Daily Champion (Lagos)

Nigeria: Omiyi: Homeboy At Shell

Lagos — THE appointment of Mr. Basil Omiyi as Managing Director of Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) marks a remarkable turning point in the 67-year old life of the company in Nigeria. The appointment takes effect from September 1, 2004.

The Anglo-Dutch oil firm is reportedly undergoing a far-reaching global reorganisation to strengthen the values of honesty, integrity and respect for people. By Omiyi's appointment, Shell has finally yielded to a long-standing request from the Nigerian people and the Niger-Delta area in particular, for "increased Nigerian (human) content in the upstream oil sector."

Omiyi's appointment is epochal, given that he is the first Nigerian to occupy that position. This development underscores a new, albeit long overdue, confidence of the company in its Nigerian work force. Such development as Omiyi's elevation may be long overdue, but it is still better late than never.

Shell is Nigeria's biggest crude oil and gas producer. It singularly accounts for more than 40 per cent of the country's crude oil output, with a daily production capacity of over one million barrels and reserve levels in excess of 18 billion barrels. The company operates a joint venture with the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) which holds 55 per cent of the venture on behalf of the Federal Government. For such critical facts as these, Omiyi's elevation to the top seat in Shell in Nigeria, novel as it is, can be regarded as a legitimate expectation. Until now the managing director designate was production director of SPDC. He joined the company in 1970 as a petroleum engineer and has worked in Nigeria, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands. He was appointed to the board of SPDC in 1996 as General Manager (Relations and Environment) at a time the firm was under severe criticism for its role in the crisis in Ogoni, Rivers State, where it has a major operational base.

Omiyi, 58, acquitted himself creditably in that position and was appointed External Affairs Director in 1999. Before his recent elevation, he occupied the position of production director, a position he has held since 2002.

Undoubtedly, the new helmsman is bringing a wealth of experience garnered in over three decades of his career in the firm. For sure, Shell expects that its new helmsman in Nigeria will engender a fillip in its operations. Every company will have such expectation of any new executive. For Nigerians and indeed for many more others, including Shell, the most challenging task before Omiyi is for him, the home boy, to make a marked difference in his company's community relations.

In other words, how will this Nigerian helmsman at Shell, a son of the Niger Delta, enhance the mutual confidence between the oil communities and the oil company? Since the last decade, Shell has had a rather sour relationship with some of its host communities, especially in Ogoni and Egbema. It has tried often to improve on this unfortunate situation, but there continues to be loose ends.

The new Shell boss, knowing where the shoe pinches, as it were, should bring his wealth of experience to bear in smoothening relations. As the erstwhile External Relations director, who now has greater powers, Omiyi should take critical steps to douse frayed nerves and bring the company's public image at par with its position as the largest oil firm operating in the country. Omiyi has what it takes to make a difference. He just has to do so.

We are hopeful that the separation of the position of country chairman from that of managing director, positions that were hitherto combined, does not result in substantial reduction in Omiyi's operational powers. Such arrangement will make nonsense of the huge expectations of Nigerians from Omiyi in his new position. It will also testify against Shell, showing that all it set out to achieve was a cosmetic make over. We believe that is not the case.

We congratulate Mr. Basil Omiyi on his well deserved, epoch-making appointment and hope that it will, indeed, mark a practical turning point in Shell's operations in Nigeria.

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