All posts tagged news


South Africa Sprouts New Shoots

In the last five years, several E&P companies, primarily owned by South Africans, have left the upstream market, such that it is tempting to declare the end of the growth of South African E&Pindependents. 

JSE listed SacOil, badly burned by its dealings in Nigeria with local partners Transcorp and NigDel, has turned into a downstream company and changed its name to Efora. 

Thombo Petroleum, owned by Trevor Ridley, former Petroleum Advisor at BHP Billiton, disappeared into the folds of Canadian owned Africa Energy Corp.

But apart from Sasol Exploration and Production International, which is the most visible and best resourced South African bornE&P company, there are a number of companies to consider:

JSE and ASX listed Renergen describes itself as an integrated alternative and renewable energy business that invests in early-tage alternative energy projects.

But it started its project life six years ago by acquiring an onshore natural gas acreage from Molopo South Africa Exploration and Production. Renergen holds the first, and currently only, onshore petroleum production right in South Africa. 

Several homegrown independent South African companies, including Tshipise Energy (Pty) and Sungu Sungu Petroleum, are exploring for natural gas, in coal beds, in the Karoo and offshore Orange Basin, but their distance to development is, at best, far off. 

Renergen is the only one pumping natural gas from subsurface reservoirs into the local market. It has been supplying compressed natural gas to transportation companies since May 2016.

South African National Petroleum Company (formerly PetroSA), the only other natural gas producer in the country, is a state-owned enterprise.

Renergen is working on ramping up production from its acreage, which holds an estimated 142Billion standard cubic feet of proven and probable reserves, near Virginia, about 300km southwest of Johannesburg. It has moved intoliquefied natural gas (LNG) production, “primarily serving the growing domestic heavy duty truck market across Africa and emerging markets”, it says. Renergen has signed an offtake agreement with South African Breweries (SAB) for the supply of liquefied natural gas to power its delivery trucks. For this project, it initially rolled out compressed natural gas to a small fleet of SAB trucks in Gauteng, the country’s major commercial province.

A POTENTIAL STAR IN THE SOUTH AFRICAN E&PFIRMAMENT is Sunbird, a gas explorer and developer which owns a 76% interest in the Ibhubesi Gas Project, Block 2A, offshore of the west coast of South Africa and is the operator of the block. The company was originally owned by Australians, and was sold to South Africans in 2016. The Ibhubesi Gas Project is the country’s largest, undeveloped gas discovery, in the opinion of Sunbird and the local media. Theindependently certified gas reserves are 540 Bcf (2P) with “best estimate” prospectivity of close to 8 Tcf of gas, according to the company. The immediate focus of the project is provision of gas to the Ankerlig Power Station, an 11 year old, 1,338MW capacity thermal plant, designed to be fired by natural gas, but instead, utilizing expensive diesel fuel.Sunbird’s JV partner PetroSA, holds the remaining 24% in Ibhubesi.

Sunbird, for now, remains no more than a potential.

Five years after the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) issued an Environmental Authorisation (EA) for the project, the company is not anywhere close to concluding the gas sales negotiations with Eskom, the South African state power utility which owns the Ankerlig power plant. Nor is Sunbird seen to be progressing any deal to sell gas for industrial uses like Renergen is doing.  


TOTAL Boosts Gross Angolan Output With a 40,000BOPD Development

French major TOTAL, has announced the start of production from Zinia Phase 2 short-cycle project, in its prolific Block 17, in deepwater off Angola.

The field is hooked up to the existing Pazflor’s FPSO (Floating Production, Storage and Offloading unit). 

The project includes the drilling of nine wells and is expected to reach a production of 40,000 barrels of oil per day by mid-2022. 

TOTAL operates Block 17 with 38%. Partners include Equinor 22.16%, ExxonMobil 19% and BP 15.84% and Sonangol P&P (5%). The contractor group operates four FPSOs in the main production areas of the block, namely Girassol, Dalia, Pazflor. 

Gross crude oil volume exported from Block 17 in March 2021 was 10, 455,209 barrels, amounting to 337, 265BOPD, according to Angolan government statistics.

Located in water depths from 600 to 1,200 metres and about 150 kilometres from the Angolan coast, Zinia Phase 2 resources are estimated at 65Million barrels of oil. 

 

 

TOTAL said that the project’s entire development “was carried out according to schedule and for a CAPEX more than 10% below budget, representing a saving of $150Million. 

