What makes a firm essentially Nigerian? Certainly not where it operates, but rather its people. Who founded it, who directs its day-to-day management and longer-term strategic direction. Who ‘calls the shots’ in other words.
However, there is another question. A lot of oil firms claim to be indigenous firms, and do so as a badge of honour. But why? What difference does it make?
First of all, the fact that some of Nigeria’s oil prospecting and mining leases are owned by home-grown firms should be something to be proud of. We are an enterprising nation and the fact that our own indigenous talent should be able to manage the location, extraction, production and exporting of our most abundant natural resources is a good thing.
But is there something qualitatively different about what these firms deliver? Absolutely. And in the most important ways, given the issues faced by the Nigerian oil and gas sector today.
The industry has been brought to its knees by militancy and sabotage. The attacks, which have shut down assets run by international and indigenous firms alike, have cause the loss of millions of barrels of oil in the last two years, as well as billions of lost Naira to the economy and treasury.
People do not do these things arbitrarily. They do it out of the frustrations that they are not only disenfranchised by the proceeds of oil, but that their lives are often made much worse as a result of the petroleum industry.
So you tell me who is better placed to understand the impact on these lives and engage with these communities: a CEO of a multinational who has never stepped foot in the Niger Delta, or someone who was brought up seeing first-hand how delicate that region can be?
How Nigerian does an indigenous firm have to be? Surveying the senior management of most companies, most positions are filled by Nigerians – and this does matter. However, Nigerians do not want to create business that are contained just to Nigeria; they want to expand and, for this, it’s understandable that they should want to bring in some international talent.
This is why I was initially surprised to see one such firm – the Aiteo Group – appoint Bruce Burrows to its CFO. Aiteo is a through-and-through Nigerian oil firm, and its ethos will remain ever thus. But it has not shied away from its pan-African and even global ambitions. So hiring the likes of Burrow, with experience across the continent and with accounting firms across the world does makes sense, and I watch eagerly for Aiteo’s next move.