- Nigeria's federal Minister of Information and National Orientation, Chukwuemeka Chikelu has said that the government haste in privatising oil refineries is to "get them back to work and ease peoples suffering." Trade unions however fear job losses.
In a Nigerian government press release, referring to an interview made on BBC, Minister Chikelu said that the government believed that the private sector would run the refineries more effectively in line with the terms of privatisation of agencies, thereby stemming the perennial shortages of petroleum products in the country.
Nigeria is Africa's principal oil producer and exporter. However, the impoverished country for years has experienced serious problems in distributing refined petroleum products within Nigeria. Ineffective refineries and distributions systems have also led to giant subsidies to keep gasoline prices at low levels in the local market.
There are only four oil refineries in Nigeria; all in an inadequate state. These refineries' declining capacities has led to the fact that Nigeria now needs to import large volumes of petroleum products to meet domestic demand.
- We want to open up the refineries to private investors, now says Minister Chikelu, explaining that the move would not only generate wealth for the nation but also create employment for Nigerians.
The acceleration of the refineries privatisation would neither jeopardise the country's interest nor lead to the loss of any essential component of the privatisation process, the Minister assured.
He stated that the workers' interest and the interests of Nigerians as a whole would be adequately protected during negotiations with the private investors.
The Minister allayed fears being expressed by trade unions that the proceeds may lead to loss of jobs, and assured that the privatisation would lead to more efficiency, more profits and employments of more people in the oil sector. In fact, his Ministry this week had to promise not to dispose of the refineries as scraps to be able to avoid a new strike in the oil sector.
Mr Chikelu admitted that, the current state of the refineries was "not in the best interest of Nigerians" and expressed optimism that their privatisation would solve the lingering problems of shortage of petroleum products in the country once and for all.
The Minister dismissed speculations that the refineries may eventually be acquired by top government officials or Cronies, emphasising that the privatisation process would be "participatory and transparent".
Meanwhile, the Minister and President Olusegun Obasanjo have found it difficult to sell off the country's four refineries, which are being portrayed as worthless.
According to investigations made by the Lagos-based 'This Day', the Nigerian government last week had made an unsuccessful bid to get the oil majors namely Shell, ChevronTexaco and Mobil, take up the offer of acquiring 51 per cent stake and partner government in managing the refineries.
The oil majors had told government officials the refineries were not good enough to meet necessary efficiency levels. Further, the multinationals demanded that the plants be handed over to them for management, 'This Day' reports.
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