Queues for petrol still dot many Nigerian cities and villages. This is to tell government that importation would never solve the country’s challenges with fuel. Groups that once challenged governments over the matter have long gone to other affairs, seeing how selective governments remain about matters on which they heed advice.
Nobody bothers government any longer about the domestic refineries, which are oscillating between public and private ownership. In moments of apparent concern or fitful wakefulness, government announces privatisation or sale of refineries. After predictable public outbursts rejecting the proposal, our listening government relents. A long bout of silence ensures.
What appears uttermost in the minds of Nigerians is getting affordable fuel for their vehicles and to run their power generators, without which they are guaranteed darkness. Many parts, these days, go for weeks without electricity. Where it is available, it is at most epileptic. The concentration on getting through each day has taken Nigerians where their governments want – loss of focus on monumental national issues.
It was in the midst of this that President Goodluck Jonathan during a visit to Namibia, signed an agreement for a refinery in Walvis Bay. A consortium of Nigerian businesses is building the refinery that would depend on crude from Nigeria for its operations.
We find the President’s official involvement in the venture absurd. Our refineries in Kaduna, Port Harcourt and Warri are not working. Government’s coffers are replete with files of failed turnaround maintenance of the refineries, and 18 licences for private refineries issued in 2008. Sixteen of the licencees set up tank farms for fuel importation.
In May 2011, government signed MOU with a Chinese firm that proposed to build three refineries in Bayelsa, Kogi and Lagos States. A year after, some American investors signed agreements with government to build six modular refineries within 30 months at $4.5 billion each. None of these projects took off and government seems indifferent. At a time of rising unemployment, why would our President lead Nigerian businesses to build a refinery elsewhere?
Why did he encourage them to invest abroad when a refinery with its ancillary industries can galvanise the development of small and medium businesses, creating jobs across sectors?
Nigeria has done a lot for Namibia, the former South-West Africa. Our contributions to its liberation from colonialism, as well as that of South Africa, Angola, Mozambique and Zimbabwe are well known.
Further assistance to Namibia cannot be to our detriment. A better option would have been to build the refinery in Nigeria and export the finished product to Namibia. When the President makes a show of divesting Nigeria, we are in for more troubles than is obvious.