“It involved more than 3Million manhours of work, of which 2 million were performed in Angola, without any incident”.

The Block 17 production license was recently extended until 2045.


ENI’s New Angolan Find to Push Net Output Beyond 115,000BOEPD

By Sully Manope

ENI’s new discovery of oil in Cuica-1 in Angola’s CabaçaDevelopment Area in Block 15/06 takes the Italian player on course of topping up its 100,000Barrels of Oil Per Day (BOPD) net in the country.

The well-head location, intentionally placed close to the Armada Olombendo FPSO East Hub’s subsea network, will allow a fast-track tie-in of the exploration well and relevant production, thus immediately creating value while extending the FPSO production plateau. It is expected that production will start within six months after discovery.

Cuica-1 encountered 80 metres total column of reservoir of light oil (38°API) in Miocene sandstones located in in a water depth of 500 metres, ENI says that this discovery translates to a size estimated between 200 and 250Million barrels of oil in place.

The company net 100,000BOPD (crude oil alone) in total export volume from Blocks O, 3/05. 3/05A, 14, 15 and 15/06 in February 2021, according to the Angolan regulatory agency, ANPG

The New Field Well (NFW) has been drilled as a deviated well by the Libongos drillship and reached a total vertical depth of 4100 metres, good petrophysical properties. The discovery well is going to be sidetracked updip to be placed in an optimal position as a producer well. “The result of the intensive data collection indicates an expected production capacity of around 10,000 barrels of oil per day”, ENI says in a statement.

“Cuica is the second significant oil discovery inside the existing Cabaça Development Area and confirms the Block 15/06 Joint Venture’s commitment to leverage the favorable legal framework on additional exploration activities within existing Development Areas, as promoted through the Presidential Legislative Decree No. 5/18 of 18 May 2018”, the company said.

“Pursuant to the discoveries of Kalimba, Afoxé, Ndungu, Agidigbo, Agogo and appraisals achieved between 2018 and 2020, Cuica represents the first commercial discovery in Block 15/06 after the re-launch of the exploration campaign post-2020 COVID-19 pandemic and the drop of oil price”. A three-year extension of the exploration period of Block 15/06 has been recently granted until November 2023.

 


Polarcus Struggles to Breathe

Polarcus, the marine seismic exploration firm, is in provisional liquidation.

It is not having an easy time of it.

The Oslo listed company has spoken out recently about addressing long term financing structure following financial default, and has talked of lenders withdrawing support of ongoing vessel operations, which Is the heart of its business.

“The Board has continued to have regard to the developing financial position of the Company, including the events of default that have occurred, the enforcement action which resulted in the Vessel-owning companies being transferred to a company controlled by the Lenders, and the Lenders confirming their withdrawal of continuing support of the Vessels’ operations”, Polarcus says in the latest release.

The Board “remains focused on pursuing a restructuring of its indebtedness and maintaining the underlying business as a going concern. Discussions between the Company and its creditors, including the Secured Creditors, remain ongoing”.

Polarcus says that in order to “effect a restructuring and to maximize value for all creditors, the Company filed an application with the Grand Court of the Cayman Islands seeking the appointment of Soft Touch Provisional Liquidators over the Company, with a specific mandate to work alongside the Board to pursue a restructuring in the interests of all creditors”

On 8 February 2021, David Griffin and Andrew Morrison of Suite 3212, 53 Market Street, Camana Bay, Grand Cayman KY1-1203, Cayman Islands and Lisa Rickelton of 200 Aldersgate St, Barbican, London EC1A 4HD were appointed as Joint Provisional Liquidators by an order of the Court.

The Joint Provisional Liquidators are specifically authorized by the Court to take all necessary steps to develop and propose a restructuring of the Company’s financial indebtedness with a view to making a compromise or arrangement with the Company’s creditors or any class thereof. The JPLs intend to discuss and consult with the Board wherever practicable throughout their tenure acting as agent for and on behalf of the Company, and to work alongside the Board in pursuing a restructuring and in ensuring that returns to creditors are maximized.

“The Board retains all powers of management conferred on it by the Order, subject to the appropriate and necessary oversight and monitoring of the Joint Provisional Liquidators as regards the exercise of such powers. The Board and the boards of directors of the Company’s subsidiary entities will continue, working alongside the JPLs as appropriate, to engage with the creditors, employees, other stakeholders and third parties in relation to the business and operations of the Polarcus group”.

