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Interview: African Energy Chamber Executive Chairman, NJ Ayuk on Transforming Africa’s Energy Sector

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A leading energy lawyer and a strong advocate for African entrepreneurs, NJ Ayuk is recognized as one of the foremost figures in African business today. Founder and CEO of Centurion Law Group, a pan-African law firm and the current chairman of the African Energy Chamber, NJ strives through his work to ensure that business, and especially oil and gas, impacts African societies in a positive way and drives local content development. In this interview with  Alaba Ayinuola, NJ shed light on the continent’s biggest energy challenges, the impact of the African Energy Chamber(AEC) in the continent’s energy, oil and gas sector. And how is AEC is becoming the entry door to Africa’s oil & gas sector. Excerpt.

 

Tell us about the African Energy Chamber and the gap it’s filling.

The African Energy Chamber is based on a network of public and private executives that have been working towards the development of Africa’s oil and gas industry for several years now, mostly focusing on local content development. Seeing the need for Africa to have a stronger voice on the global energy scene and communicate better, we have opened up the organisation to all interested parties two years ago. Since then both the Chamber’s network and its activities have considerable grown. We have welcomed over a 100 new partners, both institutional and corporate from across Africa and have multiplied initiatives, especially when it comes to institutional capacity building, local content development and facilitating foreign investment and advisory.

 

How long as the chamber being in existence and how does  your organisation measure it’s impact?

We work for the interest of African companies and entrepreneurs. Seeing the number of them reaching out to us for support over the past year has been the strongest indicator of our impact and ability to both represent African interests and unite the right network of partners towards common goals. We have increasingly received requests to assist African SMEs and larger oil services companies to expand across sub-Saharan Africa. This is a very good sign for the future growth of the African content: our companies are hungry and want to expand. We are also bringing lots of support to governments and governmental institutions in capacity building, especially within rapidly growing markets like South Sudan.

 

How’s the chamber being perceived both internationally and within the continent?

Internationally, we are mostly perceived as a source of information and an access door to some of Africa’s fastest-growing or most complex markets. The need for on-the-ground information and data on Africa is growing very rapidly and foreign investors are looking for reliable local partners and information providers, especially when it comes to finding their ways around Africa’s many different jurisdictions and ways of doing business.

From within the continent, we are increasingly seen as being a voice and conscience for the sector. We advocate for the issues at heart for African companies, entrepreneurs and people. Our industry needs a strong voice pushing for local content development and domestic capacity building and we are proud to have positioned ourselves as a key advocate in this regard.

 

What in your view is the biggest energy challenge in Africa?

Africa is plagued by many energy challenges, which are all opportunities, from energy affordability to infrastructure and lack of financing. While we address all of those as an institution, we do insist on the challenge of monetising resources, especially gas ones. By flaring gas like we have for decades, we have concretely burned billions of dollars worth of resources that could power our entire continent, hundreds of factories and create millions of jobs. We believe gas is the future of Africa’s energy industry, and creating monetisation opportunities across the board, from petrochemicals to power, from cement to petrochemicals manufacturing units, should be a priority.

 

What is Africa doing right in terms of it’s energy sector?

African nations have taken positive steps in engaging each other and exploring common opportunities. This manifests itself first on the international stage. Equatorial Guinea and Congo Brazzaville joined OPEC in 2017 and 2018, strengthening the African voice within the industry’s most influential organisation. But many other African countries have also joined the Declaration of Cooperation and frequently attend OPEC meetings like South Sudan, Chad, Uganda etc. International engagement from Africa is something that was missing and has been corrected. As a result of that, African governments and companies have also been increasingly talking to each other. Major projects are moving ahead thanks to this dialogue, be it the Tortue field between Senegal and Mauritania, or the recent gas unitisation agreement between Equatorial Guinea and Cameroon.

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What surprises you about this sector and it’s future?

The unexploited potential is massive, and quite frankly overwhelming. In terms of oil & gas exploration, we believe that world-class global discoveries are to be made in the near future. The recent ones in Mozambique and Senegal are just the beginning. Beyond mere exploration, the potential for meeting the continent’s growing energy needs, addressing increasing energy consumption, and providing jobs to millions of young men and women is what will define the future of the sector. This represent billions of dollars at play, both for foreign investors willing to take risks and make lucrative deals, but especially for us Africans if we are able to seize the opportunities offered to us by our land.

 

Do you see the deepen of a private-public partnership drive growth in this sector?

We do not think there has been a serious deepening of private-public partnerships, which remain a major need for the sector. This would require a market-by-market analysis, as in some places the lack of PPPs is a regulatory one, while in others you actually do have successes but in other sectors such as infrastructure. Overall, the need for PPPs in the industry is there, and the power sector offers tremendous opportunities for such projects. However, many regulations need to be revised, public institutions need to adhere to stronger governance standards, and private investors must be made aware of the right opportunities and projects to get involved in.

 

What is your vision and goal for this chamber under your leadership?

