Heineken Lokpobiri, Minister of State for Petroleum Resources (Oil), said he is holding the Nigerian National Petroleum Company Limited (NNPCL) accountable for the completion dates of the rehabilitation of Nigeria’s moribund refineries.
Mr Lokpobiri disclosed this while responding to the questions asked by the State House Correspondents at the end of the three-day retreat at the Presidential Villa.
When asked when the rehabilitation of the refineries will be completed, Mr Lokpobiri said: “Yes, the rehabilitation of the refineries if you could remember, was started by the previous administration and as part of the President’s directive, I have gone round all the refineries and from what they have briefed me, Port Harcourt has 3 phases, so Phase 1 will be ready by the end of this year.
He added that for the Warri refinery, Phase 1 is expected to be ready by the end of the year while Phase 2 and 3 in Port Harcourt will be ready next year. According to him, the Kaduna refinery will be ready by the end of next year.
“That is what they said and I am holding them accountable to their own words. I will be going there in the next few weeks. I go there regularly and sometimes without a schedule so that nobody plans for me. I just appear to see what is going on,” the minister said.
“I believe that those refineries if we are able to achieve some level of rehabilitation by the end of this year, will also improve our domestic refining capacity. But that is not even the problem, the Dangote refinery too is coming. We have a lot of modular refineries that we have given licenses but the challenge has been the feedstock. Even if you have the modular refinery do you have the crude to be able to refine?
“That’s why I said unless we produce sufficient quantities, even if the refineries are rehabilitated there will be no feedstock. So my challenge is to ramp up production so that we can see how we can feed not only the big refineries but also the modular refineries, these are the real employers of Labour and they will do the magic.
“What I have done is to also liberalise the process to acquiring licenses. Before I came they said sometimes it takes so long to acquire licenses, so I said I don’t want to know your face Provided the requirements are met, bring them to me I will sign within 24 hours and I have signed them.
“I have also said I don’t want to give people licenses and they use it as souvenirs, if you are given a license you must use it within the terms or else I will cancel it. Just like I didn’t know you before signing the license, I will also cancel without blinking an eye,” he added.
Mr Lokpobiri noted that the easiest way to get out of the country’s fuel crisis is to increase production.
“If we don’t, the midstream and downstream will also fail. We must produce the crude to refine before distribution. But our problem right now which we inherited is the low level of production which was a result of insecurity issues, lack of investments and all other concerns.
“But we are addressing all those issues and I believe that in the next few months, we will be able to come up with a different report. But we have addressed the issue of insecurity, we have rekindled the confidence of international oil companies to come back and begin to reinvest.
“We are addressing some of the issues they have raised with us which has to do with both fiscal and regulatory and so on and so forth. So I believe that as a ministry we have set some very ambitious numbers for ourselves that before the end of the year, we should be doing at least close to 2 million barrels per day,” he said.
Nigeria owns four refineries with two located in Port Harcourt and one each in Warri and Kaduna. But for many years, the refineries have been moribund despite Turn-Around-Maintenance (TAM) efforts.
This has resulted in the importation of petroleum products for domestic use for many years to cover the gap in the refinery’s output, costing the nation dear in terms of lost revenue.
In 2015, former President Muhammadu Buhari pledged to revive the country’s minimally performing refineries to optimum capacity and boost foreign reserves by ending the importation of refined fuel.
In November 2018, the Buhari administration fixed December 2019 as the deadline for three refineries to attain full production capacity to end petroleum importation in the country. Later in the month, the deadline was shifted to 2020.
Even though the 2020 deadline was not realised, the government spent N10.23 billion in June 2020 on three refineries that processed zero crude.
In 2021, NNPCL said repairs had started at Port Harcourt Refining Company (PHRC) after FEC approved $1.5 billion for the project. Also, in August 2021, the Federal Executive Council approved the award of the contract for the rehabilitation of the Warri and Kaduna refineries at the combined total sum of $ 1.5 billion.
Last September, the then Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Timipre Sylva, said the country’s biggest crude refinery in Port Harcourt would restart operation in December after it had completed a revamp that began over a year ago. But PREMIUM TIMES analysis in October last year showed that the timelines were unmet.
Again, in January 2023, Mr Sylva assured that part of the refinery would be completed by the year’s first quarter, but the government has again failed to meet its target.
Mr Lokpobiri had in August assured that the Port Harcourt refinery would become functional by December while Warri and Kaduna would be ready by the end of next year.