By Akintayo Balogun
It brings great joy and glad tidings that Nigeria would finally have a working refinery after several years of failed promises from successive governments in Nigeria. I recall that this project was announced at your 55th birthday celebration and today, the project that was still on the drawing board as of that day has become a reality. Sir, you have achieved a feat that the entire democratically elected leaders of Nigeria have not been able to achieve in the 24 years of Nigeria’s democracy despite plunging so much funds into existing refineries, yet nothing could be accounted for. One of the promises of the outgoing administration during its campaigns in the general election preceding 2015, was to build a refinery for Nigeria every year for four years. Unfortunately, not a single stone has been laid on another in the building of a refinery or fixing of existing ones. Instead, all we saw was humungous amounts, being proposed for the repair of existing refineries which never came to light. This is why your decision to break the jinx brings ‘hopeful’ joy to Nigeria. Today, Nigeria can be proud of having the largest single-train refinery in the world with a single crude oil distillation unit. It is also noted that at full production, the facility will process about 650,000 barrels of crude oil daily, transported via pipelines from oil fields in the Niger Delta, where natural gas will also be sourced to supply the fertilizer factory and be used in electrical generation for the refinery complex. We know without being told that the emergence of the refinery will create several jobs for Nigerians as it is being estimated that about 135,000 persons will be employed permanently and several others will also be employed in various capacities in the refinery.
It is estimated that this refinery can take care of the entire demands/needs of Nigeria for refined petroleum products and would still have more than enough for exportation. This is indeed a remarkable achievement and will go down in history as one of the biggest exploits, achieved by a private individual since the existence of Nigeria.
Our hopes for the World’s largest refinery
We are hopeful that the full commencement of activities at the refinery would bring an end to the importation of refined petroleum products that has hunted and impoverished the Nigerian purse and economy for nearly 40 years now. The burden of having to even export crude oil to other countries would greatly reduce as Nigeria can now process its crude oil without having to export and then repurchase same as refined products from other countries.
We are also hopeful that the subsidy era would most likely come to an end, except if the government of the day wants to play politics with it. Ordinarily, since the crude is now being refined within our borders, the government should not have to bear the burden of paying for fuel subsidies again. Nigeria can even decide the price of its crude oil without the interference of the international market to save the economy from the burden of paying fuel subsidies.
We are hopeful that the prices of all products emanating from the refinery will be reasonable, stable, and affordable to Nigerians. It is reported that the facility is expected to produce Premium Motor Spirit (petrol), diesel (Automotive Gas Oil), aviation jet fuel, and Dual-Purpose Kerosene (DPK), amongst other refined products. Of particular interest for me is the availability and affordability of kerosene amongst other products, which is largely being consumed by the lower class and downtrodden in the society. This would go a very long way to make the existence of the refinery a breakthrough for the Nigerian people who live largely below average standards.
The challenges with vehicular movement to and from the depot
As we eulogize your achievement in bringing home a working refinery, I however have entertained certain fears as to the conveyance of the refined products from the factory to the various corners of the country. One of the major concerns that lock through my mind is the gridlock that would most likely be caused by reason of the activities of one refinery feeding the entire nation. The import of this is that the entire petroleum trucks in Nigeria, from the 6 geo-political zones would be moving to and from Lagos State. I want to believe that there would be an arrangement to move refined products along the outer waterways to other States within the coastal lines of Nigeria. However, refined products coming into inland States (which is in the majority), would most likely be transported by trucks and tankers. Unfortunately in Nigeria, we have a very poor railway network system that would have assisted in the movements of these refined products across the States of the Federation. Furthermore, our leaders have verbally and politically dredged the Niger River since 2009, and till today, we are yet to see any major ship make an entry up the Niger. Our pipelines have not enjoyed much capacity either for them to be able to transmit refined products across the country. This situation now leaves us with the singular option of transporting the majority of these products through the bleeding roads.
My mind draws to the terrifying gridlocks that always occur at Kabba junction and the River Niger bridge at Kotonkarfe, both of Kogi State. Trucks heading to or coming from the cement plant at Obajana, Kogi State are often held up in some pathetic traffic jams that leave commuters in frustration and terrible anguish. Vehicles are forced to take alternative routes through bad road portions, which are usually mounted by touts and sometimes armed robbers, who take advantage of the situation to levy commuters are even rob them of their belongings. The dread of going through that route always comes to mind each time there is a journey to be embarked on in that direction. This has been the situation for several years now. This situation probably added to the unfortunate crisis between the management of the factory and the Kogi State government.
Lagos State is already endemic with the traffic crisis. It is regarded as the 3rd most stressful city in the world due to the traffic situation. The inflow and outflow of trucks ladened with petroleum products will definitely add to the already cumbersome situation in town. It is in view of this possible development and the most likely gridlock that is underway that I write to you Sir to prepare the machinery of the refinery for this development. We don’t want Lekki-Ibeju and its environs to become another Kabba junction; we don’t want our youths to have reasons to block a major highway due to an accident involving a Dangote truck that might have claimed the lives of commuters. We don’t want to have to maneuver between heavily loaded fuel tankers to be able to find our way around town. The situation is a dicey one and we hope that this should be handled with astuteness. We are hopeful that the management of the refinery would find a way to make our waterways and railways useable for the movement of refined products, to avoid or reduce the use of our already burdened and dilapidated roads to the barest minimum.
We remain hopeful that the coming in of this refinery would drastically, if not bring an end to several challenges that have faced the oil sector and the Nigerian economy at large. We remain proud of this initiative and we hope that Nigerian politicians can also learn from you and execute projects that Nigerians and Africa at large can be proud of.
Please, accept my highest regards.
Akintayo Balogun Esq.
A concerned Nigerian.
Akintayo Balogun Esq., LL.B (Hons), BL, LL.M, is a legal practitioner in private practice and based in Abuja, FCT. A prolific writer, public affairs analyst and commentator on national issues. email@example.com, 08051051659