‘At Royal Niger, Our Vision is to be a Subsea industry champion for Nigeria in the area of wellheads, Xmas trees, Subsea controls and Distribution equipments’ – Okolo
The Subsea environment is a rare terrain for a Nigerian company. Please tell us how the journey towards domiciliation of subsea technology has been for you?
It has been an exciting and very revealing journey. We started off with many people including respected industry professionals telling us we could not manage controls equipment efficiently, just because none of the components are made locally. It was also heart-breaking that most of the opposition came from fellow Nigerians in the industry. But I have to give special thanks to Nigerian Agip Exploration (NAE), NAPIMS, NCDMB and Chevron (Star Deepwater) for giving us the opportunity to show what we could do in the Subsea environment. Today, we have a great working relationship with TechnipFMC and a few other multinational service companies, who have nurtured our experiences and helped us do more than we could have imagined ourselves.
Who are your technical partners?
We don’t tend to use technical partners now because we have gained considerable experience as a corporate entity in our field, to add to our individual technical experiences. However, this has not always been the case. We have previously worked with other companies in Europe the US and Asia, but we have always believed that the answers to our technical issues in terms of engineering can be just as efficiently found in Nigeria in most cases or through working with consultants in diaspora. We do still rely on some foreign expertise in specialist areas, but mostly the expertise is provided by consultants engaged by the company for this purpose.
Is your arrangement such that you secure the contacts and they come to execute, while your engineers understudy?
We have a rich history of self-performance using local professionals who we have invested in, and trained to standards obtained in the best oil and gas regimes in the world. Also, more than 80% of our service equipment are self-owned, meaning we have a better opportunity than most to properly manage our work scope internally, as well as provide a cost-effective solution for the Client, in accordance with global quality standards.
Are there Nigerians on your team and what fractions of your engineers are expats? What’s the succession plan?
We have a 98% Nigerian team with just one senior expat engineer who is able to support our local team remotely.
Looking at Standards; which is quite huge on this rare patch; what Standards have you deployed?
Has it been acceptable by the IOCs?
At the start, and till now, it has always been important to us to meet the most stringent of international quality standards. So, from inception we pursued ISO 9001 certification of our processes and facility. We obtained this at the first time of asking in 2016. We consider this to be an important milestone for us as well as vindication that we have gone about our activities in a manner that is compliant with global service expectations.
Tell us about patronage. What projects are you working on and what are the sizes of these projects?
We perform a variety of services across the Wellheads and Controls product lines. Currently we are engaged in 2 major maintenance projects for Clients operating in shallow and deepwater environments. Although the market has contracted quite a lot in comparison to pre-2014 activities, we have maintained a steady order-book, with services provided to a wide section of operators and service companies.
Safety onshore isn’t handled with levity in the industry for huge colossal effect, let alone offshore. What parameters have you put in place?
Our safety culture starts with our colleagues and employees. The training is quite detailed and tries to create an awareness of the fact that ALL accidents are preventable, and also that ALL individuals are responsible for their own safety, as well as that of the group. This way, the blame game is avoided and our people have taken pride in their individual safety statistics. Frequent safety awareness meetings are part of the weekly meeting structure at Royal Niger. This also adds to the complete assimilation of the company’s safety values which have been imbibed from best practise recommendations from all over the world.
What is your training programme for these indigenous engineers in your employment and what’s the projected cost for the next five years? Are there special skill sets you’re considering?
We have so far spent more than $250,000 USD on training our colleagues over the last 2 years. For a small company like us, that is a huge amount of money. But the value far outweighs the financial value of that expenditure. Seeing a fresh graduate develop over time to take ownership of a technical solution for a problem in the field, due to the learning and experience that our training process has afforded them, is a rare pride that we will never get tired of replicating at Royal Niger.
So, do you manufacture these umblicals from the scratch or you integrate the components parts only? Are there plans to source the entire parts and manufacture locally?
Today, many of the services we provide in the umbilical product space are assembly, repair and testing services. However, we are currently developing our facility at Angel Park, Badagry which will be focused on production of the umbilicals and umbilical products
How much foreign currency are we talking about saving if the IOCs shift to your company and other developing ones in this area of business?
We not only save cost but also create other cost saving avenues through lowering of logistics costs for shipping and transportation. What we also deliver is peace of mind because our Nigerian Clients can more closely monitor the work we do as part of their standard quality process. So, I can confidently say we save the Client a lot when we perform the services.
How have you handled the issue of funding, being a young Nigerian start-up company?
All our investments have been self-funded. To be honest, that’s the only way we know how to successfully run such a young company such as ours. Opportunities for loans have come up in the past, but we believe our growth will be “organic” and based on creating value for our shareholders and equity subscribers, rather than institutional lenders.
What’s the most difficult part of this subsea technology domiciliation?
Trying to overturn the biases from local and foreign Clients, which leads to illogically refusing to entertain the possibility that a Nigerian company can do every bit as well as a Subsea company anywhere else in the world. Happily, this bias is slowly changing, but there is still a lot of hearts which need to be turned before we can boast of a strong subsea service industry which can export our services to Africa and beyond. Also, the fact that we are not playing on a level field with our foreign competitors who come into the country on unfair “frame agreements”, limiting the opportunities open to local service providers. This is really what killing sustainable capacity development in the country is.
Where do you see Royal Niger in the next 10 years?
Royal Niger will be a Subsea industry champion for Nigeria in the area of wellheads, xmas trees, subsea controls and distribution equipment. We are working towards this goal already, and by being steadfast and maintaining our integrity and Will to apply the best of our experiences, we will succeed.