Tonye Princewill

November 4, 2011

NLNG – a friend indeed! (2)

NLNG – a friend indeed! (2)

By Tonye Princewill

THAT’S not all the LNG boys have done – not by a long shot. If you have doubts, ask the people of Abua, Ekpeye, Ogba, Ikwere, Okrika and Kalabari towns, here in Rivers State, where the company has built schools and supplied educational materials, including desks or the hospitals and equipment they have been running.

 While you’re at it, make some inquires about NLNG’s community relations activities in the crucial areas of culture and finance. I refer, of course, to its micro-credit scheme for small businesses and training of young entrepreneurs, as well as its sponsorship of Port Harcourt’s choral competition.

But NLNG is a multinational. With a staff of 405 (298 permanent, plus 107 contract workers), it has offices in Abuja, Port Harcourt, London and Bermuda. It is the largest industrial concern on the African continent and the second largest LNG plant in the world. So you wouldn’t expect, either its largesse or its impact to be limited to Rivers State; and it is not. NLNG supports the Maritime Academy at Oron, Akwa Ibom State and is helping the Federal Government to create a viable ships registry.

It also sponsors the National Prizes for Literature and Science.

What you would have expected is that if Rivers or any other state could get its hands on this magic lamp it would do so. If our state was not the legitimate home of NLNG, Governor Amaechi would probably have devised another way to get hold of it. As well he should! Here is a company that took out $1.6 billion loan and nurtured it into an industrial behemoth that generates seven percent of Nigeria’s Gross Development Product. NLNG is the proverbial “pot of gold”, at the end of the revenue rainbow – pouring a reported N30 billion a year into the Lagos State treasury.

Rivers State, which has a much more accommodating tax regime, expects an annual take of about N2 billion. But money isn’t everything. Character is just as important for a corporate citizen, as it is for an individual. NLNG is an equally alluring asset in this regard.

“The company,” notes Business World’s Chris Uba, “is reputed for transparency and due process in all its activities.” In light of its enormous value, as a composite asset, some controversy was bound to accompany the relocation. The main issue critics have raised is the timing. The original plan was apparently to relocate over a period of two years.

But a critical article in the New York-based Sahara Reporters avers that Chima Ibeneche, the MD, considered this unfeasible: Because the maintenance of C & C Towers (a block of converted residential apartments on Victoria Island, which a series of property audits declared unfit) was now too expensive.

The company had opted, initially, to await completion of its permanent Port Harcourt headquarters, at a temporary location in Lagos State. Once again though, Ibeneche, a seasoned administrator, apparently saw danger looming.

I have not been privileged to discuss NLNG’s decision with him. But certain essential elements can be logically inferred from my own background as a businessman and a member of Rivers State Government’s Economic Summit. With the cost of transport and accommodation on the rise everywhere, the longer the Port Harcourt move was delayed, the costlier it would have become.

Procrastination may also have complicated matters politically, since the forces arrayed against management’s decision could then have regrouped. Prodding management as well was Ibeneche’s scheduled retirement in 2012. As a political infighter, he must surely have known that the relocation project ran a risk of being scuttled after his departure – and, as a precaution, made it an emergency exercise, with a 60-day time-limit.  

“Ibeneche retires in January 2012,” wrote the hostile Sahara Reporters staff, “just two months from now, and his decision seems accentuated by a desire to utilize all the funds accruable from this rushed relocation not to a permanent office in Port Harcourt, but to a temporary one”.

Some employees, especially contract workers, resisted destination Port Harcourt. Fortunately though, management’s acumen, along with the loyalty and nobility of spirit, which NLNG’s PENGASSAN (Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria) leaders exhibited, carried the day.

When the industrial history of the Niger Delta is written, the heroism of PENGASSAN officials, the courage of Ibeneche and Chief Long-John, the eloquence of Mbanefo and the diligence of Aka Nwokedi, Human Resources Manager, certainly deserve a prominent place in it. The precedent which NLNG has set, by virtue of its return to Rivers State, is a beacon on the shores of our much revered region-a guiding industrial light, beckoning to other estranged enterprises.

The unemployed of the Niger Delta are sending SOSs to these firms, crying out for their compassion. NLNG has responded to the entreaties-demonstrating, by its example, that a friend in need is a friend indeed!