 


Tlou Looks for Money to Fund Botswana Power Project

By Bunmi Christiana Aduloju

Tlou Energy is currently seeking funding for development of the Lesedi Power Project in Botswana, with plans to develop gas and solar power generation assets with the sale of electricity into the regional power grid.

The London listed company claims it has completed formalities for a 2MW Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) with Botswana Power Corporation (BPC) and has received the signed PPA and Grid Connection Agreement.

The project covers an area of approximately 3,800 Km2 and consists of four Coal and Coal Bed Methane (CBM) Prospecting Licences (PL) and a Mining Licence (ML).  The Mining Licence area is currently the focal point for Tlou’s operations and includes the Lesedi production wells or ‘pods’.

“Tlou has the only independently certified CBM gas reserves in Botswana, with 252 Billion Cubic Feet (Bcf) of 3P gas reserves certified in the Lesedi project area”, the company claims.  “In addition, the 3C Contingent Gas Resources are approximately 3 Trillion Cubic Feet (Tcf)”.

Phase one involves transmission line construction, transformers, grid connection, electricity generators and potentially the drilling of additional gas wells. The ~100 Km transmission line will run from the Lesedi project to the town of Serowe where it will connect to the existing power grid. Initial generation is proposed to be up to 2MW of electricity. Funding required for phase one is ~ $10Million which can be staged if necessary or prudent to do so. “

Phase two funding is for the expansion of electricity generation up to 10MW. This will involve drilling more gas wells and the purchase of additional electricity generation assets. Funding required for phase two is ~ $20Million. Upon successful completion of phase one and two, the Company plans to expand the project beyond 10MW.

Funding discussions are progressing well, in particular with Botswana based institutions with which the Company is in ongoing discussions. Should technical and risk assessments on Tlou’s operations be successful, the relevant parties would then seek internal approval to proceed, followed by legal and other due diligence. If such approval is granted, which is currently expected towards the later end of Q1 2021, Tlou would then be in a position to announce further details of the proposed deal.

Tlou is also considering what further progress can be made at Lesedi prior to conclusion of any Botswana based finance. Activities could include the purchase of land for gas and solar development, preparatory work on transmission line infrastructure, and drilling operations. Undertaking this work in the near term and in advance of the conclusion of the ongoing discussions in Botswana could facilitate a more rapid development of the project – all subject to funding as well as any pandemic related restrictions that may be in place.

 


First E&P Exports First Anyala Cargo

First oil has been exported from Yinson Holding’s Abigail-Joseph floating production, storage and offloading (FPSO) vessel, which is moored on the Anyala and Madu fields, in OMLs 83 and 85, in shallow offshore Nigeria.

Yinson Holding says that exports began on January 10, 2021, praising its operations team for making this possible.

The FPSO is the company’s fourth facility offshore Nigeria and its first integrated greenfield oil and gas project, the company says.

The vessel left Singapore on February 26, 2020, and achieved first oil in Nigeria on October 28, 2020, marking the start of a firm charter for the vessel, which will run for seven years, with options for another eight.

Production began from the Anyala West field, on OML 83, with five development wells. Yinson has noted the speed with which it accomplished its work. It reached first oil within 20 months of signing the contract with local company First Exploration and Petroleum. Nigerian National Petroleum Corp. (NNPC) is in a joint venture with First E&P, which operates the OMLs.

The Abigail-Joseph was previously in service in Gabon. It was deployed on the Olowi field as the Allan FPSO.

 


No Palliative for the Nigerian Oil Industry, Sylva Says, “But the Coming PIB Will Help..”

By Bunmi Aduloju

The Nigerian government is not in the best place to support the country’s oil industry, notably the upstream sector, with any form of palliatives, to cushion the effect of the pandemic.

“As a government we are not also in the best frame and shape at this point”, Timipre Sylva, the country’s Minister of State for Petroleum, has said. “Our earnings are heading south as a result of COVID-19”, Sylva said at a discourse with the Nigerian Association of Petroleum Explorationists (NAPE). “So, we are not in the best position right now to support in more positive terms”, he explained.

Nigerian upstream operators, especially the homegrown independents who produce over 25% of the country’s entire output, have lamented that they were continuing to face royalty and other taxes, a crippling debt overhang and a disproportionate burden of the cost of insecurity in the Niger Delta, despite dwindling revenues.

