Startling revelations as Obasanjo lays stone for Nigeria’s 2nd private refinery take-off in Bayelsa


– Obasanjo says refinery license owners only wanted to lift crude oil

– Praises Buhari for seeing at least one success out of 22 licenses

– Gov Dickson bemoans rot found in Bayelsa’s two oil blocs

– NNPC says Nigeria soon to be fuel exporter by partnering to re-fire 3 refineries\

By Ignatius Chukwu 

Ex-president, Olusegun Obasanjo, soon after firing a hot ‘quit notice’ to President Muhammadu Buhari, soon after turning round to hug the same man in faraway Davos, soon after sneaking to the creeks of Otueke to embrace his sulking second successor, Goodluck Jonathan, and soon after hobnobbing with the state governor, Seriake Dickson, went to a rural community to flag off construction of a first-ever private refinery project. He laid the foundation stone of a multi-million Dollar refinery project in the swamps of Obuna in the outskirts of Yenagoa, Bayelsa State capital.

Obasanjo, who courted Ali Baba the great comedian to a stage contest without success, revealed the real motives of those who craved for refinery licenses (he issued 18), saying he later found they merely wanted to gain access to lifting of crude oil.

He thus praised Buhari not only for granting 22 licenses, four more than he (Obj) gave, but for being lucky to see one license being put into use, especially in the Niger Delta.

The host governor, Seriake Dickson, said such gesture by Buhari was a welcome development that should be followed up with award of oil blocs to Niger Delta people, but regretted that the two oil blocs that Obasanjo awarded the Bayelsa State oil company had been bugged down by what he called ‘rots’. He said he would reveal his findings on a later date.

The leadership of the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), represented by the managing director of the Port Harcourt Refinery, Shehu Malami, said Nigerians should be ready to become exporters of fuel instead of importers as strategic partnerships have been entered into to re-fire the three refineries in Nigeria to hit 90 per cent capacity utilization and add to what the Dangote complex would do, all before end of 2019.

An official of MRS Petroleum, Amina Mina, said no one took the promoter of the upcoming refinery in Bayelsa serious when the medical doctor (Azikel) walked into their office waving a refinery license. She said they laughed him off like they did many others, knowing they had no intention or capacity to refine crude oil. She said things later turned out that Azikel Group owned by a medical doctor and former commissioner of health in Bayelsa State, Eruani Azubapu Godbless, was a very serious and determined entrepreneur. She said MRS has signed on as the off-taker of the project, meaning they would be the owners of the products to be produced at the 12,000 bpd Azikel Refinery.

Important guests that were allowed into the expansive sand-filled 19.9 hectares of land were amazed to what was later described by experts as the first private refinery in the Niger Delta. It was described as a project with the economic dynamics capable of redressing the fortunes of the oil state and opening the state up for inflow of advanced technology. “It is a new dawn in the economy of Nigeria and it will ignite the dreams of Bayelsa people and other Niger Deltans”, an observed told a group of newsmen.

Insight into Azikel Group

Godbless, simply called Azikel, gave insights into the concept and expressions of the Azikel Group and the refinery experiment.

I must salute the contributions of Gov Seriake Dickson as a key promoter of this project. This is delightful, and history is being made here in Bayelsa State. We are located near a Shell gas facility. We are about to refine crude oil right here at home. It will address incessant fuel scarcity and crisis here in Bayelsa State and in the Niger Delta.

Construction stage will create over 1000 jobs. Already, young engineers from Bayelsa State are abroad studying this system. They are to start from day one (USA) and be part of the start-off.

Azikel Group has interesting background. As a little boy, I was called Azikel Boy by my mother who is here today, as short form for Azubapu. She did not know that she was choosing a name for such a conglomerate. So I had to fall back on ‘Azikel’ as a corporate name. Today, the Group has Azikel Dredging, Azikel Aviation, Azikel Power, and now, Azikel Petroleum (DAPP).

In 2015, President Buhari awarded a license to Azikel Petroleum for 12,000 bpd refining company. This was to liberalise the industry. This is what will end fuel scarcity and end importation of fuel. We are extremely grateful for this. Nigeria will soon be net exporter of fuel. President Buhari also awarded an on-grid license in power generation to the group.

There are challenges but the worst days are over. This place was a deep swamp forest and it scared me the first day I stepped into it. I was full of doubts. This place is 19.9 hectares of swamps requiring 2.2 million cubic tonnes of sand. It requires $16m worth of investment. It took nine months of sand-filling, and six months to allow it to settle before construction work could start here.

