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Economics - Markets - August 4, 2020

At Last, Akeredolu Cracks The Bitumen Nut

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The Southern part of Ondo state carries in its belly one of the largest reserves of bitumen in the world. The natural gift is estimated to be about 42 billion barrels. It is said to have been discovered in the year 1904.

For decades, exploitation of the bitumen deposits appeared to be a hard nut to crack. The jinx, however, has finally been broken by the Arakunrin Oluwarotimi Akeredolu government. The feat is a function of steely commitment and sincerity of purpose.

An indigenous company, the South West Bitumen Exploration Limited (SWB), is about commencing modular exploitation of the bitumen deposits regarded to be the largest in Africa. SWB has secured a 25-Year renewable Operational Mining License. The firm has its operational base at Lamidifa in Irele Local Government Area of the state. Also, it has already moved its equipment to the operational base.

For now, the target of the company is a monthly output of 20,000 tonnes of bitumen. It plans to raise the output to 50,000 tonnes after achieving stabilisation.

The journey of the bitumen dream to reality was long and painful. Hope of the take-off of the the bitumen project was raised in February 2001 when Nigeria signed a joint venture agreement with Venezuela.

In March 2001, the then president, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, assured a delegation led by the then Regent of Akure, Princess Adeyinka Adesida, that bitumen exploitation would begin in Ondo state by April 2002. Nothing came out of the Nigeria-Venezuela agreement and Chief Obasanjo’s assurance remained assurance.

The government of the late Baba Adebayo Adefarati also made efforts to realise the dream. The government secured approval for the exploitation of the mineral deposits and floated the Bitumen Exploration and Exploitation Company Nigeria Limited (BEECON) to drive it.

The government brought the then president, Chief Obasanjo, to the bitumen site in Irele to launch the excavation of the God’s gift. The late governor and some officials of his government transversed the world in search of investors for the the project. But all the efforts yielded no fruits before Baba Adefarati exited the stage.

The Olusegun Mimiko government also tried its best. In May 2015, the government succeed in securing four Bitumen Exploration Licenses. It signed a Joint Operating Agreement with an American firm, Liquefied Resources, in 2016. The agreement stated that bitumen exploitation would take off immediately.

The company was expected to commence with 10,000 barrels per day and later raise the output to 25,000. The American firm was said to be ready to invest One hundred and Fifty Million Dollars in the project. President of the firm, Thomas Cooley, promised to do everything necessary to make the project a dream come true. But the Mimiko government’s efforts also failed to bear any fruit. Maybe it was not a cool business for Mr. Cooley.

Considering where we are coming from, the Arakunrin Akeredolu government deserves commendation for transforming the bitumen dream to reality. But unfortunately, some little minds are denying the obvious. This is because they are blind. And their blindness is induced by partisan bitterness and hatred.

They exhibit their ignorance on social media by comparing equipment. They don’t know that there are different types of bitumen and the processes of exploiting them are also different. Instead of seeking light, they grope in the dark.

These fellows need to listen to a representative of the company handling the bitumen project, Engr. Adeiya Oluwatominiyi, to cure their ignorance: “The processing equipment are German-made and done with the exact requirement for the exploitation of the particular type of bitumen in the state. We have brought the earth moving equipment like the bulldozers, escavators and the wheel loaders.

“We use bulldozer for the clearing of the identified outcrop after which we take the escavator to extract the tar sand and stockpile them in the yard for processing. The type of bitumen we have is tar sand. After we must have deployed the bulldozer, the escalator will load the tipper and bring it here for processing. This is where we will be doing the processing.

“This is a pilot case. It is modular exploitation. What we have in Nigeria is tar sand bitumen. Not like in Petroleum when you are tapping from it to get bitumen. We are not getting it from the cracking of anything. What we need to do is to heat it with the required technology.”

Some even insinuate that the announcement of the commencement of bitumen exploitation in the state is meant to secure votes. These people need to be constantly reminded that Governor Akeredolu doesn’t play politics with issues that affect the state. Apart from that, are they saying the project should be stopped because the gubernatorial election is approaching?

The journey to this joyful destination did not start overnight. It started in February 2017 when SWB expressed its interest in working with the state government to realise the age-long bitumen project.

This is a project that will fundamentally transform the socioeconomic situation of the state. It will create thousands of jobs and make the state a member of the league of industrialised states. With the bitumen project, the industrial hub in Ore and the Deep Sea Port, the sun cannot shine better than this.

Ojo Oyewamide is Senior Special Assistant to Governor Akeredolu on Media and Publicity

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