Sylva said that “the easier way to support is to make sure that the fiscal terms, the framework around your operational environment is actually eased off so that, at least, you can operate better. And unfortunately, these are not things that we can do for most of the time”.

“But, I think”, he explained, “the most important support for the industry I believe, will come from the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB, the reform legislation currently on its way to parliament), “because the PIB is taking everything holistically into consideration to ensure that at least, operators will have the best terms available”.

In a short speech prefacing the dialogue, Sylva had revealed that royalties for onshore and shallow water assets (in which most Nigerian independents participate) would be reduced “in the new law”. He had also noted that the law would “establish a gas base price that is higher than current levels for producers and this base price will increase over time. This price level should be sufficiently attractive to increase gas production significantly since this gas price will be comparable with gas prices in other emerging economies with considerable gas production”.

Sylva offered that the PIB would be very competitive. “We are looking at the global environment. It is a very competitive environment now in the oil and gas sector. I will want to ensure that Nigeria continues to be one of the destinations of choice and that is why we ensure that the PIB is least as easy on the industry as much as possible.

 


Cameroon Exported 6Billion Cubic Feet of LNG in Five Months

Cameroon shipped 158,000Tons of liquefied natural gas in the first five months of 2020, according to the National Hydrocarbons Corporation Société Nationale des Hydrocarbures (SNH) du Cameroun.

Converted to standard cubic feet, the volume is 6.1Billion cubic feet of gas, or 6.2Trillon British Thermal Units (BTU).

The molecules were exported in seven cargoes to markets in Asia, notably India, China, and Taiwan, an SNH report indicated.

Since 2018, Cameroon has been producing LNG from the Sanaga South field, northwest of the coastal town of Kribi in the northern part of the Douala basin.

The gas is liquefied in a floating facility, Hilli Episeyo, located off Kribi. The capacity is 1.2Million tonnes per year.

Small as it is, Hilli Episeyo Floating LNG project is the first floating natural gas liquefaction plant in the world to be built as a result of the conversion of an LNG carrier.

The project is operated by Perenco, the French-British independent, with the state hydrocarbon company as partner. The sole offtaker is Gazprom Marketing & Trading, a unit of Russian energy giant Gazprom.

Output increased in 2019 compared with 2018. In 2019 Cameroon shipped 19 loads of LNG (7 more than in 2018) to Asia.

 

 


Mozambique: Shared Value, Local Partnerships and The Future of Work

By Mario Fernades, Deloitte

Two LNG projects are currently under construction in Mozambique.

Several others are imminent.

The proposed ‘LNG System’ in the country will effectively be rolled out in four stages.

The Coral FLNG, operated by ENI, sanctioned in 2017, will produce about 3.4Million tonnes per annum by 2024.

The TOTAL operated Mozambique LNG in Area 1, sanctioned mid-2019, will be producing 12.8MMTPA  by 2026.

Final Investment Decisions FID has been delayed for the ExxonMobil led Area 4, but the project is aiming to produce about 15.2Million tonnes per annum.

The projects for Phase 2 trains have not yet been decided, but the operators are starting to think about them and they could potentially add another 30Million tonnes per annum, with FID probably around about 2024. So, of what is potentially on the cards and being planned is about 31Million tonnes per annum. This is enormous. This could make Mozambique the fourth largest in the world. Qatar which is the largest, is producing about 77Million tonnes per annum and it took them 14 years and it brought tremendous economic benefits for the country. The EPC contractors for Area 1 are largely led by Saipem, Chiyoda and McDermott.  Area 4 EPCs include TechniqFMC, JGC and Fluor.

Opportunities for Local Investors and Their Partners-, TOTAL for Area 1 is targeting to spend about $2.5Billion for Mozambican registered or owned companies. It allows for foreign investors who want to come into the country and invest with local players or establish operations in the country. Area 1 project has already spent about $850Million over the last five years. What’s important are the priority industries that investors could look forward to considering.

