In what appears to be a volte-face, former President Olusegun Obasanjo at the weekend turned around and praised President Muhammad Buhari for achieving huge success in an area where previous administrations, including his, could not make headway.

Obasanjo had last month passed a damning verdict of the Buhari administration, saying he felt disappointed by Buhari, whom he supported during the 2015 presidential poll. In a 13-page statement he issued on January 23, the former president categorically asked Buhari not to seek re-election in 2019, adding that instead, he should honourably “dismount from the horse” to join the league of the country’s former leaders whose “experience, influence, wisdom and outreach can be deployed on the side line for the good of the country.”

But speaking at the weekend while performing the groundbreaking ceremony for the construction of Azikel Refinery, the first private modular refinery in the oil and gas-rich Niger Delta region, Obasanjo described as “commendable” the Buhari administration’s decision to award operational licences to 22 firms for the construction of modular refineries in the country. He noted that 18 of such licences were approved under his administration but that none of them was able to actualise it, unlike the present administration. Obasanjo praised President Buhari for awarding modular refinery operational licences to 22 firms, including Azikel Petroleum. He noted that, out of the 22 licensed operators, Azikel Petroleum is the only company that had actualised its dream of establishing a modular refinery. The former president stated that he was delighted at the commitment of Azikel Petroleum, adding that none of the 18 licenses earlier awarded by his administration came to fruition.

Obasanjo said, “I have been told that President Buhari and his government gave 22 licences and that Azikel Petroleum is the only license out of the 22 that is really actualised. “Before then, we gave 18 and not one was actualised. They gave all manner of excuses, including insecurity and oil prices. But those excuses they gave are still there. But they were not genuine entrepreneurs. They were after collecting licences to get crude oil. And that is why in an occasion like this, we should pay special tribute to people like Eruani.

“I join you all in thanking President Buhari for giving four licences more than we gave. And he (Buhari) is lucky that he has a man like Eruani to be the only one to actualise.” He also commended the Bayelsa State government under Governor Seriake Dickson for creating the enabling environment for the take-off of the modular refinery project.

Obasanjo also lauded the technical and financial partners of Azikel Petroleum and advised the group president of the oil firm not to betray the trust and confidence reposed in him by his partners.

In his welcome address, Eruani thanked President Buhari for the licence and expressed hope that the refinery project would mitigate the frequent scarcity of petroleum products and curb youth restiveness in Bayelsa and in the region, Eruani disclosed that some youths who would work at the facility were currently undergoing fabrication engineering training in the United States, and noted that construction and production phases of the refinery project would provide about 1,000 jobs.

“Our journey is one with lots of interests and challenges. But our committed drive to industrialise the Nigeria Delta is unwavering. For the first time we will refine crude oil at home. This is the beginning of reversing the incessant scarcity of petroleum products. “But more importantly, this will bring several businesses in the state and in the Niger Delta. We will put youths to work and we will be engaging communities.

This will largely curb youth restiveness”, Eruani said. In his remarks, Governor Dickson said Azikel Refinery was very important to Bayelsa as the government had shown its commitment to creating the conducive atmosphere for private sector investment to thrive. Dickson, who at the event, signed two Certificates of Occupancy and handed over them over to Azikel Petroleum and Azikel Power, a subsidiary.

“The investment will take off all the stress and pressures on us I’ve signed the Certificate of Occupancy for 99 years in line with the Land Use Act. I do this every week and one of the first things I did when I came to office was to liberalise land”, Governor Dickson said.

He also commended President Buhari “for finding Azikel Group fit and proper” to be granted licence, saying “we expect more of such friendly gestures.” According to the governor, his administration would continue to support the refinery project and any such business ventures that would stimulate economic growth and development in the state, describing Bayelsa as a safe haven for investment.

In their separate remarks, the chairman of the event and former military governor of old Rivers State, Alfred Diete-Spiff, Senator Paulker Emmanuel (Bayelsa Central) and former minister of petroleum, Edmund Daukoru, described the establishment of Azikel Refinery as the greatest thing that has happened to Bayelsa. They commended Eruani for his courage and vision even as they thanked Buhari for deeming it necessary to award the company the licence to build a modular refinery in the state.

Meanwhile, the Bayelsa State governor has called on the federal government to grant natives of the Niger Delta more oil blocks to fast-track development in the region. According to him, more oil blocks should be given to the oil-producing areas because they are “the ancestral properties of Niger Delta.” He also called on the multinational oil colonies to heed the directive by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo to relocate to the Niger Delta which produces the crude oil.

“We need more of this investment for our people to be part of it. At any time I have opportunity as a governor of a federating unit, I will use the opportunity to commend President Muhammadu Buhari and tell him that we need more of this,” he said. “We are talking of ownership of oil blocks because that is a legitimate demand. We are yet to see the demands and directive by the federal government that oil companies should relocate to the Niger Delta.

“I don’t know of any business which justifies pipelines crisis- crossing several areas for building refineries while they haven’t built refineries from the source of crude oil. “In all the all-producing areas around the world, the activities of those companies are located where the resources come from. We must examine our own conduct and what we do. We are waiting for the oil blocks; what the Nigerian government sits down and calls oil blocks are in fact and in truth the ancestral properties of the Niger Delta.

“They are pieces of our ancestral properties given away at our expense. We are not saying others should not be included, but if we are not included, it will be wrong.”

LEADERSHIP reports that Azikel Refinery is one of the 22 such modular refineries given licences to operate by the Buhari administration. The proposed modular refinery, which would be built and known as Azikel Refinery, is owned by Azikel Petroleum, a subsidiary of Azikel Group of Companies, has Azibapu Eruani, a native of Bayelsa State as its group presiden. It is located at Obunagha community in Gbarain Kingdom of Yenagoa Local Government Area of the state.

LEADERSHIP learnt that the 12,000-barrels refinery is sitting on 19.92 hectares of swampy land that was reclaimed with over 2.7million cubic metres of sand whose dredging lasted nine months. It is expected that Azikel Refinery would come on stream in 2019.

Culled from Leadership