The petroleum sector in Nigeria remains one of the many paradoxes of Nigerian life. As a big producer and exporter of Crude Oil, the question on the lips of many Nigerians is, why does Africa’s top producer and exporter of Crude-oil become the biggest importer of refined petroleum products, throwing several trillions of Naira into subsidy payments while we have hundreds of thousands of unemployed engineering graduates roaming the streets, whereas they can be trained in the refining business, thereby saving so much foreign exchange that could be channelled to other sectors like agriculture and infrastructure?
The Oasis Reporters called up a retired NNPC Group Executive Director, Refining & Petrochemicals, Engr. Ian Gregory Udoh (he retired in 2015), what the issues could possibly be.
He gave a few facts to provide some flavour and background to what the situation was about the NNPC Refineries back in 2015 .
“The level of domestic refining has not improved significantly, and has even declined in many respects. There are commendable ongoing drives to bring onboard foreign investors to fund the multi-billion dollar rehabilitation of the refineries, but such work has not yet been met with actual movement on the ground,vis-à-vis improvements in capacity utilisation.”
Thus far, the investors are not biting the bait, thereby constraining full capacity utilisation”.
That was the surprise from someone who should know.
The state of domestic refining in the country has therefore become hostage to greed and political expediency, especially when the ballooning subsidy payments come into focus.
“There is a total absence of the political will to grasp the nettle and deregulate and privatise the downstream petroleum sector. NNPC could retain a minority share in its refineries and other NNPC-owned companies – never the controlling share”, he further added.
Is there any other long-term remedy to this crippling situation ?
From the brief interaction, it is obvious that the only long term strategy remains the privatization of the downstream sector. Investors would not put in their money in any scheme that has government’s controlling stakes in it.