December 31, (THEWILL) – Contrary to expectations anchored on the renewed hope agenda of the Bola Tinubu Administration, the Port Harcourt Refinery, again, failed to resume actual production in December 2023 as promised. And this is roundly disappointing.
During the nationwide strike by organised labour in July 2023 to protest the excruciating hardship resulting from the removal of fuel subsidy, President Bola Tinubu gave Nigerians the assurance that the Port Harcourt Refinery would resume production in December, 2023.
At a meeting with the leaders of organised labour in the State House on August 2, 2023, the President said that the refinery would start production after the completion of the ongoing rehabilitation contract on the facility between the Nigeria National Petroleum Company Limited (NNPCL) and Italian firm, Maire Tecnimont SpA.
The NNPCL and other government officials had maintained at different fora that the December completion target of the refinery, which had consumed humongous resources, would be met to boost domestic production and reduce the high cost of importing refined petrol.
However, as in previous cases, the NNPCL failed to meet the target. Sadly, we are inundated with a cacophony of communications that point to different directions apparently designed to pull the wool across the eyes of Nigerians when it was obvious that the December target was a wild goose chase.
In a press statement signed by NNPC Chief Corporate Communications Officer, Olufemi O. Soneye, titled “NNPC Ltd Fulfils Promise, Delivers Port Harcourt Refinery … Achieves Mechanical Completion, Flare Start-up of Refinery’s Area 5 Plant” and released on December 21, the national oil company claimed it had achieved its target of returning the facility to production this month.
“In our quest to ensure that this refinery is re-streamed to continue to deliver value to Nigerians, we made a promise that we will reach a mechanical completion of phase one of the rehabilitation project by the end of December and get the other plants running in 2024. Today, we have kept those commitments,” it quoted NNPCL Chief Executive Officer, Mele Kyari as announcing during a facility tour of the plant.
However, industry experts and inner members of the refiners have countered the claim by NNPC, maintaining that the refinery is far from the state of resuming actual production.
Among these is Engr Alex Ogedegbe, a former Managing Director of Port Harcourt and Kaduna Refineries at different times who explained that the so-called fulfilled promise was a hoax.
According to him, the latest terminology, ‘Mechanical Completion and Flare start-up’ were never part of the original definition of NNPCL, as the target to be achieved by December 31, 2023.
“Moreover this purported achievement advertised, has no practical effect to the public expectation, which was that the older, 60,000b/d refinery would start production for local consumption!
“Mechanical completion can only be achieved, if and when all the progress statistics quoted in the NNPCL press release had reached 100%. Only thereafter can testing and commissioning of the refinery begin.
“From the analysis of the information published so far it does not appear that the refinery can start any production in the foreseeable future,” Ogedegbe disclosed in a statement, adding, “It is also noteworthy that the main contractor, TECHNIMONT did not promise any mechanical completion or production start-up dates.”
Most disheartening is the disclosure that the recent action by NNPCL merely allowed a picture of the flare to be taken, on the pretext that the refinery had started operations.
Inside sources disclosed that the event picture was misleading as the flare was shut down immediately after maintaining that production could not happen as the rehabilitation work was not completed.
They also insist that Port Harcourt Refinery cannot make any products in the foreseeable future, because the units cannot take in crude oil for processing. They maintain that rehabilitation work has NOT been completed.
“The Federal Government and NNPC know this truth, but they will not admit it publicly. In fact, no crude oil has been supplied to the refinery to date, for the same reason,” said Ogedegbe.
The development is most embarrassing. Nigerians are eagerly awaiting the outcome of President Bola Tinubu’s promise to Nigerians that Port Harcourt Refinery would resume production in December 2023. Alternatively, it will amount to a serious breach of public trust for the facility to continue to wait for a real completion date, especially as the refineries are seen as a conduit for draining the nation’s oil revenue and impoverishing the citizens.
Nigerians need to know why the Port Harcourt Refinery, again, failed to resume actual production in December, 2023 – a trend that has been in vogue for several years, leading to recent intervention by federal lawmakers.
The Senate on October 24, constituted an ad-hoc committee to investigate all contracts estimated at over N11.35 trillion awarded for the rehabilitation of the four moribund refineries in the country.
We call on the Senate to publish the report of its committee that probed the unending rehabilitation of the nation’s refineries at such a humongous cost, yet the nation continues to rely wholly on imported petroleum products.