Minister of State for Petroleum Resources (Oil), Heineken Lokpobiri, has said the Federal Government is targeting to shore up its crude oil production output to a minimum of two million barrels per day before 2023 winds down completely.
He also commented on the ailing refineries and efforts to make them functional, saying he is holding the Nigerian National Petroleum Company Limited (NNPCL) accountable for the dates scheduled for the completion of the rehabilitation of the country’s refineries.
He made this disclosure while fielding questions from State House correspondents at the end of the three-day retreat at the State House Conference Centre, Abuja.
The NNPCL is tasked with rehabilitating three refineries in the country to reduce fuel scarcity and increase dependence on natural gas.
Despite spending over $25 billion on fixing the refineries in the past 10 years, they were producing at less than 30 per cent capacity, according to a report by the 9th National Assembly.
The report called for a forensic audit of the matter and recommended that the Warri and Port Harcourt refineries be rehabilitated and the Kaduna refinery also be subject to such treatment.
The Senate has constituted an ad hoc committee to investigate the NNPCL over the N11.35 trillion spent on the Turn Around Maintenance (TAM) of the refineries. The committee was meant to interrogate the Federal Ministry of Petroleum Resources, the Nigerian Upstream Petroleum Regulatory Commission (NUPRC), NNPCL, and the Bureau of Public Enterprises on the best approach to commercialising and ensuring profitability of the state-owned refineries.
Asked when the rehabilitation of the refineries will be completed, Lokpobiri said: “Yes, the rehabilitation of the refineries if you could remember, was started by the previous administration and as part of the President’s directive, I have gone round all the refineries and from what they have briefed me, Port Harcourt has three phases, so Phase 1 will be ready by the end of this year. I am not the one who is directly in charge of rehabilitation; it is the NNPCL and they have told me and I am holding them accountable.
“For Warri refinery, they said Phase 1 will be ready by the end of the year. Phases 2 and 3 in Port Harcourt will be ready next year and the whole Kaduna refinery will be ready by the end of next year. That is what they said and I am holding them accountable for their own words.
“I will be going there in the next few weeks; I go there regularly and sometimes without schedule so that nobody plans for me. I just appear to see what is going on.
“I believe if we are able to achieve some level of rehabilitation by the end of this year, will also improve our domestic refining capacity. But that is not even the problem; the Dangote refinery, too, is coming.
“We have a lot of modular refineries that we have given licences to, but the challenge has been the feedstock. Even if you have the modular refinery, do you have the crude to refine?
“That’s why I said that unless we produce sufficient quantity, even if the refineries are rehabilitated, there will be no feedstock. So my challenge is to ramp up production so that we can see how we can feed not only the big refineries but also the modular refineries; these are the real employers of labour, and they will do the magic.”
Lokpobiri said further: “What I have done is to also liberalise the process to acquire licences. Before I came, they said sometimes it takes so long to acquire licences, so I said I don’t want to know your face; provided the requirements are met, bring them to me, I will sign within 24 hours, and I have signed them.
“I have also said I don’t want to give people licenses and they use them as souvenirs. If you are given a licence, you must use it within the terms, or else I will cancel it. Just like I didn’t know you before signing the licence, I will also cancel without blinking an eye.”
The easiest way to get out of the country’s fuel crisis, according to him, is to increase production.
He said: “If we don’t, the midstream and downstream will also fail. We must produce the crude to refine before distribution.”
He further stressed: “Our problem right now, which we inherited, is the low level of production, which was a result of insecurity issues, a lack of investments and all other concerns. We are addressing all those issues and I believe that in the next few months, we will be able to come up with a different report.”
The minister also conveyed the ministry’s determination to achieve tangible results.
“I believe that as a ministry, we have set some very ambitious numbers for ourselves that, before the end of the year, we should be doing at least close to two million barrels per day,” he stated.