By Chike Njowusi
In August 2023, the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Senator Heineken Lokpobiri, shortly after inspecting the facilities of the Port Harcourt Refinery in Elesa-Eleme near Port Harcourt, said emphatically there was no going back on the December 2023 deadline for the completion of Phase 1 of the refinery rehabilitation project.
A few days ago, the NNPCL, in confirmation of the Minister’s assurance, announced the mechanical completion of rehabilitation work at the 60, 000 barrel per day production capacity-old PH Refinery, also known as Area 5 Plant.
The company also informed us that work on the other 150, 000 barrels per day plant will be concluded on or before December 31, 2024.
Moments after the NNPC’s disclosure, Engr. Alex Ogedegbe, a former employee of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), countered with his usual barrage of invectives against the system he once served.
He had earlier faulted the decision to repair the refinery, which, at 58 years old, had become obsolete, adding that the best option would have been to build a completely new refinery.
Alex Ogedegbe is without a doubt one of Nigeria’s finest engineers. As an employee of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), now Nigerian National Petroleum Company Limited (NNPCL), where he rose to the position of Executive Director and former Managing Director of Kaduna Refinery and Petrochemicals Company (KRPCl) before retiring, he was one of the company’s most valuable assets.
Given his background and the decades he spent with the NNPC, one would be tempted to think he would be enamoured of the organization. That, however, is not the case. On the contrary, Ogedegbe is at war with the NNPCL and perhaps the Nigerian government. He has been for over two decades, precisely since 1999, when the Federal Government, then headed by Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, appointed Jackson Gaius Obaseki Group Managing Director (GMD) of the NNPC by the Olusegun Obasanjo administration.
As an energy reporter in that era, I recall that the appointment of Gaius Obaseki as NNPC boss came as a huge blow to Ogedegbe’s ambition of taking over from Alhaji Dalhatu Bayero as helmsman of the NNPC.
Indeed, many pundits in the oil industry had already crowned him “GMD-in-waiting” on account of his being one of the most senior officials of the NNPC after Bayero. Unfortunately for him, the ways of Nigerian politicians are inscrutable, and consequently, against the expectations of Ogedegbe and oil industry watchers, Obasanjo opted for Gaius Obaseki.
Ogedegbe would retire soon afterward, and he never forgot or forgave that action by President Obasanjo. He would also embark on a new career of criticizing practically every step or action undertaken by successive managements of the NNPC.
Last year, while speaking on a television programme, he fired a broadside at the NNPC, accusing management of incompetence and the organization generally of unproductivity. He said: “When I look back, I don’t see people who are replacing those that are leaving; I don’t see improvement in the productivity of the various sections or subsidiaries of the NNPCL.
“I left office 19 years ago, and I need not give excuses for it. But when we were in the office, if you looked at every level of staffing, you would see competence and experience. But let’s put the names and experiences of all the leaders now in NNPCL, scrutinizing their particulars, where they have worked, what they have done, and how many people at the level of executive director have ever drilled a well, been in an operating position, or have appreciated what it takes to run any facility. This is the problem. The company is now being run by people who have no hands-on experience that we can talk about.”u
It is easy to see that the Ogedegbe attack was not motivated by any genuine concern for qualitative service delivery by the NNPC when you consider that during the period he served, many Nigerians accused the organization of opacity in its operation.
In contrast, the NNPC has gained recognition from Nigerians and members of the international community as a business run transparently and by international best practices. It was the current management led by Malam Mele Kyari, which, for the first time in over four decades, presented the world with an audited report of the NNPC’s audited financial statement.
It was also under the leadership of the same people, whom Ogedegbe claims have no hands-on experience, that the NNPC recorded a profit for the first time in over forty years of operation when in 2020 it recorded a profit of over N300 billion.
About Ogedegbe’s claim that the NNPC management erred in rehabilitating the Port Harcourt refinery, it is clear he is being economical with the truth.
In many countries in the world, some refineries are over a hundred years old. The basic static equipment, which is the metallic part, is fundamentally the same. These refineries get upgraded, including the Port Harcourt refinery, which has its instrumentation equipment.
As I observed earlier, Ogedegbe’s grouse is not limited to the NNPC alone. He seems to be on a warpath with the Nigerian system. Earlier this month, he took a swipe at the much-celebrated Petroleum Industry Act (PIA) 2021, noting that it merely effected changes in the names of some entities in the industry and nothing more.
Hear him:“PIA has all the things it is supposed to have, but the only gain I can see there now is the 3% community fund, which has been formalized and established. The issue now is on the part of the communities; they have to organize themselves into corporate entities so that they have access to the 3 percent share and use it properly. The PIA has, however, not changed anything in the industry except names. Nothing has changed as far as the oil and gas sector is concerned.”
It would help if Ogedegbe channelled his energy and brilliance as an engineer into offering meaningful solutions to the myriad of challenges besetting the Nigerian oil and gas sector. As a former employee of the NNPC and an elder statesman of the oil industry, he ought to offer meaningful advice to the current management of the NNPCL, all of whom were his subordinates while he was at the organization.
Njowusi, a public commentator and veteran journalist, writes from Lagos.