Three and half years after he retired as CEO of Seplat Energy, the London listed E&P firm he co-founded, AUSTIN AVURU runs A A Holdings, a boutique investment firm focused on upstream hydrocarbon portfolio as well as real estate and equity investing. Mr. Avuru is also keen on A A Foundation, a charitable outfit to which a share of A. A. Holdings’ revenues is allocated annually.
A A Foundation, in September 2023, hosted the ‘church blessing’ of the Arrupe Jesuit College, a secondary school it built in Avuru’s home town of Abbi in Delta State. The $7Milllon project had earlier been handed over to the Jesuits, a Catholic Congregation widely acclaimed for running top notch secondary schools. That ceremony came exactly six years after the Catholic Bishop of Warri had dedicated a $1.9Million, Sixty Bed Hospital, which Avuru had built in the same town, in 2016.
The hospital project in itself was a follow up to the construction of boreholes and water taps which Avuru delivered to the town in 2007.
“My emphasis basically is on education and healthcare and a strong dose of Catholic religion”, Avuru had told Africa Oil+Gas Report in 2020; “these are my foundation activities. If you bring them closer to your people, you have fair-minded people growing up properly educated with healthcare available to them. That’s about the best you can do”.
We met up with Mr. Avuru in his office at A A Holdings in Lagos.
Excerpts of the conversation by Akpelu Paul Kelechi:
At the Church blessing of the Arrupe Jesuit College, the Bishop said: “The Lord has provided all that human kind needs, but much of that provision is in the hands of some people and such people are supposed to deliver to the rest of society”. Do you see yourself as one of those vehicles?
That is truest statement that captures the essence of life that I’ve listened to in a long time. People see their personal wealth as reward for either super brilliance or hard work and so they beat their chest as having been so successful, more successful than everybody around them and that is the reason they are wealthy. There’s no person that believes in religion especially the Christian religion that will have that point of view. A typical Christian should believe that wealth is placed in your hands by God as belonging to him with you as a servant to distribute it. And I believe honestly that that is the truth.
One of the buildings in Arrupe Jesuit College
If you read that my biography, you can see so many instances where we have arrived at where we are not because we work harder than others; we did work hard and so forth but I also pointed out people, my own classmates, who have I believe were a step ahead of me that circumstance found them two-three Steps behind you in the fullness of time. It cannot be because you are more brilliant than them or anything like that. It is the same way that you and two other people will set out to do business and you all would be doing the right things but by some happenchance, you do better and you see so much wealth entrusted on you and you turn around and think you should go ahead and celebrate how much more successful you are than the others. Wealth and most of such endowments are God’s; they belong to God and when they are entrusted unto you, you should use them well.
I also think all of humanity believes this. Why do you think that the wealthy in the developed world spend as much as they do on philanthropy? Why do you think Bill Gates will be going around the whole world trying to solve the problems of the planet? He could sit down and just enjoy all his wealth. Warren Buffet will give out 80% of his wealth to somebody and say, go and distribute it. There is fun in living life and being successful in human endowments, it gives you satisfaction. But the moment you start thinking that that’s your personal belonging, you have missed the point and I think that’s what the Bishop was referring to.
You installed the bore holes and water taps in 2007. You set up Austin Avuru Foundation about 10 years later. Did you always envisage the foundation?
At no time did I really sit down to plan about it because I am not a politician that would sit down and plan on how to give out so that people will vote for him in the next election, no. I’ve always wished right from my childhood that I had enough to give out, always. I’ve always known that it gave me more inner satisfaction than anything else. In a way, I think I must have taken after my mom. I couldn’t believe that even in her state where she’s a weak 90-year-old, we were talking and my sisters were discussing about the school opening, and all she could ask was: how many of so and so persons’ children were they able to give employment in that place? She’s thinking of how people will benefit from the presence of the school and that’s the first thing that crosses her mind.
It’s the same thing throughout my tenure in and both Platform and Seplat; anytime I go home, once she says I should sit down, I know she’s going to discuss employment for people. So and so person, haven’t you been able to give him a job? Why have you not done this? Why have you not done that? She’s over 90 years of age and she does it even up to now!
So it does give me real inner peace and satisfaction when I give out especially when you see that glint in the eyes of the receiver that they appreciate what you give them, that it really made a different to the person.
Can you outline the four key focus areas of AA Foundation’s philanthropy?
