Getting Nigeria’s Refineries Back on Track

If there is such a thing as a music album
on Nigeria’s economic woes, then the perpetual sing-along song of the
nation’s moribund refineries should be on it. Not many depressing
reproductions of the tale of national failures are told without saying
something about it. It is recognized as a challenge that needs to be
overcome; but there has been a lot of talk about resurrecting the
refineries over the years, all to little or no effect on the ground.
Until recently.

Nigeria’s minister of state for
petroleum resources, Dr. Ibe Kachikwu has announced that the Port
Harcourt Refining Company (PHRC) and the Warri Refining and
Petrochemical Company (WRPC) now produce a combined volume of seven
million litres of petrol daily. The PHRC produces 5 million litres of
Premium Motor Spirit (PMS, or petrol) daily while the WRPC puts out 2
million litres of the product per day. According to Dr. Kachikwu, the
Kaduna Refinery “will soon be back in production.” The possible benefits
of this reported revival include the slashing of the actual price of
petroleum products, as the cost of refining crude oil abroad is factored
out. Incidents of petroleum product scarcity should become more
infrequent as the supply and distribution of these products across the
country become more efficient. Nigeria should be able to save itself the
stress of exporting crude oil for processing abroad. It should save a
lot of money too.
The seeming reluctance of various
administrations to fix the refineries has befuddled the average
Nigerian. There have been battles fought over the small matter of
whether refineries should be privatized or left in the hands of the
government. The argument in favour of the former position rests on the
manifestation of textbook government inefficiency in the running of its
patch of the oil industry. Private sector involvement has been touted as
crucial to the restoration and proper functioning of the refineries.
However, the mood of the government at the moment leans towards keeping
them close to its chest.
The former minister for petroleum
resources, Diezani Allison-Madueke had said that the turn-around
maintenance of the refineries was delayed due to the level of decay at
the plants, but that a timetable had been drawn up for the repairs to be
completed to raise the production capacities of the refineries to an
average of 90 percent. Before the present attempts to restore the
refineries, the turnaround maintenance had not been carried out on the
refineries since 1992. Fortunately, our refineries do not have to remain
monuments that remind us of our government’s apparent lack of political
will to deal with pressing economic issues.
Although something is finally being done
about the four refineries, there is still a danger that these efforts
may be rendered less valuable by Nigeria’s perennial bug- a poor
maintenance culture. Unless this age-old demon is banished to the
farthest reaches of our socio-economic realm, we may come back to
wailing to the tune of the decrepit refinery song.

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