By Chidiebere Nwobodo
Few years ago, any economic pundit that thought of the possibility of a privately-owned petroleum refinery that would have the capacity to meet the needs of Nigeria’s downstream sector, and still export to neighboring countries, would have been tagged a dreamer; hallucinating in the reveries of fantasies. Even if the prediction came out of the mouth of a known expert, many people would still not had believed him. It would not had been because of pessimism but history of failures of government-run refineries and the inability of the licensed private refineries to hit the ground running, after many years of getting approval.
Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) recently slammed its sledge hammer on investors who defaulted on the terms and conditions embedded in the award of licences for refineries. The regulatory watchdog revoked thirty-two licences for failure of those companies to achieve stipulated milestones, pegged with certain time frame. DPR in the same vain, listed some privately-owned refineries whose licences were still valid—including Dangote Oil Refinery that is 80.3 percent completion. I imagined that even Alhaji Aliko Dangote, himself, must have doubted the possibility of the idea of building the biggest refinery in Africa, when it first flashed in his mind like a lightening.
Like every great accomplishment in the history of mankind, it first get conceptualized, incubated and birthed. During the gestational stages, the carrier of the idea gets increasingly overwhelmed by its possibilities, which gradually metamorphose into an obsession—a healthy one. At this point, the vessel encapsulating the idea, can no longer stop himself, because he has been overtaken by the monumental concept. If you cannot stop yourself, what else will stop you? nothing.
This is how great accomplishments are born. Aliko Dangote, Africa’s biggest industrialist cum richest man, has blazed a trail in a new frontier. It took more than money and courage to embark on these tedious, tumultuous and humongous projects of building largest refinery in Africa, with world’s biggest single-train facility, simultaneously with a granulated urea fertilizer plant with name-plate annual capacity of three million tonnes of urea and ammonia; making it the largest combined fertilizer facility in the world.
These two major projects, along side other ones, have made Dangote Petrochemical Complex’s Lekki Free Zone the biggest construction site in Nigeria, in the last few years. Money played a huge role, courage gave life to the idea, experience kept it going, spirit of resilience sustained it, but grace made it happened. Give another individual all the monies, experiences and government support like Aliko Dangote, without the grace of this pathfinder, he will still not achieve these giants feats. This is my perception.
It takes grace to build 650,000 barrels/day refinery in a country where government’s four refineries; with combined production capacity of 445,000, have been fumbling for many years now, albeit sadly. Alhaji Aliko Dangote, as a single individual, took on one of the major challenges successive governments could not solved. Petrol crisis has been a hydra-headed monster confronting Nigeria for decades now. Nigeria, with production capacity of 2.5m barrels/day, ranks as largest producer of crude oil in Africa and 6th in the world. Ironically, Nigeria is the only OPEC-member country importing refined petroleum products. In fact, in the last few years, Nigerian government has spent more money in subsiding imported refined products than it would have taken to build state-of-the-art refineries.
A whooping sum of $26.5 billion has been spent so far via Turn Around Maintenance (TAM) for the four refineries, with little or nothing to show for it—the reason the current contract of $1.5 billion signed by Federal Government for Turn Around Maintenance (TAM) of Port Harcourt Refinery has outraged many concerned Nigerians who viewed it as an colossal waste.
Many are of the opinion that we cannot keep reinforcing failures and funding corruption, while other critical sectors are starved of limited funds. The recycled failures of our four refineries is what made Nigeria the only crude oil producing country that depends on imported refined products—a big and crying shame!
This incapacitation in local refining capacity created a bottomless pit of corruption called subsidy regime, where the nation was (still being) hemorrhaged profusely by a cartel of economic saboteurs that took corruption to stratospheric level in the petroleum sector. Importation of petrol has really stretched the nation’s economic string beyond its elastic limit. Our foreign reserves has been seriously depleted, and this has limited the capacity of the Apex bank, the Central Bank of Nigeria, to stabilize the local currency, the naira. These abnormalities have created uncertainties with its attendant vulnerability and volatility in the downstream sector.
An average Nigerian in the street is always terrified and worry-wary of when the next fuel scarcity will hit the town. Petrol sufficiency has eluded this nation for long; we are always few days away from the next scarcity, with its downward spiral of sufferings in the land. Festive seasons are usually riddled with petrol crises, turning supposed moments of celebration to groaning. Increments in petrol prices usually trigger inflation, simultaneously, thereby making life harder for already impoverished masses.
There is light at the end of the tunnel. Dangote Oil Refinery, according its chairman, will be completed by end of 2021, to begin operation in the first quarter of 2022. This is indeed a cheering news to be celebrated by Nigerians. When operational, the 650,000 per day refinery has the capacity to fill the void; i.e enough capability to meet the nation’s consumption demand of less than 600,000 per day of refined products and still export to other countries.
A country of over 200 million people—the most populous black nation, will for once become self-sufficient in its refining capacity. This is really a landmark breakthrough in the nation’s chequered history. When this Refinery comes on stream, pressure on our foreign reserves will reduce, naira will become stronger; hundreds of thousands of jobs created for teeming unemployed Nigerians.
And by extension, insecurity will reduce, because mass unemployment cannot be divorced from ravaging insecurity in the country. When a youth is gainfully busy, he will not have the luxury of time to dabble in social vices. Dangote Group owns this refinery but Nigeria and Nigerians will be the highest beneficiaries of the new order that this great national asset is about to herald in our downstream sector. Indeed, Dangote Refinery is coming to the rescue.
Alhaji Aliko Dangote, like him or loathe him, has proven to be a quintessential industrialist and iconic entrepreneur in the contemporary history of African industrial evolution. He did it in cement sector, repeated it in sugar refining; revolutionized commodity productions, and is about to do it again in the petroleum downstream sector.
He is the biggest individual employer of labor after government in Africa. Hundreds of thousands of families get taken care of economically, via jobs created by this visionary goal-getter and audacious investor. Sometimes, I do look at his pictures; and wonder whether he has two heads. how does he manage to carry the pressure of being in this enviable position? I am awed!
There is a school of thought that has attributed most of Aliko Dangote’s achievements to being close to corridors of power that grants him unhealthy monopolistic advantage over his competitors. Even me, I used to harbor this flawed opinion that “Dangote is government pikin”. My perceptive began to change when I started paying close attention to this economic titan and entrepreneurial enigma, several years after leaving the university.
Some of the prejudices, innuendoes and conjectures about African most successful industrialist started fallen off my eyes like a facade. The fallacious propaganda that he is where he is today because of his ethno-religious affinity was punctured, when it dawned me that Alhaji Aliko Dangote has been geometrically rising in profile irrespective of who is Nigeria’s president—whether he is from the north or south.
I realized that Dangote has come to symbolize excellence cum success because greatness is nothing but repeated excellence powered by eagle-eyed vision and unquenchable spirit of resilience. Just imagine for a moment that the consortium led by Aliko Dangote was allowed to take over Port Harcourt and Kaduna Refineries in 2007; should we have been where we are today as a nation regarding refining of petroleum products?
As Nigerians await expectantly to welcome this Refinery on stream few months from now, it is indeed a new dawn in the nation’s downstream sector. The national goal of achieving self-sufficiency in local refining capacity of Premium Motor Spirit (PMS), has become reality via the vision of one man—Alhaji Aliko Dangote, GCON. Thunderous applause!
––Nwobodo writes from Abuja via firstname.lastname@example.org