I had begun to speak to friends and to stir up resistance wherever I could.
I cannot say that I was particularly successful, for people were generally frightened. A few who saw the truth stood their grounds. Many, even the educated, did not understand, so entirely misled by propaganda were they. Others who understood chose to play safe, accepting whoever held sway over them.
I am speaking here largely of the Rivers people among whom I operated and whose welfare was uppermost in my mind at the time. As for the Ogoni, they had been intimidated in political times. Now, with guns behind their backs, could they be expected to resist? They could not. They did not. What I saw, I characterize as slavery. A convoy of ill-clad soldiers would arrive in any Ogoni town and everyone would flee, leaving the town and its wealth to the plundering thieves in tattered uniform. I was not prepared to accept this. It also seemed silly to be sitting idle at home, grumbling or bemoaning our fate instead of actively assisting to crush the rebellion. Since it was becoming virtually impossible to oppose biafra from within, the only answer lay in fighting her from outside. Besides, I reasoned, if Ojukwu. having no oil in his home, could lay claim to the same, why should I on whose land the oil was situated not let the world know that the oil was Ogoni oil? I began to cast about for ways of leaving biafra. It was early in September of 1967.
At the time, I owned a minibus – I had invested in passenger transport in 1966 – and the idea came to me to drive it across the Niger at Onitsha into the Mid-West. Of course, this was not a workable proposition. The Mid-West was a battle ground in the proper sense of the word and would not serve as an escape route. Whal to do?
I had to leave for Lagos by all means. I considered the Cameroun border Here, again, the Federal troops appeared to have sealed off the mute through Ikom. I could perhaps go through Calabar? Maybe. But how would I go from Cameroun to Lagos? I had to give up the idea. The only way out was to go through Bonny or through Brass.
Excerpted from On a Darkling Plain; An Account of the Nigerian Civil War, by Ken Saro Wiwa, published by Saros International Publishers, 1989. The book was one of the 20 books of the festival, discussed at the 25th Lagos Book and Art Festival in November 2023 with the theme: The Reset: History and The Darkling Plain.
I moved to the level of Group General Manager Engineering and Technology Division in the Nigeri National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) 1988, a post I held until my appointment as CEO NLNG in 1990.
A highpoint of my tenure was the setting up of an engineering company, NETCO, capable of offering expertise at a level transcending beyond the services required by the petroleum industry.
I figured that NNPC needed an entity to provide specialized engineering services to the various arms of the group, and even to other petroleum companies.
I conducted extensive research on the various prominent engineering companies worldwide. We picked Brazil, India, Indonesia and Japan; three developing countries with Japan in the mix. I constituted a team comprising Engr. Jide Soyode, who had been General Manager at the Warri Refinery, and two of my staff, Dan Okocha and Tope Bejide. It was a logistics nightmare to visit these countries and the facilities, but we overcame the hurdles.
BbbWe started our tour from Brazil and went eastwards to India, Indonesia and Japan. In India, we were guests of the engineering company, Engineers India Limited (EIL), which started as a joint venture vehicle with the American Bechtel Corporation, a global leader in oil, gas, chemicals, petrochemicals, and LNG plant construction and one of the most respected engineering, construction, and project management companies in the world. EIL was also modelled along multi-disciplinary lines, not restricted to the petroleum industry only. Through that joint venture, EIL acquired and domiciled Bechtel’s methods, basic procedures, data base, library, practices and documentation. The venture failed because Bechtel, as huge as it is, did not get enough projects in India through the joint venture and had to pull out. However, EIL was able to consolidate on knowledge and expertise acquired during the life of the joint venture. This, by coincidence, is the experience and story of NETCO.
Guided by what we learned in India, we decided that NNPC needed to form a joint venture with a reputable engineering company. We called for bids and at the end selected Bechtel as joint venture partner. The joint venture subsisted for a few years. Bechtel failed to land major projects through its joint venture with NNPC and, subsequently, pulled out, but we had anticipated this possibility from the experience of EIL. NETCO had acquired sufficient expertise to carry on by itself and has since grown in stature and expertise. It had acquired some of Bechtel’s methods, basic procedures, data base, library, practices and documentation as foundation on which to build.
