Sally Ekeng is the Chief Executive Officer of Habakkuk Offshore Resources Limited. He boasts over 20 years managerial experience in the oil and gas industry. In this interview with MMS Plus, Mr. Sally tells us about his blossoming capacity building company “Habakkuk” and its vision towards transforming maritime and oil and gas industries in Nigeria.
Let’s get to know you.
I’m Sally Ekeng. I have been in the oil and gas industry for about 20 years. I specialize in Quality, Health, Safety, Security and Environment management. The concept of Habakkuk Offshore Resources was born out of the passion to help Nigerians because nowadays we see a lot of people looking for jobs. However, we find that most of these people only have certificates, therefore we set out to provide the solution. We have got partners abroad in the United Kingdom (UK) and South Africa and we came up with the idea that we could provide sea time experience for Nigerian cadets in the UK and South Africa. We also have similar programmes for others interested in the maritime and oil and gas industries. We will look at their background to see what they have and what they need to do to make them versatile in their field. That is the concept of Habakkuk.
This company was registered barely two months ago. It was registered on the 18th of December 2015 and we began operating in Nigeria in January. So, at the moment we are still putting things together. We have registered with the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC), done the VAT and other government requirements. We also began massive publicity. The next thing is to introduce Nigerians to enable them key into this platform.
Talking about taking people abroad, what is your cost component like?
Well, we can’t just take people abroad; we need to find out who they are, their credibility and their intent. For example, if someone that has been a driller comes in and he wants to do International Well Control Forum (IWCF) training, you have to look at his background and look at the appropriate school for him that will train him and return him back to Nigeria. We have to look at the pedigree of each individual and figure out what will be suitable for him.
How about the cost?
Well, you can’t just get the cost. We have spoken to several schools abroad, about 57 schools to be precise. We are not going to choose schools for the person. It is his/ her qualification that will determine the school and the prices vary from one school to another. As a result, we can’t determine the price until we analyze the person’s educational background which influences the course he will take and this also affects the fee. Immediately we receive a CV, we would send it to our technical partners in UK and based on the qualification of the person, he should get about four options of institutions to choose from. Since we placed our advertisement on a national daily, we have received a lot of entries via phone calls and applications but we don’t want a situation where someone travels out and never comes back to Nigeria. So we are trying to filter the applications.
With regards to sea time here in Nigeria, NIMASA has sent out over 2,500 cadets abroad for training. Those who don’t get sea time training over there will need one when they return. Maritime Academy of Nigeria, Oron also has sea time challenges for cadets. How do you play the role of solving this problem?
We have technical partners who are owners of ships in the UK, particularly in Greece and they have accepted to take Nigerians on sea time placement. So we have arrangement for that and it will be at a fee.
How about the oil and gas industry angle?
At the moment we want to ensure that people are trained and when we have developed that sufficiently we will introduce the oil and gas angle. We don’t want to take too much at once.
What is the difference between having a normal sea time, working in a ship and working in the oil and gas sector?
Working in the oil and gas involves working in the rigs for example or the badges, it is different from the ships. Although we have drill ships which are like rigs but they aren’t the same, hence they require different experience. We have oilers, seamen, etc, but in the rigs we have different roles such as the roustabouts, riggers, welders, drillers, among others.
So what does it take to be in the oil and gas industry different from the shipping in terms of the manner of trainings needed that makes one qualify for these areas?
It depends on your trade; it is not blanket training. For example, if you want to read HSE (Health Safety and Environment), this is a separate training to be able to identify hazards and prevent accidents from happening. But if you want to be a driller, you have a training that would require IWCF (International Well Control Forum) and several trainings as well. For one to be on the ship, it also requires a different training.We would assemble people and train them based on their needs.
If a fresher comes in, perhaps someone who attended MAN Oron and he may not have had any experience to know his area of specialization. What process would you suggest?
Our training ranges from one month to one year. We have to look at what you have to figure out which level to place you. For example, if you want to go into safety you have to start by learning General Safety Education, etc. For someone who wants to go into drilling he may have to start as a roustabout or become a painter or scrapper or floorman before you begin to work on the tugs then you get to be derrickman or driller. Once you come in, we look at your background and your intentions so that we know what to recommend.
What form of relationship do you have with the International Oil Companies (IOCs) like Texaco, Mobil and the rest?
We are just two months old and we don’t want to do anything in a hurry. We want a genuine system. Some companies have called us to ask how they could get involved but we asked them to hold on. We will reply them as soon as we get the home front settled. We have completed the arrangements with our technical partners abroad and very soon we will be in full flight.
