Commissioner for Petroleum and Solid Minerals Development in Abia, Chief Don Ubani, in this interview with GEOFFREY EKENNA, explains the efforts of Governor Theodore Orji to ensure adequate power supply in the state, among other things.
What are your duties as the commissioner for petroleum and solid minerals development in Abia State?
Well, by virtue of my appointment, I have the mandate to coordinate activities in anything that has to do with petroleum in this state. It is my responsibility by virtue of the mandate of my ministry to take absolute control of such matters. That includes bulk storage of petroleum products; distribution and, of course, pricing.
Whatever is associated with the filling stations in this state, of course, comes under the purview of my ministry. It is also in the mandate of my ministry to know how many filling stations are functionally in this state; it is also our charge to know how many oil wells exist in Abia State and, of course, like I rightly stated, the ministry of petroleum and solid minerals development is a ministry that supervises two very important sectors of the national economy.
We have seen the petroleum and we also have the solid minerals and, of course, Abia is exceptionally blessed with solid minerals. We have kaolin; we also have Limestone; and Salt in such places as Ohafia Local Government Area. Abia State also has gold, even though it is yet to be scientifically established in terms of its quantity also in Ohafia area.
Of course, my ministry also has to do with the red mud, which people use for their buildings and road constructions. It is a solid mineral, which is under my purview. We also have sand in the seas and rivers in Abia. That is why we relate with truck owners because what they are extracting belongs to my ministry. My ministry is very strategic with every wide range of coverage.
What measures has the state government put in place to make Abia attractive to investors in the petroleum sector?
When you want to attract investors, the first thing a government or society does is to make sure that there is enabling environment. The first among equal is security. What the state government has done basically is to make sure that security of lives and properties is guaranteed in this state because no investor will like to go to any place to invest where his security or the security of his property is not guaranteed.
So, here, courtesy of Governor Theodore Orji, in partnership with Mr. President, there is now security in Abia State. We had our experience in the past and some other people felt it was a laughing matter and something to ridicule Abia. But today, Abia State is the safest state in this country.
What we hear about other areas is now strange to Abia people. Security is the most important thing to attract investors and we have achieved that. Of course, no society is perfect but we have achieved 97 per cent security. If within a system, there is three per cent flaw, you can score that system very high. I believe that Abia State, from all indications and comparatively, is among the best in terms of security.
With that, any genuine investor that is interested will now gladly, safely and comfortably come to Abia State. For you to talk of investment, you should also talk of infrastructural development in terms of roads and electricity. The governor within this period has done a lot of jobs in making sure that our roads are tremendously improved upon because people will not like to come and invest where their vehicles will always break down on the roads. One of the things that drove many industrialists away from this country was epileptic power supply. In Abia State, especially in Umuahia, the state government has done a lot to improve upon the electricity supply. There is 133KVA substation in Umuahia.
It is one thing to build a substation and another thing to evacuate it. The power could be there but if it is not evacuated to strategic areas, people won’t have access to the power. So, in this case, after the 133kva had been built by the Federal Government, Governor Theodore Orji had to embark on the evacuation of this power.
Today, power situation in Umuahia has improved considerably. Aba has a lot of potentials for maximum power improvement because we two power projects in Aba and those two stations will be commissioned before the end of this year. Once they are commissioned, they will not only supply power to Aba but also take care of the power situation in the South East. If Aba should be the source of the supply, you can be rest assured that the power situation in Aba will stabilise.
So, industries will flourish because any economy that is generator-driven has a lot of problems. First, the cost of production will be unnecessarily and avoidably high and when the cost of production is on the high side, many consumers will reduce their demand. So, the government of Abia State is doing much to make sure that energy supply is restored satisfactorily.
Security is there; power is there and the roads have received considerable attention by the state government. Again, even though I am not a tax authority, I know that the state government’s tax policy is investor-friendly; it is not a tax that can muzzle an investor out of business. This administration is a compassionate administration because it is run by a man, who has human feelings and he applies human touch in anything he is associated with.
Which power projects are in Aba area?
We have one built by the Federal Government and Geometric built by the Minister of Power himself, that is, Prof. Bart Nnaji. These are the two power projects being built concurrently in Aba and they are almost 98 per cent completed.
What is the role of your ministry in the upstream sector of the oil and gas industry?
Our job is to make sure that we know the number of oil wells in this state. We enumerate them. It is also the responsibility of our ministry to also think of attracting investors because there are many capped wells in Abia State. Due to the fact that they are capped wells, they have not been associated with functionality.
So, what we are now doing is to see if we can attract investors who can go into the upstream sector of the petroleum industry. As we speak, it is only Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) that is involved in oil exploration and exploitation in Abia State. But Shell has grown too big that it cannot show interest in certain class of investment. So, we are telling other investors that there are a lot of potentials; there are many capped wells that investors can take up in the state.
If investors come, we will take them around and they will see that there are many wells they can take up. So, what we are doing is to make sure that our doors are open; the policy of government is investment-friendly. Whoever that is interested, Abia State is an investment point and we will happily and gladly welcome investors.
Governor Theodore Orji travelled to Dubai sometime ago and the people of Dubai are supposed to come to Abia to invest in oil and gas. What has happened to that project?
