Leaders of the Orgainsed Private Sector (OPS) in Bonny island of Rivers State, after a weekend retreat, have perfected strategies with partners to begin aggressive economic installations and development of the island beyond oil and gas.
The topmost business leaders also however identified a major challenge beyond finance that holds Bonny down; it was said to be a combination of negative attitude and high appetite for conflict and litigation.
The weekend retreat which was fully sponsored by the biggest business entity in West Africa, the Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas (NLNG), was for the 27 council members of the Bonny Chamber of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture (BOCCIMA), all of who attended.
Time to shift away from oil & gas – President
The tone of the retreat which is “living without oil and gas’ was set by the president of BOCCIMA, Amairigha Edward Hart, who said the OPS has created alternative investment schemes. “That is why we now think of Bonny Beyond Oil & Gas era; Living Beyond Oil & Gas. We are here to ponder over this.’
Raising alarm that; “Everything is happening in our eyes now,” he recounted the many negative developments in the oil and gas sector especially divestments.
He went on: “SPDC has sold off most assets, remaining just the terminal in Bonny for export. It is alarming. Our reliability on the international oil corporations (IOCs) must be drastically reduced.
“We must seek what else to link up with. Dubai and other cities do well without oil and gas. So, we must think of how best to tackle these things and build Bonny to greater heights. We have the human resources to do this.”
Hart declared that BOCCIMA is the leading light and the members must all commit to it and work hard to actualize the proposed Non-Oil Free Trade Zone, Industrial Zone, World Class Resort, International Conference Centre, and some others which are expected to take Bonny to where others are, targeting less dependence on oil/gas.
He said the glimpses of the Marine Transportation scheme and some others being coordinated at pilot stage by our Director-General of the Island Chambers, Constance Ngozi Nwokejiobi, who he described as an Amazon, is great. He said Bonny people were excited over the transport scheme.
He went on: “Our target is to find out those things that make our people happy. We take our time to think and plan. More is on the way, but we must work as a team.
“Bonny is on top in West Africa due to NLNG and we have ICT, Agric, services sector, etc to add. We want to get to a point where companies come to you, not you going to them to look for jobs. Think of backward integration, produce what you need. This is how to think outside the box.”
Hart said the proposed Bonny Business School will make BOCCIMA members to be exposed and to gain capacity to deliver any project entrusted to them. He disclosed that the commissioning of the Bonny Consulate (a replication of the first house of the colonialists in Bonny called the Consulate) was great. “Once again, it has brought huge attention to Bonny. The Amanyanabo is a visionary king. His dream for BOCCIMA is immeasurable and he is always a pillar of support. The Consulate opening is a new window of opportunity and tourism will be boosted.
“We call on the IOCs to support BOCCIMA as we rekindle the link with them. Look at Shell Terminal built since 1963, then Mobil, Belema, others, but not many benefits have accrued to Bonny. We will however continue to create conducive atmosphere for businesses to grow.”
Need for training on partnerships – Dienye Pepple, deputy president
Delivering a lecture, the deputy president of BOCCIMA, Dienye Pepple, harped on the need for host communities to train on how to partner with oil companies and investors coming into their areas.
He noted that the IOCs studied the host communities very well to develop an engagement approach but the communities did not. “The IOCs muscled their way through but lost peace.”
On way to go, Pepple said partnership was the best option, saying the IOCs know this because they are no strangers to partnership schemes and concepts. “Host communities do not know what to ask for in a partnership. They do not understand partnership. The strategy is to ask for what will be beneficial to both parties.”
Read also: IOC asset sale: Oil workers fear job loss
The solution, he said, is to train on partnership management. “Train your leaders, women leaders, youth leaders, etc such that they can be on same page. When a community makes request, the IOCs hear threat, when the IOCs make appeal, the community sees deceit. This creates suspicion and friction.
“Engage a firm to manage your partnership with oil/gas firms. A third party can be less attached and can take dispassionate position. Make room for other opinions and work from distrust to trust leading to an enduring acceptability.”
How I took the war to armed pirates, others – LGA boss, Anengi Barasua Wilcox
Speaking during a panel session, Anengi Barasua Wilcox, the Bonny’s first female local council chairman, said her focus has been on security, environment, sanitation and health, saying without security and health, businesses would not thrive.
She went on: “Security has been an issue. I thus mobilized the government security agencies to go all out in remote areas. We agreed that the best form of defence was attack and so we went after their hideouts. We took the battle to them before they would take it to us; by land, sea, everywhere. Yes, it is very expensive but it’s the best way.
“The problem also is that some times, those who brought complaints do not agree to press it to end. They chicken out. It’s an African thing.”
She said she was aware that the minimum expectation of the people is good governance, saying that is what she is giving the people. “I strive to provide conducive environment for everyone. My style is transparency.”
On quest for industrial, residential areas and road link are to be built in Bonny to attract investors to settle down, Wilcox said those were in the Greater Bonny Plan which she said was with the king.