What did you study in school and give us your work experience in the oil and gas industry?
I read management in school and when I showed interest in HSE, my company appreciated it so I went in headlong. Within the first three years I was able to make acceptable international presentations and trainings.
In 1996 I started in Weatherford Oil Service and I was there until 2007 when I moved to Addax and in 2009 I moved from Addax to Brittania U. I later returned to Addax before I moved to Sea Drills and finally I worked ad Cardinal Seplat. In all these capacities I functioned as a management staff.
Let’s look at the oil and gas industry vis-a-vis the career opportunities available at the moment, considering the volatility of the industry as a result of dwindling oil prices. Shell, Chevron and several others are laying off workers, how do you see the opportunities?
It is not the first time something like this is happening. It has happened before, not once or twice but on several occasions. The sector is not going to black out. It will pick up again. From the forecast we are seeing, we know that it will pick up very soon. The only problem is that Nigeria had all her eggs in one basket. We did not diversify.
Sometimes, it is disheartening when you go onshore and see the amount of gas flare at places like Omok or Obiriko. You will also find that there is no night in these places, neither is there nocturnal life as a result of the flare. Sometimes you can be on the rig floor and see a woman taking her bath outside because we may be drilling at her backyard.
This gas flare is money being wasted and you should know that the gas is more expensive than the oil. In one of the oil mills I worked at, we had about thirty (30) flares in one field and it may have been running like that before I was born. Yet, it remains the same today and our government is complaining that is looking for money to power electricity.
Does it mean that the government doesn’t look at these things or shouldn’t the oil companies be responsible for the gas flaring?
I think the laws are not punitive enough because at the moment, Nigeria is the highest in the world when it comes to gas flaring. We also rank high in polio, dirtiness, corruption, among other evil vices. Must we excel in everything negative? This happens because we have become too conscious about money. However, when one makes billions and he is unable to live up to 100 years, how do you enjoy the wealth? Your children may quickly begin to fight over your money as soon as you pass on.
If you travel to Singapore, Malaysia or Indonesia, these countries which were classed with Nigeria few years ago as the Third World, you will find that these nations have left us behind and we are drifting into a Fourth World.
Few years ago, the United States were the biggest buyers of our crude oil; however the US has begun to export oil. How do you reconcile this to the crisis in the oil market?
It is going to be worse because Iran would also begin to sell after the ban has been lifted but eventually things will fall into place again. We cannot even satisfy our local market in Togo, Niger and other neighbouring African countries. In Nigeria, we haven’t even satisfied our market (Nigerians).
We have the maritime sector and we have the oil and gas sector vis-a-vis. Now that the oil sector is having a shock, do you think the maritime industry can hold forth for it?
If Nigeria had a shipping line we would make some money, but we don’t have one, neither do we have an airline. It is a shame on a country as big as Nigeria. It is time we begin to think outside the box.
If you go to China you will find about 3-5 people using a small office and they are living comfortably. If you go to the UK, Greenwich for example, all they utilize there are small shops. We have to realise that it is not all about glamorous white-collar jobs. The government and whosoever is responsible should begin to think of how people can engage their hands before they engage their brains. It is not all about getting certificates from renowned schools. It is about what you have to offer, what can you do?
Apart from sitting down in this office, I have a fish farm, a plantain plantation and a snailery. I don’t think I should steal to be able to do the basics like paying children’s school fees, paying the house rent, buying fuel for my car, etc. The earlier the average Nigerian begins to think like this, the better for the nation. The government should also be willing to help; after all it has the wherewithal. What about the social security that other countries have, why can’t we have such in Nigeria?
Our vision in Habakkuk is to add value by ensuring Nigerians get sea time and the technical know-how in the shipping and oil and gas industry. We want to train people that can “tie the bolt and fix things”. We want to restructure the system in the polity to such an extent that when someone has to be a senator, he will have to think twice because he wouldn’t see it as an opportunity to amass wealth.
Things will not be in this shambolic state forever. Nigeria is going to get there but it is pertinent to make the young ones realize that it is not all about certificates. I brought in a guy when I was in Brittania U. I brought him from Luisania but he had never been to school. This guy could close his eyes and tell what every sound of an engine meant. I believe we should begin to encourage the young ones to begin to think of what to do and how to be the best at it. They should not think that getting first, second and third degrees would guarantee them jobs.