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Environment: “How many choppers has DPR got?” – Chief Ogunsiji

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  • Environment: “How many choppers has DPR got?” – Chief Ogunsiji

“How many choppers does DPR have?… To register in an oil company in this country can take you two years”- Chief Ogunsiji.

Some Nigerian oil and gas industry operators and observers have given up on the hope that the Nigerian oilfield environment can ever be got right. Others, like Chief P. A. Ogunsiji believe that if the right things are done, the situation can be remedied. A manufacturer of new-fangled oil environmental sanitation products, Chief Ogunsiji now turns out products that wows oil and gas industry operators and factory owners across Nigeria, big and small. His products are revolutionary and are now being adopted by the multinational oil companies and oilfield service companies as a contingency stock for advanced preparedness against oil pollution and suchlike situations.

But the Ibadan high chief did not start out as a environmentalist. He began his career in the early 1960s as a UAC International Student sent to Dublin to master the art and business of brewing Guinness drinks and marketing them. The orientation and courses he went through just to qualify to work for Guinness are what stamped on him the mark of efficiency and inventiveness which he says still help him today. It also gave him a leeway into the sciences, especially chemistry and allied subjects, to the extent that upon retirement in the early 1990s, he veered into the production of environmental sanitation products. Today his bouquet of treatments for spillages, pollution control and containment or outright dissolution of effluents or spills into biodegradable materials, hold new promise for the terrain that had, through the years of ignorance and neglect, endured much short shrift at the hands of callous operators. In fact, as is widely known, the Niger Delta areas, as a result, are now in environmental and social strictures.

Chief Ogunsiji’s interview speaks to the situation. Talking of his school days in Dublin, Ireland, he calls them times that were free from colour lines, a sure compliment for a European country! Therefore, the avuncular seventy-something year old who looks quite youthful, came away with some of the fondest memories, including the inspiration to go into the manufacture of these products. How does the chief see the prospects of environmental monitoring that can be achieved by Nigeria’s regulatory agencies?. He immediately reminds you that to the extent that the subjects of the monitoring exercise, the companies under investigation, have to provide the transportation logistics or any other aides to reach the platforms and conduct the tests, the probity and effectiveness of the monitoring exercise is highly compromised. Moreover, he says, as long as the take-home pay of regulators is not robust, and the agencies do not have independent capacity to initiate unannounced checks of various oilfields, their bite is also highly limited and the day may still belong to the oil majors, who, he said are spilling and polluting the environment constantly without being made accountable. Chief Ogunsiji also bares his mind on other burning aspects of the Niger Delta situation. And on the efficacy of his products, he was quite profuse. Excerpts:

DDH: How do you assess the pace of cleaning up by oil and gas industry operators in the country?

Chief Ogunsiji: They are not cleaning up anything. They just drop it there and go away.

DDH: What are they dropping?

Chief Ogunsiji: When you have your spill, they don’t clean it up; they just leave the place. They abandon that trough, and just go away.

DDH: Does it mean that they DPR cannot get up to that point and bring them to responsibility?

Chief Ogunsiji: How many helicopters has DPR got to even get to where the thing happened? You see, I mustn’t talk much about DPR because they are regulating me…

DDH: But they are regulating everybody in the industry …

Chief Ogunsiji: (cuts in) Because if they are actually regulating, this country should be cleaner. Regulation as I understand it by such a body should almost be limitless. Go to Apapa. Everybody in the downstream sector is not cleaning. You need to get to Coconut Busttop area (at Olodi Apapa), everywhere is oil. And nobody is being arrested for not cleaning up.

DDH: Now take a look at the irregularities in the current management of Nigeria’s oil and gas resource and environmental management. Are these irregularities something you can describe in a way you think they can be addresses?

Chief Ogunsiji: The problems of Nigerian oil and gas is a Nigerian problem. The country has no sense of direction. I don’t know anybody who makes plenty of money on an occasion and decides to finish everything. The normal thing is to think of when things would change; put some away. Even the current President’s proposal to the National Assembly that they should stop sharing this money, they almost removed him. National Assembly said share it. State governments said share it. Local governments said share it. As if we didn’t have any brains in our heads. So, I don’t know what anybody wants to do about it. Gas which is now our cash cow, they said they should open a new account for it, and they are still sharing… This thing will never last forever, we are making a mistake. You can see that the price of oil is now coming down. By now Nigeria should be one of the richest countries in the world for what we have made on oil in the past 18 months. But we are always sharing it and finishing it. As long as that continues, there won’t be growth. We are not even developing human capital at all in that sector. What is the Petroleum Development Trust Fund doing? Are they training anybody? Everything is now based on federal character. I don’t know why you cannot have two or three universities only for that. And then you must fight to get admission. And when you get there, government pays. If you look at the papers, PTDF has now chosen who will go to where, and it’s entirely based on how many from Oyo? How many from Rivers? How many from Bayelsa? How many from Kano? It is not done like that. You pick the best human beings, let everybody come from Anambra, it doesn’t make any difference. If they are the best this country has, develop them and make them grow. That’s why we don’t have a good football team because the man who is selecting will say won’t they say I am not fair if I put everybody from here?

