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Former NNPC boss blames Yar’Adua for reversing Obasanjo’s plan to sell refineries


A former Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer, Nigeria LNG Limited’
Dr Godswill Ihetu, has blamed former president Umar Musa Yar’Adua for blocking the sale of the Port Harcourt and Kaduna refineries by his predecessor, Olusegun Obasanjo.

Ihetu, who retired from the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation after attaining the position of Group Executive Director, Engineering and Technology, made the disclosure during an interview with The Punch.

Speaking on the deplorable state of refineries in the country, Ihetu said that “a systen was put in place by corporate management that each refinery had to undergo turnaround maintenance every 18 months.”

“The refineries were functioning up to about 1996” he said, adding that they functioned for a decade without fault but problems began with the involvement of the presidency.

“Then in 1995/1996, the Presidency got involved and, in getting involved, slowed down the process,” Itehu said adding that “It appears that we have not been able to get this thing out of the government and back into the NNPC.”

The effect has seen all the government-owned refineries shut down for repairs and Nigeria has been relying wholly on imports to meet its fuel needs.

As such, the Federal Government announced the approval of $1.5bn for the rehabilitation of the Port Harcourt refinery, leaving Nigerians, including Itehu suprised.

However, when asked about Yar’Adua’s reversal of the sale of the 51 per cent stake in the Port Harcourt and Kaduna refineries in 2007 by Obasanjo, Itehu opined that the late President was wrong.

He said, “Before the end of the administration of President Olusegun Obasanjo in 2007, he sold 51 per cent stake in the Port Harcourt and Kaduna refineries. But the sale was cancelled by his successor, the late President Umaru Yar’Adua, following public outcry, especially opposition from labour unions over the deal. What is your take on this considering what has happened since then?

“The fact that the Obasanjo administration tried to sell the refineries showed that there was already a problem with the maintenance and operations. And I think the Obasanjo administration did the right thing. The labour unions will always protest, but unions cannot be running the country. Unions opposed the power sector privatisation. But that was the right thing to do. The issue of to whom the assets were sold or whether they are competent or not is another matter entirely. But the strategic decision was taken, and Obasanjo took the right decision. To reverse it under Yar’Adua, in my view, was not the right thing to do. But I don’t think it was only the unions that opposed it.

“There may have been other forces or reasons why the government did what it did. But again, one doesn’t know the details of their reasoning. The only thing I can tell you is that I think Obasanjo took the right decision. In our country, whatever you do, people will always find faults; people will even say it was undersold or there was no negotiation. But at the end of the day, the improvement that would have happened with that sale would overshadow all of these shortcomings, if you may call them that.

“The unions don’t realise that when these refineries go into private hands, the facilities are expanded; companies become larger and more employees will be required like we saw in Eleme Petrochemicals. Maybe the NLNG is an extreme example because from day one, the structure was different, but it shows you what private companies can do. It doesn’t have a majority of government in it, and it is expanding, starting from two trains to six and now the seventh train is underway.”