Any hopes about the nation’s four refineries finally delivering by the end of next year must have waned given the statement credited to the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Ibe Kachikwu, at the ground-breaking ceremony for the 5,000 BPD modular refinery by Walter Smith Petro-chemical Limited at the Ibigwe-Ohaji in Ohaji\Egbema council area of Imo State, last week:
“It would be sad if by the end of 2019 we are still importing fuel from abroad”. Short of offering categorical statements on the status of the individual refineries and what citizens should expect of each in the near future, Nigerians must be disappointed that the minister would again lapse into obfuscation – something that is increasingly becoming the hallmark of his stewardship at the petroleum ministry.
Just in case the minister needed reminding, Nigerians did not have to wait for the last three years only to be offered further tepid assurances that fall short of terminating the disgraceful scourge of fuel importation that has remained a source of much bleeding on the national treasury. In any case, should the turn-around maintenance (TAM) process be clothed in secrecy as the petroleum ministry appears to be doing at the moment? What makes TAM contracts so especial to be open-ended as the minister appears to suggest?
Again, it bears stating that the issue of what to do with the four refineries, all of which had become obsolete and so could not deliver anything near capacity is at the heart of the nation’s current fuel conundrum. With successive TAMs bungled by officials who saw the exercise as opportunity to milk the country dry, we would have thought that the choice facing the country had become fairly simple and straightforward – which is to get private sector operators to buy the refineries to save the treasury the billions routinely spent on their TAM.
The Buhari administration of course thought otherwise, hence the current bind. Part of the correlates was last year’s atrocious demand by the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) for a whopping $1.8 billion to carry out TAM. To that we can add the latest suggestion coming from the minister that the corporation is nowhere near getting any of the refineries working at full capacity despite the huge funds already committed.
It is most regrettable that the country has again been led on a path that leads nowhere, a path that has proven not only extremely costly but presents the country as being unserious. To think that the path is not only predictable but has all along been predicted makes it even worse.
It is not too late in the day for the Federal Government to halt the travesty. The starting point is for the Buhari administration to reconsider its obduracy on the refineries, more so in the light of latest developments. As far as we can see, nothing can be gained in further pouring scarce public funds into the entities even when there are no guarantees that they would ever deliver optimally. In fact, the path of wisdom would seem to dictate that the government cuts its losses by opening up the sales process without further delay to enable interested investors acquire them. After all, what Nigerians want is availability of fuel at the pumps; it is not so much about who is producing the fuel.
For now, the National Assembly should step in to ascertain the amount already spent on the TAMs vis-à-vis the actual state of work. The enquiry should also seek to find out whether such amounts are provided for in the corporation’s budget, while helping to lift the veil of secrecy covering the TAM contracts.