DDH: So, what you are saying is that this kind of attitude is afflicting the oil and gas industry?

Chief Ogunsiji: It’s destroying it because if you have all the oil in the Niger Delta belt, why are you spending so much money to look for oil in Bauchi? You cannot even provide basic amenities for them in the Niger Delta. That’s why we are having so much trouble down there. And now the man who is heading NNPC says we will now spend money to put it in my village, that’s the meaning. And they have told him that it’s not very easy; that geologically, it’s not easy to get oil in that belt. But he said he will spend the money, the money is being spent now.

DDH; Now, sir, one of the fallouts in the oil and gas industry is the suspension of Mr Tony Chukwueke as the director of DPR. This may have inhered from issues of previous oil bid rounds. Is his suspension proper? Is he a good hand, as people are saying, for managing that department if Nigeria wants to make good progress in administering that aspect of the industry?

Chief Ogunsiji: I don’t know his background, that’s why I cannot comment on it. But I believe whoever will head DPR should be a man who is informed and trained in that area, either a geologist or an environmentalist. Not just I took a degree in engineering, because that’s the mistake they have been making in the past. And then whoever should be the minister for oil should know what he is doing. That’s what they do in other parts of the world. It’s like selecting the Minister for Justice. He had to be a lawyer, of course, otherwise, he cannot administer it. Or the Minister for Health … should be a doctor. But in this country, anything (goes). Even a vet shouldn’t be commissioner for health. But it happened in Ogun State because the President’s daughter was involved. So, if you are choosing somebody to head DPR, he should be an HSE man, a geologist, petroleum engineer. He has to be somebody with relevant experience and training, not just because he is from Ibadan or from Bayelsa. And the fight over who should be the Minister of the Niger Delta Ministry is a very stupid fight. They should describe the type of Ministry they want for that place and then shop around for the best man. That’s all. Because I have been to virtually everywhere in the Niger Delta. The oil company will give money to a local man to make a road. The man won’t make any road. And they cannot touch him. (Otherwise) he will mobilize the youths to go and attack the headquarters of the company. But give it to an Ibo man who is not from that place. He will do it and go home smiling to the bank. Because he knows if he doesn’t do it they will jail him, and there will be nobody to fight for him. But if you give it to an Ibo man or Yoruba man, if he goes to site, they will kill him. The youths will mobilize and say you haven’t settled us. They knew my house from Eket and they came here to worry me, the so-called youths.

DDH: You were operating in Eket?

Chief Ogunsiji: I was selling products to Mobil, and some boys from Eket came to my house to say that that thing they gave you, common rig wash, is for the community. They said they normally get it (the chemical) from Aba. They don’t make it themselves. A typical Niger Delta boy doesn’t do anything. In the morning, he wakes up…..because those who had been governing that part of the country should be re-arrested and caned. How can (Governor) Amechi be talking of primary education free in 2008? He said he will now repair schools and make education at primary level free. When I heard it I almost collapsed. Since when have we been having free primary education in the west?

DDH: You said you worked in Guinness, what’s the story of that?

Chief Ogunsiji: Guinness is a brewing company. In our days, they will hire you from any discipline and use you once you can be bent to their requirements. They will give you what they call the UAC I-training, International Training. You will go to UK for a course in different areas. You can do a course in brewing first. No matter what you are going to do, you will still do a course in brewing first, so that you understand how the beer is made. After that you do a course in marketing because that is the core of it. If you don’t know marketing, you can never grow in Guinness because that’s the one that makes the money. After your course in marketing, then you will be exposed for about a year to attachment to a company either in Dublin or anywhere in the UK. After that you come back to Nigeria and be confirmed as a manager.

DDH: So all the time you were in school you were not confirmed?

