Zinder — A Nigerian delegation representing President Goodluck Jonathan looked on in awe yesterday as Niger Republic's brand new oil refinery was commissioned at Zinder, close to the Nigerian border. The refinery will immediately satisfy Niger Republic's domestic requirements and leave a huge surplus for export, with one very likely destination---Nigeria.
The Soraz refinery near Zinder, some 900 km (560 miles) east of the capital Niamey, is a joint venture with China. Its 20,000 barrel-per-day capacity will be fed entirely by oil from the newly-launched Agadem oilfield, a further 700 km east.
The Soraz refinery will initially draw crude from three Agadem wells with reserves totalling 480 million barrels. Local consumption of refined products accounts for 7,000 barrels a day with plans to export the rest.
The Soraz refinery is 60 percent-owned by Chinese state oil company CNPC and 40 percent by Niger. It follows a $5 billion deal signed between the two in 2008 to concurrently build the plant and develop crude oil from Agadem.
CNPC President Jiang Jiemin said CNPC and the Nigerien government had agreed to begin a second phase of the project involving the construction of a pipeline to export crude oil to foreign markets. The pipeline is expected to be built by 2013 to 2014.
It was celebration galore in the Republic yesterday as the commissioning ceremony was taking place. The refinery was built by the Chinese following discovery of oil in the country's far north. Zinder, the site of the refinery, is the capital of Damagaram region.
However, there were pockets of tension in the country due to a mild resentment over the pricing of petrol, which protesters last Sunday said was high since oil is now being produced and refined in the country.
Niger Republic's president Alhaji Issoufou Mahamadou, however went ahead to commission the refinery amidst pomp and pageantry with dignitaries from all over the world in attendance. Katsina State governor Alhaji Ibrahim Shehu Shema represented President Jonathan while the Emirs of Daura and Gumel as well as many Nigerian business personalities were present. Katsina business mogul Alhaji Dahiru Barau Mangal signified his intention to invest in Niger's oil project, especially in transportation of refined petroleum products from Zinder to Nigeria and other neighbouring African countries.
President Issoufou Mahamadou did not speak at the event in line with the country's protocol, but he led a number of dignitaries right inside the refinery to officially commission it.
The drilling of oil wells in Diffa region and building of the refinery all began in February 2008 by a Chinese firm, SORAZ Engineering Company after the country's then president, Alhaji Tanja Mahamadou, laid its foundation stone.
Speaking at length about the project, Niger's Minister of Energy and Petroleum Resources Foumakoye Gado said with the commissioning of the refinery, the country has now joined the league of the world's oil producing countries.
He said Niger's search for oil began in 1958 and in 1962, oil exploration started with the digging of nine oil wells but the project was eventually abandoned because oil then was cheap and the quantity was also not that much. The construction of the refinery and digging of the oil wells, according to him, all started three years ago and he thanked the contractors for completing the projects in good time.
The minister said succour has now come their way with the multi-million dollar project as the Nigerien government will embark on several projects that will improve the lives of its people through the revenue generated from the oil proceeds. He said an agreement had already been signed between the country and a construction firm for the construction of about 150km road from Diffa to the oil town of Gegime to facilitate easy movement of people and products.
Earlier before he commissioned the refinery, President Issoufou Mahamadou decorated five Chinese nationals whose firms handled the historic projects with the country's national honours for a job well done.