The Prince from Dubai visited Abia State and by way of reciprocity, His Excellency also went to Dubai and there was exchange of cordiality. Even though the Prince has not come up with concrete investment programme, we are very optimistic that he will come. To establish a refinery is capital intensive and by the time an investor comes and finds out that what he is looking for is in Abia State, the next thing is for him to go and put his acts together with his bankers.
No single individual can bankroll the establishment of a refinery. So, if an investor shows interest and we don’t see him as soon as we expect, it could be that he is still trying to put his house in order. So, we hope that the Prince, like other investors who have indicated interest will come. Our policy is that whoever that has genuine interest in the establishment of a refinery or any project in the petroleum sector will be highly welcome.
How many oil-producing wells do you have in Abia State?
Oil wells in Abia are about 103 but I think the ones producing are about 50. So, the other ones are marginal wells and Shell appears to be losing interest in some of these wells. That is why we say that whoever that comes will partner with Shell for the transfer of the wells. But one thing is very important: any product can always be subjected to trading.
The oil we have in Abia State is the one we call the Bonny Light. If other grades of crude oil sell at $100 per barrel, crude oil from Abia will sell at, let us say, $120 per barrel. That is the difference. If we say that we have 50 functional oil wells, these functional oil wells could be more than 80 functional oil wells in some other places, taking into consideration the difference in quality.
Which areas in Abia State can we find these oil wells?
I told you that I am Okwubunka Asa gburuburu and for now, it is only in Asa that this oil is found. That Asa is our clan or cultural name. Politically, cum administratively, we are known as Ukwa West. We are at the extreme of the Southern part of Abia State. Immediately after Ukwa West, we have Rivers State. Imo River is the demarcation point.
What are your achievements in this ministry?
I was the Commissioner for Information and Strategy and before I came into the petroleum ministry, I must say that my predecessors had also done a good job and I must be fair to them. When the ministry was established, nobody thought it could make any impact to boost revenue generation. The ministry was a write-off. But subsequently, the ministry of petroleum and solid minerals development has become a factor that can’t be ignored in the calculation of the Abia State Internally Generated Revenue (IGR). From the solid minerals, we continue to bring in money.
We have over 670 functional filling stations in the state and the IGR derivable in that sector is huge. We have made very remarkable achievement in the recent past. About 2006, that was before His Excellency was elected for his first tenure, the Osisioma Depot that belongs to the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) went comatose as a result of activities of vandals. But I want to say to the credit of Governor Theodore Orji that now that I am here, we can point at one major achievement and that is the resuscitation of that Aba Depot after it went out of operation for over six years.
Recently, it was resuscitated and as I speak to you now, petroleum products have been pumped from the Port Harcourt Refinery to Osisioma depot and loading is taking place consistently. It is to the credit of His Excellency, while the glory goes to God. I also want to use this medium to call on our people, because they are into this pipeline vandalism and they have been trying to go back to it. We have told them that it wouldn’t be in their overall interest.
Recently, I had a very strategic meeting with the General Officer Commanding the 82 Division of the Nigerian Army, Enugu, Major General Oluwaseun O. Oshinowo. In that meeting, we also had the Brigade Commander of the 14 Brigade at Ohafia, Brig-Gen Jibril Tanko Abubakar; Commanding Officer of the 144 Battalion based at Asa High School, also in Abia State, Lt. Col. Tamuno Tonye Minimah.
Also present was a representative of Brigade Commander, 2 Brigade based in Port Harcourt, Brig-General Tukur Buratai; and the representative of the Brigade Commander of 34 Artillery Brigade based in Obinze, near Owerri, with, of course, Pipeline Products Marketing Company (PPMC), Independent Petroleum Marketers Association of Nigeria (IPMAN) and the Petroleum Tanker Drivers (PTD).
So, we had a meeting and in that meeting, we resolved among the stakeholders that we must put this economic menace of pipeline vandalism to a stop. I am using this opportunity to call on vandals to stay away from the pipelines because if 70 people go there, people who will come back to tell the story may not be more than five.
Of course, it is going to affect our population but the economy must be saved because like you know the history of many empires that ruled and failed – Songhai Empire, Mali Empire – once the economy of any given government is destroyed, the next thing is political collapse.
So, these vandals may not know what they are doing, but the enemies of the Nigerian state could be at work. Once Nigeria’s economy is collapsed, the defence will have no muscle to fight for the unity of this country. So, we are saying that vandals should be mindful of the interest of the government and this interest of government is the interest of the masses.
Again, another major achievement we recorded is our fight against illegal oil bunkering. About a month ago, I suggested to His Excellency and he gladly accepted that we go to the main point of oil bunkering in Abia State and that is where we call Amanapia in Imo River in Ukwa West. That is where Shell pipelines from Owaza, the major oil producing community in Ukwa West.
The Shell pipeline that comes from Owaza – is joined by another line from Umuorie and crosses the railway across the Imo River at Imo River town. It is by that railway that Shell’s pipeline, which is coming from Owaza and connecting Umuorie, goes straight to the Bonny export Terminal.
So, it is around that area that these economic hoodlums vandalise the pipeline. They fix their taps and connect them to barges on Imo River and siphon crude oil and find their way into the Atlantic Ocean. Such business cannot be done by small people.