Chief Ogunsiji: You have not been confirmed but they will be paying you. My story in Guinness is a very interesting one. I was a company scholar in Guinness. I went from Guinness to the university. Guinness paid my way, paid all my fees in UI. And once you finish your year 1, you come back for three months, the long vacation. You come and work and while working, they work out your promotion for that year. So, by the time we came back, we were more than starters in terms of pay. I think we were four then. You see we didn’t sign any bond but we chose to come back to work for Guinness. My first posting was to Kaduna in 1971 as an acting area manager. The reason why they will use you in the field is this, if there is any product complaint, you are well grounded in terms of the brewing process. If you go to the court, your submission is meaningful before the court. In fact, there was a time I had to appear before Justice Araka, who is late now. Somebody complained that he found a millipede inside a bottle of Stout. And we checked that millipede cannot be found inside a bottle of Stout and remain in tact because of the brewing process and the washing process of the bottle. Because we use what is called a water jet. That one will dismember whatever is there. When we got to court, they brought a man from University of Nigeria, Nsukka, a biologist, who came to support the complainant. When we faced him, we told the man it was impossible. The witness now failed. The judge asked if I was sure of what I was saying. I said I was sure. Then he said ‘but this man is a professor’. Then I said that ‘Your Lordship, what he is saying is not even valid in his area of discipline’. I said, ‘because you have rings in a millipede, and these rings are held together by very weak ligaments. When we now pour anything like a jet traveling at 25 miles per hour, it will scatter it. Not only that, caustic soda is going to wash the bottle. That will dismember the whole millipede.’ The judge said that was a very convincing argument. So the normal thing for Guinness for those headed for the top is that you must go round everywhere; even do accounting. They call it ‘finance for non-accountants’. So they prepare you in all areas and today it’s really helping me.

DDH: How then did you veer into environment?

Chief Ogunsiji: When I retired, I went back to my friends in the UK and I told them. I was planning to start buying and selling. So, I went to see people with whom we grew up together because in our days in Dublin, there was no colour bar, 1969 to 1972, there was no colour bar. The boys were very open, the Irish boys. So, when I came down to Nigeria and settled down, anytime they came here, I looked after them. I maintained that tie with them. So when I retired I went to the UK to start importing things and I spoke to a few boys about importing, and they said ‘ah, you are too good to be a trader. The best thing is this your skill, it will still stand you in good stead forever. If you are importing something now, you can be importing cosmetics to get money but you won’t have the ground. When you grow old you cannot run around, you are in trouble. Your boys may not like trading. But you start something like manufacturing’. They were advising me to come to a place called Cork, to come and learn about what they called stone conversion. You convert stone to dishes. All these chinaware you see are made from stone, sand and clay. Thereafter, they said I should come to a school in Cranfield and do a course in oil spill training. So, I went to Cranfield. One of them paid for the course. I did very well on the course and came back to Nigeria. I decided to try my hands on domestic cleaning materials like liquid soap.

DDH: What year was this?

Chief Ogunsiji: 1992 to 1994, it was making some money. But the boy (from UK) came on a visit to the factory and asked what I was doing. I said liquid soap. He said there was no money in liquid soap, that I needed to go to the upstream oil sector.

DDH: What was the name of your liquid soap?

Chief Ogunsiji: Kleenup. The boy asked ‘can you come for the next course, an advanced course?’ I said I didn’t mind. So he arranged for me, got me a form, filled it. Being a graduate of that college, I could be taken in without much problems. So, I got into the next course calendar, got registered and did the course. Very short dry course, 6 months. But what I didn’t like about the place was there was no final exam. You finish your course and you leave; you only do a project which they certify.

DDH: What was the title of this course?

Chief Ogunsiji: It was known as oil spill cleaning. After that he advised me to stay in the UK but I came back to Nigeria. But it has not been very easy. Because we didn’t have the types of rules we thought we would have. The so-called local content is not in any way encouraged. You run to the oil companies, they just treat you anyhow. To register in an oil company in this country can take you two years; there’s nothing they will not ask for….goods-in-transit insurance, then you have to do workmen compensation insurance, then you must come and show proof that you have a hospital where the workers go, then you have to give them 3 years audited account of your company, plus evidence from your bank that they are willing to support you. And when it comes to paying you, it’s another problem. You have delivered your goods, they take about three or four months to pay you. Now, the problem you face is this, if you go to the bank to borrow money, the bank is very impatient when you don’t pay anything in. And you have converted it into products and delivered to somebody. And you are not able to get the money. There was a time our cheque was ready in one of the companies. We saw the cheque. They said the man who will sign the cheque traveled. And when the man eventually came back, my boy went there and he asked him, ‘what is all this fuss about? After all, we are going to pay’. I said what is all this rubbish? So I went there to see his boss. His boss now said ‘but we are going to pay’. I was expecting that he would caution his staff but he said ‘we are going to pay, chief’. I said cash flow process doesn’t allow this. What you should have paid three months ago is not the same money now. You cannot vary it, you cannot change the value because the value has fallen. So the man just looked at me and said ‘we want to continue dealing with you, we still want to be using your product’. That is like a warning. And there is nothing like helping you in any way.

