By Samson Echenim
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In an industry where men fear to dare, a female oil mogul, Catherine Uju Ifejika, chairman/chief executive officer, Brittania-U Group has acquired the biggest vessel ever used for trading in Nigeria’s cabotage waters.
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The Union Bank, First Bank-funded indigenous oil company’s CEO disclosed its latest feat while speaking with the minister of transportation, Rotimi Amaechi at a shipping stakeholders forum in Lagos.
While she did not dwell much on the new vessel believed to be a mega size tanker barge, checks by Business a.m. revealed that Brittania-U Nigeria Limited is the first indigenous exploration and production company to be funded 100 percent by local banks, Union Bank of Nigeria Plc and First Bank of Nigeria Plc., to the tune of about $120 million for its offshore operations.
The company bought a stake in a major oil and gas field, Ajapa. The reserves, according to a BBC report, are now worth $4.3 billion.
Brittania-U operates an integrated business model, with operation across the oil and gas value chain, from exploration to consultancy, according to information obtained on the company’s website.
From its humble beginning in Nigeria in 1995, the group is organised into three interrelated business segments: upstream, drilling, trading and oil services, geology and engineering consultancy. These three business segments cover every aspect of the oil and gas industry, from exploration, development, production, refining and petrochemicals to marketing, trading and shipping.
Reacting to the feat by the indigenous oil company at a maritime event in Lagos weekend, Princess Vicky Hastruup, chairman of Seaport Terminal Operators Association of Nigeria (STOAN) said the federal government needed to protect the local oil firms and indigenous shipping lines by enforcing policies and laws in favour of cabotage trading, to ensure that there are jobs for the indigenous shipping lines.
She said, “The acquisition of the largest vessel in Nigeria by a woman was a very daring move and needs to be commended. To acquire vessels to service the international oil companies (IOCs) is not a mean feat and that is why the federal government must make and enforce enabling laws and policies to support such investments. Ifejika acquired the biggest vessel owned by any Nigerian. I was very proud that a woman has the capacity and courage to acquire a big vessel like that.
“Nigeria’s policies do not encourage such investments. She is not even sure how many of the IOCs will be willing to give her jobs. We have a lot of foreign ships still doing cabotage trading and they are getting support of the IOCs. Government need to enforce the enabling policies to propel Nigerian businesses in the maritime sector because in the end, the foreign ship-owners take the money to their country. The money they make from here will not be spent in Nigeria.
“Vessels don’t come cheap. They are bought at tens of millions of dollars. She would not have been able to acquire the vessel without support by Nigerian banks, but if she is not given jobs by the IOCs how will she service the credit? Nigeria needs to create the enabling environment for more of this kind of bold investment decisions to be made. A lot of Nigerian ship-owners used to have vessels in the past but now how many of them have vessels? IOCs should be compelled to patronise indigenous ship-owners,” Hastruup said.
In February 2015, the United States Commercial Service awarded an international partner award to the Brittania-U boss, operator of the Ajapa marginal oil field on Oil Mining lease (OML) 90. The award was in appreciation of her unwavering commitment to business development between Nigeria and the United States. The award, according to the US Consulate, was “in recognition of the close commercial ties Brittania-U has developed with the State of Louisiana and other US companies, resulting in the company investing millions of dollars within the past 17 months in US made goods and services.”
A statement obtained on the Brittania-U website revealed that, “The company has established affiliate entities that belong to either the hydrocarbon exploitation chain or provide services to the businesses in the petroleum sector. This has made Brittania-U a more integrated and versatile player in the oil, gas and allied services industry – our presence is prevalent in the oil and gas chain; from sub-surface engineering (Data Appraisal Nigeria Ltd.) to drilling services (Brittania-U Drilling and Oil Services Ltd), Shipping and downstream trading (Nexttee Oil & Gas Trading Company Nigeria Limited). Throughout the spectrum, we have retained our spirit, grit, innovation, perseverance, and most of all, our fundamental purpose: to be a profitable and fully integrated Nigerian Oil and Gas Company of first choice, in all aspects.”