By Lilian Okenwa
A sour Valentine it was for many Nigerians as the adulterated fuel-induced scarcity failed to consider even that special day. And the affliction is still biting harder. Vehicle owners and other users of the precious Premium Motor Spirit (PMS) continue in the seemingly unending battle to procure that priceless liquid. Sadly, Petroleum marketers, hint that the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) Limited is yet to evacuate the adulterated fuel from filling stations. It does not seem like good news is anywhere in sight.
To spice up the already very salacious situation, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has alleged that NNPC is seeking to withdraw N201 billion from the national coffers to clean up the tainted fuel. NNPC had since admitted that four firms MRS, Oando, Duke Oil, and Emadeb/Hyde/AY imported adulterated fuel into the country, leading to fuel scarcity across the country and a 10-day shortage in national fuel reserve capacity.
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Meanwhile, the Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ) has asked the federal government to pay compensation to Nigerians whose vehicles have been damaged on account of adulterated fuel. That is yet to be addressed.
However, the group managing director of NNPC, Mr. Mele Kyari has apologised to Nigerians over the importation of the off-spec PMS. Kyari spoke when he appeared before the House of Representatives Committee on Petroleum Downstream. While assuring that the distribution of petrol would nomalise in the weeks ahead, Kyari said: “We regret this situation. It is completely unavoidable; we didn’t see it coming. We apologise to Nigerians. We didn’t see this coming.” Mr. Kyari no doubt is touched by the plight of Nigerians following this undesirable situation, but Nigerians would like to know what happened to quality control when the contentious fuel was first brought into the country. If there is a body or group whose job is to ensure the quality of petroleum product before it goes into circulation, where were they when the adulterated PMS escaped into the system? Also, what sanction is being meted out to the importers of this fuel?
This is not the first case of adulterated fuel importation in the country. At least one of the affected companies had been named in previously polluted fuel importation. In 1996 an Italian vessel named ‘Ostention’, loaded with toxic fuel, entered the country’s territorial waters. The result was deadly. Again, before the Oando toxic fuel saga of 2008, Nigerians in 2003, were exposed to a similar experience.
In a July 2020 report, The Guardian UK disclosed that according to new laboratory analysis, “black market fuel made from stolen oil in rudimentary ‘bush’ refineries hidden deep in the creeks and swamps of the Niger delta is less polluting than the highly toxic diesel and petrol that Europe exports to Nigeria.”
In the article titled: “Petrol sold to Nigeria from Europe ‘dirtier’ than black market ‘bush’ fuel.” The Guardian further disclosed that: “Shell, Exxon, Chevron, and other major oil companies extract and export up to 2m barrels a day of high quality, low sulphur ‘Bonny Light’ crude from the Niger delta. But very little of this oil is refined in the country because its four state-owned refineries are dysfunctional or have closed. Instead, international dealers export to Nigeria around 900,000 tonnes a year of low-grade, “dirty” fuel, made in Dutch, Belgian, and other European refineries, and hundreds of small-scale artisanal refineries produce large quantities of illegal fuel from oil stolen from the network of oil pipelines that criss-cross the Niger Delta.”
Although the UK-based newspaper has not made any earth-shaking discovery with its findings, what beggars understanding is why the Nigerian government is playing games with setting up modular refineries. Regularly, troops of Operation Delta Safe, discover and immobilise illegal refining sites in the Niger Delta. Notwithstanding the layers of pollution illegal refining is adding to the region, a mix of greed and high unemployment in that area has made illegal crude refining an attractive business. Some environmental groups are even pushing for the government to fund small refineries, which are cheaper and simple to run, hoping to create jobs and end illegal refining of oil.
According to the Director of Programmes and Administration Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN), Mike Karikpo: “Security agencies in the Niger Delta region aid, influence and protect oil thieves and artisanal oil refining activities. This is, therefore, a matter of national security and President Buhari needs to wield the big stick and cleanse the Augean stable that has become the security architecture in the Niger Delta region.”
But elder statesman Chief Edwin Clark insists that the government has not been transparent nor shown needed concern on the issue. To Clark: “You cannot say you don’t want illegal refinery, and at the same time you have no plans connecting to the modular refinery, that’s why we are having problems in the area. If the modular refinery has been established with the local people fully participating in it, it will reduce stealing and illegal refining; it will also reduce environmental degradation. The people in the area will have something to do.”
Speaking at the virtual inauguration of the 5,000 barrels per day Waltersmith modular refinery in Ibigwe, Imo State on 24 November 2020, President Muhammadu Buhari Buhari said the deployment of modular refineries was one of the four key elements of his administration’s Refinery Roadmap rolled out in 2018.
In 2015 during his electioneering, the retired General promised to build more refineries and fix the old ones if elected the President of Nigeria in the next four years. His government had promised to build modular refineries in the region to engage jobless youths, who resort to unruly operations and militancy activities to push out 1,000 barrels of refined petroleum products daily from each of the refineries to meet the supply shortfall in Nigeria.
As Nigerians continue to wait, a past President of Nigerian Association of Petroleum Explorationists (NAPE), Abiodun Adesanya, admitted in an interview with The Guardian that strategically, modular refineries will slow down illegality, “but those things don’t happen in a day. The problem is that government sometimes make pronouncement without the details. The Federal Government needs to get to work with technocrats to make the plan work.”
The president has barely a year left after an 8-year tenure and the country is worse off. In the second quarter of 2021, NNPC announced that it spent a whopping sum of N101.69 billion to service three non-operational refineries in 2020. Ironically, the three refineries did not process crude in the year under review.
By August 2021 the Federal Executive Council (FEC) approved $1.5 billion (about N600 billion) for the rehabilitation of the Port Harcourt refinery and $1.484 billion for the rehabilitation of both Warri and Kaduna refineries. At this time, about N3.8 trillion has been poured into Nigeria’s four derelict petrochemical refineries without any result being recorded. In the meantime, instead of following up on the promise of modular refineries, the Federal Government has thrown its weight on the refinery being constructed by Dangote Petroleum and Petrochemical Refinery. It has since acquired a 20 percent minority stake of $2.76 billion in the project. As far as Nigeria’s Federal Government is concerned this is a preferable option.
Unfortunately, it is the ordinary Nigerians that are suffering. The same ones who, being gripped by General Buhari’s messianic spell, launched him into power.
Okenwa, a lawyer and publisher, writes from Abuja