Geopolitics and strategy of petroleum: The Nigeran experience (3)

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MEANWHILE, most of the natural gas associated with oil production was flared. In the last 20 years, production of unassociated natural gas has increased significantly.

Thus, the Nigerian Liquefied Natural Gas Company, NLNG, was established on May 17, 1989 to explore and market natural gas. Some European countries like Spain, Portugal and Italy are ready customers for Nigeria’s natural gas, but surprisingly Nigerians do not have affordable and available gas to cook food or power their thermal stations.

Today, the Nigerian economy revolves around oil and gas, which account for over 80% of the total revenue and some 90% of the export earning. Experts have put up the theory that Nigeria has three times more natural gas than oil.

Thus, in the future Nigeria will be more of a gas country than oil. As at present, nobody knows the exact amount of oil produced in Nigeria; estimates put it at 2.5 million barrels per day but this is far below the actual figure on account of illegal bunkering, outright theft and other sharp practices. Nigeria’s economic development has been directly related to the oil production.

At the same time, the country has witnessed some adverse effects from the oil business. These include militancy in the Niger Delta, pollution, piracy, other security issues etc. Security has been a major challenge to the oil industry in Nigeria. People living in the oil producing areas have become worse off.

Thus, pipeline break-ins and arson had increased significantly. To that effect, a conference on the Gulf of Guinea Maritime Security was organised in Naples, Italy from October 3-5, 2004, by the US Naval Forces Europe.

This author was a member of the Nigerian delegation that was led by the then Chief of Naval Staff, Vice Admiral S.O. Afolayan. All the countries within the Gulf of Guinea were represented. There were also delegates from Portugal, Spain, Italy, UK, Belgium and Netherlands.

The main conclusion of the conference was how to provide adequate security for the oil and gas from the Gulf of Guinea. Nigeria’s position was that the business would be on a win-win basis.

Thus, the countries within the Gulf of Guinea would provide security, while the USA and the European countries would provide the technical and logistics support for the collective security of the petroleum and other aquatic resources (shrimps, fish, crabs, sharks, etc) caused by the upwelling of oceanic waters of the Gulf of Guinea.

It is instructive to note that the report of the conference was sent to the Defence Headquarters, NNPC and PPMC. However, no adequate response has been made by the authorities concerned.

Because of the paucity of security in the Niger Delta and Nigeria’s Exclusive Economic Zone, trawlers and factory ships from mostly Asian countries poach Nigeria’s maritime resources.

Thus, the Federal Government should provide adequate maritime patrol aircraft for the Nigerian Air Force and fast attack craft for the Nigerian Navy to ensure improved security in the maritime region of the country.

To stem the never-ending incidents of pipeline vandalism and stealing of refined petroleum products by certain uninformed persons, the Federal Government should task the Pipeline and Products Marketing Company, PPMC, to introduce the Integrated Pipeline Access Security System, IPASS, into its network of pipelines.

The purpose is to counter the threat posed by terrorists or criminals who desire to either sabotage the oil and pipeline facilities or steal oil.

The main motivations are: Force display in order to achieve political goals, siphon oil or gas for black market, force low-level political or corporate concessions.

The IPASS is an integrated remote detection system, designed specifically to secure pipeline or other long line infrastructure.

It provides an early warning and fast location of spills/damages. It has a component of unmanned aerial vehicles for over the horizon detection. The system provides for a fast response prior to actual damage to the pipeline.

On refining of petroleum in Nigeria, the capacity began to lag behind local demand as early as the late 1980s. The various governments failed to act by not maintaining the refineries to operate optimally or build new ones.

Thus, Nigeria began to import refined petroleum products, which led to artificial scarcity and unemployment in the sector. To stem this unprofitable act (except for the importers and some staff of NNPC) government should build mini-refineries in some states of the federation.

This action will broaden the base for availability and distribution of refined products.          It will also provide job opportunities for Nigerians and cushion the effect of scarcity if any of the refineries breaks down or on routine maintenance.

This idea was mooted by Professor P.N. Okeke of the UNN, at the Civil War Seminar held at the National Defence College, Abuja in 2001. He further, noted that during the war, although food was scarce , petroleum products were not, because Biafran scientists and engineers built mini-refineries that kept Biafra moving.

It may be recalled that: “War brings out the best in men” (Winston Churchil). After World War II in 1945, many scientists and engineers were taken to the US and former Soviet Union: Dr. Wernher von Braun and his principals continued their research on the V-2 rockets.

This led to the manufacture of Saturn rockets in the USA while those who went to the Soviet Union helped in the production of the intercontinental ballistic missile designed by Dr. Sergei P. Korolev to launch the world’s first artificial satellite, Sputnik 1 (fellow traveller) on October 4, 1957.

That began the space race between the US and the Soviet Union, which led to Niel Armstrong’s landing on the Moon on July 20, 1969. Armstrong was quickly followed by Buzz Aldrin to be the first men on the Moon.

The importance of this story is to show that Nigeria failed to tap from the ingenuity of Ex-Biafrans for technological advancement in petroleum refining and military capability. I wonder if any top official of the NNPC has ever visited the National War Museum Umuahia to see a sample of the Biafran Fuel Distiller or “Cooking pot” used to refine petroleum.

This author is of the opinion that if Nigeria had used the ex-Biafran scientists and engineers in the oil and gas sector, the country would not be in this deplorable state. Consequently, Mr. President is advised to invite Profs P.N. Okeke, physicist; Eugene Arene, chemist;  Dr II Nnadi, industrial engineer, for a discussion on the way forward in the refining process.

These men will organise work teams, using some willing ex-NNPC engineers and some staff of PRODA Enugu to build mini-refineries in Nigeria. It is important to note that petroleum refining process is not rocket science or nuclear physics.

However, some pundits in NNPC may dismiss such a plan as crude, but it must be remembered that when we travel abroad today, we fly in comfort and style in modern aeroplanes.

I wonder how many of us would dare to fly in the aircraft that was the first to be flown in the World, the Flyer 1, by the Wright brothers, which took place on December 17, 1903 at Kitty Hawk North Carolina USA. A visit to the Air and Space Museum of the Smithsonian in Washington DC, will present the contraption to the knowledge seeker.

Therefore, any crude refinery today or now will become modern with innovation in science and technology.

Mr .OSITA OBIERIKA,  a rtd  AVM, wrote from Abuja.

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