· By releasing 18 modular refining licenses already approved by Buhari
· And to add Imo, Abia, Ondo that were left out
By Ignatius Chukwu
A group that worked closely with the presidency, the petroleum ministry, and the military says President Muhammadu Buhari came close to solving oil theft, artisanal refining, pipeline vandalism, and militancy in the oil region, just by taking one action.
The ex-president had worked from 2017 to find the formula and approved 18 modular refinery licenses for various registered illegal refining groups into cooperatives. All that was left was to release the licenses to their trustee and add two states that were not accommodated, and most calamities would have ended.
The group that worked for all this is also connected with foreign financiers that would fund the modular refineries for the boys in the Niger Delta on ‘Build, Operate, and Transfer’ model. Their leader had gone to most countries including the US to train and to study various models and was said to have gained the trust of the presidency and other sensitive entities to play middle role between the government and the illegal refiners, pipeline vandals, and sundry militants.
In an exclusive interview with IGNATIUS CHUKWU, the leader of the group, Mr Fyneface Dumnamene Fyneface, Executive Director, Youths and Environmental Advocacy Centre (YEAC) gave insight and traced the journey that almost led to release of the already approved licenses.
Fyneface, in the interview, showed how all Tinubu has to do is release the licenses and add Imo, Abia, and Ondo that ought to get three licenses each.
On the exit of Buhari without releasing the licenses to conclude what he started, he said he was not disappointed because his group had been on the project since 2017 as the national facilitator of ‘Project with Artisanal Crude Oil for Refineries in the Niger Delta.’
Fyneface said since Tinubu is an offshoot of the Buhari administration and is also interested in boosting revenue needed to execute many projects, that he must be interested in restoring full oil export to gain where other oil countries are gaining.
Between November 2022 and April 2023, he said, the Buhari administration invited him three times on modular refinery license matter. “First was for me to address the National Council on Hydrocarbons that held in November 2022; the second was on February 13, 2023 when I was to meet with the Ministry of Petroleum Resources on the process of giving my group the licenses; the last was for a final presentation which I did in March 2023 on the same matter.
“As I speak, the memo to issue 18 modular refining licenses as approved through the Ministry of Environment in 2021 is before Mr President (Buhari or any president). I was assured by the Ministry of Petroleum Resources that it was to be treated in the remaining two Federal Executive Council (FEC) meetings before the administration would go. I believe that by the new President is going to approve and authorize the licenses to be issued to YEAC in trust for artisanal refiners in the Niger Delta since all the processes had been concluded.”
He said YEAC is not interested in owning modular refineries but to help midwife the processes by receiving the licenses as alternative livelihood opportunities to artisanal refiners so they can stop illegal bunkering and illegal refining. This way, he said, Nigeria will make more money.
He went on: “We advised that they should establish the Presidential Artisanal Crude Oil Refining Development Initiative (PACORDI). It is a way of legalizing and integrating artisanal crude oil refining into the national economy to become more environmentally friendly, and this was accepted.
The FG went ahead to organize two national summits on this matter in 2021 and 2022 and YEAC Executive Director addressed both summits. “We have been working through the office of the then Senior Special Assistant to Mr President on Niger Delta Affairs, Itah Solomon Enang, before he resigned. We suspect that the spate of resignations (both the special adviser and the minister of state for petroleum) that may have affected the speed of release of the licenses.
“It was after my addressing the conference in March 2022 that Mr President wrote me an official letter dated April 20, 2022, that they were going to partner with us on this. I am using that letter to see how we can work together and have these licenses released.
“I believed strongly that before Mr president would leave office, he was sure to issue them to us release them to oil vandals, oil thieves, etc, to stop what they are doing and use the licenses as alternative jobs. Now, we believe that Tinubu being new and with less encumbrances would order the release of the licenses after probably getting a briefing by the Ministry of Petroleum (now headed by the permanent secretary).
How it will work and the benefits:
On whether the bad boys trust YEAC enough to drop their activities and work with the government through the intermediary NGO, and what the modalities were to ensure success, Fyneface said foreign financiers were ready and waiting for action. He disclosed that the model would be ‘Build, Operate, and Transfer (BOT), saying oil thieves and artisanal refiners are willing to drop illegality if modular licenses came on stream.
He said Modular Refineries Multipurpose Societies have been formed to receive the refinery licenses as was demanded by the FG. “The youths are ready and the financiers are ready. I told the FG not to bother with funding. There are those ready to fund it.
“The model is: FG gives us the licenses; we adopt the BOT model with private partners. We have foreign funders only waiting only for the licenses. They will build it, operate, get their money back, and transfer to the artisanal refiners.
“The artisanal refiners are going to work with them (the financiers) and eventually become owners. That was why the FG asked us to form Modular Refineries Multipurpose Societies to receive the refineries. We have done that in Bayelsa, Delta, Akwa Ibom, Rivers.”
Makes case for Imo, Abia, Ondo
Fyneface still cannot understand why Imo and Abia particularly were excluded in the licenses so far approved when they fall under the category of states that were to be given refining centres for the reason that illegal refineries are operating there.
