to also get such quick intervention in bringing our existing refineries back to life even to run on life-support and/or flood our country with modular plants that can do even better than the Chinese Zinder Refinery in Niger Republic?

Except the federal government agrees that the “Nigerien alternative” represents a more patriotic and better business option, it will be difficult to convince the majority of Nigerians that there is no clandestine motives with this infatuation with Niger Republic.

We are going to Niger to buy petroleum products from a refinery that is smaller than even a modular plant, meanwhile, recent data obtained from the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) showed that a total of N81.41bn was expended on Nigeria’s name-plate refineries between January and August this year even when the facilities did not refine a single drop of crude oil all through the period.

So for 13 straight months, the facilities had been incurring debts running without refining any volume of crude oil. Data from the consolidated refineries operations put the volume of crude processed by the facilities from August 2019 to August 2020 at zero metric tonnes.

With a cumulative plant capacity of 450,000 barrels per day, the Nigerian refineries posted a capacity utilisation of zero per cent all through the 13-month period.

And the Group Managing Director of the NNPC, Mele Kyari, had the temerity to publicly tell the National Assembly and the Nigerian public that the corporation deliberately shut down the nations refineries because they no longer make sense to be operated because of the breaches on the crude supply trunklines to the plants.

Is this not another unintelligent and callous comment from the administrators of the nation’s oil business?

Meanwhile, over 53 billion Naira was budgeted by NNPC in 2020 and about N66 billion for 2021 appropriation for refinery maintenance. You see our Nigeria? If we cannot run the refineries due to vandalism of the feedstock supply lines, why is the corporation proposing to expend over N100 billion on maintain the same plants that were shut down over a year ago as he claimed even though we know the refineries have been down far beyond the time he is claiming?

Availability of crude oil feedstock to our three refineries as a result of breaches on the supply lines is only a meagre part of the problem why our refineries have remained comatose all these years. From all indications now, there are people both inside and outside the NNPC and the Presidency who are working assiduously to ensure the refineries don’t work at all. Of course how do you expect them to allow the refineries to work when few people are raking –in billions of dollars on a monthly basis from the crude-for-product swap arrangement that has forced the country to depend almost 100 percent on imported fuel?

Severally it has been said that the security agencies may not be telling us all they know about breaches on our crude oil supply lines which has been alleged to be sponsored most times by different interest groups including people in the NNPC, oil majors, crude-for-product contractors, and then buyers of stolen Nigerian crude.

Hopefully, someone or a group will have the courage to stand up to challenge the Executive and the NNPC on this.

*** Ifeanyi Izeze writes from Abuja. iizeze@yahoo.com / +2348033043009.