It is education, healthcare, sanitation and empowerment or poverty elevation. All four are woven together. I believe that if you offer a child proper education, especially a child is endowed to receive education; you have created the future for that child. You now need the child to thrive by providing the fairly decent environment. Just think about drinking clean water. You see, you may not appreciate it because you didn’t grow up in a village like I did. The difference between drinking pond water, brown water from the pond or from a well and drinking clean water might mean the difference between dying at 20 from typhoid in the village and leaving up to 80 years.
When we speak about sanitation, the difference between going to the back of the house to stool and throw it across and flies gather around it and so on, might mean the difference between dying of dysentery a week later and simply being a healthy child that grows into adulthood because there’s clean drinking water. It doesn’t take too much to make that difference so when you talk about sanitation, that’s really what we are referring to.
I knew I couldn’t give water to the entire village with those boreholes we drilled. However, for the villager who goes to farm in the morning, when he returns in evening and he is sure there’s a place he can go and fetch a bucket of clean water to drink, he can use all his muddy water to do all other things but the water he and his family members are going to drink, he knows he can go across and fetch it and that’s what I did with those boreholes. With sanitation, that child that you’re giving education will also be given a chance to live.
Healthcare and sanitation are tied together while education is to provide the future. And of course poverty alleviation is simply this, somebody has an idea that can be transformed into proper value creation and you can support them to achieve that, it doesn’t take too much. We have supported some kind of farming in the village level and some cottage industries. We are not making noise about it. In education, we have paid the school fees of people doing their Master’s degree in Harvard and so on. Again, like everything that we try to do, we’ll try to be very definitive but we also try to create the boundaries so that we don’t do just about everything; which is why we’ve systematically said, those are the four areas and we have concentrated on those four areas hoping that all of them taken together, will simply help to take poverty away from people who can ordinarily live a good life if you give them a chance.
You could have tackled Orogun Grammar School, your Alma mater and Abbi Grammar School, the community college, for refurbishment, but you chose a new build project. Why?
We are already tackling both schools and I will tell you two stories. You know, when you are living in the rural areas, you will almost not forgive these people who run the affairs of our society as governors and president because they are actually wicked.
Abbi Grammar School started when we were kids in 1972, when I was 14 and I was already in Orogun Grammar School, in class 2. They gathered us to go and clear the forest that was going to be Abbi Grammar School, so I’ve known it from the day when we cleared that forest until its glorious days when it produced people in Divisions One and Two. But then, it deteriorated to a point where trees were growing through the roof. The school enrolment dropped to 82 in the entire school and they were no longer a centre for writing School Certificate examination. That’s how poor it became with government running it. At Platform Petroleum, we had a budget for community development; what we then did was to say, okay, to help these people where I come from, we took 10% of our community development budget to Abbi. Fortunately, the area where Platform Petroleum is operating is contiguous to Abbi. So, if we budgeted ₦50Million, we would take ₦5Million and go to Abbi and that’s how we picked the classroom blocks one at a time. It was direct labour with just ₦4 – 5Million. We turned it around one by one over time; we changed the roof, changed the tiles of the floors and took it one at a time. By the time we did three blocks of six classrooms each, did the principal’s quarters, put a borehole and water supply in there, and in those four years that we did that, between 2008 – 2012, the enrolment went back to almost 400. We breathed life into the school otherwise the school was dead. It was only after that that the government came in and did all those TET Fund things. We revived the then dead Abbi school thanks to part of Platform Petroleum’s community development effort.
For Orogun Grammar School, it is the Old Students that have been on the vanguard to reviving that school. I personally renovated one classroom block and I have made pledges that I have redeemed to Orogun Grammar School Old Students and that is an on-going thing. We didn’t build a school because we’re not doing the others; no. We’re doing all that we can do and of course, you know that in my honour, Platform Petroleum built an entire geology department at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka UNN, where I graduated.
I could have built a secondary school or a university in my name and pump in a lot of money into it but that is not what I am looking for. We chose a secondary school because that’s the foundation really; primarily and secondary school. I was looking for a secondary school that will be run to world class standard in perpetuity. We went out deliberately to seek approval of the Jesuits; if you look at their schools, the Loyola Jesuits Collage in Abuja and the one they have in Port Harcourt and look at their numbers, you know that you don’t have to tell them what to do. You don’t have to worry about it because it’s not your school, it’s theirs. It’s not a question of saying oh, when Austin Avuru dies, the vision is dead, no. I thought that it would be the right thing to do, build it for them and allow them run it and maintain their standard.