She agreed that land tenure review was very important because developers needed land to settle and push. “But land issue is very sensitive. A 6,000 housing estate is locked in court and many issues in Bonny are in court. So, I leave them and focus on governance.”
Litigations, conflicts, set development back in Bonny – Local content boss
Opuada Willie-Pepple, a lawyer who is the chairman, Bonny Kingdom Local Content Committee, speaking at the panel session, mentioned setbacks against rapid development in the kingdom. “There is huge need to give our people a new orientation. Try sensitization so our people can imbibe business sensibilities. There is need for collaboration on this.
“The basic problem of our people is mindset. Our people are not oriented enough to understand their role.”
He mentioned huge amounts said to be dedicated for Bonny development but said such funds have not been accessed because of conflicts and litigation. “Shelter Afrique is to give an estate in Bonny but the matter is in court, stalled. When investors see these trends and conflicts, they go elsewhere because capital does not wait for you to finish your quarrels.
“Collaboration is important. Conflict must end so the kingdom can surge forward. The Nigeria Content Development and Monitoring Board (NCDMB) lectured us during a training on how to partner. Big Nigerian companies can team up with the small indigenous firms to present bids.”
On the simmering issue of listing businesses in Bonny, Willie-Pepple said his committee had submitted list of indigenous companies but what came back from the NLNG was not how it went. “We are still trying to harmonise the list.”
He explained various attitudes of indigenous firms in Bonny saying some may want to get their commission and plough it back to develop while some want to get their commission and clear out. Some, he said, want to gain experience in the partnership.
“Diversification is important, into areas such as agric, tourism, etc. Indigenous companies without capacity can partner with BOCCIMA to get companies that have capacity. That is the best way to go. That way, partnership can be more secured.”
Bonny community content package is set – Gbodo Otikidi, SPDC
Shell’s General Manager External Relations, Igo Weli, was represented at the session by Gbodo Otikidi, Community Relations in Bonny. Otikidi, who said he was not aware that any part of the Bonny Terminal had been sold, harped on collaboration.
“The Bonny community content scheme is good to go. We have started feeling the impact of the security drive in Bonny. Some displaced gangsters say they want to settle down. They reach persons they knew to beg for support to settle down. They claim to be tired of a life of crime, that crime does not really pay. We have noted that there is also insecurity in some security personnel.’
He said it was exciting to learn that there could be training on partnership management. “It’s true that when parties are not on same page, one will say one thing, the other will hear another thing.”
He said the quota of Bonny people is given to them as spelt out in the memorandum of understanding. H however advised communities to endeavour to improve their skills if they wanted bigger jobs from IOCs.
Special financing packages for businesses in Bonny – Zenith Bank
Emeka Nwigwe, an assistant general manager and group head on private sector banking in Zenith Bank, thrilled the OPS when he what he called financing opportunities in Bonny especially for NLNG jobs and for BOCCIMA members.
He mentioned them as the NLNG contractors finance scheme (for businesses that secure jobs in the NLNG called job invoicing), NLNG staff loan scheme, Train-7 contractors scheme (to help those who get jobs in the project), Daewoo contractors scheme, SME loans for Bonny, and the Zee-Women loan (that is nine per cent dedicated to support women in SMEs).
He revealed that there is a plan to empower the people of Bonny kingdom and that partnership with BOCCIMA is important. “Engagement has started. Template is already in place. It is just to pick any of the existing ones and adjust to suit purpose. Even if the final papers have not been done, we can start with the existing template.
“It will be formally launched, but any recommendation from BOCCIMA now will be treated as a partner. We are willing and ready.”
Kudos to NLNG that gave BOCCIMA a leap – Constance Nwokejiobi, DG
The Director-General of BOCCIMA, Constance N Nwokejiobi, a professional (chartered) accountant, described the retreat as very successful, especially with 100 per cent attendance of council members.
She attributed the huge success to what the leap she said the NLNG gave the Chambers through sponsorship. “The event has been impactful and the outcome has been able to meet up with the objective, which was to brainstorm on the way and come up with a 3-year strategic plan which the Chamber would work with. The good news is that the retreat has been able to achieve that such that implementation starts immediately. For me, it has been successful.
“Bonny is a very peculiar island. There is this passionate mindset of ownership of the island by the citizenry of the kingdom. The mention that you want to develop the place strikes a cord. The theme of the retreat actually captivated the council members’ attention. We now had a bonus: NLNG, the giant company on the island, West Africa’s biggest gas company located on the island, sponsored the programme. That is the leap of the BOCCIMA and this enabled all council all council members to be present and achieve the theme and objective of the retreat.”
Most of the BOCCIMA council members confessed the huge impact of the retreat, confessing that their eyes had opened to many opportunities and strategies. Bonny OPS community, they said, is now ready for aggressive development of the island.