The managing director of Port Harcourt Refining Company Limited (PHRC) Engr Ibrahim Onoja, and the acting managing director of Warri Refining and Petrochemical Company (WRPC), Mrs Usua Ofonmbuk Edet, are currently under pressure to meet the December deadline set by the federal government for the refineries to resume full production.
The federal government has said the December deadline for Port Harcourt and Warri refineries to resume operations remains unchanged.
The government has insisted that the deadline for the two strategic business units of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation Limited (NNPCL) to resume operations is sacrosanct.
The December timeline for the local refineries to resume operations was one of the promises made by President Bola Tinubu after he automatically cancelled the oil subsidy regime in his inauguration speech on May 29, 2023, causing the price of PMS to jump more than three-fold, from about N194 litre to N617 a litre, with the attendant hyperinflation and hardships among the masses.
There is unanimity of opinion that local refining would help reduce and stabilise the price of petrol and shield local consumers from the fluctuations and vagaries of the international oil market.
Consequently, the federal authorities said the helmsmen of the two plants would be held responsible if their establishments failed to meet the December deadline for local refining.
The two plants would kick-start operations in December by locally refining 160 barrels of crude oil per day.
LEADERSHIP learnt that while the Warri refinery would produce 100bpd by December, the Port Harcourt refinery would make an initial contribution of 60bpd during the same period.
These revelations were made when the minister of state for petroleum (Oil), Senator Heineken Loikpobiri, led top officials of the ministry and those of NNPCL to Warri Refining and Petrochemical Company (WRPC) on Friday.
Lokpobiri was accompanied by the group chief executive officer (GCEO) of NNPCL, Mele Kyari, other top management officials and managing directors of the strategic business units of the oil conglomerate.
Lokpobiri, after receiving briefing from Kyari, embarked on a tour of the moribund plant, especially to ascertain the extent of work done in the ongoing rehabilitation of the refinery by a Korean firm, Daewoo E & C.
LEADERSHIP recalls that the rehabilitation of the two plants were awarded by the administration of former President Muhammadu Buhari after many years of neglect.
The failure of the successive administration to authorise routine maintenance of the refineries, codenamed Turn Around Maintenance (TAM), led to their epileptic operations and eventual collapse.
This development halted the nation’s local refining capacity and consequential sole reliance on importation of petroleum products.
However, Lokpobiri after the facility tour of WRPC on Friday, pushed the officials of WRPC and Port Harcourt to the media to seize the opportunity to intimate Nigerians on the level of readiness of their establishments to meet the December deadline.
The officials said the December deadline was irreversible, adding that the ongoing rehabilitation of the plants was almost completed to pave the way for test running and commencement of operations.
According to According to the construction manager, Femi Fagbuaro who spoke for the MD of WRPC, the plant would start with 100bpd, which represents about 60 per cent of its installed capacity in December, and progress to hit optimal production capacity afterwards.
On his part, the MD of PHRC, Engr Onoja, said the plant would commence operations with 60bpd by December and ultimately hit over 200bpd in December 2024.
Wrapping up the interview session, Lokpobiri said he was in the plant to assess the daily progress of work in the rehabilitation of the plant.
Lokpobiri said: “That is why I have come so that nobody will say I am in Abuja and making statements there, It is deliberate as I have called the MDs of the different refineries, who are there to be giving us daily reports about the progress made. You heard me when I said I am going to hold them accountable for the dates they have given to Nigerians.”
“For now, I want Nigerians to be optimistic that if this rehabilitation is completed, we will put them to the best use for the benefit of Nigerians.
“Government owns NNPCL and the government owns the refinery, and it is important to the government. I want to see how this place can be fully rehabilitated so we can stop or reduce the quantity of products imported into the country.”
The minister further emphasized the inherent advantages of getting the nation’s refineries into full operations.
“If we have fuel, the more productive we will become for the betterment of the economy, especially the current forex crisis. We will need less forex to expend on importation of petroleum products.
“So the projects are very important, that is why in the steering committee, we decided that we are going to be rotating our meetings.
“Today we came here (WRPC) for our meeting; we have seen, the next one will be in Kaduna, the next one will be held in Port Harcourt. But I will also come here again and, as much as possible, to ensure that we meet and keep to the timeline given to us by the contractors,” the minister said.
According to Lokpobiri, government is not carrying out the rehabilitation directly, but through contractors which had given a timeline, with staff on the ground also giving periodic updates.