Excerpted from ‘From Oloibiri to Bonny: My Life and Insights From Rising and Leading in Nigeria’s Petroleum Industry’, by Godswill Ihetu, Published b in Lagos, Nigeria by Kawe Books, 2022.
The industry was ‘following the oil’ – wherever a big strike occurred, it was always assumed more would follow – and now Libya was that place and Tripoli was a boom town.
Orser and his family settled into the city’s expat community, living at first in a primitive duplex with no cupboards and only wood-burning stoves against the winter chill. The country remained desperately poor. The Esso discovery had been in a remote spot, far out in the Sahara Desert. A pipeline would be needed to link it to a port and that could take years to build. Even then, there was no refinery; the infrastructure just didn’t exist. Although King Idris promised that the Zelten Field would revolutionize the country’s fortunes, it was going to take time to work its way through the economy. But there were signs already that the money was being diverted into the pockets of the king’s men.
In a flash, Idris had gone from being an impoverished hermit, writing begging letters to Britain and the US, to a king whose country was awash with dollars, able to make rich men of whomever he chose. The opportunity for personal enrichment came at the point of auction. The oilmen were prepared to be extremely generous to whomever put them in pole position. ‘There were kickbacks galore,’ says Orser, ‘and many greedy hands.’ One new boy on the block, a small independent American company, learned how to fill those greedy hands like no other. Its name was Occidental Petroleum.
As it turned out, the king’s most trusted lieutenant was so well insulated by layers of dealmakers and officials that the Doctor needed intermediaries just to introduce him to the intermediaries.
On an autumn day in 1967, David Orser was sitting in his Mobil office when news reached him that seemed to suck the air from the room.
It had all begun when Mobil was forced to surrender one of its least-promising concessions at the end of the five-year cycle imposed by Idris. There was to be an auction. As usual, one of the big seven oil companies was expected to win. This tiny outfit from California, Occidental, or Oxy as it was known, was sniffing around, and no one could understand why. It had no expertise in oil exploration outside the US, no experience of running concessions, and anyway, Idris’s prices were too high, way out of Oxy’s league.
But, despite competitive bids from the other players, Oxy somehow walked away with Mobil’s former concession: blocks 102 and 103, 2,000 square miles of bleak, gravelly desert in the Sirte Basin, more than 100 miles from the coast. The others scoffed from the sidelines. Oxy would have no idea where or how to drill, and no chance of riding out the inevitable dry holes. They’d be bankrupt before the concession was up.
Then came the news that had so alarmed David Orser’s office in the autumn of 1966. Oxy had struck oil, first at block 102, and then at 103, not just a few drops but a spectacular field. It dwarfed the first Libyan discovery. There were 3Billion barrels down there, making it one of the most prolific deposits in the world. Sweet Libyan crude came shooting straight from the ground. To make matters worse it had happened right beneath an abandoned Mobil desert camp. The ageing seismic apparatus that Mobil used meant they had missed it.
THE DISCOVERY REQUIRED AN APPROPRIATE CELEBRATION. There was to be a party for the king. A vast marquee was erected in the desert, its floors laid with fine Persian carpets, rose petals scattered along its walkways. Oxy presented Idris with a Faberge cigarette case, and his wife with a Faberge beauty box. In the middle of the celebrations, the company’s ecstatic bosses announced they would rename the block. From now on, it was to be called ‘The Idris Field’. Of course, the Mobil team only heard about all this second-hand. They had not been invited to the party.
But the question remained: how did an unknown oil company manage to leap the rest of the field?
Occidental Petroleum was run by an American industrialist named Dr Armand Hammer, or simply ‘the Doctor’. He was a dealmaker extraordinaire, a tireless schmoozer who was already in his sixties when Occidental arrived in Libya but had lost none of his appetite for moneymaking, or his knack of knowing who to pay off. His Libyan contact book was empty. The country had been in the business deepfreeze so long, he had no connections there. When the Doctor heard about that first Esso strike, he had sent out a speculative team with a brief to bring him back a piece of the action.