Then you are sure that in addition to those schools around, whether it’s Orogun or Abbi Grammar School that we are renovating, you have a top-notch school that sets the standard for them to look up to for both students and stuff. This is the best thing to do in that environment to raise the standard of education. You know, when you go to Uromi, because Lumen Christi has been in Uromi, it changed narrative about that whole area. Lumen Christi is for boys and Presentation is for girls in Benin. The standard of education in the whole of Edo State changed because of those two schools run by the Catholics. When you set such standards it helps to elevate the others who aspire.
How much will you have spent by the time you exit funding the school in September 2025?
Our original budget was to spend a million dollars a year for 5 years but once we started, we knew that wouldn’t do. In fact, 2023 was our highest spend year because once we set a date for the school to take off, there is a minimum that must be in place because the school couldn’t take off without you fencing it for instance; you were putting buildings in place but you have not fenced the place. Imagine fencing 18 hectares of land. There must be water also and there must be electricity. By water, what I mean is not just the water but the entire reticulation around the entire place so that any other building can just hook up to the main supply and the same thing is applicable to electricity as well. With all of those things added we found out we had spent three times what was our annual budget in the fiscal year of September 2022 to September 2023.
All the things we had committed to putting there and now, we believe that we will be spending about Seven (7) Million US Dollars over those five years but it could be slightly more. We deliberately put our budget in dollars so that we are not battling with exchange rate-based inflation. Buildings that could have cost us ₦200,000,000 are now costing us ₦400,000,000 to build but in dollar terms, they are about the same price so it is safer for us to just budget in dollars. In 2020 when we started, we could have told you that our plan was to spend ₦3Billion but in today’s reality, we would be spending ₦6Billion but in dollar terms, there is not much of a difference. The figure is somewhere around $7Million over the next five years.
The medical centre was built at the cost of around $2Million without the cover of AA Foundation. How do you ingratiate such earlier project, those done pre-AAF into the overall AAF operation?
Yes and we have added a few more things to it since then but between 2002 and 2020, I was either in Platform or Seplat as Owner-Manager. This means that I have shareholding; that also means I earn revenue beyond my salary. As an individual, those revenues were coming into my coffers up to the point where I retired in 2020; up until that time, those revenues were coming in as Austin Avuru’s revenues and I would use part of it to do those things you are talking about. As part of my restructuring as I was getting ready to retire, I then setup A.A. Holdings and everything that I own as an individual: my shareholding in Platform, my shareholding in Seplat and now in Pillar and a few other things were aggregated into a trust fund called A.A. Holdings. So I no longer own those things and A.A. Holdings pays me a salary now. Because everything now goes into A.A. Holdings, everything had to be done properly. If I had written a will, the beneficiaries of A.A. Holdings would have been the beneficiaries of the will.
A.A. Foundations is also a beneficiary of A.A. Holdings so it is not just my wife and children and A.A. Foundation owns 15% of A.A. Holdings. The way we run it is that, 15% of our annual budget at A.A. Holdings goes to A.A. Foundations to do its job and that is why we do not look for external funding. We use the little we have to fund whatever project we choose to fund and that is the structure.
What we have done is to move from individual earnings into earnings that are aggregated into a trust and I am managing the trust on behalf of those that will succeed me.
16 years ago, you drilled four wells in Abbi. Has that number increased?
No, it is still those same four wells. We make sure that they remain functional by having somebody with a small motorcycle and a generator who goes around every morning and evening and pumps the water so that every time someone from the village goes there to fetch water, it works.
Do you have plans to increase the wells?
No because in-between, there has been all those World Bank projects and the like that other people have done but after one or two years, they won’t work again. If you drill a borehole, somebody must be responsible for it to work every day. So we don’t need more drinking water boreholes because the way we located the wells is such that they are located at the four corners of the town so that average villager won’t have to go too far to get water. That was intentional.
Let’s go back to what the Bishop said again. Do you have a template for what the wealthiest Nigerians should do to help their country and the role they should play vis a viz what Government’s roles should be?
The average wealthy person knows that the excitement is in working very hard to create wealth and make money but after you have created the wealth, you just find out: so what? I believe that every wealthy person should first go through the excitement of creating value and creating wealth but after that is done; he should ask himself what he wants to do with it. If wealth is not created for the public good, then it is not wealth. Whether it is philanthropy or creating jobs and redistributing wealth to people through job creation, wealth has to be distributed because wealth belongs to God and it was handed to you for proper distribution.