The YEAC executive director said of the 18 approved modular refinery licenses for the oil region, Imo and Abia and Ondo were excluded. “We are calling on the FG to include them. You cannot give three licenses to Cross River State that is not an oil producing state and has no oil theft crisis and leave out Imo and Abia that are oil states and have oil theft issues.
“In the first place, the essence of the licensing is to address pipeline vandalism, crude oil theft, and illegal refining so government can make money. You have to issue to those areas where those things are going on. Imo and Abia are part of places ravaged by oil theft and illegal refining with attendant fires and blow-outs (such as in Egbema and Ohaji disasters and Owaza in Abia).”
Fyneface appealed to the FG under Tinubu to listen to what he is saying. “I have the knowledge, passion, etc, to drive this. The greatest desire is to have a safe environment, a safer society, soot-free region, fish region, good farms. We no longer want to cast our nets and catch oil and not fish.”
He was reminded that almost every economist is saying artisanal refinery will not work without stolen crude, and without environmental pollution. He was also reminded that making the illegal refiners to buy crude and meet environmental standards could drive them out of business and back to the creeks.
Reacting, Fyneface said his team has considered all these factors. “The youths are ready even with the illegal refining they are doing now in the bush, they are ready to buy crude, so long as you do not destroy their tanks.
“There is huge cost in it. It costs them between N20m and N40m to erect one tank. After this, government forces destroy it. So, they are willing to buy crude oil and refine and make their money. The money they make in a day is more than any money you want to pay them. It is from there that we came up with the model of PACORDI. So, they are ready.”
He said the government tried to distract the boys with pipeline surveillance contracts and to stop them but that it did not work. “Paying between N100,000 and N250,000 per month to youths that can drink N500,000 in an evening looks laughable. The only thing that can keep them from bunkering is to keep them back in the oil business through the PACORDI model. They will make more money by modular refinery system. They will not go elsewhere. They are ready to work with the government, to buy and refine.
“Nobody will go back to artisanal refining if they are all engaged. Yes, a new generation may come up but security agents and the boys will help to crack down on such ones.”
He said why YEAC is not calling on the forces to carry out maximum crackdown on illegal refiners is because government has not done what was agreed, which he said is to provide alternative. “Yes, we know they are committing crime but it is the same crime the boys perceive that those in government are allegedly doing by stealing from same oil. So, be careful how you crack down on these illegal refiners. Use cane and carrot system. That is the reasoning that governs the PACORDI system. We have considered every angle. Let the government try and conclude this process. We are going to lead them step by step to end this crude oil crisis in the region.”
The big boys’ business:
Those close to the oil bunkering business in the Niger Delta insist that it is not for small boys. They think those behind it are big boys, meaning those in government and in the top echelons of the security forces.
Now, Fyneface said the actions lined up in YEAC would not totally eliminate oil theft because of the ‘big boys’. He said: “What we may not end is what the government people are stealing, illegal bunkering, loading the vessels to outside Nigeria. That one is the big boys’ business (men in Abuja, Lagos, PH) and other allied cities, in collaboration with some people outside the country. It’s a cartel of organized crime with some security operatives allegedly fully involved. I am assuring them that we can reduce that one by more than 50 per cent because the stealing is done for them by the local boys. If we engage the local boys and control them, they will not see foot soldiers to work with.”
I have the formula:
The YEAC man went on: “I have the formula. The local boys may even become vigilantes within the system. By the time you give some surveillance jobs and other refining jobs, you will not see local boys to use. We will create an intelligence system to monitor this process. The youths are committed and are listening to us. Let government work with us.
“I am happy with the meeting we have had with the Ministry of Petroleum Resources and the Presidency. Let the FG release these licenses and we will help them address this issue.”
He called on President Tinubu, as he just gets into office, to continue in the steps of Buhari and work with YEAC on that path. “We will ensure that more crude oil comes to him to raise money to run his government and to transition Nigeria from fossil fuel to clean low carbon economy by 2060.
“I have the formula, solution, mitigation mechanism, I have the vision, I have the mission. I want the Tinubu government to work with YEAC to look at those oil theft mitigation methods we have put in place and it is going to help him pump more crude oil, get money to run his government, reduce foreign borrowing, reduce subsidy payment that is very heavy on government. If we have modular refineries running, plus the Dangote Refinery, and if we fix our three existing refineries, so much money will be available in the country and we will borrow less and prosperity will flow in communities and among the people. His govt will become more robust than people will expect. He should work with us to achieve this.”
Fyneface says illegal oil refining has ruined the Niger Delta environment and has altered the environment narrative. Worst of all, he said, the environment is not creating jobs.
“It is rather destroying jobs. This is because the mainstay of the Niger Delta environment has been fishing and farming, but because of massive pollution, oil bunkering, and the new type of pollution we have, the livelihood of fishermen and farmers has been destroyed.”
Today, he went on, the Niger Delta environment is shedding jobs in terms of what jobs used to be. “That is why we insist that the Ogoni Cleanup be done properly for the environment to regrow and restore jobs. That will serve as a model within other areas of the region.
