From Joe Effiong, Uyo
Nigeria has been drilling crude oil for decades but the benefits it derives from this huge natural resource, which has catapulted many nations, especially in the Middle East, into developed countries, appear very marginal.
Refining of the crude for domestic consumption is done abroad and the employment such upstream activities can generate has eluded the country. Gas, which other countries are praying for, which could have been harnessed to turn round the nation’s sorry state of energy supply, is rather wasted through environmentally hazardous flaring. And the worst of it all, Nigeria’s maritime transport sector, which exclusively, is the vehicle for international oil business, is comatose.
This scanty investment in the maritime transport sector on the nation’s economy, according to Mr. Charles Iniekong Udonwa, the chairman and chief executive officer of Norfin Offshore Shipyard Limited, is Nigeria’s greatest undoing in the oil sector. This, he said, has really reduced the gains Nigeria and Nigerians would have made from oil.
According to Udonwa, since the inception of oil drilling and production in Nigeria in the 1960s, Nigerians only got actively involved in the production of vessels and maritime assets for charter from 2010, about 50 years after the oil business began.
This, he said, openly at the launch of the Nigerian branch of Norfin Offshore Shipyard, situated at the coast of Imo River, along East-West Road, between AkwaIbom State and Rivers State, an event which attracted the federal and the state government top shots and other interested parties in the maritime sector nationwide. It was also an occasion to inaugurate the first security boat, MV Norfin Swift, completely built by the company in the shipyard.
He pointed out the successes of a few Nigerians in providing maritime assets to support the Nigerian oil and gas industry has been partly driven by Norfin Offshore.
He said: “We have encouraged and provided up to 35 vehicles to our Nigerian partners from 2010 up till date, which tremendously increased our participation in the value chain of crude oil exploration, drilling and production.
“In all these, Akwa Ibom citizens have been the least involved in the provision of maritime assets to support oil and gas services in Nigeria. Norfin Offshore is definitely changing that narrative.
“For Ship Owners Association of Nigeria and potential ship owners in Nigeria and West Africa, it is important to note that your purchase of a 40-metre crew cum security vessel built in Asia Pacific or Europe or South Africa for USD4.5 million and with transportation cost, custom and terminal charges of USD2 million, we can build the same vessel with improved machinery for you at USD3.8 million, thus cost saving of USD 2.7 million.”
He listed immediate challenges of the company to include continuous attacks by militants and cult groups in the locality and warring villages, thus making it difficult to agree and have MoU, and lack of electricity supply to the area from which the company can connect and access power.
But Goddy Jerry Abba, Minister of State for Power, who represented the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, said the issue of power should be considered solved as the federal ministry of power would immediately take up that challenge.
Governor Udom Emmanuel was elated that the company eventually berthed on the shores of the state to accentuate his industrialization policy trust. But he expressed his condemnation on the attack by militants on the shipyard.
To avoid a recurrence, Emmanuel challenged the communities as primary beneficiaries of the government and private projects or industries sited in their domains to protect them from vandals within and outside.
He expressed the readiness of the state government to partner the Norfin Group, and lauded the investor, Mr. Udonwa, a Singaporean-based ship builder for his decision to site the shipyard in the state, noting that the gesture was worthy of emulation.
“Today marks a seed harvest in the entire Gulf of Guinea and we don’t take this for granted. But it is worth emulating. I hope the host community will behave well.
“My brother, Charles, I share your pains in the last attack. Whatever we are going to do as a state government to ameliorate that pain, we will do. Locating this facility here is for the benefit of the entire country,” he said.
But Udonwa’s decision to site the shipyard in Nigeria, especially his home state, Akwa Ibom, can be seen both as a sacrifice and a personal business risk.
A flashback of his life shows that, in 2010, when he came home from Singapore to express aspiration to contest the 2011 gubernatorial election in the state, he suffered tremendously for the mere expression of this interest.
His mother, Mrs. Philomena Udonwa, was kidnapped, killed and dumped in the street. That mishap summarily truncated that political aspiration. His return last year to set up the shipyard, again in his home state, Akwa Ibom, has not been that rosy. But for patriotism and a determination to bring Nigeria into the leagues of ship owners, maybe the shipyard would have been abandoned.
For a start, a few weeks to the official opening of the shipyard, militants, suspected to have crossed over from Rivers State, invaded the place and destroyed a N60 million worth dredger. Their anger, according to Udonwa, a native of Etinan Local Government Area of Akwa Ibom State, was his inability to pay them N20 million a month as ‘security fees.’
He later told Daily Sun: “They said we can’t start any business if the government of Akwa Ibom does not settle them. They kept telling our staff to tell the government of Akwa Ibom to reach out to them since they are in charge of both Rivers and Akwa Ibom states. Where do they expect me to get N20m for them after destroying our machine worth N60 million? If I were to have N20m a month, then I will be sitting down doing nothing.
“They have been coming and even kidnapping my staff and extorting money from me; but it has not been this bad because they didn’t destroy our properties. I think because Akwa Ibom State has not really done something about militancy, so they disturb a lot. And it seems militancy is reigning in this part of the state. There is a lot of unemployment. It is the first time they have seen a company and everyone is trying to cash in on that.
“They feel every company is making resources. But we are not. We are here for human and technology development so that we help the people to make a living. But they have the mindset that every company is an oil company and is taking resources from the place.”
Apart from the militants, Udonwa said the host communities were also giving them pressure for employment. Even where the company is sited has also generated proprietary disputes among three communities.
“Three communities are struggling for the ownership of the land. We are appealing to the state government to intervene because we cannot come and solve a communal problem. That is what the government should do.”
Concerning his botched gubernatorial ambition, Udonwa said if he were governor, his focus would have been to explore and exploit the enormous wealth of the sea, which Nigeria, and especially Akwa Ibom State with its longest coastline has neglected or ignored.
He said owning ships alone can turn round the economy of the state, nay, the nation as about 30 per cent of the production cost of crude oil is spent on haulage.
“It is one of the things I had planned to implement. Akwa Ibom is the biggest producer of crude oil in the country but it has not benefited much from the industry. I think it is only two per cent.