Tonye Princewill

October 28, 2011

NLNG: A friend indeed! (1)

NLNG: A friend indeed! (1)

By Prince Tonye Princewill
I AM taking time off from the subsidy debate to discuss lighter matters. Lighter in as far as they do not evoke the same passions, but by no means are these matters less important. You see, I don’t understand why the removal of “subsidy” must equate to increase in fuel prices.

It can but it does not have to.  The people should not be punished because government is cutting its coat according to its size. We have been deceived into thinking one automatically means the other. I, however, am not fooled.

Efficiency savings alone can plug the gap. Soon I will show you how we can benefit from the savings of subsidy. For now though, allow me to wade into far less controversial waters. Or should I say creeks? Yes! Far less controversial creeks.

The Nigerian Liquefied Natural Gas Company, NLNG, is setting a most auspicious precedent-one which, hopefully, will serve as an inspiration to other firms, both multinational and domestic.

As I type these lines, the management and staff at NLNG’s Lagos headquarters are busy packing boxes and cartons. They’re leaving that highly congested and expensive city for our much more accommodating metropolis.

Ironically, the firm is relocating to Port Harcourt at a time when supposedly friendly countries, like Britain, Australia and the U.S.A., have issued advisories, counselling their nationals to avoid the Niger Delta.

NLNG’s action, therefore, adds impetus to the effort of my brother Kingsley Kuku, the President’s Special Advisor on the Niger Delta, to persuade Britain and the European Union, EU, to rescind such ridiculous travel advisories.

Recent attacks in Kenya and the Seychelles where no advisories existed bring a whole new meaning to the term “misplaced priorities”. Kuku’s contention is that the three tiers of government, working with local communities, have greatly enhanced security. What the region needs now is the embrace of tourists, investors and those who claim to be our friends in the region.

NLNG’s decision is just that, a crucial vote of confidence, not only in a resurgent Rivers State but also in the future of the region. Port Harcourt is, after all, the heart of the Niger Delta-and, like the rest of the region, was once deeply troubled.

In fact, the relocation underscores a point Kuku and other leaders have been making frantically: That, for companies operating in the region, security depends to a very large extent on their policies as well as government’s.

Ifeanyi Mbanefo, NLNG’s articulate Manager of Corporate Communication and Public Affairs said, for example, in a recent interview with The Guardian, that the company’s pipelines are rarely attacked, because it relies more on community relations than soldiers and Mobile Police.

“Our pipelines are looked after by landowners,” he noted, “who derive income from protecting these facilities.When the owners have a stake in what you do, there will be no sabotage”.

Mbanefo’s insight reflects more than two decades of NLNG experience in Rivers State. Construction commenced in 1979 and the company has been producing for 12 years.  It now has an active presence on Bonny Island and in some 110 contiguous communities.

Crude natural gas must be purified and liquefied in processing centres called “trains” to reduce its volume. NLNG presently operates six trains, with a seventh nearing completion. These produce 10 percent of the world’s liquefied natural gas, LNG, and 70 percent of Nigeria’s cooking gas.

In light of this, I could not have agreed more with Mbanefo, when he asked: “Where else should we be, if not in Rivers State, where we get all of this gas from?” This is a thought for others to ponder.

NLNG’s Chairman, Chief O.R. Long-John, is an illustrious Son-of- our-Soil. Earlier this month, he officially informed Governor Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi of the firm’s decision to relocate.

During his courtesy call at Brick House which I was honoured to wiyness, Long-John (a native of Bonny) said the exercise would be completed by the end of November-and that there was no turning back.

He described the relocation as a “homecoming” because NLNG started in Rivers State and still obtains all of its raw materials from here.  It should be noted, this is not the company’s first attempt to return. It tried once before in 2006–but couldn’t follow through, since the militant problem had not been effectively addressed.

Nevertheless, the change of headquarters is hardly an act of charity, since, as Chima Ibeneche, Managing Director, stressed, NLNG expects “socio-economic benefits” such as closer proximity to its Bonny facility, and hopes to “optimize the use of people and resources”.

Governor Amaechi, of course, is justifiably elated. Not only is his administration responsible for the enhanced security environment that makes the Garden City attractive to investors, he presides over a state that has a 24-hour free emergency call centre operated by world class professionals with equally impressive response times by fire, police and/or ambulance professionals.

The Governor promised the state’s new corporate citizen an atmosphere that is conducive for business activity and assured its emissaries that “we will also be ready to support you and to make your stay peaceful and productive”.

Not unexpectedly, spokesmen for the state’s organised private sector also echoed Amaechi. Vincent Furo, President of the Port Harcourt Chamber of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture, PHCCIMA, in a posted press release, opined that NLNG’s relocation to Rivers State was “long overdue”.

But Furo also injected a welcome note of sobriety, imploring the company to use its increased proximity to the people to address some of their problems-particularly carbon pollution in Bonny, Kula and other affected communities.

Very true. Even though I, for one, have never advocated for companies to take the place of incompetent governments, companies can still do more, especially when competent governments step forward. But what he may not know that I do is our NLNG is now busy connecting the whole of Bonny and its communities with state of the art pipe-borne water so its people can drink fresh water straight from the tap. With friends like this, who needs militants?