National economy is bigger than oil, gas sector, says Okoronkwo
The National President, Independent Petroleum Marketers Association Of Nigeria (IPMAN), Elder Chinedu Okoronkwo aims to place South East as an oil and gas processing zone. Recently, the Nigeria Union of Journalists Zone C honoured him with an award on excellence in entrepreneurial development following his successful run in the oil and gas sector. He spoke with Nnamdi Akpa on the Nigerian oil and gas sector. Excerpts
What is your vision for IPMAN as the new leader?
MY vision is how to bring about wealth creation in the country.
When I got elected, I saw the need to begin to give value to our major revenue product, the crude oil. I consulted a group from South America with a vision of building two refineries one each in Kogi State and in Bayesa State. They came, and we went to Kogi where we were able to secure the land to build the refinery. They couldn’t go to. Bayelsa because the governor was out of the country. The group will soon visit the Government of Bayelsa, while the land in Kogi is been surveyed.
We are also planning a wonderful seaport at Azumiri in Abia State.
The whole of that axis will be designated as an Industrial Park where fertilizer and petrochemical companies will spring up to boost the oil and gas sector. This is the vision I have as the President of IPMAN and we have started. The ministry of petroleum has listened to us and all the paper work will be sorted out soon. Meanwhile, inside the association, I am championing the establishment of an enabling situation where understanding and mutual cooperation will exist among the members and the general public, especially as it concerns the availability of products at our petrol stations to erase the suspicions and educate the public on what we are doing.
How much will it cost to build these two refineries and how do you intend to raise the funds?
The seaport, the industrial park and the two refineries are estimated to cost about $30 billion. The funds will be raised through Euro bond and other investors. The investment group is ready. I can’t talk about this now until other points have been taken care of. Funding won’t be a problem; we have the vision and it is a viable venture. But let me disclose that for the construction of the projects, the money and everything involved are ready. As soon as the paper works are cleared, the group will begin work in earnest.
What is the driving force behind these initiatives?
With the issue of dwindling crude oil price globally, we considered that if we try something like this, we will be able to manage the negative impact because oil is our major revenue earner. As a major oil producing nation, we don’t have enough refineries to ensure that the country and the citizens fully benefit from the product. We therefore want to contribute our quota by building two refineries. Certainly, this will lead to the creation of jobs.
Incidentally, I have been saying these things even the present drop in price of crude. We are caught in the dynamics of crude oil prices with debilitating effects. The only option to us, due to the nature of this business, is to begin to refine as it will add value to the economy.
And knowing that in refining crude oil there are lucrative byproducts, we envisaged that companies ranging from pharmaceutical, petrochemical company and others will spring up alongside to explore and exploit the use of the byproducts.
What was the reason behind the choice of Bayelsa and Kogi states to site the refineries?
It is the result of our research. For example, Kogi, given its location, about 10 states will benefit from the refinery. Bayelsa will take care of the South South and parts of West Africa market. The seaport will serve both the South East and South South regions and it will
open the areas nearby because it would be an oil and gas fuel zone. We are in contact with the Abia governor and we are expecting approval from him on the same project as that of Kogi. But besides building the
refineries we also intend to build a strategic depot that will be connected to the rail line, so that there won’t be a shortage of petroleum products within Nigeria and some west Africa countries.
These projects will grow our GDP and unleash untold wealth, a lot people will be employed, the availability of petroleum products will be guaranteed while it will accelerate the economic growth of other sectors.
How long will it take for these projects to materialise?
At the moment all the necessary paper work are ready and we expect that once work commences, within two years, everything will be completed. The groups selected for these projects are working toward actualizing the target.
What does the award you recently received from the NUJ South East Zone means to you?
It is an award that I cherish because it came from a respected group. It will motivate me to work harder; the award will go along way in pushing my team and I further. A lot of people are happy for me because of the award and their goodwill will further spur me to double my effort to contribute my quota to nation building.
How would you assess the national economy?
There are indications that the economy is growing and from statistics, direct foreign investment is growing. This is necessary for Nigeria to be seen as one of the biggest economies in Africa. If is heart warming that the economy is growing irrespective of the present state of insecurity occasioned by the activities of insurgents. It is due to the resilience of Nigerians that we are still making progress. If the country is a little more peaceful, a lot more would be happening in our economy.
Beyond oil and gas, do you think the Nigerian economy can pull through other sectors?
Definitely yes. For example, agriculture is one sector, whose potential has not been fully exploited. This is one country where farmers can farm all year round in different parts of the country, either through irrigation and fertility of the land. I think that the government should begin to place more emphasis on developing the agricultural sector. The beautiful thing about the agricultural sector is that it can engage people at different levels. A lot of families now are into subsistence farming, others are into it as a source of livelihood while others are into it on a larger scale for export proses maybe. There are so much to accomplish in the sector.
But no matter how small, farmers in any section of the sector should be encouraged because any country that is working should not have one source of income. The agricultural sector is as diverse as oil and gas and certainly with a lot of openings to accommodate more people.
The agricultural sector is one area, whose potential has not been fully exploited. This is one country where farmers can farm all year round in different parts of the country, either through irrigation and fertility of the land. I think that the government should begin to place more emphasis on developing the agricultural sector. The beautiful thing about the agricultural sector is that it can engage people at different levels.