Femi Folaranmi, Yenagoa
Recently, history was made in Obunghan community in Yenagoa Local Government area of Bayelsa State, with the ground-breaking ceremony of the first private refinery on the soil of the Niger Delta community. The ceremony was witnessed by very important personalities in Nigeria’s political and economic spheres, including former President Olusegun Obasanjo.
But more importantly, the man behind the project, Dr. Eruani Azipabu, is from Emadike in Ogbia Local Government, the same area, where Oloibiri, the community where oil was first discovered in commercial quantity in Nigeria, is located.
Eruani is president of the Azikel Group, a conglomerate of businesses spanning dredging, petroleum refining, power generation, aviation, construction and engineering,
In the days of the National Integrated Power Projects (NIPP) privatization, Eruani inaugurated Azikel Power, a subsidiary of the Azikel Group, and participated in the bid for the acquisition of the Gbarain power plant. He lost in the bid and came second as the reserved bidder. In the last quarter of 2015, the President Muhammadu Buhari administration granted him a 500MW on-grid power licence.
Excited by the industrial growth powered by Azikel Group in his tenure, Bayelsa State governor, Seriake Dickson, said he was proud that a Bayelsan, a major player in the private sector, had chosen to re-industrialise the state and the Niger Delta in general by investing at home. He stated this as he signed the certificate of occupancy for the landmass designated for the Azikel Petroleum Refinery and the Azikel Power Project.
Said the governor: “We are talking of ownership of oil blocks because that is a legitimate demand. We are yet to see the demands and directive by the Federal Government that oil companies should relocate to the Niger Delta. I don’t know of any business that justifies pipelines crisis-crossing several areas for building refineries while they haven’t built refineries from the source of crude oil. In all the oil-producing areas around the world, the activities of those companies are located where the resources come from. We must examine our own conduct and what we do. We are waiting for the oil blocks. What the Nigerian government sits down and calls oil blocks are in fact and in truth the ancestral properties of the Niger Delta. They are pieces of our ancestral properties given away at our expense. We are not saying others should not be included. But if we are not included, it would be wrong. The investment will take off all the stress and pressure on us. I have signed the certificate of occupancy for 99 years, in line with the Land Use Act.”
Eruani’s close associates said his decision to venture into oil was informed by his quest to alleviate the sufferings of the Niger Delta’s people and Nigerians from the long human and vehicular queues at filling stations, acute short supply, importation of refined crude and the burden of incessant increase in pump price. According to the group managing director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, Maikanti Baru, Azikel Refinery has set the record as the first to show its seriousness among those that were granted licences.
“From the initial refinery licences granted by President Muhammadu Buhari, Azikel Refinery is in the forefront on delivery of the refinery, having achieved tasks in the phase I, II and III and a record performance of attaining 65 per cent completion.”
At the event, Obasanjo said that he doubted the seriousness of the project at the initial stage, as none of the 18 private refinery licences granted in his tenure moved to site. He said Buhari was very lucky to have committed persons, particularly Eruani, among those that got the licences. He descrtibed Eruani as irrevocably committed to building and operating the first private modular hydro-skimming refinery in Nigeria.
Obasanjo further commended Buhari and his government for the initiative and urged other Nigerians who were given licences to emulate Eruani, noting that there was space for all to operate under a conducive environment provided by government.
“In 1956, the colonial powers couldn’t turn the hands of the clock. If they could, our independence would have been deferred by a few years. I understand that Buhari gave out 22 licenses. But this is the only one that is being actualised. Before then, we gave out 18 licenses. Not one was actualised. We thank Buhari for giving four more licenses than we gave. He’s lucky that one is being actualised. They give all manner of excuses, including insecurity and oil prices. But those excuses they gave are still there. They were not genuine entrepreneurs. They were after collecting licences to get crude oil,” he said.
Through the project, which is promoting the industrial growth of the Niger Delta, it was gathered that over 10,000 jobs, going to direct and indirect beneficiaries, would be created. Eruani said Azikel Refinery was located on 19.9 hectares of land and would be the first conversion greenfield refinery built in Nigeria since the mid-1970s.
It was also gathered that Azikel Refinery would refine Bonny Light crude oil, and produce premium motor spirit, kerosene, jet A1, diesel, LPG and heavy fuel oil, among other by-products.
Buoyed by the hope on the horizon, Eruani averred that he had never been more confident than now.
“The race towards the finishing line is in sight. We are running with the baton to the finishing line, and I am most confident that we will get there. We will be the first-ever indigenous refinery to dispense refined petroleum products to Nigerians,” he said.