By Chineme Okafor
LAGOS, Nigeria: The Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE) is ignorant of the proposed rehabilitation and operation under a concession arrangement of the 210,000 barrels per day (bpd) Port Harcourt Refinery by oil firms – Nigeria Agip Oil Company (NAOC) and Oando Plc, THISDAY yesterday learnt from top sources in the privatisation agency.
It learnt in Abuja that despite the BPE’s listing of the refinery along with Warri and Kaduna refineries on its privatisation schedule, it has however not been involved in plans by the federal government to concession the Port Harcourt refinery to Agip and Oando on a repair, operate and maintain basis, a transaction oil and gas business experts have faulted.
One of the top sources within the privatisation agency confirmed to THISDAY that the Ministry of Petroleum Resources and the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) have carried on the refinery concession plan without its involvement. He explained that the agency was in the dark on the concession arrangement, thus claiming that negotiations with the firms have been without it.
The sources stated that even though the National Council on Privatisation (NCP) which is statutorily responsible for signing off on the privatisation and concession of such national assets has not been constituted by the government, the BPE should have been involved in the refinery concession which the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Dr. IbeKachikwu, disclosed would be concluded in September.
Kachikwu had earlier in May stated in Houston that the government had got bids from investors to revamp the three refineries, and would make known the preferred offers by September, however, the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Oando, Mr. Wale Tinubu, subsequently disclosed that his firm had been selected to takeover Port Harcourt refinery, thus raising questions about the transparency of the selection process and the overall transaction.
Similarly, experts who spoke to THISDAY on this stated that the process could be considered unlawful without the approval of the NCP. They also asked the ministry of petroleum resources and NNPC to show evidence of a transparent and competitive selection process from which Agip and Oando emerged as the best candidates to take over and repair the refinery.
One of the experts, Mr. Dan Kunle, specifically queried the choice of Agip for Port Harcourt refinery, stating that Agip built the 125,000bpd Warri refinery and should have opted for it instead of Port Harcourt.
Kunle said: “In 2015, I remember vividly the visit of the then GMD of NNPC which happens to be the minister of state now, Emmanuel Kachikwu, to Port Harcourt refinery, and he stated that they had spent $10 million to rebuild it and it was going to come on stream. What has happened, we need to know the truth.”
He alleged that: “The interest of ENI/Agip in Port Harcourt refinery is a manifestation of the long vested interest of Oando in the refinery because they put in bids in the past for it but failed.
“Agip has no technical record in Port Harcourt refinery, they built the Warri refinery and the propane plant in Warri refinery was built by Technimont. I would have expected the minister to look at that history and tell Agip/Eni, that even though they have rights to bid for Port Harcourt, they should look at Warri where they already have a technical record.”
Speaking on the need for the approval of the NCP in such cases of assets’ concession, Kunle stated: “NCP is a life act, and I am surprised that they have not constituted it because they have the mandate to privatise the assets.
“The NCP has to become conscious and wrestle the country from the politics of the petroleum ministry over the refineries. The ministry cannot sell or concession the refineries without the NCP represented by the BPE, and Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission (ICRC). Besides, those companies are already scheduled in the privatisation timeline.”
“If you are doing selective bidding, what makes Eni/Agip to qualify because it is Warri that they should be qualified for? What is the basis, how did they come about the people, where is the advert and prequalification criteria? They must be subjected to ethical corporate governance. This transaction has to be open and clear, otherwise nobody can take it over,” he added.