Can philanthropy take care of all of Nigerian society’s needs?
No. Philanthropy is only in response to what we have talked about several times that the wealth belongs to God and that you are only playing your little role in redistributing it because it was placed in your hands. It doesn’t take away the role of societal governance; there has always been governance since the medieval times which means that there is a structure that aggregates well from all those they are taking through taxes that can be used to generate what amounts to the general public good. You cannot take that away and that is governance.
For individuals who also see wealth entrusted to them should not lock it up somewhere; they have to also redistribute it and to redistribute it means doing something for the public good.
The $7Million you talked about is coming from the investment of A.A Holdings. How much is the investment boutique A.A Holdings making to be able to fund a project for $7Million?
A.A. Holdings tries to spend between 12 and 15% of its annual budget on philanthropy through A.A. Foundation and that is the way it is structured. Those sums of money are not arbitrary and in a year like this where we have over spent, we are going to have to make it up. There is proper planning, budgeting and execution both in A.A Holdings and its affiliates.
Duomo Lulu Briggs, chairman of Platform Petroleum, pledged the sum of 250Million Naira to the AA Foundation. That’s $280,000. Is that going to be added to the money set aside for Arrupe or you’d look for another project for it?
They have already paid and that is the best thing that has happened to us at A.A Foundation in recent times because as I explained to you, we have really over spent and we are under financial pressure to get that facility ready for use. So essentially, what we were supposed to finish in September 2024 was what we were forced to finish in September 2023 because there are a certain minimum requirements that must be met before they can start. When Duomo pledged on behalf of Platform where he is the chairman the sum of N250Million, it was a life line. They acted swiftly and four days after his announcement, they had paid. As I speak to you, ₦150Million of that N250Million has already been disbursed to various vendors and contractors whose payments were due.
Where is AA Foundation going after 2025? Will you be called upon to keep helping with the school infrastructure after some time? Will you keep refurbishing the Magistrate building and the Police station in Abbi? Will you keep changing the cars for the Officiating Minister of the Catholic Church in the community? Or will you be doing other things?
The good thing about the Jesuit College is that, when we exit in 2025, they will not even call on us to do anything for them again; Jesuit colleges run on their own and that’s partly why their school fees is a bit higher than moderate. They are self-funding non-profit so they provide top quality education from the resources available to them from school fees. We will not go back and be subsidizing them, no. That is not how they are structured and that is why we went to them.
For the magistrate court buildings and vehicles, those are the examples of the failure of government. The police station in my village, I had to be the one to go and refurbish it, I have to provide them with a vehicle. For the magistrate court, with an actual magistrate there so it wasn’t as if the court wasn’t there, I had to be the one to spend money to make it look decent for the magistrate to dispense justice. If you go there before we renovated the place, it was a rat hole. Those are the failures of government. We shouldn’t be doing those things; we should be doing things to compliment what they are doing, not taking over the role of government. I didn’t mention that we also put Two kIlometres of drainage along that same road and it cost us money to do that which we shouldn’t be the ones doing. But you sit there and the government is doing absolutely nothing.
As we go along, our educational spending will be shifting from infrastructure to the softer things. For instance, we have paid ₦32Million school fees for eleven kids and we have paid ₦11.5Million as our share of the cost of running that school. Half of the cost of running the primary school comes to us and this is just JSS1 and Primary 1. So when the school is in full session in six years’ time, we probably won’t have eleven children on scholarship. Assuming we have 30 children on scholarship by that time, that easily comes to almost a hundred million naira and the same thing is applicable to the primary school. So you are going to be seeing a shift in spending from just infrastructure to maintaining the scholarship obligation that we have. Because we have a finite budget and because we know what our current liabilities are, it is the remainder that we can then put in other projects going forward. We are driven by how much we have each year and it is finite and almost predictable. It is a business that we do and we know how much revenue that we get. If we are dedicating a certain amount on projects the next year and if we are saying 10-15% of that goes to the foundation, it means that when we are planning the work programme for next year, we know what is going to the foundation because we know what our current commitments are and therefore, we know what new projects we can take on. It is therefore up to us to pick what projects we can fund within those key four elements that we have discussed. It is not just limited to Abbi.
So apart from Abbi, which other community are you looking at?
