The President of the Independent Petroleum Marketers Association of Nigeria, Chinedu Okoronkwo, in this interview speaks about developments in the oil and gas sector. Amby Uneze brings the excerpts:
Since the Supreme Court declared you National President of IPMAN after a prolonged legal battle, have you been able to reconcile with those that opposed your election?
The first thing I did was to set up a committee to reconcile all the aggrieved members. At least over 90 percent came back and we are working together, but there is no doubt that some of them may still not believe that they have been defeated. The major thing is that IPMAN is moving forward and we are making progress and helping government in a lot of activities and programmes to achieve stability in the oil sector. We are making sure that Marketers come back to their normal business because war is a bad thing that blows nobody any good. One thing is clear and that is, somebody cannot wake up without any litigation and want to take over the association by force. That is the whole essence of that war and it is a lesson everybody must also learn.
Now that there is peace, what is the way forward?
There is peace now because the Supreme Court which the highest court in the land has spoken, those who don’t want to agree would be facing contempt. You don’t rule out the possibility but there is also remedy for challenge.
Some Nigerians are not happy with federal government’s new fuel price regime, what is your association doing to protect the masses?
It is not the government that tosses with the pump price; rather the market forces act as a determinant of prices. You will recall that government has withdrawn subsidy element and if we are hinging on the market forces, the issue of initiating prices will not be possible. Something could be done in this regard. Our advice is for government to encourage local production, local refining. This idea of modular refinery, no matter how small can be encouraged. It is just to have the will to put up a framework in place where people can access funds and even come in groups to promote the idea. Good enough, there was a meeting we had with officials of Ministry of Environment recently, it was in their plan to discourage oil vandalism and pipeline ruptures, and encourage organised groups in form of cooperatives, especially in the Niger Delta area where the crude oil is domiciled to put up refinery rather than doing it in a crude way. IPMAN can act as the uptaker for these products. And I believe that by the time government encourages modular refineries in the country, the whole pressure on the naira will reduce because we have these minerals in our backyard.
What we need to do is to put up this modular refinery, maybe in Imo State, we can have about six, in Rivers we can have about 15, in Cross River, even up North where you have all these delivery pipelines to Kaduna and government would meter them and give them crude. The advantages are huge and it includes opening the industry, creating jobs, reducing foreign exchange pressure on Naira, and the activities in oil and gas would thrive for easy of life. I think that is the remedy rather than blaming government because government is all of us. So our own projection is to encourage this modular refinery, scatter it, and prevent the environment from degradation. One can see that the cost of doing this clean up in Ogoni, is not easy to come-by because the moment such measures are not put in place, the adverse effect would be so much and we would lose our environment to vagaries of vandals. We would also lose our fishing activities, agricultural inputs, etc which I think would be the main focus for us now as we look inwards. But if the environment is destroyed to an extent we cannot manage it again, the resultant effect would be so huge. So there should be a serious campaign by everybody and for government to see how to promote and encourage local refinery instead of depending on imported products.
In terms of pipeline vandalism, what is the role of IPMAN in assisting government to stop it?
IPMAN is doing a lot in this regard. If you have been following our activities, you would noticed our visit to President Muhammadu Buhari, where he gave us a matching order to collaborate with government to see that these crises and some activities in the downstream sector are nipped in the bud. We gave our word and support and now we are working out something with some security operatives especially on information sharing and surveillance. That is why we are also telling government to provide some succor to the vandals by helping them go into clusters and maybe provide some funds to them to buy shares in the modular refineries. By so doing they would see it as their business and not ‘government thing’ because they will have shares in them. By the time they see that they are meaningfully engaged, they will not be tempted to vandalize the pipelines. If they so do, their own economy will also be ruined.
Some of your members engage in adulteration of products, what are you doing as a body to address this?
We continue to tell our members the dangers of engaging in unwholesome activities like adulteration, the thinking of government in that regard and its attendant consequences. Not only that you will lose the filling station, the economy of the country will be badly affected, vehicles and generators will be affected, your integrity will be lowered, and you will forever regret it if you are caught in it. We are collaborating with the Nigerian Customs to track every truck, vessel carrying products; so that we will be able to know where they are loading from and where delivering is taking place. Even every filling station is captured in the platform for monitoring.
On Covid-19, what efforts are you making to ensure that your members observe the protocols put up by the NCDC to stay safe?
You know our job is very critical to members of the public. Initially when the lockdown was declared, government saw the need to exclude our sector because our services are among the essential ones to serve the country. This discretion emboldened us to call our members to rise up to the challenge as ‘to whom much is given much is also expected’ because it involves life. We had to obey government directives by washing hands regularly, covering of nose and mouth, and maintaining the distance. Moreover, our business has no direct contact with the people, once you sell your product, collect your money and that’s all. However, we still have to observe the protocols religiously. Within that period, people were getting their products regularly, and I want to use this opportunity to commend our members and the tanker drivers, as well as to thank the government for seeing us as fruitful partners in progress. In fact all those at the value chain that contributed to the success of the exercise, I congratulate them. It is a work in progress. We are moving forward.