Empowerment for women in host communities

Indigenes of host communities where one of the concessionaires in the nation’s seaports, Intels Nigeria Limited operate, have pleasant stories to tell about how the terminal operator’s corporate social responsibilities (CSR) projects have positively impacted on them, writes John Iwori

That host communities and multinational oil and gas companies operating in the oil producing areas of the Niger Delta region relate like cat and mouse is not unknown. There is mutual distrust and suspicion between the oil-producing companies and the oil producing areas. This mutual suspicion and distrust is not limited to the multi-national oil and gas companies. Not a few other firms servicing the oil and gas industry are also embroiled in the rancorous uneasy relationship. This acrimonious relationship which has led to the loss of several lives and properties in several instances has been on for decades. In fact, it did not start today.

It dates back to 1956. This was when Nigeria found crude oil in commercial quantity in the sleepy community called Oloibiri in present day Ogbia Local Government Area of Bayelsa State. These multi-national oil companies, including Elf Petroleum Company Limited, Shell Petroleum Company Limited (SPDC), Nigeria Agip Oil Company Limited (NAOC), Mobil Oil Producing Unlimited, and Total, have devised means and ways to change the narratives in the oil-bearing communities. Nevertheless, none can, in any way, be compared to the robust relationship that Nigeria’s foremost port operator and concessionaire of Onne, Calabar and Warri ports, Intels Nigeria Limited, has put in place in its host communities since it started operations in the oil and gas rich Niger Delta region. The firm which is one of the concessionaires in the nation’s seaports won the bid for the concession following the conclusion of the port reforms initiated by the Federal Government during Chief Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration.

The exercise, which was supervised by the Bureau for Public Enterprises (BPE) divested the management of Nigerian Port Authority (NPA) from the day-to-day running of the terminals as well as cargo handling.

Touching Lives

As a wholly-owned Nigeria company, Intels Nigeria Limited, which presently has Mr. Andrew Dawes, as its Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) has put in place programmes and policies that have engendered peace and sustainable development in its relationship with its host communities. Over the years, it has continued to put measures in place to ensure a smooth and win-win relationship with its host communities.

These include the provision of scholarship, training opportunities for the acquisition of skills, employment of youths, award of contracts, as well as empowerment schemes. Besides its pro-physically challenged initiatives, which have endeared it to the less privileged in the society, Intels Nigeria Limited is also gender friendly. Its tailoring scheme for the women of Onne is second to none in the country. The women in the host communities are not only taught how to become self-reliant but also how to make several household items. These include dresses, foot mats, bow ties, overalls, aprons, table clothes, handkerchiefs, caps, personal protective equipment (PPE).

From its imposing magnificent corporate headquarters called Enterprise House situated at Onne Oil and Gas Free Zone, Onne, Rivers State, Intels Nigeria Limited has been reaching out to its host communities in a gradual and sustainable manner that made it the toast of indigenes of where it operate. The Head, Government and Public Affairs of the firm, Mr. David Alagoa, told newsmen recently that Intels Nigeria Limited’s CSR has three key objectives. These are to empower the indigenes of the host communities in a sustainable way through the provision of employment and improved welfare; to plan and execute integrated community development programmes with full community input and participation, as well as to adopt ‘best practices’ that guarantee community friendly operations.

According to Alagoa, who is a ‘son of the soil’, the benefits of this approach are mutual and Intels Nigeria Limited, being a commercial entity with diverse business interests, fully recognises the enormous positive influence that good community relations can have on its operations and profitability. In the development of her community relations development plan (CRDP), the company places great importance on acquainting herself intimately with each individual community through a process of communication and dialogue. This approach nurtures trust and confidence which in turn encourages communities to change their traditional community/company biases.

Approach that Works

It must be noted that the company integrated participatory approach (IPA) identifies integration, participation, communication, interaction, and dialogue as being the critically important elements of community relations development plan. This implies a move away from the ‘traditional’ model of corporate-community relations.

The company host communities are categorised. They include the Oil and Gas Free Zone Communities, Rivers Estate Communities, Inter-oil Estate Communities, Cross River State Communities, and Delta State Communities. Among other things, Intels Nigeria Limited has constructed roads, drainages and street light; undertook the construction of ultra-modern markets; modern classroom blocks; health; ICT centres; town halls and community centres; skill acquisition centres; public toilets; civic centres; and renovation of traditional rulers palaces.

As if these were not enough, the company has also embarked on an aggressive empowerment schemes in its host communities. This is aimed at qualitatively improving the status of an individual or group in the host communities.

So far, it has put in place the Women Empowerment Project Scheme Synergy (WEPSS); free medical programme; meetings and visits; sports and traditional events; skills acquisition training. These empowerment schemes cost the company millions of naira as more and more indigenes of the host communities take advantage of them to improve their lot.

