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Atiku: NNPC should have privatised refineries before rehabilitation to avoid debt

Atiku Abubakar addresses press conference Atiku Abubakar addresses press conference

Atiku Abubakar, former vice-president, says the Nigerian National Petroleum Company (NNPC) Limited should have privatised the Port Harcourt refinery before its rehabilitation.

Speaking on Tuesday in a post on X, Atiku said he had always supported and had the agenda to privatise state-owned refineries.

He questioned why the current administration through the NNPCL would resolve to privatise the operations of Port Harcourt refinery after spending money on rehabilitation.

“I have always advocated for far-reaching reforms to reposition Nigeria’s oil sector and, indeed, other sectors of our economy,” Atiku posted.

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“In particular, I had consistently called on the Buhari administration to break its monopoly in all infrastructure sectors, including the refineries, and give investors, both foreign and domestic, a larger role in funding and management.

“My position has been well laid out in The Atiku Plan (2018) and My Covenant With Nigerians (2022). But our suggestions fell on deaf ears. First, they refused to privatize the refineries. They left them idle for years while paying humongous staff salaries.

“Then, they contracted a loan of US$1.5 billion for rehabilitation.

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“Now, the current administration wants to turn the rehabilitated refinery to private concerns for operation and maintenance!

“Without prejudice to the terms of the agreement between the NNPC and the private operators, it would undoubtedly have been better if the NNPC had sold the refinery, pre-rehabilitation, to avoid the burden of debt.”

The politician asked NNPC to explain to Nigerians “what benefits its newly discovered approach to privatisation will confer on Nigeria and Nigerians”.

BACKGROUND

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On March 17, 2021, the federal government approved $1.5 billion for the rehabilitation of the Port Harcourt refinery in Rivers state.

Speaking after the meeting, Timipre Sylva, former minister of state for petroleum, said the rehabilitation will be done in three phases of 18, 24 and 44 months.

He said the contract would be awarded to Tecnimont SPA, an Italian company.

Two months after, the defunct Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation now NNPC Limited, said it had commenced the rehabilitation of the refinery.

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Now under the administration of President Bola Tinubu, the NNPCL, on December 21, 2023, said it had completed the mechanical phase of the turnaround maintenance at the plant, adding that operations would commence before the end of the year.

Prior to this, Heineken Lokpobiri, minister of state for petroleum resources (oil), during an inspection tour of the facility in August 2023, assured of the commencement of operations by December of the same year.

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But, on January 15, 2024, the national oil company announced that it is seeking credible operations and maintenance (O&M) companies to operate and maintain the Port Harcourt Refining Company.

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