Eruani Azibapu, President, Azikel Group of companies recently grabbed headlines with the formal launch of the first modular refinery in Yenagoa, Bayelsa State. Austin Ebuipade, in this piece, chronicles the giant strides being recorded by this uncommon investor.
Former President Olusegun Obasanjo is not known for uttering effusive praise where none is deserved; thus, few weeks ago when he was commending the President of Azikel Group, Dr. Azibapu Eruani for taking the bold step of pioneering investment in what is now Nigeria’s first-ever modular refinery, the entire nation took note.
Indeed, of the 18 licences issued for such investment by the Obasanjo administration before its exit in 2007, none saw the light of day. Of the 22 licences issued by the President Muhammadu Buhari administration in 2015, only Azikel Refinery which was commissioned in Yenagoa , Bayelsa State on February 18, this year has become a reality.
Hence, the justifications for the lavish praise for the well-acknowledged capabilities of a serious investor like Dr. Azibapu Eruani whose investment is bringing much hope to the Niger Delta-a region which has seen unspeakable deprivation over the years in spite of its huge endowment of oil resources and arable land for cultivation of high yield agricultural produce for subsistence needs and exportation in order to generate foreign exchange for the nation.
Significantly, the region remains the economic lifeline of Nigeria and that positional advantage dates back to the pre-colonial and post-colonial era, particularly because of the abundance oil and gas reserve in the Niger Delta that has remained the mainstay of the nation’s economy till date.
Amidst these potentials, the region has continued to grapple with the dearth of infrastructures, unemployment and lack of industries, despite the fact that oil was first struck in commercial quantity in Oloibiri, Ogbia Local Government Area of Bayelsa state, Nigeria.
However, it is also true that few elite, politicians and others, for fear of the unknown, limit themselves and see development as building houses, while others settled for rural hotel business which is not enduring and unsustainable therefore making it difficult to jumpstart the industrial growth needed in the Niger Delta.
The burning desire to change the status quo and re-launch the Niger Delta into prominence is the commitment of Eruani as a business leader with no desire for political participation. He is determined to re-invent the oil rich region and give her a pride of place on the global industrial map.
Dr. Eruani is the President of Azikel Group, a conglomerate in the business of Dredging, Petroleum Refining, Power Generation, Aviation, Construction and Engineering. It comprises of Azikel Dredging Nigeria Limited, Azikel Petroleum, Azikel Air Limited, Azikel Power and Azikel Construction as subsidiaries.
A medical doctor per excellence, Eruani’s work careers span through civil/public service, the oil and gas industry and the later politics which he quit some 12 years back. He is an industrialist, celebrated entrepreneur and a medical doctor by training from the University of Port Harcourt, Rivers State.
In his quest to assume leadership in business and commence the journey of the re-industrialisation of the Niger Delta, he returned to class at the Lagos Business School (LBS) where he bagged the Own Management Program Certification. From there, he proceeded to the London Business School where he obtained Certification in Senior Executive Programme as well as Wharton Business School, University of Pennsylvania where he studied Advanced Business Management and Leadership.
He is a thoroughbred industrial leader, deep thinker, a focused leader imbued with strands of sagacity to re-industrialise the Niger Delta and Nigeria. He made a difference even while serving in government when he took up appointment as a Special Adviser on HIV/AIDS and Community Health and later Commissioner for Health in Bayelsa State when he was awarded the most innovative commissioner in his time.
With over a decade in the competitive world of business, Eruani’s trajectory started with the humble beginning of selling sand from an umbrella, then to caravan with the sand product sourced from local divers; and much later, driven by commitment to succeed and not despising the days of little beginning, he boosted the business with one dredging machine. Today the Azikel Group with the support funding from the Exim Bank and other International Financial Institutions has fleet of ultra-modern equipment with which it has continued to drive the wheels of industry in the Niger Delta region.