We can be anywhere. There are projects that have been delivered on our behalf. I mean, we went to Nsukka to build a Geology Department and in the Faculty of Sciences, it is the best facility that they have till date. It was built and fully equipped so we can be anywhere. When we know that there is a dire requirement and we know the impact of what we do would be far reaching in those four areas, you can find us there because we are not really restricted by geography.
Female Ward of Abbi Hospital
You paid ₦2.9Million per student and you do talk about mommy saying you have not done anything about so and so person’s job search, are those monies paid with these kinds of things in mind?
Now that we are getting better organized and putting everything under the foundation. Those days, my secretary had a list of all the people that we would send their school fees and there were different people in different schools. People come to me and say my name is so and so and I finished from so and so school and you paid my school fees. I don’t know them.
She just takes the name and puts on the list and then send the money but now, we are organizing it in a more structured way. But yes, paying the school fees of those who need it is part of what we do and in the specific case of the school, we went out of our way, my elder sister and Jonnie who runs the foundation, went out of their way and gathered about 60 children, some of the most brilliant ones that they could find in the primary schools and organized six weeks of extra mural studies to prepare them for the entrance exam into the school. The reason they did that was that soon, the school will be starting and it would be somehow if they didn’t have a single pupil from the community. They had to work extra hard with past question papers and so on and fortunately, eleven of them were admitted. After the admission however, we found out the next problem. The parents of those children were preparing to sell their farmlands in order to pay for the school fees. We had to gather all of them together and say, please don’t worry, since we put you into this, we are going to take care of this responsibility. Which is how, we initiated a scholarship scheme in a manner of speaking that says: any kid that is admitted into that school, because you can only be admitted on merit, whose parent lives in Abbi, we will take care of that child’s school fees because the assumption is that for any parent who live in Abbi, paying that school fees is a huge burden and we do not want to deny a brilliant child who is able to get admission on merit the opportunity to excellent quality education.
The former Managing Director of the Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas (NLNG) Ltd has taken the helm of Renaissance Africa Energy Company, the consortium of five companies which has just acquired Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) of Nigeria.
Attah is the new Chief Executive and managing Director of the newly formed, incorporated consortium company, which expects to manage what used to be Shell’s 30% stake in the SPDC-JV comprising 18 Oil Mining Leases (OMLs) 20, 21, 22, 23, 25, 27, 28, 31, 32, 33, 35 36, 43, 45 and 46, all onshore, and OMLs 74, 77& 79, in shallow water, in the Niger Delta basin.
Attah retired from Shell only two years ago, precisely January 2022, after a career spanning over 30 years. He left the UK major five months after he stepped down from the NLNG Ltd at the end of August 2021, after having delivered on the most crucial item on his to -do -list; leading the company to a Final Investment Decision (FID) on Train 7, the seventh LNG Train in Bonny Island.
Attah has an impressive Cee Vee, and comes to the new job highly recommended. A mechanical engineer by training, he was previously Managing Director of Shell Nigeria Exploration Producing Company (SNEPCo), the Shell subsidiary which manages the upstream deepwater business. On his watch, the SNEPCo operated Bonga field, which is also Nigeria’s flagship deepwater hydrocarbon accumulation, was delivering over 150,000Barrels of Oil Per Day.
At the time he led NLNG Ltd to an FID on the incremental 8Million Metric Tonne Per Annum in 2019, he was the only CEO from an International Oil Company (IOC) background, working in Nigeria, who had delivered a project of that magnitude in the country in the five years before then. And going on five years after that decision, no project of that magnitude has seen an FID in Nigeria. Tony Attah took the reins of NLNG Ltd, nine years after the last Liquefaction Plant (Train 6) came on stream. Before him, two Chef Executives had worked to get Train 7 project off the ground, with some traction, but not visible success.
Attah’s experience in gas monetization will come in handy in the new job. The bulk of the feedstock for the NLNG (in which Shell holds a 25.6% stake) had always been sourced from the SPDC assets that Shell has just divested. The largest among them include Gbaran Ubie, Soku, Bonny (onshore), and EA (shallow water). These fields will now be operated by Renaissance.
Then again despite the sale of over 60% of its natural gas reserves in the country to Renaissance Africa Energy, Shell is still keen on playing the domestic gas market through Shell Nigeria Gas, its downstream gas distribution subsidiary while also focusing on clean energy via Day Star its recently acquired subsidiary which plays in the solar energy landscape.
Africa Finance Corporation (AFC) has appointed Emeka Emuwa as Chairman of its Board of Directors.
