Rather than view Tuesday’s signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between Nigeria and Niger Republic for the building of a new refinery as a boost in the country’s refining capacity, stakeholders, and civil society groups view it as an incredibly parochial move aimed at satisfying sectional interest, the Guadian reports.
In fact, some experts are calling for the immediate cessation of the Federal Government’s involvement in the project, insisting that it was unreasonable for a country, which has failed to optimise the production capacity of four existing refineries, to enter into a new MoU for a new plant, instead of fixing the comatose ones.
President Muhammadu Buhari, and his Nigerien counterpart, Mahamadou Issoufou, signed the document for the proposed facility, which is expected to come on stream between two to three years, and produce 150, 000 barrels per day (bpd).
Former President, Nigerian Association of Petroleum Explorationists (NAPE), Abiodun Adesanya, who is also the Managing Director, Degeconek Nigeria Ltd, noted that government would have considered extending a pipeline from Niger to the Kaduna refinery, instead of building a new refinery in Katsina.
Adesanya maintained that government may need to clarify the need for a new refinery close to an existing, comatose facility in Kaduna.
Similarly, the chairman of Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (PENGASSAN), and the Nigeria Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG) Joint Committee on the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB), Chika Onuegbu, said the government is sending conflicting signals to the people of the Niger Delta with this development.
Onuegbu said the seeming abandonment of refineries in the Niger Delta and the seaports are issues that should give the Federal Government concern regarding its commitment to the development of the area, stressing that if it claims that it wants the Niger Delta to develop and all these things are happening, then it needs to review commitment to the region.
For a top industry expert, who pleaded anonymity, the project was only designed as a strategy by the North to ensure that the region is self-dependent in case the country is restructured.
Though he admitted that the initiative would help the country rid our roads of tankers and reduce bridging of petroleum products, he noted that rising security concerns in the region (North) could obstruct the plan from coming to fruition.
The source also noted that the arrangement of getting crude from Niger Republic, may eventually hurt the country as it would be another source of outflow of foreign exchange unless the refinery would be able to finance the crude independently.
On his part, the Managing Partner, Chancery Associates, Emeka Okwuosa, described the project as elusive, stressing that government should have waited for the success of over 45 private refineries currently licensed in the country before constructing a new one.
He is of the view that the project would not pass any economic test, just as it does not have the support of the masses. Consequently, he wants the government to scrap it and take on projects that would meaningfully impact on the masses.
The Director, Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD), Idayat Hassan, equally expressed pessimism about the viability of the project, stating that it would not be beneficial to Nigerians.
To her, the project is only designed to favor Niger Republic, knowing well that the Nigerian government has performed poorly in managing existing refineries.
The Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC) is bothered that the government has not been transparent in the project so far.
Its Executive Director, Auwal Musa Rafsanjani, said while the government needs to explain steps it has taken to improve the fortunes of existing refineries, there was the need to make the contract open for all and sundry to monitor the project.
He noted that without accountability and a clear timeline, the project would end like one of those that are already on the ground.
The Pan-Niger Delta Forum (PANDF) says it has always been aware of a ploy by the Federal Government to get an alternative source of oil for the country, so that the Niger Delta crisis would not affect it.
According to the group, this desire is what has been driving exploration activities in the Chad Basin, and now the Katsina refinery project.
Sara-Igbe, who said government may allude to insecurity as a possible reason for not encouraging the establishment of new refineries in the Niger Delta, argued that ironically, the Federal Government has never made any concrete effort to pacify the people of the Niger Delta, and may now have resorted to encouraging investment outside the region as a means to arm-twist the region.
The PANDF spokesperson also took a swipe at the federal ministers of Niger Delta extraction, whom he accused of pursuing their personal interests at the detriment of the region, stressing that it was disheartening that the region’s sons who hold strategic ministerial positions have decided to abandon, downplay their region’s interest.
Views of stakeholders notwithstanding, Minister Ibe Kachikwu, believes that the initiative remains one of the best steps this administration has ever taken.
Speaking shortly after the signing of the MoU, Kachikwu said: “We hope that as the project goes over the next two years, we will probably have more feed-stock to power a much bigger refinery,” he said.
Already, a steering committee, chaired by the minister, and a senior level joint technical team, with a December 2018 deadline for the unveiling of a roadmap for the project has been constituted.