It was said that the route to oil success in Libya passed through the bank accounts of a man called Omar Shelhi. Shelhi was a short, bullish man who had spent time in exile with King Idris during the war and was now treated as his adopted son. Idris had needed someone to oversee the bidding process, and Shelhi seemed the obvious choice.
It hadn’t taken the Doctor long to realize that Shelhi was his target. As it turned out, the king’s most trusted lieutenant was so well insulated by layers of dealmakers and officials that the Doctor needed intermediaries just to introduce him to the intermediaries.
As the deadline for bids approached, he finally managed to secure a meeting with a facilitator called Hans Kunz, a Swiss citizen who had begun his working life as a lowly fixer in the oil industry. Kunz passed the Doctor to his business partner, a man called Kemal Zade, a Soviet who had graduated from the London School of Economics. Zade didn’t actually know Shelhi, and so couldn’t organize the introduction personally, but he did know Shelhi’s brother. He could pass the Doctor to him. It was a maddeningly circuitous route, but with just days to go until the deadline for bids, the Doctor had no better option.
Even that plan had a hitch. The two intermediaries didn’t want to recommend the Doctor without getting to know him personally. They needed to make sure he wasn’t a time-waster. The Doctor was invited to a hastily arranged dinner in Germany, for no other reason than that was where Zade lived, and it was Zade who was calling the shots. The Doctor flew out the next day to meet the two intermediaries. They drank and ate while a belly-dancer gyrated around their table, and the Doctor impressed them so much, they made the call to Shelhi’s brother that same night.
A week later, the Doctor met Shelhi himself in another German hotel. The king’s representative was not impressed by what he saw. The Doctor looked like a crumpled pensioner and seemed to have no idea about oil. He had no concept of prices or how the bidding system worked, and Shelhi had the world’s seven biggest producers waiting to wine and dine him back in Tripoli. But slowly the Doctor worked his charms. He had no board of directors, he said, no auditors and no shareholders. There was no one making sure that he followed company rules because he was Occidental. He set the rules. As Shelhi visibly warmed to him that night, the Doctor announced that, should he win the concession, he would make Shelhi ‘the richest man in all Europe’.
What followed was the most crooked oil deal of the era.
The others scoffed from the sidelines. Oxy would have no idea where or how to drill, and no chance of riding out the inevitable dry holes. They’d be bankrupt before the concession was up.
Shelhi and the two facilitators would require $2.8Million in cash from the Doctor as a thank-you for being awarded the concession. The Doctor agreed, but it was just the start. If they struck oil, they would then require a cut of the money from every barrel sold. They set the figure at a modest-sounding 3 per cent, which was to be paid into their Swiss bank accounts. That was before Oxy struck oil, of course, so no one knew quite how that 3 per cent would translate into cash.
Excerpted from Dictatorland: The Men Who Stole Africa, first published in the UK in 2018 by Head of Zeus Ltd.
Making maps from 3-D seismic data on a computer workstation was a completely new experience. It was my first encounter with such technology at work. We turned out much more accurate maps of very complex subsurface structures. And it was easier doing this than the labourious manual system we had been used to!
When an NNPC team led by Mr. Jim Orife came for a high-level JV meeting in Chevron offices in San Ramon, California, United States, I was chosen to present to them the fascinating results of the work we were doing. I had never seen my bosses so proud of their staff. I remember Mr. Orife calling me aside afterwards and saying “Ï have always said this to all my staff, no matter where you are, your biggest godfather will always be your competence and dedication to duty.”
I have preached the same sermon to all my staff and mentees to this day.
When my scheduled three-month tenure drew to a close in October 1987, Chevron sent a special request to NNPC, asking that I be allowed to spend three extra months to enable me finish the work I was doing. The request was granted, and I stayed on till January 1988.
Outside of work, it was pure excitement. I drove six hours from Sam Ramon to L.A. and spent a weekend in Disneyland and a full day at Universal Studios. I spent two working days at the Chevron Research Center in La Habra California, staff of which included Nobel Prize recipients. Nights out in Oakland and San Jose were regular weekend events. I spent a weekend driving through the Wine region north of San Francisco, to the Redwood Park in the Northern most part of California with my Chevron Colleague, Greg Croft. I drove across from Sam Ramon to the fun city of Reno, Nevada and made frequent tourist trips all around the Bay Area. Perhaps next only to my four years in UNN, those six months in California completed the excitement that youthful and early adult life was for me.
