Professor Joseph Chukwurah Ezigbo is the Managing Director of Falcon Petroleum Limited, a company which provides a range of oil and gas engineering, design and consultancy services. In this chat with Financial Vanguard, the professor of medical parasitology and university lecturer tells the story of Falcon Petroleum, challenges of doing business in Nigeria, and says that Nigeria has no business flaring gas, adding that without the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB), Nigeria will not really make progress.
Professor Joseph Ezigbo is a former medical parasitology lecturer at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. “While at the university, I was fortunate to be appointed as a director at the Central Investment Company by Colonel Robert Akonobi, the then Governor of old Anambra State.
During that period, I had the opportunity to review the investment opportunities in the country; I also visited Port Harcourt severally and saw the wastage of Nigeria’s gas. I think it is criminal that a country like Nigeria should flare about $2.2 billion everyday and as we speak, we are still flaring $2.2 billion a day.
It is totally unacceptable. I went into gas business when I saw the wastage which is unprecedented anywhere in the world because no country will allow its oil and gas sector to flare the volume of gas we flare in Nigeria,” he said.
Birth of Falcon Petroleum:
Not one given to just talking, criticising and grumbling about situations without proffering solutions, Prof. Ezigbo went into action.
“That situation spurred me basically to move into oil and gas. Again, I married a woman who has a flair for business and together, we partnered because we both have different sides to business. I tend to see a lot of what is happening and want to invest in them all but she has the capability to rein my excitement into business.
So we teamed up in 1994 to create what is today, Falcon Petroleum. Initially, the company was to go into lubricants production but within that period, the tendency to explore gas business became paramount and we went into gas. We tried everything possible to start gas distribution at Aba but for some reason, it failed.
However, I think that is where I see the hand of God because we failed in getting Aba but when Gaslink started its gas distribution in Lagos, we moved our offices from Port Harcourt to Lagos and we were the only indigenous company that did internal piping and conversion of facilities for natural gas, so our forays into oil and gas started as an internal pipeline company.
The first company to fire on natural gas then was Cadbury under the franchise of Gaslink. We did the internal piping for Cadbury,” he said.
So far, Falcon has succeeded in building over 90 per cent of all the conversions for industries to fire on natural gas within Lagos. “When Shell Gas came on at Agbara and Otta, we also converted over 70 per cent of the companies in Agbara and Otta to fire on natural gas. In 2002, Ikorodu became available so we bid for Ikorodu amongst other companies and we won the franchise.
After a lot of arguments, the then President Obasanjo instructed that the franchise be given to Falcon Petroleum. It took us from 2002 to 2004 to get the award and within nine months, we delivered our first gas to Spintex and a host of other companies in Ikorodu,” Ezigbo stated.
Journey so far:
The Falcon Petroleum boss said the company has expanded its scope and reach and today, “from the initial 10 kilometres of gas infrastructure we established in Ikorodu, we have about 28 – 30 kilometres and from the seven initial companies we were delivering gas to, it has grown from 2006 to 17 industries today and we are still counting.
Once you taste gas, you will not leave it because the savings over diesel and low pour fuel oil can be incredible. We are trying to grow the company as much as we can and extend gas utilisation to as many companies as possible so as to reduce the amount of gas Nigeria flares on a daily basis with its environmental implications, the financial wastages and the degradation within the Niger-Delta region.”
The way forward is to give Nigerians the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB). There are arguments everywhere against and for the PIB. What we should do first of all is to enact the PIB as it is and then we can see how it is functioning.
We can then see what areas need a change, we can now sit down as a group and decide to amend, modify, change or restructure the PIB but as it is at the moment, the amount of money that this country is losing on a daily basis, the pollution going on in the Niger-Delta, the number of people disenfranchised from getting their dues, the volume of corruption in the system, these are things that if we put the PIB in place, it will reduce to the barest minimum. Without the PIB, there is no way we can get back to the basics. The PIB is central. It is the bedrock, the foundation on which we can build this nation.”
Prof. Ezigbo named unavailability of level-playing field in the oil and gas industry, lack of policies and lack of finance, as some of the challenges. “It took us three and a half years to wade through government bureaucracy in acquiring the licence and it took the President to put his foot down to give us that franchise.
Having gotten the franchise, it took us another six months to get the finances to run it because the banks were willing but they said we should pay for the licence and then they can fund our operations. But then, imagine a young company at that point in time having to cough up close to N80 million for the licence.
We thank Capital Alliance for partnering with us to pick up the licence. They saw our engineering capability in delivering the project and also what it will do to the economy so they partnered with us to get the licence and then the banks came to our rescue and we were able to deliver the project within months.”
He noted that because there are no policies guiding gas business in the country, “it becomes so difficult for one to get things done. But for the bureaucracy in government, there is actually no reason why we shouldn’t have gas pipelines running through the entire nation.
They should have been everywhere and flares would have been a thing of the past and industries would have followed gas lines. That would have meant that there should have been industrial explosion in Nigeria because once they follow gas lines, you find industries everywhere and Nigeria’s teeming millions will be employed and there won’t be poverty and youth restiveness because once you engage these people, the chances that people will think evil is slim so that is the major thing.
The challenges are huge but when you persist and believe in your God, then all things are possible. It is not because we are too smart but because we believe. I have faith in this country and I know this country is going somewhere,” he enthused.
Giving back to society:
Prof. Ezigbo praised the Lagos State Government and Ikorodu people for providing a peaceful atmosphere for the company to operate. As a result, the company decided to reciprocate. So apart from building them a town hall and repairing a 1.2km road within the area, they also came up with the Train a woman, train a nation project in which 48 women were selected from across Ikorodu.
“This is the first batch of the people we are going to train in different vocations – dress-making, cake-making, events planning etc.. It’s going to be a three-month intensive training, then they go for one month industrial attachment after which we give them starter packs to enable them set up their businesses. We will also look at the men and the youths and partner with them in any way possible,” he said.
EBELE ORAKPO (Source)