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Sale of NNPC Refineries: The President has a point

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With every decision, whether political or socio-economic, President Muhammadu Buhari has thus far made in his first 100 days in office, he has convincingly shown

that he was not trained to accept impossibilities especially where security is the issue.

No doubt, most Nigerians would agree totally with President Buhari’s position that the enumerated problems that continue to weigh down the nation’s refineries are glaringly socio-political and can be solved by any serious government rather than the escapist route of disposing the plants to private operators.

How long can we continue to deceive ourselves as a people? If we believe that private companies would run the refineries better, we need to get to the root of what has been hindering the NNPC from profitably running the plants now that “change” has come.

As at today, the main problem isn’t with running the refineries but with getting the crude oil feedstock to them safely, efficiently and at reasonable costs. Selling the plants will not solve these problems but shift liability to new owners.

Is it not curious that private establishments are so eager to buy the refineries that have been labelled ‘dead and unprofitable to operate’? How will the private establishments overcome the problems mentioned for wanting to sell the refineries?

It is no longer acceptable as good enough excuse that people are compromising the oil pipelines with impunity because they are not seriously deterred. We need as a nation to deploy extremely tough measures to check these saboteurs because if we make the pipelines work, we will get higher and sustainable volume of crude oil supplies quicker, easier, and cheaper to the various refineries. 

And as said by the NNPC Group Managing Director, Dr Ibe Kachikwu, with our refineries coming on full- stream at optimal operations, this country can achieve an annual savings of over $1billion worth of foreign exchange from fuel import substitution aside from gains in domestic sales of refined products and additional savings of over $500 million annually from the petrochemical products of the Warri and Kaduna Refineries and Petrochemical Companies. This is what value addition means, is it not?

The main issue in the NNPC canvass in addition to lack of needed turn-around maintenance, has been the availability of crude oil for the plants which is directly tied to the security of the corporation’s pipeline networks especially those that supplies crude oil to the refineries. 

From all sides of the argument, it is clear that the major problem is the protection of oil pipelines both the ones that supply crude feedstock to the refineries and the network that distributes the refineries’ products to different parts of the country. So it boils down to the issue of security of infrastructures.

The question is: Between the NNPC and the military, who should bear the responsibility of safeguarding the oil pipelines? Almost on daily basis, we are meant to believe that the NNPC and the federal government are one, if this be how come the corporation has been made to bear the heavy brunt of paying for the protection and repairs of its vandalised pipeline facilities even when there is no budget in whatever form for such unforeseen expenses?

The issue of protecting the pipeline networks should no longer be left for the NNPC as the corporation has glaringly shown that it is handicapped to carry out that responsibility given the magnitude, spread, and above all the cost of fixing back vandalised oil pipelines which most times are not budgeted for. With about 250 points being attacked on a monthly basis, and the huge cost of putting them back in shape, there is no way the NNPC can sustain paying for such losses.

The NNPC should completely hands- off issues of oil pipeline protection. This is my view! Anyhow the federal government wants to protect such facilities; they should do it without leaving it to the NNPC as if it has become the corporation’s responsibility to defend/protect critical economic infrastructures/installations in the country. Pipeline protection is a national security issue and should be handled as such.

These days, protection of pipeline is made easy with technology and it is curious why we are not considering deploying available high level technologies including use of drones or even ‘intelligent pigs’ along the system networks. The army and the Navy should be counted out because they have failed woefully in all their task forces in the Niger Delta except the President is going to enforce a mindset re-engineering of our soldiers and naval personnel because without mincing words, they have become a major part of the oil theft and the menace of pipeline vandalism.

As a quick measure, the Federal Government should ask the Nigerian Airforce to take over pipeline surveillance carrying out aerial surveillance and let’s see if we can get a different result from what the Army and the Navy in their joint taskforces had given us in the recent past. 

Also, it has to be emphasized here that no amount of sophisticated military protection can give us anything near a 100 percent desired result without directly engaging the communities (groups not individuals) that host these critical pipeline and other oil infrastructures. This also should be considered by both the NNPC and the Federal Government.

In the interim, the NNPC should continue the stop-gap measures to getting crude oil supplies to the functional refineries which as at today is only the coupled Port Harcourt Plants 1 and 2. Warri is down and out though the measures announced by the NNPC boss can also work for the Warri operation. But as for the Kaduna Refinery: it is still not yet “uhuru”! 

However, the operative word in the psychic of the NNPC must be that whatever is being arranged now to get crude oil supplies to the refineries are mere contingency measures and should not be allowed to assume the norm because they are not sustainable and would only end up create more crisis both for the corporation and the entire nation.

With good management and dedication as we are seeing in the new NNPC, strong political will as our president is providing, and the right attitude, walahi, our refineries can work optimally. And if with all the toughies both exhibited and ascribed, President Buhari cannot stop the spate of oil theft and pipeline vandalism across the country, then ‘we go know say water don pass garri’. God bless Nigeria.

(Ifeanyi Izeze lives in Abuja: iizeze@yahoo.com; 234-8033043009)

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