Data obtained from the company showed that no fewer than 15,000 persons were employed directly or indirectly. While 96 percent are Nigerians, the rest are nationals of other countries. In the same vein, not less than 30, 0000 additional jobs have been created in the wider economy as the company continues to add value in the way and manner it conducts its business in the country over the years.

A breakdown of the total number of persons employed by the company also showed that it is sensitive to its host communities. For instance, while 6,244 indigenes of Rivers State where it has its main operational activities are employed, representing 41.7 percent of the total number of staff on the payroll of the company, Imo State indigenes are 1, 184, representing 7.9 percent just as Delta State is 1, 031 representing 6.9 percent.

Similarly, Akwa Ibom State has 1, 322 persons, Abia State has 778 persons, Edo State has 421 persons, Bayelsa State has 310 persons, Cross River has 345 persons representing 8.8 percent, 5.2 percent, 2.8 percent, 2.1 percent, 2.3 percent respectively.

Against the backdrop of the company solid belief in Nigeria as a country, it did not neglect other parts of the most populous black nation as other states in the federation have a combined 3, 325 persons employed in the company. This figure represents 22.2 percent of the total number of persons employed by Intels Nigeria Limited. In line with the extended family system embedded in the African culture, which goes beyond husband, wife and children only, the total number of persons directly and indirectly employed by the company runs into several thousands of people.

Stakeholders’ Viewpoints

Not a few stakeholders in the maritime sector of the economy as well as the oil and gas industry have hailed the company on the strides it has made since it started operations in the nation’s seaports.

Apparently impressed by its achievements since it took over the running of Onne, Calabar and Warri ports, the stakeholders in a recent visit to the operational base of the firm said the terminal operator needed to be encouraged to do more.

The erstwhile Managing Director of the Oil and Gas Free Zone Authority (OGFZA), Hon. Victor Alabo, expressed delight that the concessionaire has added value to its operations in the nation’s seaports.

Alabo stated that the terminal operator has relentlessly deployed huge investments expanding and upgrading facilities to what he called ‘world-class standards’, making it the leading energy logistics services provider and concessionaire at the Onne Port Complex.

According to him, the concessionaire has transformed the Onne Free Zone into an investors’ paradise, attracting, foreign direct investments (FDI) of over $60 billion to the free zone. The other zones are not as successful as this and investment portfolio there is about $15 billion.

His words: “Intels is the biggest player in this free zone and as an investor in free zones, it has confidence in Nigeria’s economy. It has done massive investments within the free zone. For instance, it is into port development. Initially, the port here had only about seven to nine metres draught, but it has gone into 12 metres draught. It is a public private partnership (PPP) based on the landlord model”.

It must be noted that the exercise, which was supervised by the Bureau for Public Enterprises (BPE) divested the management of Nigerian Port Authority (NPA) from the day-to-day running of the terminals as well as cargo handling. The firm won the bid for the concession following the conclusion of the port reforms initiated by the Federal Government during Chief Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration.

A shipper who regularly uses the Onne port stated that one of the reasons that informed his decision was the fact that whatever the size of the cargo, it arrives at the port because the draught has been developed.

According to the shipper who prefers anonymity, if one does not have faith in the economy of this country, one cannot invest much. The last phase of port investment is about $3.5 billion.

That is what we expect others to emulate in order to ensure the sustainable development of the country.

He stated that the local content compliance was high as most companies have Local Content Desk, which will ensure that they comply with the Local Content Act.

The management of the OGFZA had revealed that it goes round to ensure that firms operating in the zone complied with the provisions of the Local Content Act. It pointed out that there were some companies that have gone up to 100 percent in their compliance with the provisions of the Act.

It also disclosed that on a daily basis, the zone has over 30,000 people working directly and indirectly in the various companies operating in the zone.

“The free zone is adjudged as the most developed and successful free zone the world over that is dedicated to oil and gas industry. It is because of the consistence of government policies and also the ingenuity that we have brought into management of the free zones. There is a culture of regular stakeholders meetings with investors to address their challenges, providing a feedback mechanism to deliberate jointly on whatever the challenges are and how to resolve these such that there is a win-win situation. Government has provided lots of incentives. While some are physical incentives, others are tax incentives. These have attracted investors into the free zone. Government also ensures that they are consistent with these incentives. If there are policy somersault, the investors lose confidence in bringing in their funds.

“As long as this confidence is established, it attracts many other investors coming into the zone. That is why in this zone, we have close to 200 investors, several falling into the maritime sector, the light manufacture sector and the downstream sector of the oil and gas, and we will say it is a success story and we hope to replicate this success story in other parts of the country”, the management of OGFZA added.