Nigerian refineries: For refurbishment or remodelling?

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fac sheriffdeen tella

The Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation Limited is at it again. Some of the refineries are undergoing refurbishment and will start ‘production’ sooner or later.  It was widely reported at the end of January 2023 that Daewoo Engineering and Construction Limited, a South Korean firm, signed an agreement with the NNPCL to undertake a quick-fix (whatever that means) repair of the Kaduna refinery and restore production to about 60 per cent capacity by the end of 2024.

The Kaduna refinery, the latest and largest of the four refineries now owned by the NNPCL was constructed in 1980! The first refinery was built in Port Harcourt in 1965 with a capacity to process 60,000 barrels per day and a ‘new’ one in the same place in 1989 which could process 150,000 barrels per stream day. The Warri refinery was commissioned in 1979 to produce, initially, 100,000 barrels per stream day and later upgraded to produce 125,000 barrels per day. This was earlier offered for refurbishment in 2022 with the promise that it will start full production again in December, 2023.

There are stories in recent times that these refineries have not been refurbished in almost 15 years, but we did hear of payment for turn-around maintenance within the same period. Money down the drain or money drained into private pockets? What is important to us here is the ages of the refineries and the technology at the time they were built. The technology of the 1965 refinery must be different from that of 1980. Definitely, the technology of refineries today cannot be compared with that of 1980 which is over 40 years. Can there be spare parts currently for technology of 1980? Maybe Daewoo and NNPCL can provide a favourable answer.

In an earlier article in July 2022, I posited that, “NNPC, the corporation, was the only organisation that had unproductive refineries but maintained full complementary workforce on its payroll. It was the public company that derives joy in importing refined fuel while exporting crude oil to the detriment of the economy. It is one of the very few public companies that refused to be accountable to anyone, even the government that set it up. One of the few public companies that were not part of the treasury single account and the government department that, when it sneezes, the other ministries catch cold. The public outfit that has hoodwinked everybody such that those who should know better and call to question the wrongdoings of the company or cooperation are in total silence or submission.” It is still in this context that the company, which has turned private, could engage in refurbishing two refineries at the cost that can build a new, modern refinery with greater outputs.

Refurbishing, from my understanding, is like making a building look new through such activities like repairing, cleaning and painting. No fundamental changes but the normal renovation like freshen up or brighten or revitalisation. Quite different from something like overhaul which is to repair or renew thoroughly and better than refurbishing. This is also different from a word like remodelling which means to change the structure or form of something.

According to Collins, remodelling is the act of changing or altering the structure, style or form of something. If we want different results from what we have been getting from these old refineries, the way of remodelling is the right path, not refurbishing. Remodelling means that the refineries will be modernised. The 40-year-old technology will give way to modern one without destroying or removing the whole machines. That might be worth the amount of funds currently allocated to the refurbishing exercise.

At the transformation of NNPC to NNPCL, the Chief Executive Officer of the new company and erstwhile General Manager of the NNPC, Mele Kyari, promised that, “the company will be smarter, more responsive and accountable and will act within the premises of all regulations guarding private enterprises. It will be managed to meet global standards of best practice in terms of governance.” Part of being smarter is to adopt new management techniques and discard the old ones that did not pay off. Another word for turn-around maintenance is ‘refurbishing’ which had, in the past, led to waste of resources like time and money.


A smarter way of running the old refineries profitably is to remodel them. It may not even involve any immediate funds if the company decides to go into partnership with the Daewoo company, as the latter would see the prospect for profit making in the relationship and thus key into it by supplying the technology required in a joint venture management. I doubt if Daewoo would want to partner with the NNPCL in the case of refurbishing the existing refineries because they know it would be money down the drain.

However, it is shameful that a NNPCL that is now private sector driven and whose business for now is to import and supply petrol and allied products cannot supply the products in adequate quantities to avoid the logjam that is being witnessed now. The company is to make money from supplying the products to customers who pay directly for what they buy. Or is the company also in the hands of economic mafia?

In the article entitled, Nigerian economy in the stranglehold of economic mafia, about three weeks ago and before the presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress cried out on sabotage regarding his presidential ambition, I opined that some ministers and public officials were no longer in control of activities under their watch. I did not expect that to happen to a private company like the NNPCL if it is run truly as a private company rather than a public sector parastatal. What is currently happening with the running of the outfit seems to prove me wrong.

Since all that the company is involved now and pending when, hopefully, the Warri refinery will start production, is to supply fuel via buying from any part of the world and selling in the local market, we should not be witnessing queues in petrol stations due to shortages. I have however, noticed that NNPCL is a private company in intention but public in operation.

Back to our original concern, there is the need for the NNPCL to renegotiate with the Daewoo Engineering and Construction limited to remodel the Kaduna refinery rather than refurbishment. Fortunately, it is the biggest and least archaic of the four refineries. So, the remodelling may not be difficult. The remodelling will be a test case for remodelling of Port Harcourt refineries, given that refurbishment of the Warri refinery is almost complete. Also, NNPCL should explore the opportunities for joint venture with the Daewoo company or any other such engineering company ready for partnership. With that kind of arrangement, the NNPCL can benefit from additional funds from the company and the modern technology that the remodelling will bring along.

This is a trying period for Turkey and Syria from the earthquake reported to have taken away over 20,000 people. This is a big loss economically in terms of manpower and natural physical resources. There is the need for more countries to assist them materially and technologically to reduce the medium to long-term economic hardship on the citizens. Every country has its share of natural disasters but in varying degrees of intensity. This has been a tough one and Nigerians must show concern even while in battle with leadership disaster. Or is it a followership disaster or both? Let us continue to pray for the souls of the departed and the revival of the countries’ economies.