President Goodluck Jonathan
The Managing Director of Polarcus Nigeria Limited, Mr. Albert Esiri, speaks withEjiofor Alikeon the state of Nigeria’s oil and gas industry and the operation of his company
How did you start Polarcus Nigeria Limited?
I actually started off as a management consultant for Digicon Geophysical, a seismic company that was in Nigeria in the 1980’s. They had some difficulties and I was head-hunted through my London office, where I had my private consulting firm. They wanted someone, who could help them in Nigeria because what I have learned over the years is that Nigeria remains the pivoting market for a lot of oil companies and oil service companies. Even though we might not be enjoying the flurry of business at the moment but it still remains an anchor in the industry, as far as Africa is concerned.
So, they got me in and I took on Digicon and turned the company around in Nigeria. They were under what was known in America as a reorganisational period for a company, so that the company does not go into bankruptcy. Of course, it made it very difficult for them to secure jobs because if they were under such reorganisational period, then it meant that there was a question mark on their capacity to execute jobs because their credit lines were quite limited.
But I had some very good friends in the industry and who believed in the competence and technology of this Digicon. So, we started the company in Nigeria and they say the rest is history. They eventually got bought over by Veritas. That was how Veritas came about and Ash-bert, my company bought into Veritas and we formed Veritas Geophysical Nigeria.
We have been in seismic business for 28 years in Nigeria and about four years ago, a French group CGG bought over Veritas worldwide and it meant that they had to take over the Nigerian arm of the business. They were not too keen on the local content and partnerships structure and I just was not interested in being an agent to anyone.
So, Ash-bert pulled out and we just formed a new partnership with Polarcus, forming Polarcus Nigeria Limited owned 50/50 by Ash-bert and Polarcus International. It was established about five months ago; it took us sometime as we negotiated for about one year before we established the company about five months ago. I was the Chairman for Veritas for 29 years – for 15 years actually and CGG bought over Veritas but they were not keen on having a true partnership, and as such, we parted ways and I went on to from Polarcus Nigeria Limited.
Is Polarcus Nigeria Limited an indigenous company or a foreign company based in Nigeria?
Polarcus Nigeria Limited is a Nigerian company. We have a foreign partner but it is a partnership; it is not a representation or just having a technical partnership like what we have in most of the companies, where you just have the Nigerian directors in name. This is a Nigerian company.
Was Veritas a Nigerian company before CGG bought it over?
Yes, Veritas was a Nigerian company because Veritas Nigeria Limited was owned by Ash-bert and Veritas.
What services do you provide for the oil and gas industry?
Polarcus Nigeria Limited does seismic acquisition and interpretation. These are usually the preliminary stages of identifying hydrocarbons. So, we work mainly offshore and hopefully, in another year or so, Ash-bert intends to bring in another enhanced technology, where we can actually identify hydrocarbons through aeromagnetic, which is what we are working on at the moment. We are involved in the preliminary stages of finding hydrocarbons. We go there and we shoot seismic; we acquire the data by sending sound waves through the cables in the ocean floor and they give you an imaging and from that imaging, you can tell the type of structures, in terms hydrocarbon structures. It is then processed and interpreted by the geologists, who will now tell you if it is likely a successful area for hydrocarbon discovery. We do the preliminary work and interpretation.
Who are your target clients?
All the International Oil Companies (IOCs) are our target clients. Polarcus Nigeria Limited is a new company in Nigeria but our partners have been players in the industry for over 30 years. Polarcus, a Norwegian company listed on the Norwegian Stock Exchange, is our partner. We have the most modern vessel for seismic acquisition in the world today. We are very environmentally friendly. So, our vessel is designed to take care of the environment and we also work with closely to monitor the marine life in areas where we work. I have embraced a company that has a technology that is revolutionary and is evolving with time. It is not just about shooting seismic but about looking at the impact of what we are doing on the environment. It goes beyond shooting seismic.
What are the factors that distinguish your services from those of other seismic providers in the oil industry?
Well, there are many seismic companies around, just as there are many exploration companies. But in the area of technology, we most probably have the same level of technology but we have very strong research base and we have embraced the environmental impact of seismic acquisition much more than any other company today. It is very well known and you can look this up and you will see it. If you see the design of the Polarcus vessels, then you will understand where I am coming from. It is not by accident that we coloured it green; it is the new green.
There is concern that some of you – Nigerian companies in this business lack the in-country capacity to execute world-class projects and that you export these jobs and do it and come back. What is your take on this?
I will say that it is 70 per cent correct and it is only so because the regulators have not insisted enough. Now, Ash-bert insisted, when I have my partnership with Veritas that we must have a processing centre in Nigeria and they had a processing centre in Nigeria. They brought a Nigerian, who was running the centre and one of the best in the industry. Unfortunately, when CGG took over, from what I gathered, he is now reporting to two other people but he ran the centre for Veritas successfully.
So, the Nigerian partners should go beyond, just trying to make some money. They should insist that things are done properly. Polarcus is five months old and I can tell you that Polarcus is going to have a processing centre in due course. It is not just a processing centre, we will have a training centre for young geophysicists. That is why we have gone to borrow monies to be part of a partnership. We have not borrowed the monies to be strictly profit-oriented, the growth has to be with Nigerians taking charge of what they have.
How has the Nigerian Content Act signed by President Goodluck Jonathan in April 2010 impacted on your operation?
It is based on the Nigerian Content Act that I have gone to take the risks and borrowed all these monies to form this partnership and I hope that the regulators will assist to ensure that we can prove ourselves in the industry and allow the growth to occur, which was the whole essence of the local content.
Some are saying that the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) should be passed, while others are opposed to the PIB. Do you see hope in the passage of the PIB for a seismic company like yours?
Well, the PIB has nothing to do with seismic exploration companies. It is mainly for the Exploration and Production (E & P) companies, I believe.
But some people are saying that there is no fresh investment in the industry because of the non-passage of the PIB and once there are no fresh investments, it will affect seismic companies. Is that correct?
Yes, it is true and it is already happening at the moment because Nigeria has not made any discovery at all in its ultra-deep-water play. I will just say that it is a stagnant period; it will not continue for a long time and I hope that the authorities will actually realise that and wake up and understand that we do not have a monopoly of hydrocarbons. Since oil is almost everywhere now, we have got to do things rather quickly. The world does not wait for anybody.
As a new company, what have been your challenges in trying to penetrate the market?
We have just started; I would not say that there are extra-ordinary challenges but people would see what we are. They will appreciate the technology we bring. The oil companies are very progressive companies; they know what is going on. They have dealt with Polarcus in other parts of the world. So, they know that we are bringing in top-of-the-range service.
Bio Data of Albert Esiri
After attending St. Patrick’s College in Asaba, and the Government College Ughelli, Esiri proceeded to Florida where he obtained Accounting and Management Degree from Florida Atlantic University. With no formal training in Geophysics or in the geological world, Esiri became a seismic expert, who started off as a management consultant for Digicon Geophysical. He turned the company around before it was bought over by Veritas to form Veritas Geophysical Nigeria. Esiri, however left Veritas to form Polarcus Nigeria Limited, when a French group, CGG bought over Veritas