Uncertain Prospects for Port Harcourt Refinery Restart as Doubts Surface Over Deadline

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The hopes for the Port Harcourt refinery’s resumption of fuel production by December 2023, following its Turn Around Maintenance (TAM) that began in 2019, seem to be hanging in the balance as doubts emerge from critical stakeholders in the oil and gas industry. Originally scheduled for completion in 2021, the project’s delivery was pushed to December by President Bola Tinubu’s administration as part of an agreement with Organised Labour to avoid protests over the removal of fuel subsidy.

Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Mr. Senator Heineken Lokpobiri, reassured that the refinery would be operational by December 2023. However, some stakeholders in the industry expressed skepticism about this promise due to concerns about slow progress, corruption, and community unrest affecting the rehabilitation works at the refinery.

Critics argued that the $1.5 billion allocated for the refinery’s rehabilitation had turned into a source of corruption among government officials. A mechanical engineer in the oil and gas sector noted that the pace of work at the refinery has been hindered by community unrest, leading to delays for contractors.

Joseph Obele, Chairman of the Independent Petroleum Marketers Association of Nigeria, Rivers State Branch, criticized the slow pace of the rehabilitation and deemed it practically impossible for the refinery to begin production by 2023. He highlighted that even major components of the refinery had not yet arrived in the country.

The skepticism extended to allegations of violations of the Community Guidelines of the Local Content Act, particularly in the area of employment. A youth leader, Johnson Ngei, alleged that the community was being exploited, with job slots being sold for various prices. Despite protests from the community, contractors remained unyielding.

Former Minister of State for Petroleum, Timipre Sylva, and Group Chief Executive Officer (GCEO) of the Nigerian National Petroleum Company Limited (NNPCL), Mr. Mele Kyari, had previously given assurances about the refinery’s completion. Sylva had promised the refinery’s start by Q1 2023, while Kyari stated the rehabilitation would be completed by March 2023.

Kyari affirmed that the contract for the refinery’s survey followed due process and provided details about the completion level and timeline. Sapiem Engineering Company, which received the contract for the technical survey, also mentioned additional sums approved for inspecting other refineries.

Opinion:

The Port Harcourt refinery rehabilitation project’s uncertain timeline and doubts raised by stakeholders emphasize the challenges faced by major infrastructure projects in Nigeria. The intertwining issues of slow progress, corruption allegations, community unrest, and bureaucratic processes hinder the execution of critical projects. This situation underscores the need for transparent project management, effective community engagement, and a commitment to addressing corruption to ensure the successful execution of vital national projects. With a strong emphasis on accountability and a cooperative approach, the Nigerian government can work to restore confidence in its ability to carry out infrastructure improvements that drive economic growth and stability.

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