14 December 2013 – Managing Director of Geomarine Systems Limited, an indigenous player in the oil and gas industry, Mr. ‘Mma Okezie, whose company is a beneficiary of the Nigeria Content Development Fund (NCD), has applauded the NCD for this interventionist initiative. Okezie spoke on the sidelines of the recently concluded 3rd Practical Nigerian Content Conference, which took place in Yenagoa, Bayelsa State.
How would you assess the conference? I think it was well organized. Participation was excellent. Audience/speakers interaction was good.
We have seen many of these conferences but do they really achieve much? These events trigger activity in ways that one cannot imagine. It may be just three or ten persons that will be motivated by what has transpired here today. When those persons become big players a few years from now, employing people and adding value, it is because people came here to talk and share ideas and present opportunities.
Yes, we have been talking but we don’t seem to achieve much in real terms as a nation.
We are achieving much. And it is better that we are facing problems (or challenges as they are now called), devising our own ways to solve or manage them. The amount of knowledge and experience in this country is incredible; we just need to stitch it together. The process we are undergoing is called nation- building. And it takes time.
But we did not see strong NNPC presence as the leader of the oil industry? Really?
I am not sure about the protocol of these things but i am sure the NNPC will always be there. But this is really an NCD show.
What part of the oil and gas industry do you operate in?
We do geophysics for oil exploration, and things like seabed hazard surveys, hydrography, marine positioning and pipeline route survey.
I was made to understand that you will speak on the experience of your company in accessing the NCD Fund for local businesses. But we did not see that. Did your company really get funding from the NCD? I asked this because there has been complaints that access to the funds is severely restricted but that your company is probably the only company that has received funds from NCD?
Regarding my speaking, there was some mix up in the scheduling and so I ended up in a panel discussion on the expectations of the NCD over the next few years. Yes, my company did receive funding from NCD through their mechanism with the banks. Our own bank is Diamond Bank, probably the only bank in Nigeria that understands the nitty – gritty of the oil and gas industry. These things work. The conditions may be stringent, and some of them even annoying, but I suppose they have to take steps to ensure proper utilization of the funds.
That is interesting. What was the time- frame between when application was made and when funding was approved?
Actually, very short. I mean real short like one week or so. But our case is special. Seismic exploration is a difficult job. Equipment layout is massive. personnel layout is massive. Interaction with the society and environment is massive. In short, our footprint is huge; even for small projects. So the tendency has been that industry has been dominated by foreign companies with deep pockets. What happened was that the Executive Secretary heard what we were trying to do, made some inquiries and invited us over for a chat. I guess he was mentally calibrating what he had heard with what he was hearing from us. Then he did something incredible. He introduced me to the Director of Finance (I think that is his designation). He said, ‘These are the kinds of persons we want to support. The Director of Finance will tell you what to do”. And he left. Then the Director educated me on how to go about things. The rest is almost history.
What do you mean by ‘almost history’?
Well, the Executive Secretary did not just push us to his Finance Director and cut off. He followed up. And the Director of Finance too. They were chasing after the bank to ensure that things moved fast. Indeed at a party by Diamond Bank in Abuja, on the heels of the annual oil & gas gathering, the Executive Secretary gathered all the senior bank people present and gave them a 20- minute talk, standing on why our funding had to be top priority. As he correctly put it, that is one area that if Nigeria shows capability, then the rest will be smooth sailing. The rest is finally history.
What was the role of your bank in the funding process?
Banks keep money. They were directed to give us money and they gave us money, following the guidelines. And I can gladly report that all the requisite equipment for our work is in – country as we speak, thanks to NCD and Diamond Bank.
You said some of the requirements were annoying. Why?
Some were repetitive, some were inapplicable in our circumstance.
Do you think that NCD has lived up to its billing?
Absolutely; and not because they arranged funding for us. Nigerian business in the oil & gas, and marine industry have two things to be thankful for- NCD and militancy.
Let us leave that for another time. The Nigerian NCD scheme is being recommended by international agencies to other upcoming oil producer nations. So, it is not all doom and gloom in Nigeria. Even doom and gloom provides opportunity to do business and innovate. That is why weapons makers are in business. That is why casket makers are in business.
You just spoke about your expectations of the NCD in the next three years. Why limit it to three years?
That is the task we were given. I cannot go beyond the mandate I was given. I guess the idea is to look at short term achievables. And my view is that the board will have to do a lot of internal capacity building and I will tell you why. We may not realize it but the NCD is catalyzing Nigeria business in ways that may soon swamp the capability of the board to oversee with its present staff strength. The board has done an excellent job of informing, educating about local content, and of monitoring, ensuring compliance with the law, and developing metrics for the measurement of local value added, even if I personally have some issues with some of the metrics. Now assume additional 200 companies come on-stream over the next 2 or 3 years in various fields of oil and gas and its associated / auxiliary businesses such as offshore / inland marine transport on the basis of the effective enlightenment campaign by the board. Do you not see that the board will be over-stretched in terms of competent personnel sooner than later? It will not be nice for the board to be a victim of its own success.