The Nigerian government wants to boost the number of modular refineries in the Niger Delta – through the Nigerian Content Development and Monitoring Board (NCDMB) – in a bid to create jobs and pacify the unruly region. It is encouraging the growth of local crude oil processing plants in the area, the country’s only oil-producing region (apart from the Aje field, off Lagos).
Just one modular refinery, run by Waltersmith in Imo State, is currently in operation in the Niger Delta, and it only began work last November. It may soon be joined by another project in Bayelsa State that is being led by a key local figure, Eruani Azibapu Godbless.
Azibapu, a doctor by training, founded the Azikel Group of Companies over a decade ago. Its subsidiary Azikel Petroleum contracted the US oil services giant McDermott a few months ago to carry out feasibility studies and construction work for the future plant.
The aim is to build an oil refinery capable of processing around 12,000 bpd – compared to the 5,000 bpd that Waltersmith handles – in an area where only the Port Harcourt facility is operating at less than 10% capacity, forcing the Niger Delta to import almost all of its petrol from abroad.
WHO IS ERUANI AZIKAPU GODBLESS?
Before founding the Azikel Group of Companies, Azibapu, 47, was a special adviser and then health commissioner for the future Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan when he was governor of Bayelsa State, between 2006 and 2007.
Azibapu’s business ventures prospered while Jonathan was vice-president in Abuja (2007-2010) and then president (2010-2015). He operated in dredging, acquired planes and helicopters to service the oil industry, and was involved in the construction of a power plant via Azikel Power.
Both men hail from the Ogbia area of Bayelsa State, where Jonathan continues to enjoy considerable political influence. Being close to him is clearly an asset in business. Before working for Jonathan, Azibapu was also employed as a doctor by Agip, ENI‘s Nigerian subsidiary, in Port Harcourt.
The entrepreneur’s political network goes beyond former president Jonathan. He was personal physician to the first elected governor of Rivers, Melford Okilo, when Rivers and Bayelsa were one state. Okilo died in 2008 after serving as a senator until 2003.
Azibapu also comes from a long line of local royalty. His father was the traditional ruler Allwell Eruani. When he died in November 2015, Jonathan and his wife Patience Jonathan attended his funeral.