The energy and infrastructure financier says that the new chairman’s “extensive experience and unwavering dedication to the advancement of Africa make him a valuable asset to AFC at a time when the Corporation is rapidly expanding its operations across the continent and building partnerships through international collaborations”.
AFC says in a release: “Mr. Emuwa brings a wealth of experience spread over three decades leading and transforming banking institutions across Africa”.
AFC claims it is, with its partners, “the biggest investor in renewable energy in Africa following its recent acquisition of Lekela Power, and leadership of major wind power projects including in Djibouti.
“The Corporation’s development of special economic zones through its investee company ARISE IIP is helping to diversify the economies of nine countries, building a global manufacturing powerhouse. AFC was appointed lead developer of the Lobito Corridor and Zambia-Lobito Rail Line, bringing together partners including the US government, the European Union, the African Development Bank and the governments of Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Zambia.
The Lagos Nigeria headquartered AFC is also deeply involved in the oil and gas industry. It is the sole shareholder of Aker Energy, which has a 50% stake in the Deepwater Tano Cape Three Points (DWT/CTP) Block offshore Ghana. This acreage contains the ultradeepwater Pecan oil field and other discoveries with estimated reserves in the range 450Millio Barrels of Oil Equivalent (MMboe) to 550MMboe.
About its new chairman, AFC says: “After completing a sterling 25-year career with Citibank where he left as the Country Officer and Managing Director of Citibank in Nigeria, he went on to serve as the Group Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of Union Bank of Nigeria. In this role, he led the bank’s transformation and worked successfully with the new shareholders to transform and restore one of Nigeria’s oldest institutions back to its rightful position as a credible and strong provider of financial services”.
Emuwa has been a part of AFC’s Board since 2015, previously serving as the Chairman of the Board Risk and Investment Committee, and as a member of the Board Nominations and Governance Committee. He is also the Chairman of Tangerine Financial (U.K.), the holding company for a financial services group providing insurance and pensions solutions across the continent. Mr Emuwa is thus well positioned to oversee and guide AFC on its future strategy and growth aspirations.
The Ghanaian professor of Geography, Elizabeth Ardayfio-Schandorf, has been elected Chairperson of the Public Interest and Accountability Committee (PIAC), Ghana’s public accountability watchdog on the oil industry.
She takes over from Kwame Adom Frimpong, an accountant and professor, who served two terms.
“Emerita Professor Ardayfio-Schandorf is the first woman to be elected as Chairperson since the inception of PIAC and will serve a one-year term”, according to a press statement.
The PIAC is a product of the Petroleum Revenue Management Act (PRMA), 2011 (Act 815), which was enacted to provide a “framework for the collection, allocation and management of petroleum revenue in a responsible, transparent, accountable and sustainable manner for the benefit of the citizens of Ghana in accordance with Article 36 of the Constitution and for related matters”.
As a watchdog institution, its mandate includes production of reports on the management and use of petroleum revenues.
The PIAC Reports are issued semi-annually and annually, and they capture critical issues in the oil and gas industry.
The announcement of Professor Ardayfio-Schandorf as the new PIAC head, describes her as having a distinguished academic career as well as being a trailblazer in many fields. “Her interests and engagements started in the early 1970s and have been nurtured over five decades through teaching, research, mentoring, consulting services and community outreach programmes.
“She is a Geographer, an Environmental Advisor an Expert in Rural Energy Systems, and a Development Consultant. She also has a passion for Family and Gender Research/Analysis, Women’s Empowerment, and Advocacy”.
Bernard Looney has suddenly resigned from the position of Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of BP, the European major.
Murray Auchincloss, the Company’s CFO, will act as CEO on an interim basis.
From the company’s press statement announcing the exit, the resignation was a result of a 15+month long series of investigations conducted on Mr. Looney as a result of a number of whistleblowers’ allegation.
“In May 2022, the Board received and reviewed allegations, with the support of external legal counsel, relating to Mr. Looney’s conduct in respect of personal relationships with company colleagues”, the company sys in the statement. “The information came from an anonymous source.
“During that review, Mr Looney disclosed a small number of historical relationships with colleagues prior to becoming CEO. No breach of the Company’s Code of Conduct was found. However, the Board sought and was given assurances by Mr. Looney regarding disclosure of past personal relationships, as well as his future behaviour.
“Further allegations of a similar nature were received recently, and the Company immediately began investigating with the support of external legal counsel. That process is ongoing.
