Decriminalising Artisanal Refining & The Transition To Modular Refining In Nigeria


Kọmbọ Mason Braide (PhD; FNSChE)

Port Harcourt, Nigeria

Saturday, 08 April 2017


The idea of finding, and providing sustainable and workable solutions to escalating incidents of decades of criminal disruption of crude oil pipelines, and oil field infrastructure, for subsequent production of crudely refined petroleum products (mainly diesel oil) in the creeks of the Niger Delta region, was first informally muted by me in a keynote lecture titled, "Opportunities for Sustainable Economic Growth & Stability in the Niger Delta", which I presented at a workshop, that was organised in partnership with Stakeholder Democracy Network (SDN), and the US State Department, in Port Harcourt, in July 2015.

The intended outcome of decriminalisation, and transition from illegal artisanal refining to regulated refining, using standard modular refineries, is to creatively leverage on already existing indigenous petroleum products processing know-how and experience that is resident in the oil producing communities in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria, (even though crude, hazardous, and illegal), and then, to proceed to nurture a conducive environment for stimulating the domestication, growth, and progressive advancement of indigenous petroleum refining technology in Nigeria, in a structured manner, almost 50 years after the first ad-hoc attempts at local refining, during the Nigerian Civil War.

Simply put, the semi-skilled, but untrained manpower for managing basic atmospheric distillation of crude oil already exists within the Niger Delta, among the operators and business managers of the "illegal" refineries that are currently in place.

However, their activities are not only deemed illegal by the existing constitutional provisions governing the petroleum industry, and the Land Use Act in the Federal Republic of Nigeria, but are also mired in extreme violence and sporadic confrontations with security agencies, including the disruption of crude oil production, and significant health, safety, and environmental hazards associated with their operations, and even their destruction by aerial and gunboat bombardments.

The proposition that was made at the 2015 Pan-Niger Delta Youth Dialogue was for the current operatives in the illegal refining of petroleum to undergo systematic reorientation, retraining, and redeployment of their latent skills, for productive, profitable, and legitimate business, in partnership with the Federal Government, in the interest of progress.

It is envisaged that, sequel to their retraining on the operations management of standard modular refineries, today's "illegal" refiners would metamorphose into legitimate small-scale entrepreneurs in petroleum refining, capable of meeting the consumption needs of the entire sub-region, thereby relieving the burden of the supply of refined petroleum products significantly, both from imports, and from the three state-owned refineries in Kaduna, Port Harcourt, and Warri.

Essentially, the conceptual design for ensuring effective decriminalisation, and smooth transition from artisanal refining, to modular refining, consists of three (3) key steps: demilitarization, demobilization, and integration (DDI), with the enforcement of industry best practices, with respect to health, safety, security, and ecological standards, including the efficient operation of the refining facilities.

These are critical front-end activities for effective post-conflict peace building and consolidation efforts, which should feature prominently in the mandates of the security agencies, including adequate reinforcement of mutual trust, by legislative and constitutional provisions concerning decriminalised private refining operations, at approved locations across the Niger Delta region.

Demilitarization, demobilization, and integration (DDI) activities are crucial components of both the initial stabilization of conflict-torn artisanal refining locations, and/or oil producing communities, as well as plans for their long-term development.

DDI must be integrated into the entire peace building process, from truce/cease-fire negotiations, through decriminalisation, law enforcement, and follow-on peace building activities in the affected oil-bearing communities in the Niger Delta.

Demilitarisation involves the collection, documentation, control, and disposal of small arms, ammunition, explosive devices, light and heavy weapons, from the operators of the existing "illegal" refineries, and even from the civilian population within the vicinity of "illegal" refining communities.

Demobilization is the formal and controlled dismantling of all existing artisanal refining facilities and infrastructure, including a phase of “retraining” of the operators and managers of the pending modular refineries, which should include short-term hands-on training in the operation of standard modular refineries, to trainable ex-illegal refiners.

Integration is the process by which ex-illegal refiners acquire industrial refining operations skills, and gain sustainable employment, and income, running legitimate private refining businesses, either solely, jointly, or in clusters.

Demilitarization, demobilization, and integration is a political, social and economic process with an open-ended time-frame, primarily taking place in rural communities, and at local levels. The objective of the DDI process is to contribute to security and stability in the post-decriminalisation era, so that recovery and structured development can begin hitch-free.

DDI helps create an enabling environment for political and peace building processes, by dealing with security problems that may arise when ex-illegal refiners would try adjusting to normal (crime-free) life, during the vital transition period from conflict, to peace, and economic development.

Demilitarization, demobilization, and integration provides support for ex-"illegal" refiners to become self-reliant, and also active participants in the peace enforcement process, through demilitarisation, and social and economic reintegration into society, with their ownership of legitimate crude oil refining businesses.