The Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) spent about N167 billion to maintain its networks of pipelines and depots in one year, official records have shown.

A new agency, Nigerian Pipelines and Storage Company (NPSC), was created out of the Petroleum Pipeline and Products Marketing Company (PPMC) in 2016 to solely manage the 21 depots and   interconnecting pipelines.

Yet many depots, especially in the hinterland remain inoperative whereas between November 2016 and November 2017 about N167  billion was on depots and pipelines maintenance, documents seen by Daily Trust have shown.

The corporation has a pipeline network of over 8,000 kilometres for easy transportation of crude oil to the refineries and petroleum products and natural gas to the various depots.

But the sorry state of the depots and the pipelines manifested itself during the crippling fuel shortages experienced nationwide from November 2017 to February this year.

Records show that most of the active depots are in the southern part of the country necessitating the influx of oil tankers to lift fuel up north.

The movement of these trucks have devastating effects on the north- south highways coupled with attendant accidents that have claimed over hundreds of lives over the years.

The operational depots include those along the System 2B pipeline in the Southwest – the Atlas Cove and  Ejigbo in Lagos; Mosinmi, Ogun State and Ibadan, Oyo State. Others are the depots at Warri, Port Harcourt, Aba, Kaduna, Suleja and Kano.

Ten depots in both north and south are inactive mainly because their pipeline systems have been vandalised for long, with several tanks rusting. These are the ones in Ore, Ilorin, Enugu, Makurdi, Minna, Gusau, Jos, Gombe, Maiduguri and Yola.

The Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) record indicates that the 21 depots have 244 tank capacities: 109 tanks to store 1.422 million litres of Premium Motor Spirit (PMS) or petrol; 65 tanks for 755,057 litres of AGO (diesel) and 70 others for 1.240m litres of kerosene.

The state of the depots

Some of the depots visited are in deplorable states. The PPMC Suleja/Dikko depot in Niger state was operating with over 100 tankers waiting to load petrol.

Some of the tanker drivers said but for this depot, they would have to drive to Ogun state, Ibadan or Lagos to load products.

Abubakar Ibrahim, who drives a tanker for A.A. Rano oil firm identified over-speeding, fatigue, poor maintenance of tankers and human errors as factors that become pronounced with the long distance haulage.

He said: “It is rather unfortunate that such disasters happen. For now, we are grateful that the Suleja depot is operational; most of our colleagues go to Mosimi and Ibadan depots to load from the south to the north and that is a considerable distance.”

For Azeez Aliyu, a driver with Forte Oil, accidents can be reduced on the highways if the 21 depots are active and safety rules are kept.

“There is no implementation of safety rules by oil marketers. There are drivers who still operate at night and have no speed limiters. Imagine such risks travelling for a distance of over 800 kilometres bearing petrol from Lagos to Kano,” he said.

Makurdi depot is located at Otukpo road in Apir near Makurdi, the Benue state capital. The facility has been dormant for years even with a pipeline route (System 2E) coming from Port Harcourt refinery through Enugu depot. The depot serves seven states but is down due to vandalisms from the Enugu axis and its rusting storage tanks.

“The flash points are usually around Port Harcourt to Enugu. Once it happened at this axis, we stopped pumping product to the depots,” an official noted.

Just some metres away from the depot are NNPC mega station and other private ones that have to rely on tankers trucking petrol from Port Harcourt among other places for it to function, said Mr Michael Terlumun, a resident of Apir.

There are visible signs of rustiness and lack of maintenance as one approaches the Enugu depot at Emene, Enugu state. It stopped working for long, some residents of Emene community said. They attributed the closure of the depot to pipeline vandalism which occurs mainly around Aninri axis in Aninri Local Government Area of the state.

Facing similar challenge is Aba depot in Abia State. It was closed for seven years. The pipelines were fixed and opened in 2016. An official at the Enugu depot refused to speak saying he must be authorised from NNPC headquarters, Abuja before he can speak.

But another insider who gave his name as Ikechukwu said: “The reason is simple: It is because of the illegal and wicked activities of vandals, especially in the Aninri areas of Enugu State.”

Ogbonna Chike who drives Conoil trucks said: “Whenever you are carrying petrol, it’s as if you are sitting on a time-bomb. So the driver doesn’t even enjoy the long journey,” he said.

Chike believes that the best way to convey the products remains through oil-pipelines and using cargo trains, regretting the bad state of the roads.

The state of Gombe depot is similar to Aba and Enugu, the Daily Trust observed. The pipeline connecting it from Kaduna Petrochemical and Refinery Company (KPRC) through Kano has often been vandalised, some officials of the depot said.

The depot has capacity to store two million litres of petroleum products enough to service 50 trucks of 40,000 litres each, one of the officials said, on condition of anonymity because he has no permission to speak.

“Since 2015 when the pipelines went bad, the depot now serves as a bridge station where the petroleum products were transported in about 100 trucks from the refineries to the depot, before the distribution to the marketers,” the staff said.

Because of the very high demand, it was learnt that when marketers pay for product, the depot gives a ticket for the tanker driver to go to a refinery or depots in the south to load.

“When they reach Gombe we will document and certify the product, afterward we will release it and monitor them,” he noted.

The Ibadan depot was operating when our reporter visited but some tanker drivers complained of congestion because many depots in the hinterland are not operating.

A driver, Bello Usman urged government to reduce the spate of oil tanker fire disasters on the road by “providing good roads. The Petroleum Tanker Drivers association (PTD) should also create some measures to curtail accidents.”

