HARRY EBOHON: A Bunker Trading Czar


When it comes to bunker trading in Nigeria, only a handful of indigenous firms successfully navigate by ethically providing solutions to the industry that drives Africa’s biggest economy. Under the guidance of founder and CEO, Mr. Harry Ebohon, Propetrol has distinguished itself in the Nigerian bunkers market, as a pioneer company fuelling growth through innovation. Demola Ojo writes

Nigeria’s position as a bunker trading hub in West Africa is being consolidated, thanks to the efforts of entrepreneurs, who have taken up the onus to sanitise the industry through ethical product sourcing, quality assurance and logistical expertise. Prominent among them is Mr. Harry Ebohon, the founder and Chief Executive Officer of Propetrol Limited.

Perceptive, judicious and resolute, Ebohon has shown enough to indicate that his vision of guiding Propetrol towards being the leading energy provider in Africa is on course.

Ebohon has grown the company from scratch to become one of the top indigenous businesses operating in the downstream sector of Nigeria’s oil and gas industry, with a reputation for quality products at competitive prices, reliability, and strict adherence to global safety standards.

Propetrol was birthed in 2002 as a haulage company providing services for oil majors like Total, Oando and Mobil. It went through a series of expansions before venturing into the bunkers market in 2013.

In the intervening years, Propetrol had productively gone into retailing petroleum products across different outlets nationwide under its Propel brand. This was after Ebohon noticed a service gap that needed filling.

The Edo State-born entrepreneur, who earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Biochemistry from the University of Benin, has instilled a culture of professionalism and integrity in his team.

Drawing on lessons learnt from working at Abot-Thomas Management (where he started his career in Edo State), as well as multidisciplinary education and professional training in various institutions across the globe, Ebohon has nurtured Propetrol from one retail outlet in Ikeja about 16 years ago, to more than 20 filling stations, and staff of over 300 manning different business concerns onshore and offshore.

But it is in the bunker market that Propetrol has channelled most of its resources and excelled, with discerning industry watchers – both in the private and public sectors – taking notice.

With a knack for sniffing out opportunities and moving swiftly to create value by providing solutions, Ebohon has steered Propetrol to a position where it is now a notable name in the bulk sales of petroleum products under its Propel brand name.

Perfect Timing

Prior to 2013, the Nigerian oil industry suffered significantly from crude oil theft and the activities of illegal bunker traders. This prompted the Nigerian government to place a ban on bunker trading from 2000 till 2013.

Being an astute businessman, Ebohon read the signs and prepared Propetrol to venture into the trade the moment the ban was lifted. He studied the market intently and noticed that the industry was short of ethical players.

Following the lifting of the ban, local traders were faced with a host of challenges. There was a lack of structure in place to protect them and ensure a proper market able to attract buyers from all over the world.

Incidentally, the 2014 slump in crude oil prices also made it difficult to finance bunker trades, which hampered indigenous companies in sourcing and supplying products.

As a result, most bunker supplies were carried out by international suppliers who exported proceeds to their home country. The loss was Nigeria’s, with hundreds of millions of dollars in potential revenue in taxes (and job opportunities) leaving its shores.

When it wasn’t foreign companies supplying, it was local organisations trading illegally refined fuels sourced from stolen crude. Neither of these scenarios was beneficial to the country.

Filling the Void

Of the few indigenous companies that ventured into the industry, Ebohon noticed that a large number lacked the expertise, processes and finance to play ethically. He thought it imperative for his company to help fill the void.

Without this intervention, international bunker trading companies would have a firm hold on the market, supplying to local companies who sell to end users. Sometimes these foreign companies sold directly to end users, thereby dictating price and general market behaviour.

Where this was not the case, buyers of bunker fuels relied on suppliers of illegally refined products who got their crude by vandalising pipelines. The end users happily purchased these low cost products, disregarding the source, therefore inadvertently aiding the sabotage of the economy.

The ripple effect was that legitimate local suppliers of bunker fuels were unable to compete because Illegal sellers were able to quote unrealistically low prices.

Alternatively, rather than patronise these vendors of cooked AGO, many major consumers of bunkers preferred to purchase outside Nigerian waters due to a lack of confidence in quality of products supplied by local traders.

Noticing the gap in the market, Ebohon devised a plan that would distinguish Propetrol from the competition, making it a reference among indigenous bunker supply companies in the Nigerian downstream industry.

The drive began with efforts to improve the procurement process for bunker fuels. Starting with a proper supply chain process, Propetrol initiated partnerships with international bunker cargo trading companies through trading lines, which allowed it bring import cargos into Nigeria.

To provide affordable fuels, the company then set out to ensure products were properly sourced from reputable international companies, before heavily investing in bunker vessels fully classified for Nigerian operations.

As an additional measure, procurement teams of companies who hitherto patronised suppliers of cooked products were educated on the perils and adverse effect to the economy, and were then notified of the availability of a relatively affordable, yet ethically sourced alternative.

This strategy was in line with its mission to provide consistent and superior value through competitive pricing and exceptional customer service delivery.

Expanded Coast

Propetrol has now grown beyond Nigeria, with operations along the West African coast and in southern Africa. The company is registered with several NOC’s, refineries in West Africa, India, the Arabian Gulf and in Europe, as well as oil majors (BP, Shell) and many other big traders (Glencore, Trafigura, Vitol) in the oil and gas industry. Among its clients are all the IOCs operating in Nigeria as well as indigenous oil companies.

The numbers are impressive and only point to getting better, with a market share of close to 70 per cent.

The company boasts of 100 per cent delivery on product supply contracts aided by four vessels with capacities ranging between 500 metric tonnes and 7000 metric tonnes.

These accomplishments are not just good news for Ebohon and Propetrol. In yielding great results, the company has helped to create a viable market for Nigeria as a bunker trading hub in West Africa.