The project is being executed in two phases; land clearing, fencing, roads of 3.1km distance, then administrative blocks, technical operation building, storage tanks. These jobs amount to 45 per cent completion of the project. The second phase is engineering and fabrications by technical partners. This is 65 per cent done. This is the first of its type: petrol, kerosene, aviation fuel, diesel, etc. This will add value to Nigerian crude and deal with scarcity. It is close to the finishing line.

The governor has been keen supporter of this project. All government agencies in the state have been put on alert to help out where necessary. The certificate of occupancy (C/O) is to be signed right here today, all being as a result of the governor’s demonstration of the state government readiness to support this all-important project.

The ex-president, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo (PhD), has been supportive, promoting the credibility of Azikel Group internationally. This has given us openings around the world. We are glad to be supporting governments at all levels to create jobs.

Olusegun Obasanjo

It’s true that this is not the first time refinery licenses awarded in Nigeria. President Buhari gave 22, but only Azikel is working. We gave 18 but none was used. You can see the reason we should salute Dr Azikel. If the colonial masters had seen the oil earlier, they would have pushed ahead our independence. Now, an indigene has broken the yoke.

I thank President Buhari for giving more licenses than I gave and I thank God for Azikel for actualizing it. License owners give all kinds of excuses but you (Azikel) are doing it. License owners just wanted it to gain access to crude oil. They went to Dr Dakaoru (now king of Nembe) to lift crude oil. If he did anything wrong, I would have fired him.

I want to thank the technical partners in this project. If I came here and did not see them, I would have had doubts. If I gave 18 licenses and none is working, why would I have trusted this one? Their presence is show of confidence to Bayelsa, Niger Delta and all of Nigeria. I therefore urge them to bring in more of their co-investors out there abroad. Tell them its safe here, its nice here.

Bayelsa is one relatively secure, peaceful and stable area. Azikel, whatever you have done to gain the confidence of these foreign technical partners, continue. Tell Nigerians to do same. Some have spoiled our chances but not you. Look at massive land clearing and reclamation work done here. It’s another evidence of seriousness. When foreign investors come, they first talk to local investors. Tell them, it’s not too bad, its good enough here. They will check it out and consider coming down.

Room for expansion: There is room for more. Soon, you will double the capacity of this refinery. Let the community always dialogue. To the IYC, when I was in government, it was anger from your quarters. God has created Nigerians, so, we all will have to benefit from the resources of the nation.

I introduced the policy of marginal oil field. Who do we blame for mismanaging them just as the governor does not know who to blame for mismanaging the state’s oil blocs. I urge the governor to seek out those who can perform and encourage them (industry).

Advice to Bayelsa State: Three areas that can easily make Bayelsa State a leading economic state: Medical tourism, ICT, Oil/Gas.  Everybody within and outside Nigeria can easily mark Bayelsa State out as a medical hub. The kind of equipment I saw in Bayelsa State is not even in most of the foreign hospitals people flock to. I will be coming here for medical check up henceforth.

Gov Seriake Dickson:

I most sincerely thank President Buhari who found the Azikel Group fit and proper for two licenses; in petroleum and power. Those are the kinds of gestures we in this region expect. When we see this kind of thing, we appreciate it. We need more, and we even need deliberate encouragement to compensate our people in an industry that has harmed our people. Each time I see Buhari, I will convey our appreciation and ask for more. The handshakes we ask for are beyond refinery licenses but oil blocs. We won’t be tired of asking because it’s a legitimate case.

Relocation of oil companies to the oil region was ordered by the Acting President but we are still waiting. We hear of refineries being granted licenses to locations far away from feed origins. I don’t know why they want to resort to pipelines to pipe crude from the Niger Delta to far away places, even to Niger Republic. I find that strange. What is the business case in it? This is at a time when people are talking of pipeline vandalism. We do things the wrong way; and 50 years has shown the line, see the kind of results we are getting. I am not particular about one occupant of Aso Rock.

Oil bloc: They are ancestral assets (property) of our people. That is what they give away as oil blocs. We are making a case for inclusion. Include us! Under Obasanjo, a lot of good things happened to us; we got the ministry of petroleum, a vice president, our state oil company got two oil blocs, etc. When I came back as governor, I found a lot of rot. I won’t disclose what I found. More will be said later.

On Azikel: He is a big dreamer; Obasanjo’s presence lends credence to this, and shows all in Nigeria and in the world that this project is doable. Government creates the stability but it is the duty of the private sector to create the jobs. It takes off pressure from the Government. We battle oil majors to set up offices here but no way, they prefer to stay away and pay taxes to other states while crude and consequences of their operations say with us.

