Simbi Wabote and The Burden of Leadership

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By Kingsley Okeke

It was an inspiring speech; indeed, it was not the formulaic expressions often associated with heads of government agencies in Nigeria. But the audience wasn’t expecting anything less from a thoroughbred professional, who has dedicated a more significant part of his life towards promoting local content development across the world. The speech, which was a perfect whisk of hope, present realities, and futuristic thinking, was punctuated by intermittent applauses. Engr. Simbi Wabote, the erudite Executive Secretary of the Nigerian Content Development & Monitoring Board, NCDMB, began by reaffirming “the need for African countries to pay more attention to local content.”

Engr. Wabote was the keynote speaker in the 1st African Local Content Roundtable Conference organized by the NCDMB in Yenagoa, Bayelsa State, Nigeria. The roundtable, which was his brainchild, was designed as a platform for oil and gas producing countries in the continent to discuss and promote the implementation of local content. The conference was a strategic response to the deluge of requests from some African governments, looking to replicate the successes recorded within the Nigerian Local Content space, which has become an example of excellence. His professionalism and exceptional commitment to excellence have earned him admiration from colleagues and leaders across the globe. But there is more – his sincerity and his staggering ability to draw you in with his messages are surreal.

In his word, “we have moved Nigerian Content to 35% from less than 5% before the advent of the local content law. Four years ago, we launched our 10-year strategic roadmap to move Nigerian Content in the Oil and Gas industry to 70% by the year 2027.”

These are not rhetoric. The Chairman of Nigeria’s House of Representatives Committee on Nigerian Content Development and Monitoring, Rt. Hon. Legor Idagbo, during an oversight visit to the agency, commended the Board for successfully implementing policies that have grown indigenous participation in the oil and gas industry to 42 per cent and retained over US$8bn in the Nigerian economy out of over $20bn value of projects executed in the industry. He equally commended the Board under Wabote for ensuring that over 80 per cent of contracts in the sector were awarded to Nigerian companies and nurtured about 100 companies under the project 100 initiative.

According to the Chairman, “NCDMB has demonstrated that it is not just a regulator but an enabler of business.” 

Engr. Wabote’s commitment to changing the narrative in the industry is perceptible. However, detractors and naysayers are unhappy with the level of unprecedented progress made in the sector. They are determined to concoct all manner of fallacious reports to bemuse the unsuspecting public. 

One of such distractions was an accusation by an online news platform, which accused Mr Wabote of bribery and corruption. Mr Wabote sued the online platform and its publisher in a United States Court in response to the report. While the online platform and the publisher have continued to employ different strategies to circumvent the process, they have been flatly and roundly defeated in court at every turn. Only recently, the District Court in the U.S. at Eastern District of Pennsylvania struck out a motion by the publisher, seeking to dismiss the case of defamation against Simbi Wabote. 

The court had earlier dismissed the publisher’s case for the first time, threatening to commit him for contempt of court. 

What is worrying is that, while detractors and rabble-rousers will abound and never cease from our midst, they will continue to prevent our bests from putting themselves forward for a leadership role, thereby denying the country and the continent the benefit of quality and purposeful leadership.  

For Wabote, it appears detractors only serve as a tonic for the onerous task ahead. The last few months’ events show that he is firing on all cylinders. One thing seems inevitable; his type is strongest when faced with resistance. A cursory look at the agency’s achievements under his leadership lends credence to this position. 

Under his leadership, the agency facilitated speedy approvals for the US$12bn NLNG Train 7 project and signed the contract in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. The project is expected to create about 12,000 jobs and domicile 55 per cent of the project in-country.

As part of efforts to promote strategic exchanges and encourage experience sharing, Wabote introduced some events into the oil and gas industry calendar. He introduced events such as the bi-annual Nigerian Oil and Gas Opportunity Fair, NOGOF, and the Nigerian Research and Development Fair, R&D Fair, to showcase the oil industry’s opportunities for investment and galvanize research capabilities. He has also used the annual Practical Nigeria Content conference and exhibition to set the agenda for the industry.

He has spearheaded other strategic capacity development initiatives in the hydrocarbon value-chain in line with the Board’s vision to catalyze the industrialization of the Nigerian oil and gas sector. Some included the Board’s investment in Brass Fertilizer, NCDMB Gas Hub at Polaku and Rungas’ composite gas cylinder manufacturing facility.

As part of efforts to promote local businesses, the agency under the leadership of Engr, Wabote made an equity investment in four modular refineries – Waltersmith’s 5000 barrels per day facility, Azikel Petroleum’s 12,000barrels per day Hydroskimming Modular refinery, Atlantic International Refinery’s 2000 barrels plants and Duport Midstream’s 2,500bpd modular refinery.

The agency also catalyzed the successful integration of one of the most extensive Floating Production Storage and Offloading, FPSO, in-country at the SHI-MCI yard in the LADOL Free Trade Zone. It facilitated the in-country integration of six modules on the Egina FPSO, the first time in the entire Gulf of Guinea.

Engr. Wabote came to the job prepared, and the results have shown distinctly. Before he was appointed the Executive Secretary, he was a Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC), Nigeria Limited staff. He rose to Executive Director and the General Manager of Business and Government Relations for Shell Companies in Nigeria (SCiN).

Preparatory to his role as an executive director, he had served Shell in various senior positions within and outside the country in Engineering, Contracting and Procurement, External Affairs and Community Affairs Directorates. As head of Civil Engineering in the Shell Eastern Division, he was responsible for major key civil engineering projects, including the Shell Osubi airport in Warri Delta State, Nigeria.

He served as the National Assembly Relations Adviser to Shell and was the General Manager, Local Content Development of Shell Exploration Production Company in Nigeria (SEPCiN). 

He was responsible for developing Royal Dutch Shell’s local content strategy and framework. He supervised Shell Local Content implementation across several countries, including Nigeria, Gabon, Brunei, Oman, Kazakhstan, Australia, Iraq, Qatar, Jordan, USA and new frontier countries for Shell. Therefore, it is unsurprising that he has become the continent’s face for local content development. 

He has continued to receive commendation globally for his strides, including the African Local Content Icon Award, by the U.K. based African Leadership Magazine U.K.   

The agency under his leadership has also been extolled for the prudent and efficient management of the Nigerian Content Development Fund (NCDF), which has created accessible and low-cost credit which enabled Nigerian companies to access funds used in acquiring assets, execution of contracts, setting up manufacturing facilities, or refinancing high-interest loans. 

With eyes set on the future, it is still a long walk to Eldorado, but in Wabote, we have found a force for good and a breadth of fresh air. Therefore, we must rally and support him and the agency to consolidate the current gains and deliver the agency’s agenda for 2027. We also pray that his tribe increases – unfurling through the length and breadth of our continent, and his critics to stay constructive without recourse to unethical approaches and playing spoiler. 

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