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“Scotland is under performing in West Africa” – Gary Soper

Gary Soper

Last week, the British High Commission announced that a Scottish oil and gas delegation will visit Nigeria from Jan 25 – 28 to explore investment opportunities in the country. The group comprising 13 Scottish companies was going to also participate in the Offshore West Africa Conference and Exhibition at the Eko Hotel and Suites from Jan. 26 to Jan. 28, 2016.
Isaac Anyaogu, caught up with the head of the delegation Gary Soper, Regional Manager of Africa for Scottish Development International at the organisation’s attractive exhibition stand to seek his view on the exhibition and if it was meeting the organisation’s expectations.

You reportedly said that your mission here is essentially to create awareness for Scottish brands, how is that working for you?

We have something like 41 offices in 29 countries around the world. So we tend to be in places where we believe that there are opportunities for Scottish companies given our capabilities. We are particularly strong in oil and gas, food and drinks and the creative industry

So when I opened the office in Africa, I opened it in Accra (Ghana) in June 2014, the idea was to focus very much on oil and gas, education and training related to oil and gas and to look at the markets in Ghana, Angola, Nigeria, Uganda, Mozambique, Tanzania and Kenya, the oil and gas hot spots if you like, of Africa. We believe that Scotland is under performing essentially in West Africa and what we are trying to do as an organisation is to get companies to understand more about the opportunities that might exist in the region and also to promote Scotland and what Scotland can do to companies.

Gary Soper
Gary Soper, Regional Manager of Africa for Scottish Development International

The second day of the exhibition is coming to a close, so far, is the exhibition meeting your objectives?

Firstly, this is the first time we brought a group to Nigeria and the first time we have exhibited at this event. We are a strategic partner at this event with PennWell Corporation, so we’ve been involved with them for sometime in the lead up to this and it’s always good. It’s a fairly small event,  I mean the shows that we tend to do as an organisation are things like OTC (Offshore Technology Conference) in Houston, we did Adipec conference in Abu Dhabi (United Arab Emirate) where there are hundreds of exhibitors every year.

So this was always going to be small. We like that because it’s got the appeal where we can make a very big splash for a small country. We are the only country pavilion here. We’ve got a nice stand and we stand out so it does meet our objectives and I think the proof of the pudding as we say, is really the companies. Are the companies happy, yes they are. We actually took the group to Ghana for two days before coming here. Some of them have never been to Africa before; certainly they have never been to Ghana and Nigeria. It was a good introduction for them to see the African way and then move on to Lagos and the excitement that goes on here.

Is there any particular brand here that people coming for the exhibition have indicated a keen interest?

The biggest interest has been in Robert Gordon University and this is the thing that has come out through the conference discussion. It has really been about getting the education piece right. RGU is very strong in oil and gas but we have a few other universities as well like the University of Aberdeen, University of Dundee but a lot of people recognise the brand Robert Gordon University. There has been immense interest in what they are doing.

We have Forth Valley College which is more on the vocational training side of things. Again, there is quite a lot of interest in what they are doing particularly from the oil companies who are doing business here, who are looking to have some training programmes for their staff. I think the education piece has been very successful.

Do you keep data on everyone that has visited your stand so far?
I am not a great one for numbers, because it’s the quality. I’d rather have two quality interviews in the morning than have 500 people visit the stand with no interest really in what you are doing or ask what Scotland is about.

I think you have seen for yourself, the stand has been quite busy all morning. We go through periods when it is quiet but it seems to be very good at the moment.

What are your plans to build on the success recorded at this event?

That is a conversation I’ve had with my team. So we are very keen on developing this piece. It is a difficult time in the oil business at the moment so we have to move forward carefully in a measured way and we are going to wait to see what the companies think of this. Ideally, I would like to see us come back here at this time next year and have, I won’t say bigger presence, but I think that we will plan it even better. We will have a longer lead time. It was quite late in the year, I guess, when we decided to actually do this , it was in September. So we are excited about what might happen between now and then.

We are very close  the Petroleum Technology Association of Nigeria (PTAN) and in the last 12 months we have done events with them in Houston, Aberdeen and here (Nigeria) as well. We are very keen on developing those links, those relationships and at the end of the day that is what business is all about.

Can you comment about your perception of business climate in Nigeria with regards to FDI?

No not really, I live in Ghana and we are not about investments, we are not about getting companies to invest overseas. We are really about the trade piece. The investment part of our interest is in investing in Scotland, getting companies to go there. Also we are not a business, we are governmental organisation. We don’t decide or dictate where people should invest.

There are a number of steps companies can go through before they consider investing. They will start probably exporting products into Nigeria for example, then they may have a local agent or representative. Then they may go into joint venture and at that point they will probably consider investing. So it is very rare that a company would come in for the first time and say I’m going to invest here. I don’t think, certainly among the supply chain companies that we’re dealing with will follow that business model. There are few Scottish companies that have presence in Nigeria in their own right but most of them tend to have relationship with local companies. You need that to understand all the rules and regulations and processes you need understand the business culture which is a bit different as well.

How easy is it for Nigerians to have Scottish investments or establish businesses over there?

Well if you check p prime for example, that’s a company that is run by a Nigerian gentleman who studied there and stayed there and he is now successfully established there and exporting to Nigeria and other places too. So I think it is relatively easy. We heard yesterday the quest about the visas. The visa issue which has changed recently used to give a cause for concern. There are over 2000 Nigerians in Aberdeen and we work with them. They have a Global Nigerian Forum where they try and pull together all the Diaspora in the oil and gas business. We try and get them to come back to Nigeria and build on the opportunities that are here.

 

Isaac Anyaogu