Some of the lower values but highly mature markets where you’ll see some of the local players in Mozambique get involved because it doesn’t have a lot of technical complexities are areas like food and water supply, accounting services and general consulting. Where we believe this need to evolve to and it’s the opportunities for foreign direct investments, is higher value and more mature investments including Civil construction services, transport and logistics, mechanical and electrical instrumentation, IT Systems, Pipes, Vessels, Metallurgy and welding activities. This is where the real value is going to be developed over the next few years and represents significant investment opportunities. Given the low maturity of some of the industries in the country, you’d probably see in the future, a lot of collaboration between the government, operators in EPCs, local companies, the business associations in Mozambique, as well as any foreign investors who are interested in investing in some of these value chains. Key value chains and opportunities like civil construction, are not well understood and there will be a need to identify the gaps and opportunities for business out there, both local and foreign. Another thing is what is being done currently by these big operators and the EPC’s to close the gap on the skills and the local business in Mozambique. There are plans to establish the Enterprise Development Centres (EDCs) where the objective is to build capabilities, expose these local companies to international OEMs and expertise promote collaboration and certification which is a big requirement from a lot of these big capital projects, that these companies have the right levels of certification in order to provide services. Critical to sustaining the value and the expectation that everyone has of these projects, is to drive the concept of shared value. This is building on lessons from the past in the country. The concept of “Shared value” is how can both shareholders who looking for a financial return on their investments, government stakeholders are looking for a return in the country and citizens who live in the remote areas of where this gas was found or in the country itself, achieve the kind of benefits that they’re looking for. It is complex to match and balance these expectations. Very often we tend to see that companies tend to do the “pickbox compliance” approach but we believe you have to go beyond some of these. It’s important that these companies, governments and so forth create a platform in which collaboration can happen. The government creates the right policy around employment and procurement to ensure that companies are incentivized to invest in local procurement and so forth.

From the operators’ perspectives and the companies building the infrastructure, it’s important to be top of mind to be relevant to these communities and to really develop processes to effectively measure the social returns that these stakeholders are looking for. It is easy to measure the financial return, but quite another thing to measure the social economic return in a holistic manner.

The Future of Work -Challenges like COVID-19 are really disrupting the way projects are executed, and are forcing companies to plan on how they would operate in this new normal. Companies need to rethink how work would change in this new normal. For example, how do you enable effective remote supervision? It’s one thing to work in a desktop type job, it’s quite another to build the infrastructure of the magnitude that we’re talking. The same restrictions that we’re all facing in challenges like COVID-19 are also being felt in large projects like this. How do you define new roles and responsibilities for the workforce that is there? Probably you don’t need to have as many people on site and you have to adopt concepts of social distancing, how do you redefine these roles? What tools and technologies will you need to enable this kind of new reality of the future of work? Companies will have to decide what tools and policies, what labour policies will be put in place in order to enable these future work teams? Lastly, I want to talk with you about innovation. We think that digital is going to be a key enabler here. Concepts that we all thought were very futuristic are now a reality and being thought through as real tools to ensure that the project continues to be delivered on budget and as scheduled. Another thing we’re trying to see as well is a lot of these safety analytics and how persons are wearing safety gear, helmets and video imaging which detects if a person is wearing protective gear or not, and then take corrective action. Another big innovation area that we’re starting to see is around “Sentiment Analysis”, which is all about how to use technology to collect and measure the pulse of your workforce of your communities that are impacted by the project and quickly identify and innovate with them to understand what their needs are so that you can quickly adapt your actions to that. Sentiment Analysis is all about measuring the pulse of your stakeholders.

Mario Fernades- Partner at Deloitte Consulting, based in Mozambique, heading up the practice there. Deloitte offers Consulting, Risk Advisory, Taxation, Audit & Assurance and Green Dot(Future of Energy and Goods). Fernades spoke at an Africa Oil Week produced webinar panel including Paul Eardley-Taylor, head of Oil and Gas Southern Africa, Standard Bank,and Trey (Lyman) Armstrong, MD, Project and Structured Finance, US EXIM Bank. It was moderated by Dexter Wang, Asia Market Engagement Partner at S&P Global Platts. This is an abridged version of the conversation, monitored in Lagos, Nigeria and transcribed by Foluso Ogunsan and Akpelu Paul Kelechi.

 


NDDC: Why President Buhari Must Urgently Intervene

By Ogaga Ifowodo

In quite belated response to the unconscionable exploitation of the oil wealth of the Niger Delta, the attendant destruction of its environment and traditional means of livelihood, as well as the rise in militant agitation for redress, the Federal (military) Government established, via Decree No. 23 of 1992, the Oil Mineral Producing Areas Development Commission (OMPADEC).

