The federal government few weeks ago approved $1.5bn in funding to repair the Port Harcourt refinery, which was closed two years ago. This has continued to generate mixed reactions from Nigerians, as some have argued that it should have been sold in its present state. What is your take on that?
I want to take refuge in my ignorance because I was shocked when I heard the amount to be used in repairing the refinery. $1.5 billion just to repair? Honestly, I was shocked. I thought we could get a brand new, excellent refinery with that money. I also listened to the Minister of State for Petroleum and others who are in support, telling us that the whole refinery will be totally overhauled and what we are going to get after the repair will be as brand as new at the rate of 90 percent. I pray for their sake that it is true. If after that huge sum of money had been spent on revamping it and then production commences and it becomes epileptic, I don’t think they will be able to survive the barrage of attacks that will be landing on them. In fact, it will be more than that because people will call for them to be prosecuted for misleading the public and investing so much amount of money on the refinery.
Why I’m not worried so much is that we have a cabinet which holds a weekly Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting of about 50 to 60 people. If they are able to carry all those people, maybe they must have made some cogent points. That is the way I comfort myself. We will just wait for the next three to four years whether they will be proven right or not. I pray for their sakes that they are proved correctly that we are going to have a refinery that is brand new, even though it is an old one that is fixed. What they are telling us is that this is not turnaround maintenance, but total rebuilding. I’ve also read the opinion of some people who said instead of repairing the refinery, why can’t they sell it in the present state and then allow the buyers to repair it themselves? I think that is being too clever because who will now want to pay $1.5 billion or more for a refinery that they know was scrap before and someone has just tried to fix? I think it is better for him to aim to be able to produce the 90 percent capacity and produce with it for about five years without question. Otherwise, I don’t think he is going to have any peace on this matter. The money is just too much. $1.5 billion is a huge sum of money. We are not talking of N300 million which they used for their turn around. $1.5 billion is a huge sum. So, I pray for his sake that all they have promised will come to pass.
The Group Managing Director (GMD) of Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Mele Kyari, few days ago said that the corporation can no longer bear the over N120bn monthly subsidy on Premium Motor Spirit (PMS) also known as petrol. He also said that may impact on the current price of fuel at N162. Will you be shocked if the price of fuel is increased?
I will not be surprised but I will be very upset. I think it is good to be ignorant. Those of us who are ignorant in economics are not seeing it the same the NNPC and the experts are seeing it. Let us try and look at the logic of what they are saying. When the NNPC are getting almost nothing for oil, if the price crashes to $10 per barrel, then they are ready to dash Nigerians the petrol and were selling it for little or nothing. In other words, out of that their little or nothing, they now have to look for money to make us get petrol. But now when they are being well-paid for it, when crude oil is now at $60 per barrel, that is when they can afford to subsidise because they are making so much money. They can take out of that money and make cheap petrol available for the country. But the way economic theory has turned it round that the less NNPC earns in terms of crude oil, the more it should be able to subsidise we, the users to the extent of almost paying nothing for it. But when it is earning huge sums; when it has the money to actually do the subsidy, then it should also increase the price. It makes no sense. The illogic of it arises from the fact that they say that it is a theoretical thing. We are now earning $60 per barrel. So, if we give away crude oil for refined one, it must be at that rate because that is the rate it is being sold. If we give it at a lower rate, we are losing money at the international level. I think that is stupid economics. In my view, the more you earn, the lower the price of petrol because you are having more money now from the industry, which can enable you bring the price down for the benefit of the people. The less you earn, the more difficult it should be for you to subsidise. That is when the price should go up. So, for me, the economics is upside down economics. They will never have a good excuse in my eyes for increasing the price of petrol when they are doing very well in the international market for crude oil. To me, that logic is theoretical economics logic which is totally at variance with the reality of what they are earning and therefore with the interest of the people of this country. So, there is no excuse for increasing the price of petrol and I will be very upset if they do that.
As one of the prominent chiefs in Warri kingdom (Olufusi of Warri) , what is your take on the controversy that has trailed the emergence of the Olu of Warri-elect, Prince Tsola Emiko?
Frankly, I believe Tsola Emiko is the best choice for now. I was waiting for them to resolve this problem for him to be declared as the Olu-elect for everybody, including the Ologbotsere and the others who are not in support of his choice. Certainly, he is the choice of the people and he is to be congratulated. My hope is that there will be a peaceful resolution which will fully confirm his emergence as Olu-elect of Warri.
The ranks of Nigeria’s political activists depleted earlier this month with the passage of Comrade Yinka Odumakin. As someone you interacted with during his lifetime, what is your impression about him?
He (Odumakin) was a principled man who was totally courageous about his views without fear of consequences. One may not agree with him on some of his views but one advantage that he has provided is that he has raised issues and enabled the enlightened public to really lash on those issues, discuss them and try to resolve them.
He is to be admired for being a man of ideas and a man of very strong views, which themselves unlocked other people, even those who are against him and allow issues to be robustly debated to the advantage of the public, who will now have all the possible views on any issue and then decide who to follow.
I think he is to be praised for that. I like people who have views, ideas and who can present them to the public and allow such ideas to be debated and enlighten the public. In some cases, allow a consensus which will move the nation forward.
So, one may not agree with him on many things. I think he tended to be too harsh against the people he did not like. He could have said things he was saying without being so full of condemnation of people.
But I think he was a man of ideas and he has the capacity to arouse public on important issues. I think we should give him credit for that and I pray that may his soul rest in peace.