I was confused, this was a start-up Nigerian Company that could fold up within a year. NNPC had been exciting but I was beginning to doubt if the reward system had room for so called “exceptional performers”.
When I returned to Lagos in January 1988, the GM Exploration at Chevron invited me to his office and revealed to me that his principals in San Ramon were very impressed with my performance. He offered me a job in Chevron and told me he was leaving the offer open for a twelve-month period. Whenever I made up my mind, I was to return to his office to conclude discussions with him.
At this point I was generally perceived as a high flyer with a very bright future in NNPC, even though I had never earned a promotion ahead of my peers. I was sent on more training attachments to Shell’s Seismic Processing centre in Port Harcourt in 1990 and subsequently to Western Atlas Seismic Processing centre in London in 1990/91. The high point of my career in NNPC was winning the GMD’s award in 1991 “for exceptional performance”.
In September of that year, seven of us geologists were selected to go to the University of Ibadan for a one-year postgraduate diploma in Petroleum Engineering. This was a programme meant to convert us from Geologists to Petroleum Engineers. Midway into the programme, I got an offer that was to change my professional trajectory and instill an entrepreneurial mindset in me.
Prof. Jubril Aminu, as Petroleum Minister, had awarded eleven oil blocks to prominent Nigerians in 1990/91 on discretionary basis, to promote indigenous participation in the sector. One of the recipients was Mr. Kase Lawal, a young, Houston based international businessman. His company, Paclantic Petroleum (a subsidiary of his Houston headquartered CAMAC Group) had been awarded OPL 204. He was setting up shop in Nigeria and looking for a couple of people to hire. Originally from Ibadan, he contacted his kinsman in NNPC (Dr. Olu Ayoola, who retired later as GED Upstream) to recommend two people he could hire. Dr. Ayoola gave him two names: Mr. George Osahon, who was a highprofile Deputy Manager and I (just becoming an Assistant Chief Geologist). He warned him, however, that he was unlikely to be able to hire us out of NNPC.
We interviewed with Mr. Lawal and he made us offers. My offer was a handsome naira salary plus a dollar component of $36,000 per annum! An official car was also thrown into the bargain and I was going to be the Exploration Co-ordinator of Paclantic (whatever that meant), while Mr. Osahon would be my boss as the General Manager. Now, I was confused, this was a start-up Nigerian Company that could fold up within a year. NNPC had been exciting but I was beginning to doubt if the reward system had room for so called “exceptional performers”. I was on the same rank with all my peers, including those that had been training under me.
I am usually not strong on risk taking and I do not gamble, so I took the offer letter to Mr. Ofurhie. Surprisingly and without hesitation, he said I should take the job. I reminded him that he had previously advised me that if I ever decided to leave NNPC, I should only go to one of the IOCs. He simply ordered me to accept the offer and assured me that if the company folded up, I would get another job as I was well regarded in the industry. I left his home and went straight to Mr. Lawal to accept the offer. On March 2nd, 1992 I assumed duty in Paclantic as Exploration Coordinator, while still running my Post Graduate Programme at the University of Ibadan.
I disengaged from Allied on July 01, 2002, after ten exciting years. This, whole narrative about my education and professional training is meant to situate the author in proper context for the benefit of readers especially as it relates to my bonafides as an entrepreneur
I settled fully into the job in July 1992, upon graduation from U.I. My first task was to interpret the available seismic data over OPL 204. The block was completely barren, lying at the edge of the cretaceous and beginning of the Niger Delta. There was no prospect within the acreage that could be proposed for drilling. Fortunately, Kase had applied for a deep offshore block as the terrain was opened up for exploration in 1991. A number of IOCs were hot on the race for the few blocks that were on offer. In June 1992, Kase’s company, Allied Energy Resources was awarded OPL 210. The next hurdle was to secure a technical/financial partner to fund the initial work programme for the block. While Kase was working the corridors of power to secure the block, Conoco had indicated interest in farming in if he was successful in getting the property. But after initial evaluation, they declined to farm in. Next candidate was the Statoil/BP Alliance, which had also been awarded two blocks, OPLs 217 and 218. After some tough negotiations, they agreed to farm in for a 40% working interest, but assuming 100% financial responsibility for working the asset. Allied Energy was paid enough money to offset the statutory signature bonus with a decent sum to spare. As part of their responsibility to help develop internal capacity within Allied, the partner was also expected to pay some “Upkeep” stipend to Allied. With this partnership agreement in place, Mr. George Osahon and I set out to build Allied Energy from scratch.
