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The industrialist shaking up Nigeria’s refining industry

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Bonface Orucho, bird story agency

In October, Eruani Azibapu Godbless became the youngest Nigerian to be conferred with the rank of Commander of the Order of the Federal Republic.

The country’s president, Muhammadu Buhari, awarded the 48-year-old industrialist and entrepreneur the honour for his contribution to the nation’s “economic growth, employment and national development”.

“We want Africa to be a continent that can produce its own refined products, and this has to start somewhere. We want to lead this path,” explained Eruani in an interview with bird story agency.

Born in a tiny village in Epebu, Ogbia, in Bayelsa State, Eruani has managed to establish a conglomerate driving industrialisation in Nigeria. His companies deals in aviation, energy, structural development and oil refining.

Trained in medicine, the soft-speaking doctor turned entrepreneur has also studied mathematics, business, and aviation.

“Medicine has helped me understand the systems of life. Because of medicine, I can do anything,” he said.

In 2008, he decided to venture into dredging, a sand-selling business that only became established after four years of operation.

While the sand dredging business allowed him to diversify into other businesses, it is the transformative potential of one of his companies, Azikel Refinery, that stands out for its disruptive potential in a country that, despite huge oil reserves and exports, has for decades relied on imported refined fuel products.

The facility, the first private hydro skimming refinery in Nigeria, is on a mission to tap into the extensive opportunities in oil and petroleum in the West African country.

“We were driven by the single objective that Azikel Petroleum will help turn the wheels of industries…we are going to be the catalyst of the new industrialisation in Nigeria,” he explained.

According to a report by Bloomberg, refineries contribute between 3 and 10 per cent of emissions in Africa, with estimates showing the continent needs about 15.7 billion US Dollars to cut down and potentially eliminate emissions from refineries.

In the wake of increased calls to cut industrial emissions, including those from refineries, Azikel Refinery is adequately managing and treating its emissions with 94% efficiency.

“We use condensate, a light by-product of crude oil as a feedstock for refined petroleum products, including diesel, petroleum and aviation fuel,” explained Eruani.

Hydroskimming technology uses a catalytic reforming process which converts petroleum refined naphtha to produce gasoline. In Azikel Refinery, the resultant sulfur, a greenhouse gas, is treated before being emitted.

According to Ibrahim Badmus, a Nigerian-based Processing Engineer and Sustainability enthusiast, a hydroskimming refinery offers a quick and relatively simple approach to managing refined product deficits – such as for gasoline – in the market.

“Unlike complex refineries, hydroskimming refineries are built to target specific markets such as gasoline. Using reformers as their main conversion unit, they effectively generate a specific refined product depending on the targeted market,” explained Ibrahim.

The refining process in Azikel Refinery also generates hydrogen as a by-product which is then tapped and used in, among other functions, power generation.

Ibrahim confirms that since hydroskimming refineries require low capital investment and target a specific market, they can solve market needs such as scarce gasoline, especially in the short term.

On a broader scale of things, however, Eruani’s dream for the refinery is to shift Nigeria from importing petroleum products to being a net exporter of refined petroleum products.

According to OEC World, a visualisation tool for international trade data, Nigeria was the word’s 17th largest importer of refined petroleum in 2020, with petroleum imports worth US$7.75 billion.

Nigeria is seeking to halt the importation of petroleum products by mid-2023. There are ongoing efforts to revitalise public oil refineries in the country.

Eruani is not the only Nigerian working to transform the sector. The country’s richest man, Alike Dangote, is building a private refinery in Lagos, with a capacity of 650,000 barrels per day – over 200,000 barrels per day more than the combined capacity of Nigeria’s four state refineries.

Eruani’s facility may not be on the same scale but it is addressing the same market issues and doing so on a far more localised basis, helping minimise transport-related emissions and making availability more secure.

“By refining our own petroleum products from crude oil and hydrocarbons, we are going to guarantee energy security and availability of refined products,” said Eruani.

Eruani believes Africa must embrace massive industrialisation to solve the challenges affecting its people, including job creation and capacity building.

He, however, pinpoints the need for adequate energy to power the industrialisation agenda.

“Talk of our industrial needs, our energy needs, job creation and education, are all part of the vision for the Africa we want. Success in these areas is pegged to industrialisation,” he noted.

“It takes planning and heavy investment for African industrialisation to be achieved. Besides having the desire, Africa has to invest in energy,” he added.

Passionate about the youth, Eruani has a piece of advice for early starters in business and entrepreneurship.

“Choose a vocation, choose a value-driven activity… put in the effort and be persistent in what you are doing, endeavour to add value to the next person, that way, success will come,” he said.

bird story agency

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