“There are parts of the Niger Delta that are more polluted than Ogoni land. The difference is that in Ogoni, it is caused by the international oil corporations (IOCs) whereas in the other areas, it’s mostly caused by third party and artisanal refiners. We have to clean up the environment because it is shedding jobs.”
The expert suggested what needed to be done, saying, saying it is to be about following the methodology his group has created on mitigation. He said it will bring back prosperity in the oil region.
YEAC boss regretted that a lot of people cannot stay in Port Harcourt anymore because of soot in the land. “People run to Lagos and Abuja and fly into Port Harcourt to work in Rivers State and fly back. We believe that if we can address this issue, piracy will reduce and militancy will reduce because the boys are engaged. We can have an environment where prosperity can thrive.
“The onus of making this to work almost immediately lies in the hands of the new President. We invite him to look into the proposal we have tabled and see how we can collaborate to support his government to bring back prosperity in the Niger Delta environment to create more jobs and more employment.”
He is optimistic that if they kick in the YEAC proposal, the next level is environment clean up of the entire Niger Delta.
“If they do, and jobs are being created for the youths, it will save the environment because even the Ogoni cleanup going on is not safe and not guaranteed because the tap is still flowing.
“There was $10m provided in the Ogoni cleanup project to provide alternative livelihood activity in the $1Bn UNEP Fund to rehabilitate those who had lived on oil theft. That money has not been made available to the youths and those people are still living off crude oil vandalism. When you clean up, they re-pollute them. That’s why we say, let us sit down and resolve these things and make it to work.
“I am calling on the new President to sustain the cleanup and ensure that the fund is released for the right thing. Then we can start to make sure that things are done right in the Niger Delta.”
Fyneface gave examples of ways the environment can support job creation. “If the environment is clean, you can take your mind back to before the discovery of oil in commercial quantity in Oloibiri, everywhere was clean. Some communities used shells of seafoods to tar roads.
“If we can return to that stage, in addition to stopping gas flaring that is going on every day, and convert this to commercial use, piping them into houses as cooking gas, I think the environment will be cleaner and support life.
“Life expectancy in the Niger Delta is below 50 years while other places is above 50. It shows we are living here like in a factory where people die anyhow. People are not benefiting because there is no good healthcare system.
“If we can have a system where things are done properly, sea areas and tourism will revive. Tourism today is zero in the Niger Delta because of kidnapping, militancy, etc. If we are able to solve this, we have the resources to rebuild.”
He said everything needed to make life better is in this environment. “If you can protect it, other things can work. They say if you want to destroy a man, destroy his environment, and if you want to make a man better, protect his environment. If we want to make life better again, rebuild the environment.”
On how the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) should or can do to redirect and rebuild the environment for economic sustainability and job creation, Fyneface said the Commission has a physical role to play in the restoration of the environment of the oil region. “They have much to do in fighting organised crime. That was why YEAC wrote to the NDDC CEO but we did not see him or the Commission. We may have to re-engage him because the NDDC is an interventionist agency.
“What they need to do is first ensure that the resources coming to the Niger Delta through the Commission is used to better the lives of the people. They should make a strong intervention.
“There are organized crimes going on such as oil theft, illegal refining, etc. The NDDC can work with YEAC on its Pipeline and Organised Crime Mitigation Mechanism like preparing these youths to embrace modular refinery, to prepare the youths to become environment-friendly through PACORDI. They can train youths that can help.”
He also believes that Commission can look at the Niger Delta cultural park initiative where people can come and create jobs. “I got that idea from the US, the Crazy Horse Memorial Centre in Dakota. The NDDC can take up some of these projects. It will help the masses. The NDDC has so much to do in the area of playing a principal role for things to work in the oil region.
“We cannot talk about the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Guinea (GoG) without talking about the Niger Delta. The NDDC has responsibility of the region and must be part and parcel of every process that would make the region work.”
Fyneface placed on record of the press in helping the environment activists to speak out in the face seeming reluctance of the authorities to stifle good ideas. He however renewed his call on the new president to release the 18 modular refineries already approved.
The effort so far put by the Buhari administration would be a waste of Tinubu fails to conclude the process right now. “But he can do it, the glory will go to God and the honour will come to him. It will be a big legacy. Failure will affect a lot of things in the oil region.
“For now, oil is the only revenue earner. We have to make the oil communities safer and Nigeria can have more oil pumping out and have more money to run Nigeria.
Solar Mini Grids coming:
The Ogoni-born environmentalist and youth economy activist announced he is creating what he called Solar Mini Grid Electricity Projects in communities. “This is because there are communities without electricity. “Government is unable to supply kerosene, they depend on stolen crude refined into kerosene, diesel and petrol. This is a big issue. I created an idea. If I can work with some international partners and create solar grids, they will stop buying products of oil theft.
“If there is no buyer, the thieves will walk away. Solar powered electricity, by this pipeline vandalism, will reduce. This is very key. This is being developed at Umuolu Community in Ndokwa East in Delta as a pilot project, from there to other communities. And, NXT GRID-Netherlands is working through its Nigerian subsidiary, NXT GRID-Nigeria Ltd as our contractor engaged to build the facility.”