By Hector Igbikiowubo
ANITA Omoile just retired as Forster Wheeler’s Vice President for Sub Saharan Africa and without leaving anything to chance, she has launched herself into another enterprise, Deep Blue Energy Services is a resource and solutions management company which is organising a training programme with the theme: Bribery and Corruption: Avoiding the Pitfall, sometime this month. In this interview Hector Igbikiowubo, Editor of Sweet Crude, she speaks on a wide range of issues including ongoing oil industry reforms, her stint in Forster Wheeler and her agenda for Deep Blue Energy.Excerpts:
I understand that you started out at Forster Wheeler as a business development officer, then you became what?
I left Forster Wheeler as Vice-President for Sub-Saharan Africa.
A lot of people don’t know what Foster wheeler is all about. To a lot of Nigerians it is just another foreign name. Can you tell us what exactly Forster Wheeler does?
You know one of the first things I did when I joined Forster Wheeler was to research on the company itself and to see how unique the organisation was. The company was started about 120 years ago. It’s an American company. It currently has representations in more that 33 countries and in the UK right now, the company which is a subsidiary of Forster Wheeler International is one of the largest employers in Redding. It currently has 3,000 engineers working in it and the same thing goes when you go down to Milan, you have a huge office, in South Africa, in Singapore etc. In all of those places, this company has been able to establish a root and become local in most of these countries it is operating in.
For me, I felt if it can happen there, why not Nigeria so from the onset, it was as much as you can, try and see if more Nigerians can become part of this great company.
It is a world leader in engineering. It has two main and business lines – there is theÂ power group and then the engineering and construction group.
It is a perfect engineering company basically. So we are looking at the services it provides that take care of the engineering construction, project management services for not only the oil and gas industry. In Nigeria, we are known for oil and gas but we are also looking at petrochemicals, the refineries, the pharmaceuticals etc. It is one of those companies that has the uniqueness in being able to provide the services that the market requires. Forster Wheeler has gone into bio-energy also.
In Nigeria, do you recall any notable jobs that Forster Wheeler may have carried out while you were there?
The LNG Train-7 project was a very unique one. Unique for me in the sense that a certain number of Nigerians participated in the project. Forster Wheeler was involved in other projects apart from that in Nigeria but I would rather not go into talking about the company except to say they were a great employer and lots of Nigerians actually got employed.
How many Nigerians work for Forster Wheeler at the moment?
It’s interesting, I can’t give you numbers but I’ll tell you one of the things I started doing was do a search on how many Nigerian names were popping up and it was very interesting to see the numbers kept on going higher. There are a lot of Nigerians now working as experts in other countries, in Malaysia, some of them in South Africa. That for me, shows that given the right tools, Nigerians can survive and succeed in whatever they decide to do.
What of your experience in the industry, what have you come away with? Has the industry left you with any particular impressions you would like to share with us?
I think the industry could do with a lot of improvement. The industry could do with creating an enabling environment for investor confidence to grow. You need to also put the policies in place to ensure that operators and government accomplish whatever it is they started out to achieve.
One of the things also you learn in Nigeria (you know we are all learning), one of the things I’ve come to do research more about politics and things that are ongoing in Nigeria. It is not so much that we do not have the policies, it is not so much that we do not spend time creating the various commissions and stakeholders’ forums, it is actually the implementation and the interpretation that I think in most cases have actually made us to not be where we should be.
Do you have any specifics or you would like to…?
I would not want to go into specifics. There is a lot of policies and bills. There is the local content, and we are talking about the oil industry reform bills now. I do think that there has to be another dialogue and we have to make sure that the country as a whole is protected and not personal interest, put on the table at certain stages of the bill. We need to collectively think of how to move the country forward to ensure policy implementation.
This country has such a number of very brilliant minds but they are very good at sitting down and coming up with policies and I think the point of disconnect is when it comes to implementation. I think in most cases, the penalties were never truly defined and in cases where they are defined, the populace cannot see them being enforced. It doesn’t really create the kind of enabling environment for business to succeed and develop at the level we would all want it to.
Let us look at gas specifically.
We understand that government gave too much concession to the NLNG and because of its pioneer status it has enjoyed so much concession and this has not augured well for Nigerian content development. What is your take on that?
Well, I, personally, that is a personal view is that policy agreements are supposed to be entered into by representatives of the country as a whole and in sitting down and doing such negotiation, one should think longer-term and not short-term and so if during the period of the negotiation you have on behalf of the people reached an agreement, it should be respected.
I am talking about obeying the rule of law – an agreement has been reached and that agreement should be respected. Those are the things that basically show to the rest of the world that we are a nation they can do business with so I would say it is not so much as in whether or not the NLNG got the best of deals or did not get the best of deals, but what we should do is go back to when the policies surrounding these agreements were being put in place.
Did we really require the service? Did we make an agreement because we wanted to achieve a need? Was that need achieved? In moving forward, how do we now based on the knowledge we have, look at the current market where Nigeria currently stands, how strong are we to negotiate a better package? That’s my take on it.
