Meanwhile, Austin Avuru, with a wealth of experience in the industry, including in exploration, production and the engineering side of it, had set up his own company, Platform Petroleum Limited, and was working marginal fields but on the lookout for a more substantial stake.
“What happened next can only be described as serendipity,” Orjiako recalls. “We had been discussing an acquisition with Shell when someone brought me and Avuru together. An hour later, we had decided to merge and form Seplat, which is a combination of Shebah Exploratioin and Production and Platform. Now we had the technical capacity as well as the business management under one structure.”
Maurel & Prom, the second-largest oil company in France and active in Nigeria, Gabon and Congo, acquired 45% share in Seplat and with the rest of the capital coming in the form of equity and debt, the company acquired the Shell assets and could begin production on three sites.
There are those that say that Nigeria’s real resource is natural gas with ‘oil only an associated bonus’. The next plank in Seplat’s strategy is to commercialise the gas that Nigeria is awash in. “The demand is enormous,” says Orjiako.
These have been a very profitable and satisfying five years for Seplat but, in the opinion of industry insiders, the company is only at the very beginning of what should be a great, and historic run, as it acquires more assets.
I asked Orjiako what had given him the most satisfaction. “Four aspects,” he said. “First, we have clearly differentiated ourselves from other companies by the strength of our corporate governance and management. Our transparency, accountability and the anti-fraud and anti-corruption measures we have instituted are on a par with those in the UK or the US.
“Second, it is a matter of pride for us to have grown a Nigerian company to world standards and even beyond. It is fitting that indigenous Nigerian companies should be increasingly involved in the most important sector of our country. It is right that Nigerians should benefit from our oil and gas, that profits should be retained here and that we should grow our skill sets.
“Third, I am equally proud of our engagement with local communities. Our CSR is not window dressing but a genuine desire to improve the lot of the people in our areas of operations.
“We provide health care for mothers and pregnant women and have a programme to treat eye problems which are prevalent in the Delta region. We have treated over 20,000 patients and where operations have been necessary, we have arranged for those.
“We organise educational activities and have a scholarship programme for talented students who can go to universities and study subjects such as geology so that perhaps one day they can come back and work for us.
“Finally, I am proud of the teamwork that we have managed to foster in the company, the training we provide to our employees and managers and the fact that we are able to provide quality jobs to people in the areas we operate in.
“The result of our approach speaks for itself. When we started in 2010, there were seven incidents on our site; a year later, this had come down to four and last year, there were none.”
I found out later that Orjiako had in fact established the Daniel Orjiako Memorial Foundation (DOMF) back in 1996 in memory of his father. To date the fund has assisted in the education of over 10,000 primary school students and several hundred in science education and over 200 university graduates. The DOMF also provides free health care services to the elderly and micro-credits to rural farmers, especially rural women.
In recognition of his services to humanity and the Roman Catholic Church, Pope John Paul II, in 2003, bestowed on him a Knighthood of the Order of St Gregory the Great (KSGG). It would take another half a page to list all the other awards and honours he has already collected from institutions around the world.
Always a practical man, ABC Orjiako is perhaps demonstrating by doing so, how companies should really interact with the communities around them.