By Sonny Atumah
President John Fitzgerald Kennedy, JFK, one of the youngest to be elected president of the United States at 43, in a quote said that: “The time to repair the roof is when the sun is shining.” The quote tells us that we should fix what is broken as soon as possible.
Waiting for the next rainstorm and trying to fix it then could be late. They would have taken but the smallest fraction of time, effort, and cost if they had been addressed in a timely manner. Is it inherently a Nigerian problem not to maintain what we have?
It may not be ingrained character of the Nigerian. But we have not developed the consciousness of timeliness in reacting to issues of maintenance of what we have. Indeed, timeliness may have separated us from those societies that have maintenance culture.
One is still wondering whether there is no innate releasing mechanism in the Nigerian; a stimulus that triggers instinctive behaviour of levity when it comes to maintenance. It is for Nigerian researchers to go to work on why we have developed a negative attitude towards maintenance. Perhaps it could be worth appreciating if we find lasting solution to it.
Maintenance is work done regularly to keep a machine, building or piece of equipment in good condition and working order. It is an aggregation of colossal waste in resources as with great delight we watch our facilities we spent scarce resources to provide decay and care less. In a character reference, it is dilapidation in our homes, the cars we drive, our roads, airports, seaports, railways, public buildings, other public utilities and our environment.
Last year my colleagues and I had the privilege of a guided tour round the two national stadiums in Lagos and Abuja. With trepidation we were really uneasy about facilities decays and the future of our dear country. And we wept! One was privileged to be associated with the late Major General Mamman Kontagora led Presidential Monitoring Committee that rehabilitated the stadium in Lagos in 1995. The Lagos stadium hosted matches of the African Cup of Nations in the year 2000.
The Abuja stadium hosted the All Africa Games, COJA 2003. Institutions including universities are not spared of unkempt general environment, administrative buildings, and academic departments. Lecture rooms and theatres with leaking roofs and broken desks and chairs are common sight, with disorderly laboratories, and messy students hostels including common rooms, toilets etc.
The laxity and levity on issues of maintenance have caused Nigeria fortunes. The four refineries in Port Harcourt (1&2), Warri and Kaduna with a combined capacity to refine 445,000 barrels per day are the biggest casualty of government neglect for about 28 years. From one head of state or president to the other, we waited until it became an emergency and it has taken far longer than if we had dealt with it in a timely manner.
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And these refineries are not as old as people are deceived to believe. The lack of adequate maintenance is what we have been suffering. The oldest in Port Harcourt (1) came on stream in 1965 and the newest Port Harcourt (2) came on stream in 1990. The newest complex refinery in the United States, the Marathon Petroleum Company Grayville, Louisiana came on stream in 1977. It had a refining capacity of 200,000 barrels per day. It was upgraded to 522,000 bpd in January 2014. India has the world’s oldest refinery, Digboi Refinery Assam built in 1901 and it is still working. Maintenance is the key.
We have experienced almost three decades of running our refineries aground. Instead of confronting the problems which are indeed ours to solve we run away like water that will always follow the line of weak resistance. Sell them is always the ready answer.
The wholly owned Eleme Petrochemical Company built in 1989 was a casualty of the ‘sell them’ syndrome as it was sold as scrap in August 2006. The investors in three months did turnaround maintenance of the facility and invited then President Olusegun Obasanjo for production commissioning on October 12, 2006.
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That we have failed to maintain our refineries made them to die and that meant we cannot refine to diversify the economy along vertical linkages away from relying solely on crude exports. Vertical linkage is where we use policies in the direction of higher value added investments in petroleum based industries for fuels, agriculture, civil engineering, automobile, daily need, fashion & beauty, medicine and pharmaceuticals, packaging & other domestic uses.
There are potentials for up to 6000 investment opportunities when we refine a barrel of crude. Refineries as national assets are strategic for energy, infrastructure, technology, skills acquisition and employment, increased GDP, and increased fiscal revenue. Often times the maintenance problems we have been saddled with bothered on management, inefficiency and corruption.
Activities of the NNPC downstream sector was reduced to import of refined products and ‘subsidy’ claims. The new GMD of NNPC Mallam Mele Kyari has promised that rehabilitation works on the four refineries would commence early 2020. He believes that the refineries did not fail because there were no skills but because we were unable to take care of them. And that was correct. Kyari is a serious-minded person so let us support him.