Its goal, broadly stated, was to rehabilitate and develop the oil mineral producing areas of the Niger Delta, tackle ecological problems associated with the exploration of oil minerals, liaise with the various oil companies on matters of pollution control and to carry out other duties necessary to those ends.

A mere eight years after, the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) was established by Act No. 6 of the National Assembly. Its goals, needless to say, are similar to those specified in the OMPADEC decree, even if more widely enunciated and with a different organisational structure.

As with its predecessor, NDDC is a special category agency under the presidency and its mandate the “rapid and sustainable development” of the region to “one that is economically prosperous, socially stable, ecologically regenerative and politically peaceful.” This goal is not only beneficial to the Niger Delta but also to Nigeria as a whole, given that the Niger Delta is the economic heartbeat of the nation.

As elaborated under Section 7 of its enabling act, the mandate turns NDDC into a virtual regional government, with just one sub-section giving an idea of its magnitude:  “[To] conceive, plan and implement, in accordance with set rules and regulations, projects and programmes for the sustainable development of the Niger-Delta area in the field of transportation including roads, jetties and waterways, health, education, employment, industrialization, agriculture and fisheries, housing and urban development, water supply, electricity and telecommunications.” There are nine other functions specified, including the omnibus duty to “execute such other works and perform such other functions which in the opinion of the Commission, are required for the sustainable development of the Niger-Delta area and its peoples.”

My general activist commitment to human rights and development aside, it was the prospect of being in a position to make some direct contribution towards the realisation of this great goal that had me excited when the Minister of Transport, Hon Rotimi Amaechi, called mid-June 2016 to inform me that President Buhari had approved my nomination as the representative of Delta State on NDDC’s governing board. Two days before, I had booked a flight to London for the final interview to be country director of the world’s foremost international human rights organisation, Amnesty International. I was given the job on the spot, leaving me with the rather nice problem of occupying my thoughts with the job to take on my return flight. I had spent a full decade of my life working as a rights activist with the Civil Liberties Organisation, Nigeria’s premier non-governmental organisation, before proceeding to Cornell University for postgraduate studies in 2001. And after all the years of advocacy for rights, democracy and social justice dating to my undergraduate days as a student leader, I thought it was time to be more directly involved in bringing about the change I pined for. After all, we can’t always whine about poor governance due to a dearth of people genuinely committed to the public good while spurning every chance to serve. It was why, fresh on my return in 2014 from my teaching position at Texas State University, I dared to join a “bourgeois” political party for the first time and sought the ticket of the All Progressives Congress for the House of Representatives, my ambition thwarted at the primaries by a sore lack of you-know-what: money.

Despite the many structural, administrative and political interference problems noticeable at once, I threw myself at the job with gusto. I inspected minor and major projects but devoted most of my time to the latter. And discovered that many of the projects described as “ongoing” in the status report I got from the Delta office were virtually abandoned. Among them: Uzere-Patani Road with Bridges, awarded on 10 December 2004 at the cost of N3.03Billion; Gbaregolor-Gbekebor-Ogulaha Road (Phase 1) with Bridges (2009, N16.1Billion); Bomadi-Tuomo-Ojobo-Tamigbe Road with Bridges, Phase II (2009, N8.9Billion); Ugheye-Koko-Escravos Road, Phase II (2014, N14.8 Billion); Shore Protection at Koko (ca 2012, N3Billion); Ugborodo Shore Protection, Lots 1-9 (2014, N8.07Billion); Nigeria Army Jetty (Forward Operation Base) in Uvwie-Warri (2012, N4.7Billion); Ozoro Township Roads (2012, N2.4Billion); and 132 KV Transmission Line and 1 No. 30 MVA 132/33 KV Substation each at Ughelli and Ozoro (2011, N2.1 Billion). I focussed on this category of projects as those that truly seek to meet the Niger Delta’s crying infrastructural needs.

But midway into its tenure, our board was dissolved. The news awaited me on my return from commissioning Phase 1 of the last listed project, with rising hopes for Phase 2 in Ozoro which would ameliorate the power woes of my Isoko people. I chose to wear my disappointment as a badge of honour: “Well, sacked while on duty,” I said, vainly looking for a glimmer of light in the sudden gloom! Yet, until my stint on the board, no one could have persuaded me that NDDC was not a colossal waste. I had yet to see its impact in the lives of the harried citizens stuck in that sweltering swamp of anger from the utter despoliation of their land, air and water as the inhuman price of oil and gas extraction. The project inspection trips changed my mind. I could see now the immense potential of NDDC to transform the Niger Delta as envisaged. Why hadn’t the goal been achieved and, worse, why did it seem unachievable, twenty years after?

