With 26 days to the end of December, the deadline for the completion of the Port Harcourt Refinery revamp, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) is facing mounting pressure to deliver on its promise.
On November 23, the state-owned oil company confirmed that the Port Harcourt refinery will take off in December 2023.
“I can confirm to you that by the end of December this year, we will start the Port Harcourt refinery,” Mele Kyari, the group chief officer of NNPC Limited said during a meeting with lawmakers on November 23.
Apart from Kyari, Ibrahim Onoja, the managing director of Port Harcourt Refining Company (PHRC), also assured that the procurement process for the rehabilitation of the refinery was 98 percent complete.
“Our long lead items are on site; instrumentations are on site. We have completed most of the procurement that we need to do. The refinery has gone over 98 percent,” Onoja said on Arise TV.
However, analysts who spoke to BusinessDay say until the facility commences operation on the said date, it will be difficult to convince Nigerians that it is not going to be business as usual.
“To be candid, I have no idea anymore about what will happen, particularly as the goalpost has been shifted many times,” said Jide Pratt, country manager of Trade Grid.
“As we postulate and count on the promise yet again, the need to ensure we produce 1.6 million barrels of oil per day (mbpd) at least in December is critical to making these projects happen,” he said. “I would be pleasantly surprised if the PHC refinery is up and running by January 2 in the new year.”
Luqman Agboola, a Lagos-based energy analyst said the December deadline for Port Harcourt, and any of the other refineries in the country is unrealistic.
“They gave two such deadlines under Ibe Kachikwu, as minister of state (Petroleum Resources); they gave one under Timipre Sylva, and now they’re giving another one. This should be the fourth or even the fifth one,” Agboola said.
“So, what is the ground for believing them this time around? What is the basis for believing them? And the GCEO of NNPCL does not have a history of saying the truth,” he added.
Agboola noted that several government officials have made similar pronouncements in the past without any results.
Nigeria has imported more than 5.52 billion litres of Premium Motor Spirit , popularly called petrol, since the removal of the petrol subsidy on May 30, 2023. This is despite the high foreign exchange crisis across the country.
“The 2024 cut-off date to exit petrol importation is illogical and unconvincing considering our present situation with modular refineries,” Dan Kunle, a global energy business advisor with experience working with various energy agencies, said.
“The first hurdle is getting the refineries to function in at least 50 percent capacity, the second hurdle is securing crude oil for them to work with,” he added.
The first government official to pledge Nigeria’s end to petrol importation was the late Rilwanu Lukman, Nigeria’s former oil minister between 2008 and 2010.
Lukman promised the then government was committed to ending Nigeria’s petrol importation by fixing the chaotic condition of its four state-owned refineries.
“Nigeria would revive earlier plans to privatise the facilities as part of a strategy to wean the country off its dependence on imported fuel,” Lukman told Reuters on 27 February 2009.
In 2012, former President Goodluck Jonathan also assured Nigerians the country was on the path to ending the importation of petroleum products.
“If in the next 10 years, this country is still importing petroleum products, then those of us who have the opportunity to be here when we die, should write something behind us, saying we did not rule this country well, because we must stop the importation of petroleum products,” Jonathan told State House, journalists, in November 2012.
In 2014, Jonathan rehashed Nigeria’s resolve to end the importation of petroleum products by 2017.
Before taking office in 2015, President Muhammadu Buhari and his party, the All-Progressive Congress (APC), repeatedly criticised past governments for failing to fix Nigeria’s refineries.
When oil prices fell in 2015, the then opposition leader urged the government to “stop stealing from Nigerians and allow them to enjoy the relief that has come to consumers of petroleum products globally.”
In his response to the fuel scarcity in the country in March 2015, Buhari criticised past governments and former President Jonathan for failing to fix refineries and leaving Nigerians at the mercy of fuel imports.
In the interview, which lasted 23 minutes, Kachikwu promised to deliver on the completion of the refineries, noting that he was committed to ending Nigeria’s importation of petroleum products.
“2019 is the target time… I target 2019. If I don’t achieve it, I will walk…I put the date and I will achieve it,” the minister stated during an interview on the BBC World Service programme, HardTalk, anchored by Stephen Sackur in 2017.
Olufemi Oladapo Soneye, NNPC’s corporate communication officer, however, dismissed the doubt.
Soneye, speaking with BusinessDay on Monday, insisted that the company will meet the December deadline for the Port Harcourt Refinery to run again.
“Yes, it will take off by month end”, Soneye said.