Former President Olusegun Obasanjo said he tried to get Nigeria’s oil refineries working but was not successful and suggests President Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s plan to do the same will not work. “Someone told me Tinubu said refineries would work by December. I told the person the refineries would not work.
This is based on the information I received from Shell when I was president,” Obasanjo who twice led Nigeria, first as military head of state from 1976 to 1979 and later as an elected civilian president between 1999 and 2007 revealed this during an exclusive interview with TheCable.
President Tinubu had said in August that the petroleum refinery in Port Harcourt will start production by December 2023 after the completion of the ongoing rehabilitation contract between the Nigerian National Petroleum Company Limited (NNPCL) and Italian firm, Maire Tecnimont SpA.
The resuscitation of the refinery, if completed as promised by Tinubu, will lessen Nigeria’s reliance on oil importation and dependence on foreign refineries. NNPCL said it has been working to revamp the refineries, which were shut down entirely in 2021 and produced little or no fuel over the past decade. Obasanjo, however, said that the refineries will not work as long as the federal government (FG) is keeping hold of them. He explained that when he was the president, he invited Shell to a meeting and told them he wanted to hand over the refineries for them for help Nigeria run but they bluntly told him they would not.
Obasanjo added that he was shocked and he repeated the request but the leadership of Shell did not change its position. “When the meeting was over, I asked their big man (MD) to wait behind for a little chat. Then I asked him why they were so hesitant on not taking over the refineries. He said did I want to hear the truth? I said yes,” Obasanjo said. “He listed four reasons. One, he said Shell makes its money from upstream and that is where its interest lies. Two, he said they only do downstream or retail as a matter of service. “Three, he said our refineries would be bad business for them, that globally, companies are going for bigger refineries because of the economics of refineries. Four, he said there is too much corruption in refineries.”
The former president said he thanked Shell MD for his honesty and he knew that Nigeria had a big problem in its hands. Obasanjo further said that he had virtually given up hope on the refineries until what he thought was a ‘miracle’ happened. “Aliko Dangote and Femi Otedola approached me and said they would be interested in buying two of the four refineries. They said they would buy 51 percent stake in Port Harcourt and Kaduna,” he stated. “I was over the moon. I said, finally, this burden would be taken off the neck of the government. They offered $761 million and paid in two instalments. “Unfortunately, Umaru (President Yar’Adua) cancelled the sale and returned the refineries to NNPC. Today, we are still where we were.