We hired four smart, young men, a geophysicist, a geologist and two petroleum engineers, equipping them with a full 3-D Seismic workstation, drilling and reservoir engineering software suites and arranged rotational attachments for them and myself to the Statoil study team in Stavanger, Norway. The Allied team participated fully in the design and planning of what turned out to be, the first deep offshore well in Nigeria, the OYO-1 well which was drilled successfully as a commercial discovery in 1995. During this period, the block had been covered with full 3D Seismic data. Through the evaluation of the seismic data, and the successful well and the planning for its appraisal and development, the compact technical team in Allied had honed its skills and grown in confidence. The plan was that in ten years from 1993, we would have grown in technical and management capacity to take over operatorship of OPL 210. The first test of this plan came in 1997. Cavendish Petroleum, awardee of OPL 453 (one of the earlier 11 discretionary awards) had, along with her Technical Partner Conoco drilled a well, Obe-1 and made a modest discovery. Not material enough for Conoco they decided to exit the block. Because we (CAMAC) had a minority (2.5%) stake in the block, we had access to all the data Conoco acquired, including the Obe-1 well data. After a detailed evaluation of the seismic and well data, we proposed to Kase that we could farm into the field as technical partner to Cavendish. So, in a mere five years, Allied had developed enough capacity to provide technical partnership support to another indigenous company. It was an interesting development, as Allied got into partnership with Cavendish using the exact same structure Statoil had with us. This time, Allied had 40% working interest and 80% commercial interest. Just as Statoil had paid us, Allied paid Cavendish a farmin fee and a monthly stipend to cover their office running costs.
We prepared the full Field Development Plan (FDP) for the Obe field, including the production profile and projected commercial rewards. We presented this as a commercial proposal to Tuskar Resources, a small Irish Oil Company listed in Dublin but also trading on the London Stock Exchange (LSE). The deal was for Tuskar to inherit our full commercial interest in the Obe field in what amounted to a reverse take-over of Tuskar by Allied. By the time the deal closed, Allied owned 67% of Tuskar Resourceswhich was trading at about 1.5 pence per share at the time with a market cap of about ten million pounds sterling. Deal done, Allied raised debt funding from some London banks and we proceeded to develop the field and put it on production in 1999. As planned, the field was doing about 4,000 bopd and utilizing a small FPSO with 45,000-barrel storage capacity. By the time the field came on production, Tuskar share price had risen to over 10 pence with a market cap of about seventy million pounds sterling. The story of how this great enterprise was eventually squandered has been told somewhere else.
By 2001, there was talk of government action towards awarding marginal fields to companies organised around experienced and/ or retired professionals. In my nine years at Allied, I had been at the forefront of the advocacy for indigenous participation in the Upstream Oil and Gas Sector in Nigeria. I had written and spoken extensively on the subject. I had also gained extensive experience, not just in starting up and organising an oil and gas company but in the commercial and entrepreneurial side of things. Nothing was going to stop me from participating in the imminent marginal fields licensing round. My days in Allied were numbered.
I disengaged from Allied on July 01, 2002, after ten exciting years. This, whole narrative about my education and professional training is meant to situate the author in proper context for the benefit of readers especially as it relates to my bonafides as an entrepreneur. My experience, over eighteen years, in setting up Platform Petroleum and Seplat Petroleum (now Seplat Energy), constitutes my personal account and views on the challenges of entrepreneurship in Nigeria.
Excerpted from ‘My Entrepreneurship Journey’, a Memoir by Austin Avuru, founding CEO, Seplat Energy. The book is due to be released in August 2022 by Radi8 Publishers