Pertinently, development in the region was slow particularly owing to the challenge posed by the terrain that is below sea level. However, the Azikel Group was able to stockpile and met the demand for aggregate sand supply. That underscores the several sand filling, reclamation and regeneration of land in the state and region, signifying how critical land preparation is if any meaningful development must thrive in the region. Azikel Dredging Limited successfully sand filled, reclaimed and regenerated several lost land to tidal erosion. Others which were below sea levels but had been reclaimed include the sand filling of the multi-purpose Peace Park for the Bayelsa State Government, provision of over three million cubic metres of sand for construction of the East/West road, reclaimed and regenerated massive landmass for the take-off of the Federal University, Otuoke, reclamation work to regenerate lost ancestral land in Abalama and Bakana, Rivers state and several others for the international oil companies (IOCs).
For Eruani, the critical success made in dredging propelled him into investing in other sectors. This gave birth to Azikel Air Azikel Power and Azikel Petroleum. It is no gainsaying that beneficiaries abound in the state, the entire Niger Delta and Nigeria as the detribalised Nigerian from Ogbia extraction of Bayelsa State continues the handshake across the Niger. Driven by the power of a grand vision, he is relentlessly pushing to fulfill his objective and goal centred on being the pivot of re-industrialising the Niger Delta, generating employment and creating financial freedom on a sustainable template for all Nigerians.
Azikel Air has also impacted many lives through employment generation as well as rendering quality services. It actually began operation by providing helicopter services for multinational oil chief executives and expatriates workers onshore and offshore oil platforms and rigs that traverse the Niger Delta region. Today, the firm has stepped up operations to satisfy her numerous clients/passengers by providing quality services with her ultra-modern and reliable fixed wings charter services within and outside the shores of the country.
Fired by the ‘Yes, we can’ conviction and a belief that electricity supply can be made stable in Nigeria, Eruani inaugurated Azikel Power during the Federal Government’s NIPP/Privatization process and made a bid for the acquisition of the Gbarain power plant. Unfortunately, he lost in the bid and came second as the reserved bidder. This lost bid, rather than dampen his spirit, challenged him to make a bid for a Greenfield licence. The resilience was to pay off as, in the last quarter of 2015, the Buhari/Yemi Osinbajo administration granted him a 500 MW on grid power licence.
At the ground breaking ceremony of the refinery some weeks back, an elated Governor Seriake Dickson of Bayelsa State said he was proud that a Bayelsan, a ‘son of the soil’, a major player in the private sector has chosen to re-industrialise the state and Niger Delta by investing at home. Dickson also signed the certificate of occupancy for the landmass designated for the Azikel Petroleum Refinery and the Azikel Power Project.
Explaining the motive behind the refinery project, Eruani said it was part of his big dream to re-invent and re-industrialise the Niger Delta region. When it finally takes off, the refinery will constitute its quota towards alleviating the sufferings of the Niger Delta people and Nigerians from the long human and vehicular queues at filling stations reduce acute short supply of petroleum products, importation of refined crude and the burden of incessant increase in pump price.
To underscore the importance of the day, the Group Managing Director (GMD) of the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Baru Maikanti, noted that: “Of the initial refinery licences granted by President Muhammadu Buhari, Azikel Refinery is in the forefront on delivery of the refinery, having achieved the task in the Phase I, II and III and a record performance of attaining 65 % completion.
The significance of the ground breaking ceremony was underscored by former President Obasanjo who said he doubted the seriousness of the project at the initial stage as none of the 18 private refineries licences granted in his tenure moved to site. He described President Buhari to be very lucky to have committed persons, particularly Eruani, among the beneficiaries. He said, from all indications, Eruani has shown the way for every serious investor, be it local or foreign, to emulate, noting that there the space was larger enough to accommodate such coupled with a conducive environment provided by government.
For Eruani, the story wouldn’t be complete without highlighting how the refinery project would impact lives. He estimated that an unprecedented 10,000 jobs would be created in addition to the developmental activities that the state is bound to experience. The Azikel Refinery, he noted, would refine Bonny Light Crude Oil and condensate to produce Premium Motor Spirit (PMS), Kerosene, Jet A 1, Diesel , LPG and Heavy Fuel Oil among other by products.
“The race towards the finishing line is in sight. We are running with the baton to the finishing line and I am most confident that we will get there. We will be the first ever indigenous refinery to dispense refined petroleum product to Nigerians,” he announced to the guests.
Well, his hands are already on the plow and there is no going back until his lofty dreams become realities.
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