We can’t afford $62bn PMS debt, $9.6bn P&ID judgement debt ― FG

• Assures on fixing refineries

Minister of State for Petroleum, Timipre Sylva, on Thursday, disclosed that Federal Government has no capacity to offset the $62 billion outstanding debt on premium motor spirit (PMS) as well as the $9.6 billion judgement debt to Process & Industrial Developments Limited (PI&D).

Mr Sylva who gave the position during the 2020 budget defence held at the instance of joint Senate and House Committee on Petroleum Resources (Downstream) while responding to questions from members of the committee, also dismissed reports on the fuel subsidy removal noting that such policy would inflict untold hardship on Nigerians.

The Minister said: “if there is a law and you are sleeping and wake up today to say they must pay $62 billion, I will say sorry. No company will have $62 billion sleeping somewhere. $62 billion is a whole lot of money and I don’t think we could get $62 billion, we can discuss with them.

“In the process, we are amending the Deepshore Act now and why are we amending it? It is to be able to ameliorate some of these lacunae so that going forward we will not miss some of these opportunities again,” the Minister told the lawmakers.

Mr Sylva who declined comment on the amount expended so far on fuel subsidy in 2019, however, reiterated the resolve of President Muhammadu Buhari led administration towards curtailing the smuggling of petroleum products to neighbouring countries.

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“I want to say this government is not about to remove subsidy because it is difficult. We believe as a government that our people are already going through a lot of suffering and we can not as a responsible government heap other issues of petroleum price hike or removal of subsidy on Nigerians. So it is not on the cards at all. We are just looking at how we can manage it.”

The Minister further affirmed that Nigeria’s domestic fuel consumption level has reduced from over 60 million litres per day to 52 million per day sequel to the closure of the country’s land borders.

While reflecting on the controversial $9.6 billion debt, the Minister who explained that certain preemptive measures have so far been taken to resolve the issue, said: “We are fighting it and I believe in the end we will triumph. We will not pay that money they are asking of because I believe it’s fraudulent.

“If we had already paid and the other people are refusing to pay, there will be problem but the other people have not paid and we will not pay because it is fraudulent,” he maintained.

While speaking on the high level of oil theft, the Minister assured that the Ministry in collaboration with security agencies are working towards curtailing the menace which costs the country billions of naira on a daily basis.

He also assured that work on the Port-Harcourt and Warri refineries would commence January 2020.

While speaking on the ongoing exploration operations of the Corporation in Anambra and Bauchi States, Mr Sylva said: “I wish it was in my power to declare any state oil-producing. The oil has to be produced, we have to see it, then the state becomes oil-producing. Nobody can deny any state of that status, if you are already producing, that you will know that you are producing oil and cannot hide it.

“At least we will be moving the oil from the state. You automatically become oil-producing. It is not within the powers of the Ministry of Petroleum to designate any state oil-producing.

“I have announced here today to you that Bauchi is on its way, but Bauchi cannot also count as oil-producing yet, but we know that in a few years from now, Bauchi will definitely become an oil-producing state because what we have found there, the reserves are in commercial quantity.

“I know that a lot of people think that it is a prospective basin especially for gas, but I don’t know exactly the status of Anambra Basin right now and I don’t think any production activity is going on in Anambra yet. Whenever there is oil production activity in Anambra state, they will become oil-producing automatically.

“Sometimes you can find oil in a certain place, if it is not in commercial quantity, then, the people may not not find it worthwhile. I don’t know what happens in Anambra basin but we will find out.”

He also assured that the funding crisis trailing the Ajaokuta-Kaduna-Kano (AKK) natural gas pipeline project would be resolved next year.