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Nigeria's home-grown oil firm takes on global players

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Seawolf Oilfield Services CEO Adolor Uwamu
  • Nigerian oil exports worth $59 billion last year
  • Seawolf Oilfield Services is Nigeria's only offshore drilling contractor
  • Seawolf CEO says there are not enough skilled Nigerians in oil and gas industry

(CNN) -- Nigeria is Africa's top oil producer, with exports worth $59 billion last year, but the industry has long been dominated by foreign players.

Overseas corporations, with a multinational workforce, have traditionally been chosen to carry out drilling operations, but one company bucking the trend is Seawolf Oilfield Services, Nigeria's only offshore drilling contractor.

CNN's Robyn Curnow sat down with Adolor Uwamu, CEO of Seawolf, to discuss the challenges of doing business in Nigeria and competing with the big boys of oil production.

CNN: You're one of the few African players in this business in Nigeria -- why is that?

Adolor Uwamu: It's a capital intensive business -- a business of high complexity -- and drilling rigs cost quite a bit of money.

It's a business that has been controlled and operated by, I would say, about five to seven global players worldwide who operate in different regions of the world but mostly American and European.

CNN: Why did you start (Seawolf)? Surely there are easier ways to make money?

AU: Because there was an opportunity for Nigerians to get into the business. Nigeria is the seventh or eighth-largest producer of oil in the world. It's the major industry in Nigeria and Nigerians are not actively in the business.

For the last 40 years oil and gas drilling in Nigeria has been undertaken by the global players.
--Adolor Uwamu, CEO Seawolf Oilfield Services

We're not involved in the business at the sufficient level that we should be. For the last 40 years oil and gas drilling in Nigeria has been undertaken by the global players.

CNN: Has the Nigerian government now said: "Listen, we need more local people in our industries?"

AU: The Nigerian government has greatly encouraged the participation of local players in the industry across the spectrum of services. Not just in drilling but in other services in the oil and gas business.

That encouragement is providing the environment for Nigerians to increase their skills and increase their participation, which has overall benefits for the economy.

CNN: But it's still about the private sector actually financing this and actually fueling this opportunity isn't it? The government can only do so much.

AU: That is correct, the government will provide the enabling environment which is what they're doing, but they need the participation and cooperation of the private sector to finance the participation in the industry.

CNN: What for you is the biggest challenge?

AU: The biggest challenges for us has been developing the talent that is required at that global level.

CNN: So there's just not enough skilled Nigerians to work on your oil rigs?

AU: There are not enough skilled Nigerians in general in the oil and gas industry, which is the issue that the government is trying to correct by encouraging and putting in place the enabling environment to increase the Nigerian participation.

The reason why there's not been sufficient Nigerian involvement is because historically there's a lot of transfer of talent globally from the more established Western countries working in Nigeria. The result of that over years is not enough participation by Nigerians in the industry.

CNN: Do you think Nigeria has failed to capitalize on the opportunities oil could have offered ordinary Nigerians?

AU: I wouldn't agree with that, I would say that we've been less than optimal in our management over oil resources but we haven't missed the boat. There are still opportunities.

I would say in the last couple of years we've done well in terms of monetizing our gas resources and now I believe the government should focus on revamping the downstream industry, ensuring that the refineries work, increase the refining capacity in the country.

CNN: That's key, isn't it?

AU: It is key, because what it does is it prevents us from importing refined petroleum products, which is less than an optimal situation when you're the seventh-largest producer of crude oil in the world.