DDH: Can you describe these products you manufacture in some detail?

Chief Ogunsiji: There are three or four products which are major, the others are just surfactants. We have the one that cleans oil spill on water, the one that cleans oil spill on land and one that cleans caked oil on the floor. We have one again that can dissolve coal tar, because most solvents would not change anything in coal tar. If you throw coal tar into turpentine, (for example) it will just stay, it won’t change. So, if you have coal tar spread over your vessel’s mouth to prevent leakage, when you get here you have to find what to do to remove it. The one that cleans coal tar is called Tar Treatment. It just dissolves coal tar, it is a general application. Anywhere you have tar problem, put it into it, it will dissolve it by mere agitation without any abrasive brushing.

Then you have Fast Fix Sorbent. It fixes any spill very fast, just like its name. And it acts on water. The oil will coagulate and stay together. So you can lift it out as a solid. It doesn’t work biologically, it is an organic material. And the beauty of it is that the moment you take out the waste, you can incinerate or landfill it. So, you see the end of the waste unlike when you go the biological way…you never know when it’s going to end because the microbes will start eating your oil, and when the oil finishes, they will go about destroying other things around. They attack all the aquatic life around. They are not safe. Even man is not very safe (around them). But this one (Fast Fix Sorbent), once you finish cleaning you leach it out, and you see it, this is my waste. Because it has hydrocarbon in the waste, burning it is very easy. And the leachate rate is almost nil, that is dropping of the oil when you are moving it from one place to the other. Because it is hydrophobic, it won’t drop water. So, when you are moving it from one location to the other, it won’t spread that nuisance on your way out. There was a day somebody moved oil spill cleaning from Eket and he was coming to Port Harcourt. All the way through, the marking was on the road everywhere because the thing was leaking. And it’s very simple technology, you don’t need to use anything expensive to do it. You apply it and the lifting out is very simple. Once it is out of the water and dry, you can fire it. If you don’t have a place to fire it, then you can bury it. After 3 months, it biodegrades. Once biodegraded, you can plant something on that land, it will grow. It doesn’t destroy the land because it’s taken from Nigerian agricultural products, totally organic. So, it’s all part of nature. What you have left is less than 3% ash residue. Ash by nature increases the value of the soil.

Then the second one is what we call Fast Spill Mop . It’s exactly what it says. It works on land too. When you have your spill around, you throw it on it. It’s both a containment and a cleanup device. When you pour it on oil, the oil cannot go beyond that area. It acts as a containment, it cannot spread. Sometimes you find a spill, a company is storing LPFO, and they have a spill. It will leave here and start traveling. But if you can contain it, it remains here. Then you pour more on the dense areas. And it works on capillary action; once it has been trapped, it sucks it up. And then you just brush it in and it will dry up. It’s dry-cleaning. You do it within 10 minutes and you finish your cleaning…that’s why we call it fast spill mop.

DDH: But this means that when the spill occurs you have to react immediately?

Chief Ogunsiji: Yes. In fact, that’s the best thing for any spill. If you don’t have any means of responding immediately, it can go out of hand.

DDH: That means that the product ought to be stored already in-house?

Chief Ogunsiji: Yes, as a response mechanism. So immediately it happens, you apply it. Because most of the spills we have in this country are dense products, very heavy duty products, like LPFO. Our AGO spill is very unusual.

DDH: Have these products been used on things like LPFO?

Chief Ogunsiji: Yes. In fact, another very difficult thing to mop in this country is the one from used oil, black oil, very thick ones. But we collect some for the purpose of testing at home before we send out our products. Then there is the Degreaser, a lower level of surfactants than rig wash. Rig Wash is for cleaning the rig platforms. Degreaser is mainly for vacuum washing. But there is another product which we call Superkleen. That one is meant to clean very stubborn caked oil. It has been on for a long time. No matter how old that stain is, it will remove it in maximum of 10 minutes. We went to John Holt, their engineering workshop had not been washed for five years at Oregun here. The chief engineer said ‘Oga, this thing cannot be washed’. I said it will be washed. So we applied it. It washed it. They gave us order for 65 drums. They use it round their engineering workshop.

DDH: Can your products be used to treat old spillage sites that are still polluted or is it only for fresh occurrences?

Chief Ogunsiji: If it is spillage either old or new, it is meant to treat them.

DDH: The reason is in view of the huge clamour about the environmental degradation of much of Niger Delta oilfields and rivers and streams. Can your products be used to treat some of these and can you cite examples of such usage on old site?

