By Ikenna Omeje
Following criticisms that greeted the recent Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed by the Federal Government with the Republic of Niger for the importation of 15,000 barrels per day of refined petroleum products from Niger’s 20,000 barrel per day (bpd) refinery, the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Chief Timipre Sylva, has dismissed the views of some Nigerians that the deal is an embarrassment to the country.
The Special Adviser on Media to the Minister, Alhaji Garba Deen Muhammad who disclosed the signing of the deal on Thursday last week, stated that the MoU was reached following bilateral agreement between President Muhammadu Buhari and President Mahamadou Issoufou of Niger.
Muhammad, stated that the MoU was signed by the Group Managing Director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Malam Mele Kyari, and the Director General of SONIDEP, Mr Alio Toune.
He noted that MoU was signed under the supervision of the two countries’ Ministers of State for Petroleum (Chief Timipre Sylva) and Mr Foumakoye Gado, respectively, with the Secretary General of the African Petroleum Producers Organisation (APPO), Dr Omar Farouk Ibrahim, in attendance.
He said talks had been ongoing between the two countries for over four months – through the NNPC and Niger Republic’s National Oil Company, Societe Nigerienne De Petrole (SONIDEP) – on petroleum products transportation and storage.
According to him, the Niger Republic’s Soraz Refinery in Zinder, some 260 kilometers from the Nigerian border, has an installed refining capacity of 20,000 barrels per day.
Defending the signing of the deal, Sylva while featuring on Channels Television’s Politics Today on Monday said: “I don’t see that as an embarrassment at all. As a country, Nigeria is a big market, we need products, even if all our refineries were functioning, we will still need extra products.
“Niger Republic produces oil and they are landlocked as a country. They have a refinery that produces in excess of what they require as a country and they offered to sell to us in Nigeria because this is a bigger market.
“In the spirit of regional cooperation, regional trade development, we decided to buy from them. I don’t see anything wrong with that. If your neighbour is producing something that is required in your country and you buy from him, why is that a big problem?
“So, we agreed with Niger to buy the excess of what they don’t require in Niger because this is a big market.”
He added: “Nigerians should be proud that we are doing that to encourage sub-regional trade because we have been talking about sub-regional trade for a long time and this is how it should be between neighbouring countries. Niger should import from us what we have and we should be able to import from Niger what they have. Let us encourage intra-regional trade and this is one good example of trading within West Africa.”