Land: If you don’t convert it to commercial use, it will remain dormant. I did what Obasanjo did in Abuja; I used same contractors he used from Abuja to do digital certificate of occupancy scheme. For this, title to land is easy in Bayelsa State, just 60 days because of Land Use Act. I sign Certificates of Occupancy every week. There is no politics about it in Bayelsa because I do not want to know who owns it because its your right as Bayelsans. Some are coming to hurry before election comes but I smile. It’s not so with me.

Bayelsa is a very stable state. Investors, feel free to work with Azikel Group. No security issues will arise in this project. You listened to what the king of the domain said. We must appreciate him on this because it changes our narrative. What they say about this state is not entirely correct. In six years our state has done much in area of policy to create a new economic era.

Thomas Fuller, Director, Refinery Operations

Work has been going on for more than two years now, and now, more activities would be witnessed. It will be operated with international standards because modern technology is what is being installed to be in use here for efficiency and effectiveness. We are working with reputable contractors with international standards from Houston, UAE, Washington, etc. Big companies such as MRS are also lending support. This will generate many employments; direct and indirect.

Alfred Diete-Spiff, first military governor of old Rivers State

This is a unique occasion. 1956 was Oloibiri, 2018 is the next milestone for oil in Bayelsa State; a refinery. This is therefore a clear sign of things to come.

Azikel is a great achiever; I call him the ‘Teinmebo’ of Bayelsa. I commend President Muhammadu Buhari for this license. Let us rejoice over this.

Edmund Dakaoru, Amanyanabo of Nembe: Obasanjo is my mentor (he served as petroleum minister under Obasanjo). Azikel is a man who has smashed many paradigms. The story of private refineries started in the 1980s with the likes of MKO Abiola, Dantata, Michael Ibru, etc. It is an attempt to get into the upstream sector of the oil industry and this very technical. Obasanjo pushed the concept of value-added. This will boost job creation and taxes in Bayelsa State, at least I was present when Oloibiri was drilled. This indeed is great effort, and this entrepreneur is from Oloibiri axis. We are celebrating. Advice: Don’t ever alienate the host communities; adhere strictly to quality control from start to finish with constant monitoring.

Native voices:

A youth leader from the community, Pere Kumba; said: “No more fighting, stealing, etc

If FG wants to empower anybody, see Azikel. He can carry everybody along.”

Secretary-general of the Ijaw Youth Council (IYC), Alfred Kemepado: “This is a great day in IYC. Our motto is Resource Control by all Means possible; it has been misappropriated. This is the real meaning of our slogan. We are aware that from economic power, one can gain political power. We urge the authorities to develop Nigeria from oil regions; this way a region can do $16Bn budget. Militants should militate against poverty instead of building camps, build industries. The FG should give tax holiday to investors coming to Niger Delta. Security from economic point is the best.

FG should deploy good policies to create real security. To people of the oil region, cry not for return of industries because nobody will develop your area for you. Let our people (investors) come and do it.

The Ibenanowei of Gbarain Kingdom, King Funpere Akah: I am a very happy king today because this is the 4th company to locate to my kingdom in my time. This is a very peaceful kingdom. Give investors a chance. Do not pester them with requests. Let us give Azikel a chance to develop us. If investors go away with their projects, what will we do. I feel like dancing right now. We hear power is also coming.


Senator Paulker Emmanuel for Bayelsa Central:

Our sons are not in the apex of oil in our land. Azikel is in the right direction. Refining has been problematic, you gave license but not many have be a success. FG takes the flaring tax but communities suffer the effect. Subsidy scares private sector investors in refinery. FG should give total deregulation but should check price exploitation. This is how to encourage the likes of Azikel because oil industry is an international one.

NNPC MD Represented by the MD of PH Refinery, Shehu Malami

It is worthy to note that President Buhari’s dynamic leadership has inspired Nigerians to do this kind of venture. This kind of project addresses issues of grievances and fuel scarcity. NNPC thanks Azikel Petroleum. We support. There is high demand for refined products; 35 to 55 million litres of petrol per day; kerosene is 10m litres. Nigerian spends huge foreign exchange on importation of refined products. Thus, private refineries will boost in-country refining.

The NNPC urges others to join in this kind of venture so Nigerians can become exporters by 2019. NNPC is engaging partners to raise funds to rehabilitate the three refineries up to 90 per cent capacity. More refineries will create enormous opportunities. North and Central Africa would look up to Nigeria instead of looking up to Europe. Nigeria is well poised to meet consumption capacities. We hope to commission this refinery soon.

 (First used in BD Sunday)