We understand that in the fashioning of the petroleum industry reform bill, some oil and gas exploration and production companies are complaining that they have not been carried along by Government in the formulation of the bill. What do you think the implications will be if the agreements entered into are not respected by the new laws?
My take really is that Nigeria is not an island.
The world as we used to know it has changed to one that does not leave us isolated from how business is done elsewhere. For any economy to succeed, it needs to create an environment that allows for dialogue and for respect of all participants. If the operators or the investors believe that the policies do not give them the needed incentive to be able to partake in the industry as it is, then we should think longer-term on how this will impact the reputation of Nigeria on the global front. That’s how I see it.
It is not so much as in this is what we’ve agreed, this is what must be. The stakeholders all need to be carried along, we are a democracy. We should learn to align ourselves with the rest of the world.
What recourse do the operators have in the event where the new laws fail to respect the sanctity of existing contracts?
We all look at Angola, we talk about how things are going well there. We see Ghana is coming up now. We should all put ourselves in the same shoes of the operators and the investors. They will do business where they feel have the necessary incentives to operate. Now, we may all say we don’t need them. I think we should ask ourselves: â€œIs that true?â€ There is no harm in dialoguing and listening to every party’s own view on how we can move forward. If the industry believes that we’ll be losing billions of dollars if the reforms are carried the way they are, then we should bring in an expert to look at it. It is very important that we look at it, not as individuals but collectively as Nigeria, towards attaining the objective most beneficial for the country.
How do we get there?
We get there by making sure that we are doing the right thing. If more than 80% of the people you are supposed to be carrying along believe you are not doing the right thing, I don’t think we need a rocket scientist to tell us we need to go back to the drawing board.
I recall you commenced work on a new project as soon as you retired from Forster Wheeler. Can you tell us what it is all about?
The new project basically is a resource and solutions management company, Deep Blue Energy Services, the company itself was set up based on the challenges that I encountered representing an international organisation within the sub-Saharan Africa market. Now, when I compared myself to a lot of my colleagues from other parts of the world, I discovered that the time spent on these man-made challenges so to say the least, was actually a significant aspect of the time that would have been put into attaining more businesses for the company. So it was more of what can one do to try and create a better understanding as to the global expectation for one to succeed within this region. In the light o f this reality, the first project I’m working on is a training programme with the theme: Bribery and Corruption: Avoiding the Pitfall. You may say why Bribery and Corruption: Avoiding the Pitfall? By the time you open any newspaper in Nigeria, there is always a page or an article that has to do with corruption or corrupt practices. It seems it’s always in the air and it is never really defined and focussed in the sense that we need to define who a corrupt person is. Is it only the person that gets caught? What really is a collection of this corruption? Is it really an endemic problem like a lot of people say? During the course of personal reflection, I also looked at Transparency International rating of Nigeria and it was one of those things while I was with my previous employer where every time they talk about corruption, everybody just says, Oh! Anita, and it looked like Nigeria is synonymous with corruption and I kept on asking myself ‘what is it we are doing wrong.?
I now decided to come up with this training programme to look at not so much as in instead of pointing the fingers at or continuing with the background undertone that ‘Nigeria is corrupt and there is nothing you can do about it,’ to see how I can set up a platform where the various stakeholders – both government and private – will listen to experts that have been involved in investigations of this phenomenon to say, â€œwell, this is what the international organisations like OECD, European Union, EFCC, ICPC, these are what they deem as being corrupt practices. This is how we go about with the investigations of such practices and this is how you, as an individual can better protect yourself and your organisation so that you do not fall into this pit.
This is a very novel and laudable idea. How is it structured? Or did you just come up with a theme for this seminar off the cuff?
Like I said, Deep Blue Energy Services is a resource and solutions management company.
So under solutions management, what we look at is what are the challenges that companies face, both local and international – doing business in the region we operate and then take each one of those challenges and try and offer solutions as to how you can be better placed to do business in it. Most of the international companies working within Nigeria are either part of OECD owing to the European origin in which case they are required to do business under the guidelines of the OECD or the American companies in which case the FCPA is very important to them, or you have the European Union. Now, a lot of the Nigerian companies really don’t know how they get caught up in this OECD or FCPA and all the other anti-bribery and corruption agencies globally. What we are doing for this particular under the circumstance is to say, â€œWell, let’s help a bit with bringing in the experts. In this case, we are partnering with a firm called FPI. They are coming out of Washington, DC, USA.
What does FPI do?
FPI Consulting are sending us six facilitators and these facilitators are experts in the field. Some of them have been involved in high profile cases such as ENRON investigation so these are people that have worked for multinational companies and they have been involved in a lot of high profile cases.
Today, Nigeria is one of those countries they have heard of as being on the corruption radar. But they are coming to basically say ‘this is how we do it; these are the cases we have had; this is how you protect yourself.â€ It’s a two-day programme. The first day is basically listening to them tell you what all the various anti-corruption laws say in terms of doing business. They will also tell you how these laws are operated and interpreted.
Who are the target audience?