Activists threaten court action, street protests over concession of Port Harcourt refinery

Port Harcourt Refinery
Port Harcourt Refinery

More than one dozen anti-corruption groups have urged the Nigerian government to immediately cancel the “ill-advised, ill-designed and fraudulent” concession of the Port Harcourt refinery.

In a joint statement issued Monday, the groups said it was ironic that the current government is about to be afflicted with the same ailment it promised to cure in the petroleum sector upon coming to power.

“If the federal government desires to still go ahead, it must proceed in strict compliance with the Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission Act or the Privatization Act,” the groups stated.

“If we do not hear of an outright cancellation of this fraud within 48 hours, we shall proceed to court to stop the transaction.

“We are also prepared to mobilise Nigerians for street protests if the federal government decides to proceed with this fraudulent transaction.”

The Petroleum Minister, Ibe Kachikwu, had on May 9 announced that the Nigerian Agip Oil Company, a subsidiary of the Italian oil giant, Eni, had committed to repairing the Port Harcourt refinery, as part of a $15 billion investment that includes building a 150 thousand barrel per day refinery and a power plant.

Two days later, Wale Tinubu, the Chief Executive Officer of Oando Plc, reportedly told members of the Nigerian Stock Exchange that his company had received approval to repair, operate and maintain the Port Harcourt refinery in conjunction with Agip.

But the Senate, last week, asked the Ministry of Petroleum Resources to halt the planned concession to Agip and Oando pending the outcome of its investigation amid concerns over the transparency of the process.

On Monday, the anti-corruption groups said even the Senators’ move to investigate the concession opened a small window of possibility to legitimise the “fraudulent” process because there was nothing to probe.

The groups, who said they came together to form a coalition to fight the concession include Centre for Anti-Corruption and Open Leadership; Campaign for Democracy; Centre for Change; Nigerians Unite Against Corruption; Grassroot Democratic Initiative; Empower Africa for Change; and Anti-Corruption Crusaders.

Others are the National Rebirth Movement; Centre for Public Accountability; Protest to Power Movement; Grassroots Power Point; Peoples’ Action for Democracy; and Children Project.

The rest include Beko Rights Klub; Centre for Cultural and Religious Rights; Isokan; Aluta Youth Collective; Gani Fawehinmi Solidarity Association; and Freedom Alliance.

“There was no advertisement or invitation to bid to which only Agip/Eni and Oando responded,” the groups stated.

“What we are about to witness is the brazen direct handover of a national asset like the Port Harcourt refinery to private concerns without advertisement, without competitive bidding and in gross violation of the law.

“This is nothing but an economic crime committed by a government against its own people.”

The groups noted that it was not the first time the Nigerian government had attempted to privatize or concession any of its four refineries.

“Even before the enactment of the Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission Act, the federal government proceeded on the basis of international best practices in the process of privatising refineries.

“To adopt another standard this time around is morally reprehensible. The earlier attempt commenced on 2003 and was concluded in 2007.”

At that time, according to the groups, after eight companies submitted expressions of interest for the Port Harcourt refinery, Bluestar emerged the winner.

The deal was, however, cancelled afterwards after the company decided not to proceed with the contract and was fully refunded by the Nigerian government.

“It therefore follows that in such a deal that involves an important national asset, the minimum we expect is a public invitation to bid,” the groups continued.

“In this case, there was no advertisement, no public invitation to bid, no stated criteria for selecting Oando and Agip/Eni. It was just a clandestine and secret allocation of a national asset to private concerns.

“With the way the federal government has approached this matter, it is clear that it has robbed itself of the best available bid for its refinery. How is the federal government sure that it cannot get a better deal than has been offered by Agip/Eni?

“It is also a deal that would invariably leas to economic sabotage. We all know that as of today, the refineries cannot produce more than forty percent of their installed capacities.

“Before the so-called partners can turn the refinery around and increase the production capacity, what would happen to the excess of the unrefined crude from its daily allocation?

“They would obviously be sold at international rate and the profit will find its way to private pockets. We say no to this economic sabotage.”

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