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scan0009Nigeria & Norway – two books, two nations, two experiences

BOOK REVIEW By: Wole Akinyosoye

I read Managing Petroleum Resources- The Norwegian Model by AL-Kasim long before I read Nigeria’s Petroleum Industry: A Maverick Pioneer, the recently released autobiography by Chief FRA Marinho. The latter, you will recall, served as the first and only Managing Director of the defunct Nigerian National Oil Corporation (NNOC). He was also first Managing Director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) and to date the only one appointed twice into that position. The Ibadan-trained physicist started out in the public oil and gas sector in 1960 after graduation from the Nigerian premier university and barely two years after Oloibiri wrote the preface for the industry with the first oil export in 1958.

AL-Kasim, the Iraqi-born geologist graduated at the Imperial College in 1957, a year before the first barrel of oil was lifted from Nigeria. He was a former employee of Iraq Petroleum Company until 1968 when fate offered him a role in the fairy tale now generally known as the Norwegian Oil Saga. AL-Kasim knows the Norwegian oil sector like the creased back of his palms up to the Apocryphal details. I met him before I read his book and listening to him speak about the origin and dynamics of the Norwegian oil and gas sector is like listening to Moses talk about the Torah.

I first heard him in Stavanger relating that story in the summer of in 2003 long after his retirement from the Norwegian Petroleum Directorate (NPD) You could hear a pin fall in the packed-full hall as Mr. AL-Kasim told of the fateful journey that took to Norway in the summer of 1968 with his young Norwegian wife and armed only decade-long experience as an oil man. The rest casts like a fiction; especially the spectacular confluence of fate between the upstart oil industry in Norway and the Iraqi geologist and the tenacity from which the industry eventually sprouted on the turbulent waves of the North Sea. Now, Norway ranks 6th on the global oil exporting ladder and second only to Russia in global gas supplies.

Joseph Joubert contemplated on how chance would often favor the prudent. That apparent truism by the 18th Century French essayist also holds for AL-Kasim and his adopted country. Managing Petroleum Resources-The Norwegian Model in Broad Perspectives (2006), his 264-page book, by Oxford Press, sketched the inner workings of the policies that gave the Norwegian oil and gas sector the superlative achievements the author spoke about in Stavanger back in 2003. It drilled deeper into basic details on why the Royal Norwegian government opted to vest ownership of the petroleum assets on Norwegians in contrast to its Danish neighbours even before the country flowed the first barrel from the Ekofisk field in 1971.

You also come out of the Al-Kasim’s book well informed on how Norway had avoided the Oil Curse and Dutch Disease, the prevalent twin maladies of most petroleum provinces and how the country built on the back of oil and gas to migrate from the backwaters of Europe to stupendous wealth within a span of 20 years. Managing Petroleum Resources-The Norwegian Model in Broad Perspectives navigated the labyrinth of Norway’s stupendous wealth to engender excellent oil field practice and create the hub of global offshore technology. The book is an authoritative rendition on the Nordic symphony that is now shifting notes from oil to gas.

If you are among those who justly feel it was high-time the Nigerian oil and gas story too was told by a pioneer, you already now have your wish fulfilled by Chief FRA Marinho’s recently released memoirs, Nigeria’s Petroleum Industry: A Maverick Pioneer. Quite a number of books have been written on the game-changing trajectory that took off from Oloibiri in 1956, this time the story on evolution of Nigerian petroleum industry is told by a high-level participant and a credible pioneer in one gripping volume.

Marinho’s story on the Nigerian oil industry gains traction in 1960 as his young life confluence the industry when he joined the “Hydrocarbon Unit … (with Mr. Lolomari) in the Mines Division…” There you also find Mr. Richard Dickie, a retired British Petroleum expatriate, Mr. M.O. Feyide a mining engineer, “…assisted by an Assistant Technical Officer … Mr. Anako” as the only staff of the unit charged to oversee a nascent industry that would become the main pillar of Nigerian economy. Mr. Dickie soon jumped ship immediately after independence putting the budding industry public sector in the green hands of Mr. Marinho.

How did the sector fare in those early years as it navigated the uncharted terrains? How did Marinho learn the ropes and learn to manage uncooperative and openly hostile International Oil Companies that perceived any form of regulation from Nigerian authorities as meddlesome? How did the industry grow to the behemoth that now straddles the Nigerian economy? Chief F.R.A. Marinho profusely proffers his own version of the answers in Nigeria’s Petroleum Industry: A Maverick Pioneer.

To the best of my recollection no story has yet so been boldly told about the inner workings of Nigerian public oil sector especially on the early years and one that participated in formulating the scripts at a very high level. The “Maverick Pioneer” is also unique in its brazen repudiation of the unwritten code on general-speak often employed by public officials in their memoirs.

“If we owe regard to the memory of the dead, there is yet more respect to be paid to knowledge, to virtue, and to truth” So counseled Samuel Johnson the 18th Century French moralist. It appears Chief Marinho took the Johnson’s advice to heart going by the passionate way he judges pioneer roles and those of other players. But he generally refrains from hiding under the amorphous authors’- license to judge others rather he rakes up steaming documents from his rich archives of confidential memos and privileged contacts to proof his point.

It is likely therefore that Chief Marinho’s book will stimulate more debates from the many public officials it has put on the spotlight. The debates may further lift the veil on behind-the-scene motions that directed the policy process in the 25 years covered by the work. If it happens as envisaged, Nigeria’s Petroleum Industry: A Maverick Pioneer would be providential for an industry now on the brink of a major reform.