Osten Olorunsola, director-general of the Department of Petroleum Resources, in an interview with Maureen Chigbo, editor, Realnews, in Abuja, speaks on innovations introduced in the Nigeria Oil and Gas Conference which started February 18. He also spoke on various issues affecting the oil and gas sector including Petroleum Industry Bill, PIB, pipeline vandalism among others. Excerpts.
Realnews: The Nigeria Oil and Gas conference has been on for the past 13 years. Do you think that the standard is improving or has it depreciated giving the kind of lacklustre opening ceremony we have today?
Olorunsola: If you listened to the opening remark by Dr. Alirio Parra, the convener, indeed this is the 13th year. He actually gave some statistics that by the time we started, exhibition stands alone were driven 90 percent foreign and 10 percent Nigerian. But today, it is the reverse. It’s 90 percent of Nigerian exhibition and 10 percent foreign. So, even if you viewed that as a yardstick alone, that is an indicator of progress.
Realnews: Not having foreign exhibitors, does that mean that foreign investors are no more coming to Nigeria?
Olorunsola: No, No. That’s not true. What it means is that most of those earlier foreign exhibitors have now actually domiciled their activities in Nigeria because of the Nigerian Content Act that actually beholds some people to actually domicile here. Most of them have actually formed Nigerian companies instead of doing things from abroad the way they used to do before and shipping them across. They actually do it here.
Realnews: You have been participating over the years in NOG. Has the standard improved or fallen?
Olorunsola: In my view, it has really improved. It has matured and what we should be looking forward to now is the next wave of new things coming out of the NOG. Is it the kind of thing we witnessed this evening. Previously, we used to have opening ceremonies where speeches are made by top government officials and industry experts. Nothing like what took place this evening.
Realnews: Is it the kind of thing we witnessed this evening. Previsiously we used to have opening ceremonies where speeches are made by top government officials and industry experts. Nothing like what took place this evening.
Olorunsola: This is an innovation where you actually declare the conference open the night before. If you come tomorrow morning, you are going to see an array of speeches like we used to have. This is about making use of the time in an efficient manner because most people flew in today (Monday) or yesterday. If we are to start tomorrow, everybody will just be going around this evening. But today, we have declared it open. Everything as far as the exhibition is concerned, we have done that formal opening. Then we can go straight into business tomorrow, that’s the whole idea. It’s an innovation.
Realnews: What are your expectations for the conference?
Olorunsola: Oh, it is coming out very well. It is really, really matured now. There is a lot of focus. If you look at the papers that will be presented, there is a lot of focus on growth, on preparing Nigeria for growth. There is a lot of focus on competition. So, we will be expecting quite a lot of papers and discussions on that.
Realnews: Let’s look into the DPR activities. We still have filling stations which sell kerosene above the official pump price. It appears that the DPR is incapacitated…
Olorunsola: That’s not true at all. That’s not true. I am sure if you have been reading the papers, you would have seen that we have shut down more than 500 stations in the last two months all across the country.
Realnews: Have the proprietors been prosecuted?
Olorunsola: We don’t prosecute. We have the right to withdraw your license completely. We take it in stages. If you are a first offender, we shut down your station for some time. If you come back and say that you are sorry, you are not going do that again, then we allow you to operate because we also, at the same time, don’t want a situation where Nigerians will not have access to the product. We can shut down everything. But is that what Nigerians want, no. So, we have to take it in a balanced view. As a matter of fact, we can shut down stations for 60 days, which means you don’t have that product for 60 days. But we also have to think about Nigerians having access to those product. In most cases, they don’t go back doing it. The problem, as you can see, is that there are 25,000 petrol stations in this country. So, even 500 out of that is still a peanut.
Realnews: Does it mean that the DPR does not have enough manpower?
Olorunsola: It is not necessarily the issue. It’s just the sheer expanse of the whole thing round the whole country. You can’t be everywhere at the same time. As we are here right now, if someone is doing that in Sokoto, what do you want me to do? It takes time before you can even make a phone call to people around there to mobilise to those places. So, it’s just the sheer infrastructure needed to get things done. It’s a bit difficult.
Realnews: Does it worry you that official pump price of kerosene is N50 but nobody gets it at that price?
Olorunsola: It worries everybody. And my minister had said it severally. But it’s our people at the end of the day who are to blame for that. It’s our people. It’s your people. It’s my people – all the middle men and women that make things difficult for other people.
Realnews😕 What about smuggling of petrol outside our shores. What has the DPR done?
Olorunsola: I am not aware of that. What do you call smuggling?
Realnews: Smuggling of petrol from Nigeria to neighbouring countries where they are sold for higher profit. That has been the reason sometimes given for the scarcity of the product.
Olorunsola: Of course, the PPMC will tell you a little better about that not the DPR. When they smuggle, what the PPMC says is that because of the way it is smuggled, it affects their pipeline infrastructure. If the pipeline infrastructure is affected, then it means that the distribution network is affected. Then until they fix it before you can get the products. That’s basically what they are saying. If you puncture the pipeline, they need time to mobilise to fix it. That’s basically what is happening.
Realnews: What do you think about the pipeline vandalisation in the country?
Olorunsola: Before you go there, nobody wants it.
Realnews: The authorities are not doing anything…
Olorunsola: Government is doing everything possible. Otherwise, you won’t even have any pipeline on the surface of the ground.
Realnews: Why do we have more pipeline vandalism now?
Olorunsola: I don’t know. You are just asking me why do we have more thieves today than yesterday. I wouldn’t know.
Realnews: You are the chairman of the technical committee on the PIB. You assured Nigerians last year that the PIB would be passed.
Olorunsola: No, I did not say it would be passed. I said that the technical committee had completed its job. And yes, we have finished with it. The bill is now with the National Assembly.
Realnews: The bill has been sent to the National Assembly before. Why is it taking time for it to be passed?
Olorunsola: You know that this is a new National Assembly with some new members. They have to look at the bill again. It has to go through the first reading, second reading, public hearing. It has to go through all the processes before it can be passed.
Realnews: The IOCs are said to be against the bill. Did the technical committee not take note of the issues they raised into consideration?
Olorunsola: We took note of all the issues raised by all interest groups. You know, you can give people 50 percent of what they want and they keep demanding for more.
Realnews: What are the major challenges you had in your office?
Olorunsola: I don’t have any major challenges that I cannot resolve.