Of the many ills that bedevil NDDC, the frequent dissolution of its boards ranks among the most deleterious. All the powers of NDDC are vested in the board. Consequently, precipitate board dissolutions can only cause catastrophic lack of continuity in policy and internal oversight. In time, crippling bureaucracy replaced technocracy. A minor example: for over a year until our board was dissolved, and nearly twenty minutes after from one desk to another and yet another, the Delta office could not get approval for the replacement of broken-down furniture and equipment! The headquarters in Port Harcourt became the Abuja of the Delta: to get anything done, even as trifling as replenishing photocopying paper, you must trek to Port Harcourt. But perhaps even more devastating is political interference. The drama currently playing out before the eyes of the world, against the backdrop of the forensic audit ordered by President Buhari at the urging of the commission’s member state governors, gives an idea of the destabilising role of this problem.

During a pre-inauguration retreat, the last chairman, Senator Victor Ndoma-Egba, informed us that the only agenda President Buhari laid out for him was “to go and make friends in the Niger Delta.” On 7 February 2018, I had the honour and privilege of a private meeting with the president. I humbly suggested to him that he would need to do more to enable us make friends in the Delta. NDDC had to be restructured and refocussed on its mandate. He had to set clear timelines and benchmarks. And because the army of profiteers at the expense of the ordinary indigenes would be up in arms against a development-centred initiative, he would have to publicly give the board his backing and deflect their inevitable attacks. I didn’t elaborate further; the point was obvious. Any development agency worth the name must be insulated from partisan politics, the perils of electoral cycles and the attendant substitution and prioritisation of narrow interests. Lastly, there must be strict adherence to the enabling law in order to reduce the undue politicisation of appointments. Politics might never be completely avoided but that does not have to be the same thing as turning NDDC, any government agency, into a mere political patronage machine. After all, the benefits of development are not reserved for party members only.

Given the magnitude of the problems currently besetting NDDC, such that the actual work of developing the Niger Delta has practically ceased, only the President can break the impasse. If he wishes to make friends in the creeks now and beyond 2023, I would suggest the following as urgent steps that he must take. First, he should ensure that the forensic audit he has ordered is done by a reputable international accounting firm. The patriot in me would like a local company, but it would be distracted and unnecessarily impugned by the irredeemably tainted environment of allegations and counter-allegations by those at the heart of the problem. To adapt a legal maxim, probity must not only be served but be seen to have been served. Second, he should order a halt to any new regional or major projects in the next five years and cap quick impact or emergency projects to no more than ten percent of NDDC’s annual budget. In that period, all abandoned projects are to be completed. The only exception would be the Niger Delta Regional Power Pool and Business Parks whose goal is to deliver 7GW (seven gigawatts) of affordable energy across the region by harvesting its copious gas supplies (still sadly flared) for embedded power plants that would feed business parks in raw material enclaves. Any other exception would have to be projects with funding from donors or private sector partners requiring no more than token commitment guarantee payments. Such as the Niger Delta Digital e-Learning Initiative, including the retraining of teachers and upgrading of curricula across primary, secondary and tertiary educational institutions. Third, the President should ensure a restructuring of NDDC’s bloated balance sheet, estimated at over N2Trillion. As a first step to this goal, our board cancelled a tranche of projects at zero percent completion, thereby reducing the balance sheet by N200Billion. Fourth, urgent reform of NDDC’s governance system. The current administrative framework is so heavily bureaucratic and bound to the analog mode as to be a mighty clog in the wheel of development. In the view of Dr Joe Abah, former Director-General of the Bureau of Public Service Reforms, everything that can possibly be wrong in an institution is to be found in NDDC, to the point of it being almost unreformable. Lastly, NDDC must be returned to its core mandate. The Regional Development Master Plan should be updated to align it with the dizzying realities of the Information Technology Age and the brave new world dawning on us of a green and sustainable energy future beyond fossil fuels.

This is not an exhaustive agenda of what must be done to salvage NDDC now. It is, I hope, a good starting point.

Ifowodo, a lawyer, writer, scholar and rights activist, was the Delta State representative on the board of NDDC from November 2016 to February 2019.

© 2021 Festac News Press Ltd..