Mr. Dapo Ayoola, Chief Executive Officer of the Sub-Saharan African Oil and Gas Conference and Exhibition in this interview with MARGARET NONGO-OKOJOKWU, speaks on the prospects, opportunities and sustainability of oil and gas business in Sub Sahara Africa: Excerpts

How has the Journey been so far with the Sub-Saharan African Oil and Gas Summit?

The journey has been mixed. Sub-Saharan African Oil and Gas Summit has recorded some levels of success while contending with few challenges. The first two editions held in Ghana in 2015 and 2016 respectively have gone very modestly well. It has been very impactful on our businesses, and commercial relationships have been built especially between investors in Nigeria and Uganda, including some professional friends across the industry. The challenges relate to the fact that the event is an upcoming platform. The Sub-Saharan African Oil and Gas Summit brand is relatively new to some people. This accounts for our struggle with attracting the quality of people and companies that can provide support that we require. We are nonetheless confident that the platform has come to stay and we will continue to sustain it.

The 2017 edition which is the 3rd its series will be held in Nigeria and hopefully for the 4th. Nigeria is the biggest oil producing country in West Africa and perhaps one of the biggest in Africa, so we think the chicken has come home to roost and we will get bigger if we get wider and better support from Nigeria oil and gas sector.

So what makes this Conference Unique, What sets it apart from the other Industry Conferences and Exhibition that we have been seeing?

What sets this apart is the fact that it is the first Platform for the Sub- Saharan African Oil and Gas Community to meet on the home soil. There are quite a few other ones that cut across Nations that are organized but they are largely held outside of Africa, either in Europe or United States of America (USA) but this platform is uniquely African. It has been put together by Africans, our resource persons are Africans, and we are no less intelligent than our counterpart from other continent.  An African Petroleum Engineer or Investor or Finance person or Community Engagement person is not less intelligent than his colleague from Huston Texas for example. Disappointingly, we hardly meet by ourselves to have a clearing out and discuss unique opportunities in the sub-region.

The level of participation that we get is another unique attribute. In the first two editions, virtually every participant at some point in the three day meeting had the opportunity to hold the microphone and has got a voice; it is done so differently from where we go in our thousands and we are just part of the statistics. We just go there to listen to other discuss the challenges of their industries. They never discuss what is peculiar to a businessman or to a Petroleum Engineer in Lagos or in Yenegoa or in Kampala or in Addis-Ababa. We have our own peculiar issues that we relate to; Culture, Technological Challenges etc. This is what we have established this platform to address.  

What is the conference theme other issues that will be discusses at this year’s Conference?

The theme for this year is; “Oil and Gas Business in Sub-Sahara Africa, Prospects and Sustainability”. This year’s conference will particularly address ‘’Sustainability’’ because of the challenging times we had in the industry across the globe. The problems of dwindling oil , the price of crude oil,  the issues relating to  license to operate in our various communities, either in Niger-Delta in Nigeria or Shebab in East Africa, where these issues that affect us and has led investors’ apathy will be discussed. Sustainability of all the prospects is the focus of this year’s summit. We will examine the opportunities in Nigeria, Ghana and East Africa, with Tanzania and Kenya in focus, looking at these around the prevailing operating environment.

Was there a reason why you moved the Conference from Ghana to Nigeria?

The objective of the conference in terms of location is to keep it on African soil and to take it from one African country to another as well as spread the message and make Africans come on board the platform.  So we knew that we will eventually have to come to Nigeria but because the idea was birthed and planted by Nigerians, we thought we should send the right signal to our brothers across the Continent by not starting in Nigeria.  So they can see that it is “Our” collective platform and that was why we held the first two editions Ghana. Now we are in Nigeria and I think we will be here till next year after which we will go to East Africa.

Coming to Nigeria, what is your assessment of the oil and gas sector in the past decade?

It is a very resilient one; it is quite promising notwithstanding the challenges. In the last 10 years, the oil and gas business in Nigeria has grown metaphorically. 10 years ago there were a few indigenous oil companies operating. Today we have got quite a good number of them. The international operating companies are divesting from one asset and putting more into another asset. So if you look at that, what used to be unprofitable fields which we now call marginal fields are now being taken over by indigenous players and those fields that were thought not to be profitable are now profitable.

Beyond the marginal field what other opportunities do you see in the oil and gas sector and how can they be harnessed?

First, I see one box that we are not opening in Nigeria and this is our intellectual capacity, which is our know-how in the industry. From the decades of Nigeria and Nigerians’ involvement in the industry, we have a reservoir of knowledge that we should begin to export to other parts of the world.

Apart from marginal field, we are not doing well in infrastructure, support services and shipping. We are still relying on foreign firms to take our crude to other parts of Africa and to the west. Again this is a huge investment opportunity. Somebody called my attention to the issue of insurance. Aside companies like AIG and LASACO, other insurance companies need to come in to the industry and play more active roles. Oil and gas is a capital intensive project. We still do not have enough local finance going there which means most projects are financed by hedge funds based in the West so the profit goes out. Whereas our banks are doing what they can, a lot more financial experts need to come into the industry (Upstream).

In the downstream, there are quite a lot of opportunities such as modular refineries. We can even go into power generation, petrochemicals, and fertilizers.

Are there issues in the industry that are giving you concerns?

Yes! Definitely there are. First regulation is not negotiable. Take the issue of the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) as an example. I always say it is time we had a Petroleum Industry Act (PIA) and no longer a Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB). Once the Bill becomes an Act of the parliament, it would send a signal of stability. The other day I read that the Group Managing Director of the NNPC is concerned that the Bill is taking longer than necessary. I share that vision with Dr. Baru. I believe we should put in place an Act of parliament so that this restructuring deregulation can be settled once and for all.

The issue of the Niger Delta is being addressed now. The current government is doing very well in that regard. I believe they need to translate that into action plan and walk the talk. Collectively I would like to say the issue of national reputation management gives me concern. If the perception about the country is positive, then that would affect attitude, it would affect the way we are treated, it would determine who comes in here to do business.

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