Chief Ogunsiji: Yes. You see the problem is they normally buy from us and take it away, we don’t know how they use it. We have sold to NAOC, Addax, Shell, TotalfinaElf. But we can’t say exactly where they have used them.

DDH: But it can also be used by plants and other industrial establishments?

Chief Ogunsiji: In fact, it can be used by factories to keep their environments clean.

DDH: How would you describe the rate of oil spill incidents in our oilfields today? Is it improving or worsening?

Chief Ogunsiji: It’s worsening because people are not cleaning. We have not developed the culture of cleaning in this country. You know Nigerians don’t believe in maintenance culture; they only want to be arrested and then people now run to the place. If I show you my generator house, you won’t believe that generator has been there for about 10 years or more. And it’s 50KVA. We clean it twice a month. We just send our Superkleen there to clean it and then once every week, we apply mop. Mop does the immediate cleaning based on sump dropping. But when we have a big stain, we just use Superkleen to remove it.

DDH: So in terms of oil spill though we are not hearing about them, they are still happening?

Chief Ogunsiji: All over the place. In fact, there was a time Senate went around and threatened some oil companies. What they saw in Bayelsa they couldn’t believe it.

DDH: Is it customary for these oil companies that when a spill occurs they can pretend it’s not there? And there’s not much the regulatory agencies can do?

Chief Ogunsiji: All of them do it. They don’t clean it. How much will DPR see? And oil companies will take you to where they want you to see in their own choppers. That’s the snag. And the issue of trained personnel. I give you two examples. How does the man from DPR go to Escravos unless he gets a chopper? How does he go to Brass? If you want to go the traditional way, you have to go by public boat, and they are very inconvenient. Women carry fish, so many of them, live fish struggling in the boat. If you travel like that by the time you get there your shirt is soiled, smelling fish. If you go once, you won’t like to go another time. And it takes about five hours from Port Harcourt to Brass. Whereas 25 minutes by chopper you are there. So facilities for regulatory bodies are not there. DPR should have several choppers. They should have special speed boats in all locations that can take them across. Chopper is the best they should get. But I don’t think they have any chopper. Then the federal government should allocate more money to DPR in the time of budgeting.

DDH: Is it for the purpose of purchasing these choppers or things like that?

Chief Ogunsiji: To motivate workers. Pay them more than anybody can pay you in the oil and gas sector. The reason is this, if you pay a man very well, and he is coming to inspect you and he comes in very good dresses, you respect him. But if he comes in T-shirt every time, and same trousers, Nigerian factor will set in. They offer him something. A wristwatch is enough. We discovered that in Guinness, if you want your worker not to take bribes, pay him very well. We were one of the highest paid lines of sales force in Nigeria then. The Guinness man will not look at your kobo because he could stay in the best hotel, we pay for it. He can drink any beer. Once he can bring the receipt to us, we pay it. And when he was going on tour, he was given quite a reasonable amount. We call it tour advance. In those days, you hold a thousand pounds to go on tour. How will he then ask for a token two pounds from anybody? So the boy gets there, he can stay in the best hotel. In those days, when they get to Ibadan, they stay at Premier Hotel, the best in the town then. To come and see you at night is a job for any distributor. But if you stay in Lafia Hotel… (General laughter). So this is the problem. As long as they see them as civil servants, it’s not on.

DDH: What’s your final word on your environmental sanitation products?

Chief Ogunsiji: Our products are 100% local-content in makeup. We are not affiliated to anybody abroad. Everything about our manufacturing is entirely in this country. Knowledge base is here, we are not going to pay royalty to anybody. And we are not constrained by anybody’s control in terms of you cannot make more than 3,000 barrels per day, for example. Because if you take license from a German company, for example, they limit you to how much you can produce. If you exceed that, they withdraw the license. But our own, we are not limited. We can satisfy any amount of order as long as it is a genuine legal business.

DDH: Do you have a factory where you produce and what are your lead times and any limitations to deliveries?

Chief Ogunsiji: We have a factory in Lagos. If the order is very big, we can only be limited by other factors like packaging manufacturers. Let’s say we are now making Rig Wash or Degreaser for anybody or Superkleen. We sell them in drums. We will have to wait for Van Leer to give us drums.

DDH: Are they the only suppliers?

Chief Ogunsiji: They are the only people I trust in terms of quality of containers because if you buy some drums from Ikorodu, (there’s a company making drums at Ikorodu), even brand new ones can burst. And they don’t do coating inside. Van Leer does very good coating. It is very important that when you are sending your products out, you have the confidence that they will get to where they are going safely. Because people used to come from Bayelsa and River states to buy our products for resale to other companies.