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2014-05-05 18:00:00



For the Nigerian homegrown hydrocarbons sector, the multimillion dollar initial public offering of Seplat in London is a coming of age.

The Lagos-based company raised $500m in the UK and Nigeria in a listing this year, highlighting the rapid growth of a sector that hardly existed five years ago.

"Other Nigerian exploration and production oil companies will follow us," says ABC Orjiako, chairman of Seplat. "It will not surprise me if we see more IPOs."

Indigenous Nigerian oil and natural gas companies have grown exponentially since 2008-09, buying assets worth $5bn from the world's big energy groups and reshaping a 60-year-old oil industry. Royal Dutch Shell, Total of France, Eni of Italy and Chevron and ConocoPhillips of the US have sold large onshore oilfields. They have been bought by Nigerian oil companies, such as Oando and Shoreline Natural Resources, as well as Seplat.

Other companies are bidding for new fields coming on to the market. Industry executives believe that over the next two to three years, another $10bn of assets could be up for grabs, including emblematic fields of the Nigerian oil industry.

The challenge for the homegrown companies is twofold: to find enough money to finance the acquisitions, and to prove they are able to operate the fields.

Shell and several of its partners are in the process of selling their stakes in four oilfields in Nigeria for between $4.5bn and $5bn, according to industry executives and bankers familiar with the talks. The buyers are all homegrown companies.

Wale Tinubu, chief executive of Lagos-based Oando, says that homegrown oil companies are set to account for nearly a quarter of the country's oil production within five years, up from about 10 per cent today and 1-2 per cent five years ago.

"The sector could be up to 600,000 barrels a day in five years," he says.

Today, Nigeria produces less than 2m b/d, although it has pumped 2.5m b/d in the past and the government is targeting production of up to 4m b/d.

The change of guard comes as Shell and its peers retreat from onshore oil and gasfields to concentrate instead on deepwater offshore operations. The move is to avoid the widespread sabotage and oil theft that has crippled the industry in the Niger delta.

Mr Tinubu says that homegrown companies are more adept at working in the difficult conditions of the Niger delta.

"This is a local problem and you need local expertise," he says, adding that the key is to involve communities in protecting pipelines.

Foreign oil workers and analysts are not so sure, saying that indigenous companies are also struggling with the threats of theft and have to spend heavily hiring local staff to protect the pipelines and investing in social projects, in effect paying for security.

But the homegrown companies contend that Seplat and Shoreline Natural Resources have raised output rapidly after buying blocks from Shell.

As the majors exit and local companies buy in, international investors are seeking exposure to the sector, with sovereign wealth funds, commodities trading houses, large institutional investors and private equity groups all circling the few companies seen as reputable.

Temasek, the mighty S$215bn ($172bn) state-backed investor of Singapore, recently bought into Seven Energy, an indigenous Nigerian energy group.

"Africa is still long on opportunity and short on capital, while most investors are long on capital and looking for opportunities," says Miguel Azevedo, head of investment banking in Africa at Citigroup.

The arrival of international investors is critical for the sector, as the new companies face multibillion US dollar price tags to purchase the oil and gasfields that are on offer.

Local banks and investors cannot finance the investments on their own, according to industry executives and bankers.

The need to raise funds to compete in auctions has so far favoured individuals and companies that have strong relations with global banks, such as BNP Paribas, Citigroup, Standard Bank and Standard Chartered, and international trading houses.

Mercuria, a Switzerland-based trader, is an investor in Seplat. Other trading houses, including Vitol and Glencore, have in the past made approaches to the indigenous companies, either as investors or to help finance their crude sales.

The arrival of deep-pocketed financiers will mark the point when the industry embarks on its first round of consolidation through mergers and acquisitions.

"We are not far from the first wave of M&A; we will see it in the next two years," says Mr Orjiako of Seplat.

On top of the sell-off by the majors, the privatisation of the power sector in Nigeria is offering a fresh opportunity to local companies.

Seven Energy, for example, is betting on rising demand for natural gas from power plants. Nigeria is sitting on a huge endowment of natural gas, with the largest proven reserves in Africa and the ninth largest in the world. However, lack of infrastructure and low prices have hitherto slowed the development of a domestic gas industry. The government's proposed power reform has changed the situation.




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