…as Abiodun, Amosun trade words

Nigerians are in a euphoric mood following the berthing of the 650,000-barrels-per-day Dangote Refinery and Petrochemical Plant, the world’s largest single-train refinery, in Lagos’ Lekki Free Trade Zone with the promise of solving the country’s perennial oil refining challenges and saving it over $3bn yearly from the importation of petroleum products.

But in Ogun and Rivers States, there are cries of regret, finger-pointing and blame game over the loss of opportunity of siting the refinery in either of the states instead of Lagos.

In Ogun State, Lagos’ next-door neighbour, the government of Prince Dapo Abiodun has put the blame for the lost opportunity squarely on the shoulders of its predecessor.

Kunle Somorin, Chief Press Secretary to the Ogun State Governor, in a press statement dated 23 May 2023, said it was the government of Ibikunle Amosun that frustrated the efforts to locate the refinery in the state and ran the promoter of the project out of the state.

Somorin was reacting to a report credited to a stalwart of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), Segun Sowunmi, which allegedly blamed successive administrations in the state for losing the Dangote Refinery to Lagos State.

He said while the loss of that huge investment, especially when Ogun had been marked as the most suitable natural location for the mega project in Olokola Free Trade Zone, Ogun Waterside Local Government Area of the state, would cause pain to any true born Ogun indigene, but said it was wrong to blame Governor Abiodun.

He explained that the administration before Amosun, the Gbenga Daniel administration, made concerted efforts to ensure that the Olokola deep seaport and other ancillary projects in the OKFTZ became a reality by rallying major players in the oil and gas sector, including Dangote Group.

“But its successor between 2011 and 2019, for reasons best known to it, killed the project and frustrated the promoter of Dangote Refinery out of the state,” he said in the statement titled “Abiodun is not responsible for the loss of Dangote Refinery to Lagos”.

Somorin said Governor Abiodun served as the Chairman of the Committee on the Olokola Free Trade Zone projects during the first term of the Amosun administration and made efforts, as a big player in the oil and gas industry, to ensure the project saw the light of day, but that Amosun, “perhaps having a personal axe to grind with the promoter of the refinery project, Alhaji Aliko Dangote, frustrated all the efforts of Governor Abiodun and his committee”.

He said rather than show enthusiasm towards hosting the project in the state, Governor Amosun “brazenly opposed and obstructed the efforts of the Abiodun-led committee in ensuring that the OKFTZ came into fruition”.

“Aliko Dangote is still very much around and can be asked to shed more light on Gov. Abiodun’s role that he alluded to in his testimonial at the commissioning,” Somorin said.

“He is alive to speak on how he was frustrated, despite Prince Abiodun’s pleas and multiple interventions that fell on the deaf ears of the then governor,” he said.

He said since Abiodun became governor in 2019, he has constantly rued the missed opportunity and has made efforts to reawaken the OKFTZ, insisting at different fora that the Olokola project is a goldmine waiting to be tapped, even as he has continued to shop for would-be investors to bring the project to life.

He said the Abiodun-led administration can never be held responsible, directly or vicariously, for the loss of Dangote Refinery.

“All Ogun State indigenes know the administration that worked against the economic development of the state, all in the name of bad politics and shenanigans.

“Rather, Governor Abiodun’s government should be applauded for working to revive OKFTZ,” he said.

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But in a reaction, Amosun absolved himself of blame, saying it was uncharitable for anyone to lie that Ogun State, a mere holder of 14.5 percent equity interest, was in a position to unilaterally frustrate the project.

In a statement by his Media Officer, Bola Adeyemi, Amosun explained that the Olokola Free Trade Zone project was not solely owned by Ogun State; it was a Joint Venture from its conception in 2007.

“The Federal Government of Nigeria, FGN, owned the majority 51 per cent, Ondo State Government (14.5 per cent), Ogun State Government (14.5 per cent), and strategic core investors (20 per cent),” Amosun explained.

“Aliko Dangote, according to the information availed us when we took office, subsequently bought and took over the 20 per cent equity of the core investors. Ogun State was a minority equity stakeholder only, without proprietary strength and capacity to take sole decisions on the Joint Venture enterprise.”

Amosun said his administration was proactive and investment-friendly and did its best to ensure the project saw the light of day.

He said as governor at the time, he appointed two carefully chosen stakeholders of Ogun East/Ogun Waterside Local Government extraction – Dapo Abiodun (now governor) and Mrs. Kemi Adeosun, then Commissioner for Finance – to represent the state’s interests in the joint venture enterprise and advise the state. After Adeosun was appointed a minister, she was replaced by Lekan Onamusi, another son of Ogun East.

“As a mere holder of 14.5 per cent equity interest, it is most uncharitable for anyone to churn out lies that Ogun State was in a position to unilaterally frustrate the project or was responsible for the logjam. Concerning all sides, it accords more with logic to appreciate the fact that Dangote took business decisions of his own by the goals of his business strategy and risk assessment,” Amosun said.

“It is, therefore, interesting to read that the present Ogun State governor holds me responsible for allegedly scuttling the Olokola project,” he said.

But it appears that blaming Amosun for the lost opportunity is not new. In a Letter to the Editor published in Guardian of 16 March 2023, titled “The Dangote Refinery we never had”, Obasan Oluwafunso lamented that Ogun State lost a chance to boost its Internally Generated Revenue through what would have accrued to it had the Dangote Refinery been sited there.

“Losing that refinery was the biggest mistake by the administration of Senator Ibikunle Amosun. The people of Ogun Waterside who would have been the biggest beneficiary deserve an apology from Amosun, who should simply man up, speak the truth and let the devil be put to shame as said in local parlance,” Oluwafunso wrote.

Meanwhile, in oil-rich Rivers State, the state government and some local governments in the state are taking the blame for why the Dangote Petroleum Refinery was moved from Rivers to Lagos.

President of the Rivers Entrepreneurs and Investors’ Forum, Ibifiri Bobmanuel, in an interview with DAILY POST, claimed the forum engaged the management of the Dangote Group and also wrote to the Federal Government asking for the refineries not to be moved to Lagos, but the Dangote Group moved the refinery to Lagos because the Rivers State Government and the local governments where the refineries were to be located, Okrika and Eleme, made huge demands from the company.

“The Dangote Refinery was to be situated in Rivers State and later they made a U-turn and went to Lagos, and we were very miffed by the whole approach,” Bobmanuel said, per DAILY POST.

“We wrote a couple of letters to the management of the Dangote group. We went as far as writing to the Federal Government.

“When they called for a meeting with us, we went for that meeting. It was discovered that the investment that was meant to be situated in Rivers State, precisely Okrika and Eleme Local Government Areas, they got preliminary land acquisition and agreement and perfected all that.

“But the amount of pushback and demands that were from the state government at that time, obviously, left them with no other option but to go and situate the business at a location where they were welcomed,” he said.