The British engineer who succeeded Bod Dudley as BP’s CEO in October 2019, eventually informed the company that he now accepted that he was not fully transparent in his previous disclosures, BP’s statement says. “He did not provide details of all relationships and accepts he was obligated to make more complete disclosure”.
BP says it has “strong values and the Board expects everyone at the Company to behave in accordance with those values. All leaders in particular are expected to act as role models and to exercise good judgement in a way that earns the trust of others”.
The company adds that “No decisions have yet been made in respect of any remuneration payments to be made to Mr Looney. In accordance with section 430(2B) of the Companies Act 2006, particulars of any such decisions will be disclosed at such times as, and to the extent that, any such decisions are made”.
This announcement contains inside information for the purposes of Article 7 of the Market Abuse Regulation (EU) 596/2014 of 16 April 2014 (MAR) as it forms part of domestic law by virtue of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018.
The Nigerian engineer, Leye Falade, has been appointed as Country Chair for Shell in Namibia.
In the role, Falade has the overall oversight of the multinational’s ambitious technical, managerial and regulatory activities, in one of the world’s hottest hydrocarbon exploration jurisdictions.
The new country chair was, until August 31, 2023, the General Manager in charge of Production at the Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas (NLNG) Ltd.
He takes over from Dennis Zekveld, who has held the fort since Shell returned to Namibia for exploration in 2014.
Falade’s Linked in profile describes him as an “experienced senior business leader with a demonstrated history of working in the oil & energy industry, who has worked across upstream and midstream assets in seven different countries across Europe, Asia, Middle East, Russia and Africa”.
By his own account, he is skilled in Gas, Petroleum, Product Optimization, Engineering, business improvement and change management.
He has “strong energy professional with an engineering degree and a MBA from Henley Business School, UK”, he explains.
Falade is taking over after the initial exploration work has been successfully done and the maturation phase begins. He is to superintend the clear line of sight to delivery at the terminal.
Namibia has witnessed a string of elephant sized oil and gas discoveries in the last 20 months. By some estimation, over Four Billion (probable and possible) barrels of oil and gas equivalent have been discovered by Shell and TOTAL, in the country’s deepwater Orange Basin, which also straddles South Africa.
Shell was a player in Namibia in the 1990s to early noughties, when it made the decision to exit the development of Kudu Field, the country’s only-if problematic- discovery at the time. In the 12 years between that exit and the return, Namibia’s exploration fortune hung in a “hoping“ mode. There were several dry holes drilled by several independents, the most notable of which was HRT, the Brazilian explorer.
Since arrival in 2014, Shell has completed three seismic surveys, analysed the data, and launched a hugely successful drilling campaign. Shell’s mega-discovery with the Graff-1X well, located in Petroleum License (PEL) 39, came in the first quarter of 2022, 20 years after its exit from Namibia. Shell operates PEL 39 with a 45% working interest and partners include Qatar Energy with 45% and NAMCOR, the national oil company of Namibia with 10%.
Keith Hill, who led Africa Oil Corp to purchase a profitable chunk of Nigeria, and witnessed, as partner, Tullow Oil’s opening of Kenya as an oil province, is leaving the Canadian junior as President.
He has been replaced by Roger Tucker, a one-time Senior Vice President Europe, for BG Group.
Hill is the last of the CEOs of those Western headquartered juniors who opened frontier basins around Africa, plotting them on the hydrocarbon map of the world, between 2005 and 2014.
Keith Hill was focused on the East African Rift sequence and Southern African deepwater miogeosynclines.
In 2007, Africa Oil Corp executed a string of agreements with three governments, to earn it 90% stake in 13 acreages, spread over 250,000km2 in Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia. Hill became the AOC’s Chief Executive two years after those transactions and led the company to derive value from the deals by playing the Landlord.
Hill never risked a single dollar on drilling a well, but he worked up the seismic and other petrological data and presented highly annotated play maps to convince well-heeled companies of the possibility of working hydrocarbon systems in those unexplored frontiers.
AOC sold percentage stakes in several of these acreages to Tullow, Marathon, and New Age.
The discovery of oil by Tullow in one of the Kenyan tracts in April 2012 boosted the quality of the property and bolstered both M. Hill’s and AOC’s reputations.
