By Adetola Bademosi and Ebenezer Adurokiya
Condemnations have followed the announcement by the Federal Government that it has decided to start importing petroleum products from Niger Republic.
The Minister of State for Petroleum, Timipre Sylva, had, through his media aide, Garba Deen Muhammad, disclosed that the Federal Government had formalised a trade agreement with Niger as Nigeria would soon begin to import Niger’s excess petrol of 15,000bpd.
Groups in oil-rich Niger Delta and pan-Yoruba group, Afenifere, described the decision as embarrassing and ridiculous, given the preeminence of Nigeria in the subregion.
Afenifere’s spokesman, Mr Yinka Odumakin, in a statement sent to Saturday Tribune on Friday evening, condemned the policy, querying the ownership of the Nigerbased refinery from where Nigeria plans to start buying the products.
Odumakin said: “It is absolutely ridiculous that Nigeria has reached that level of total debasement that it has to be importing petrol from Niger Republic. The president was campaigning round the country in 2014/15 that he would make all our refineries work under his government. After almost six years in office, Nigeria has not refined a liter of fuel under him. Instead, we are now importing petrol from arid Niger Republic.
“Only God knows those who own that refinery, if they are not even Nigerians. We are building a railway into Niger Republic the same time. We have closed Benin border but the border with Niger is open and it is alleged that weapons come into Nigeria like loaves of bread.
“There is no doubt that the cultural kinship between some Nigerians with Niger is taking the better part of them.”
From the Niger Delta, national Coordinator of the Centre for Peace and Environmental Justice (CEPEJ), Comrade Sheriff Mulade and Executive Director of the Centre for the Vulnerable and the Underprivileged (CENTREP), Oghenejabor Ikimi, in separate interviews with Saturday Tribune on Friday in Warri, Delta State, described the decision as a mockery of Nigeria’s acclaimed largeness in Africa.
Mulade, who decried the move, given Nigeria’s dying refineries, said it was one insult too many for an acclaimed giant of Africa, which other African nations look up to, to be importing fuel from an arid nation. “It is an insult to the Nigerian nation. We are the giant of African, we are expected to be exporting products to other African countries as the largest oil-producing country in Africa.
“It is appalling that at this critical time, we are the one importing fuel from Niger,” Mulade lamented.
Ikimi, on his part, condemned the decision to import PMS from Niger. “It is an insult. I condemn it in totality. We used to be one of the largest exporters of petrol. But it is surprising that over the years, the government has neglected our refineries and rendered them useless. We can’t even do turnaround maintenance again,” he quipped amid deep sighs.
Ikimi and Mulade identified bad governance and lethargy on the part of Nigerian leaders as responsible for the “show of shame.”
Ikimi said: “It is shocking that we are going to be importing petrol from Niger. It is terrible. I thought the story was fake. We have retrogressed to this extent. It is sad.
“The cause is bad governance. Our leaders have a relaxed attitude of doing the right thing and telling the truth. We must end bad governance. We must salvage the country now.” Mulade called on President Muhammadu Buhari “to do more and be proactive to retain our integrity as a nation as we are the hope of Africa.”
He added: “Buhari should revive our refineries. We are too big to be importing fuel from Niger Republic.” The Federal Government had signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Niger Republic on importation of petroleum products following what it called a bilateral agreement between President Buhari and President Mahamadou Issoufou of Niger Republic.
According to Sylva’s statement, both countries had been in talks for over four months through the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) and Niger Republic’s national oil company, Societe Nigerienne De Petrole (SONIDEP), on petroleum products transportation and storage. It explained that Niger Republic’s Soraz Refinery in Zinder, which is 260km from the Nigerian border, has an installed refining capacity of 20,000 barrels per day.
“Niger’s total domestic requirement is about 5,000bpd, thus leaving a huge surplus of about 15,000 bpd, mostly for export,” it stated.
The statement quoted the minister as describing the development as another huge step in developing trade relations between both countries.
“This is a major step forward. Niger Republic has some excess products which need to be evacuated. Nigeria has the market for these products. Therefore, this is going to be a win-win relation for both countries. My hope is that this is going to be the beginning of deepening trade relations between Niger Republic and Nigeria,” the minister said.
In his remarks, the Group Managing Director of NNPC, Malam Mele Kyari, said the two countries had had long engagements in the last four to five months with a view to restoring the importation of petroleum products (excess production) from Niger into Nigeria.
“With this development, we hope to have a long-lasting and sustainable commercial framework to having a pipeline from the Soraz Refinery in Zinder (Niger) into the most proximate Nigerian city so that we can develop a depot.
“We are happy that we have reached that conclusion and our two ministers have endorsed this framework. We are also working on detailed MoU between our two companies so that we can begin the execution process immediately,” he said.