Q&A: Oil chief sees potential for growth in Nigeria

SLOK Holding is a major Nigerian oil and gas shipper with a diversified portfolio of business interests including banking, media and publishing and real estate.

The company owns SLOK Nigeria, a leading player in the upstream sector of Nigeria’s oil and gas industry. It provides offshore support and deep-sea transportation services.

Chairman Orji Uzor Kalu was in Houston recently on business ahead of the World Igbo Congress in Dallas. The Igbo are an ethnic group of southeastern Nigeria.

Kalu, 53, a Nigerian presidential candidate in 2007, spoke with FuelFix about his company, oil and gas ties between Nigeria and the U.S. as well as China, and his political aspirations.

Here are edited excerpts:

FuelFix: What brings you to Houston?

Kalu: What brings me to Houston is what gets me to all over the world. We’re now working for one of the majors, a drilling company. Companies dealing with rigs, supply vessels. We are always on the lookout for equipment and talent that can help strengthen the effectiveness of our global operations and clearly in Houston, opportunity for collaboration is abundant.

FuelFix: What does your company do, and how do you do it?

Kalu: Our company is really diverse. We are dealing directly with the shipping. We are the largest indigenous shipping company in Nigeria. Supply vessels. We are growing. We also have small banks in Congo, Liberia, Sierra Leone. We are planning on opening a new office in Geneva, trading in oil, trading in crude. Our production and shipping partners include Sino-Pacific, Total and Exxon Mobil and we are proud to assist in the international integration of such corporate players into the West African marketplace.

FuelFix: What are some of the connections between Nigeria and the U.S., and more particularly Houston, when it comes to the oil and gas industry?

Kalu: All the major oil companies in Nigeria do business with the majors. Houston is the epicenter. Corporate partners to the Nigerian oil and gas sector are scattered throughout Texas and I make it a point to participate at as many market-driven international conventions while here. I do so because I see an opportunity for Nigeria to one day successfully procure, refine and export the oil from its own shores, curbing the institutional corruption that has long forced us to import our own crude back to us at cost.

FuelFix: Do you see those connections growing in the future?

Kalu: Oh, yes. It is going to be growing. The relationship we have with the United States is important. Everybody wants to follow in the footsteps of the United States. Geopolitically, there is a lot of work to be done to reshape the reputation, or perhaps better put, stereotype, of Nigerian business in Western markets.

FuelFix: How have political issues affected that growth?

Kalu: The authorities in Washington and Nigeria don’t have the best relationship. We are working on it. Corruption is a problem. As an example, Nigerians today do not have a steady source of electricity. In a contemporary era, this is viewed as obscene and is due to a variety of factors but the bottom line is that it is mainly due to bureaucratic corruption. We have to expose and root out such corruption. We are working with agencies and people to strengthen democracy in Nigeria.

FuelFix: How about your own political aspirations? Will you run for president of Nigeria again?

Kalu: I’m not sure I want to do that. It’s a possibility, but I’ve not made a final decision of what I want to do. I’m sure in the next few months, I will make a decision. It’s definitely a possibility.

FuelFix: What about China? How is your company involved with ties to China?

Kalu: Our company has done very well with the Chinese. We recently purchased a fleet of ships from Chinese and Singaporean businesses for examples, with skiffs routinely making 45-day excursions across to West Africa for our team’s usage and future energy transport across the globe.