AOC was smart enough to diversify into acquiring producing properties, in the aftermath of the collapse of the frontier exploration boom. In January 2020, it bought a 50% ownership interest in a subsidiary of Brazil’s Petrobras, specifically Petrobras Oil and Gas B.V. (POGBV) whose primary assets of POGBV consisted of an indirect 8% interest in Oil Mining Lease (OML) 127, containing the Agbami Field and an indirect 16% interest in OML 130, containing producing Akpo and Egina fields.
The company has raked over $350Million in quarterly dividends from that purchase.
Under Keith Hill’s direction, Africa Oil Corp. has been at the right place at the right time. Even today, when the juniors are no more leading the charge in opening new African petroleum basins, it is one of the few Western minnows with stakes in what may become the biggest African discovery in the last 20 years: the Orange Basin offshore Namibia.
Roger Tucker who is Hill’s successor, has had extensive experience running and developing businesses in multiple and varied international environments. He was Senior Vice President Europe, for BG Group; CEO of African Arabian Petroleum Ltd., and Latitude Energy; Managing Director of Yukos Oil; and President LASMO Venezuela and a member of LASMO’s Group Executive Committee. More recently he was Chairman of Viaro Energy and has experience in private equity through Senior Partner-level positions at Prostar Capital and Vanwall Capital. He is currently a Non-Executive Director of PetroTal Corporation.
Mr. Hill has agreed to remain on the Board as a Director of the Company with Dr. Tucker also joining the Board as a Director. The handover will take place on September 5, 2023, and Mr. Hill will continue to lead the Company until that date.
Immanuel Mulunga, the flamboyant Chief Executive of NAMCOR, Namibia’s state hydrocarbon company, has been cleared of charges of sleaze by the country’s Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC).
But the man who has acted as the face of Namibia to international companies willing to access the country’s petroleum potentials, may be on his way out. While his suspension was simply about payment for an asset stake, there’s a deep-seated animosity in the NAMCOR board of directors that may result in his ouster.
Mulunga has been NAMCOR’s CEO for eight years. He arrived the job after a five-year run as the country’s Petroleum Commissioner.
For close to 15 years of “Namibia waiting to exhale”, he was the man who sold the country at international petroleum conferences all over the world. With supersized discoveries by Shell and TOTAL, Namibia has become, in the last two years, the hottest exploration spot on the African continent.
Part of the statement by Paulus Noa, the ACC chairman, sounds more like a praise for the suspended CEO than a review of charges.
“The managing director (MD) was not given approval by the board (of directors) when he authorized the transfer of the money to Sungara Energies Ltd”, Noa said. “He, however, did so in the interest of NAMCOR and the country, after the board was consulted and kept on deferring the discussions and decision on the matter,” Noa said.
Sungara Energies is a joint venture between NAMCOR, Britain’s Sequa Petroleum and (the Nigerian) consulting company Petrolog.
The payment in question allowed the JV to ensure that its planned acquisition of a 10% stake in producing Angolan oil Block 15/06 did not fall through. After it had paid its own $10Million share towards the acquisition, NAMCOR discovered that its partners did not have the financial resources to pay the whole of their initial contributions. In August 2022, therefore, Mulunga, ordered that $6.7Million be transferred to Sungara to ensure that Songangol, the Angolan state hydrocarbon company, did not cancel the sale and purchase agreement for the block.
Noa said that the payment was a matter in which Mulunga had to make a difficult decision to safeguard the contract and avoid financial loss to NAMCOR and the country.
NAMCOR’s board chairperson Jennifer Comalie indicated in her own assessment during the ACC’s investigations, that Mulunga’s action was a breach of delegation of authority.
But Noa offered that Comalie highlighted that Mulunga did not act with criminal or malicious intent, and she also confirmed that the total deposit paid by NAMCOR was paid to Sonangol, and the minister of mines and energy was informed about the development of the oil block deal.
Deputy chairperson Tim Ekandjo’s sworn statement “confirmed that the board had approved Namcor’s participation in the Sonangol oil block deal through a joint venture between NAMCOR, E&P, Sequa and Petrolog, who then formed Sungara Energies Ltd.
“The board passed a resolution to delegate the MD to be NAMCOR’s representative on [the] Sungara joint venture,” Noa reported.
Despite the ACC’s clearing him of charges, NAMCOR’s board will proceed with disciplinary hearings and investigations into Mulunga’s conduct.
It so happens that Ms. Comalie, the NAMCOR board chair, had been arrested after drugs were found in her car. She considers that as a set up by Mulunga, who, our several sources, say, has been impatient about what he considers as a largely incompetent board.