Akin Olabayo, a driver for Total, a major marketer said it takes about two days or more for a tanker on queue to load from the depot. He blamed some of the tanker fire accidents on the ignorance and impatience on the part of some drivers.

“Apart from ignorance, some of the roads are so bad that in the process of drivers trying to manoeuvre around them, the tankers could fall and ignite an inferno,” he noted.

One of the depot officials, who would not want to be identified, narrated the sorry state of the depot since it commenced operation on October 5, 2017. “We have not been loading every day. There are sometimes that tankers load twice in a week while at other times, we don’t just load,” he said.

Vandalism, others cripple depots – Records

Data from PPMC and NPSC shows that a total of 992 pipeline points were vandalized between November 2016 and November 2017. The highest of 616 incidents were recorded at the Port Harcourt refinery and depot axis which connects Aba, Enugu and Makurdi depots.

There were 128 of such incidences at the Mosimi depot line in Lagos which connects Ibadan and Ilorin depots. There were 53 incidences along the pipeline that connects Gombe depot; it also connects Yola depot.

For Kaduna refinery and depot, 154 incidences were recorded on its pipeline route; it connects Gusau, Kano, Gombe, Dikko and Minna depots. At the Warri refinery and depot, 41 vandalism points were recorded around its pipeline network that connects to Benin and Ore depots, among others.

Epileptic refineries, bane of depots

The epileptic nature of the refineries has also contributed to the non-performance of many depots. A 13 month NNPC data on their capacity utilisation illustrates why these depots cannot get constant supply of products from the refineries. During the November 2016 to November 2017 period, the Daily Trust analysis showed that the refineries never crossed 42 per cent operation.

Port Harcourt refinery worked for 11 months and was idle for two months; its highest capacity was 40 per cent as at February 2017.

Warri refinery worked for seven months and was idle for the rest of the time. It hit 42 per cent operation in January 2017 which was the highest recorded by the three refineries.

The Kaduna refinery operated for five months, and lost eight months idling. It delivered 34 per cent in February 2017 as its highest. By November 2017 when infamous fuel scarcity began, only Warri refinery operated at 21 per cent, the two others were shut, the data revealed.

The three refineries supplied 1.6 billion litres of petrol out of 15.1bn litres obtained from domestic and offshore importation platforms in 13 months. They also supplied 707.87 million litres of kerosene, from the 854.3m entire supply.

Analysis shows that while they produced 83 per cent of kerosene consumed, they only produced 11 per cent of the entire petrol consumed during the 13 month period.

‘NNPC ensures depots work’

Speaking for PPMC/NPSC on the major efforts in revamping the depots, the NNPC spokesman, Ndu Ughamadu said Ibadan and Kano depots were fixed and are operating since last year.

He said, “What PPMC is trying to do is to ensure that all the depots are working and they have supplies. Our depots in Ibadan and Kano have supplies, and our depot in Yola will have supplies.

“Once the depots are all functioning, the roads will no longer be under pressure especially as they take products from Port Harcourt and Lagos and these movements are affecting our roads,” Ughamadu explained.

The spokesman said NNPC works with security agencies including the Navy to man surveillance on the pipelines networks while seeking cooperation from host communities.

He said Enugu state Governor, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi recently pledged to mobilise other governors to provide security for the pipelines in the region. “Once we have products there, the prices will come down. Makurdi depot is not working because we have to pump products from Aba to Enugu, to Makurdi to Yola,” he noted.

For his part, the Managing Director of the NPSC, Engr. Luke Anele in an interview published in the recent NNPC 1st Quarter 2018 magazine said, “No doubt, we need to do some upgrade and we are working on it. There is a plan to build more depots and expand our reach”.

He gave update of the work being done to revive the depots. He said the lines from Atlas Cove through Mosimi, Satellite depots at Ejigbo and Ibadan were operational since last year, adding that clearance of lines to reactivate Ilorin; and Enugu depot from the operational Aba depot were in top gear.

“We have gotten to advanced stage in the process of getting to rehabilitate some of the tanks at Enugu. After Enugu, the next target is Makurdi. Then the other leg too, on our System 2C that is Warri, Kaduna and Kano pipelines.

“But for the hiccups with Kaduna refinery, we should have been on constant pumping to Kano; the next attraction would have been to go to Jos. As we are servicing Kano, we will be heading to Jos and nothing says we cannot go to Gusau,” he said in the interview.

We’ve trained 8,000 on safety – PTD

When contacted on how the Petroleum Tankers Drivers association (PTD) is tackling the prevalent tanker accidents, the National President, Salimon Oladiti said, “Part of our rules and regulations for our drivers is that they are not allowed to drive at night. They should not drive from 7pm to 7am. They should not give trucks to motor boys (apprentices).”

He also said about 8,000 drivers were trained last year to help reduce the menace. “We are also training them on defensive driving course to drastically reduce this menace on the highways. We collaborate with the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC), the Nigeria Police Force (NPF) and the Vehicle Inspection Officers (VIO),” he said.

Like the other drivers, Oladiti blamed many accidents on the bad roads. Giving instance of the dreaded Mokwa-Jebba road in Niger state, he said, “Most of what is experienced along our highways is also caused by bad roads.”

Oladiti noted that the Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Mr Babatunde Fashola recently met with road sector stakeholders and they presented the Mokwa road condition. “A journey of one hour takes about five hours for tankers. They should also remember that what the tankers are carrying is a flammable product,” he said.

This report is supported by the Wole Soyinka Centre for Investigative Reporting (WSCIJ) and the Facility for Oil Sector Transparency and Reform (FOSTER).