The Nigerian government did not approve a plan to sell the country's four ailing refineries, state media reported Friday quoting presidential spokesman Reuben Abati, contrary to earlier reports that the president had given the green light for the privatization of the plants.
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"The Federal Government will not sell the refineries. There is no presidential endorsement. Even the minister does not have the powers to sell government's property," Abati was quoted as saying in state radio.
Nigeria's state privatization agency, the Bureau of Public Enterprise, on December 21 said it had received approval from President Goodluck Jonathan to proceed with the sale of the four state-owned refineries despite strong opposition and strike threats by the country's powerful oil unions.
"President Goodluck Jonathan has approved the commencement of the privatization of the nation's four refineries by the BPE. This is in keeping with the [government] agenda, which seeks to catalyze and provide an enabling environment for the private sector to be the drivers of economic growth in the country," the BPE had said in a statement at that time.
BPE's spokesman Joe Anichebe could not be reached for comments on the development, which was the latest in the series of botched attempts to privatize Nigeria's state owned refineries.
Nigeria's two powerful oil workers' unions, the white-collar Pengassan and its junior counterpart Nupeng, had vowed to go ground the country's oil sector from the first week of January, if the Nigerian government failed to reverse its plans to sell the refineries.
A spokesman for Nupeng, Nojeem Korodo, told Platts on Friday that the unions would meet to review their position following the latest stand of the government.
The country's four refineries -- which are located in Port Harcourt, Kaduna and Warri -- with a total nameplate capacity of 445,000 b/d have been plagued by ageing infrastructure and poor maintenance.
Despite being Africa's biggest crude exporter, the country is forced to import around 85% of its domestic fuel consumption and spends huge amounts of money yearly in subsidies to keep pump prices low.