The AEC is becoming the entry door to Africa’s oil & gas sector. We are already receiving lots of queries from new investors wishing to enter fast growth markets, and having local representatives on the ground is positioning us as a strong advisor and facilitator for foreign investors, while being able to properly communicate what is happening on the ground to the international energy community. On the second hand, we also want to be building domestic capacity, both by training and skilling Africans so they can take on additional responsibilities across the value chain, but also by bringing in more technology and best practices to our local companies so we contribute to boosting local content.

 

You own Centurion Law Group, tell us about this law firm and how are you managing these two big brands?

Centurion is a pan-African legal and advisory business specialised in oil & gas. We are leaders in frontier jurisdictions like Equatorial Guinea and South Sudan and do not shy away from working in what many wrongly perceive as challenging markets. More importantly, we are a firm who believes in African talent and have dedicated ourselves to train the next generation of African lawyers. It is very upsetting to see the amount of legal work on Africa that goes to London or New York when we have high-quality and highly-trained legal talent present on the continent. As such we are more than offering legal services; we are a law firm with a mission.

 

About NJ Ayuk:

A leading energy lawyer and a strong advocate for African entrepreneurs, NJ Ayuk is recognized as one of the foremost figures in African business today. A Global Shaper with the World Economic Forum, one of Forbes’ Top 10 Most Influential Men in Africa in 2015, and a well-known dealmaker in the petroleum and power sectors, NJ is dedicating his career to helping entrepreneurs find success and to building the careers of young African lawyers. As founder and CEO of Centurion Law Group, a pan-African law firm, NJ strives through his work to ensure that business, and especially oil and gas, impacts African societies in a positive way and drives local content development. He is the current chairman of the African Energy Chamber and author of ‘Big Barrels: African Oil and Gas and the Quest for Prosperity’. His second book, ‘Billions at Play: the Future of African energy’ is due for release at the end of the year.

 

A propos de NJ Ayuk:

NJ est un avocat de premier plan dans le domaine de l’énergie et un ardent défenseur des entrepreneurs africains, reconnu comme l’une des figures les plus en vue des entreprises africaines aujourd’hui. Il est un « Global Shaper » avec le Forum économique mondial, l’un des 10 hommes les plus influents de Forbes en Afrique en 2015, et un négociateur renommé dans les secteurs du pétrole et de l’énergie. Il est fondateur et PDG du Centurion Law Group et président actuel de la Chambre africaine de l’énergie et auteur du best-seller « Big Barrels : pétrole et gaz africains et la quête de la prospérité. » Son second ouvrage, « Des milliards en jeu : le future de l’énergie africaine » sera publie à la fin de l’année.

 

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Neya Kalu, the new Chairman of The Sun Nigeria

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Neya Kalu (Image supplied: Her Network)

Neya Kalu is the Chairman and Publisher of The Sun Nigeria, founded and published in  Nigeria. A reputable company that publishes relevant news in Nigeria and around the  world in over ten categories. She is also the founder and CEO of Basecoat Nigeria. 

Educated at the University of Buckingham with a degree in Law and Finance, Neya leads the Board on strategic matters, establishes high governance, and oversees the  company’s business. 

Before becoming Chairman/Publisher of The Sun Nigeria, Neya, an entrepreneur, built and runs several successful businesses, the most recent being Base Coat, a nail salon  chain in Lagos. She is also the Vice-Chairman of Sun Heavens Hotels and Resorts.  

With a strong interest in social issues and a desire to empower women, Neya works with  the OUK Foundation to contribute to the achievement of the SDGs one through six.

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IoDSA CEO Parmi Natesan on Building Great Directors in South Africa

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IoDSA CEO, Parmi Natesan

Established in 1960 as a branch of the Institute of Directors in London, the Institute of Directors South Africa (IoDSA) is a non-profit company (NPC) with members and is the only professional body for directors that is recognised by the South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA) (ID422). IoDSA mission is to influence, develop and advance corporate governance and directorship by pursuing ethical and effective leadership in South Africa. In this exclusive interview with Alaba Ayinuola of Business Africa Online (BAO), Parmi Natesan talks about the IoDSA she leads, its contribution to the south african economy, challenges, gender inclusion and diversity and much more. Excerpts.

 

Alaba: Το begin, brίefly tell us about the loD South Africa and your strategic role?

Parmi: The Institute of Directors in South Africa is a non-profit company and a SAQA-recognised professional body for directors in South Africa. It is also a promoter of corporate governance, acting as convener and secretariat of the King Committee and having ownership of the King Reports on Governance for South Africa.

Its vision is  – Better Directors. Better Boards. Better Business.

Its mission is – To influence, develop and advance corporate governance and directorship by pursuing ethical and effective leadership in South Africa. 

We drive corporate governance awareness and improvement through thought leadership, hosting learning events, performing governance advisory services and board performance evaluations. We contribute to enhancing the effectiveness of directorship through training and certifications.

Alaba: What would you say are the major contributions of the institυte to the South African economy?

Parmi: The enhancement of corporate governance and directorship has a knock-on positive effect to the South African economy.

Major recent contributions include:

  • We submitted a letter written to the Chair of the Zondo Commission containing good governance recommendations for director competencies and appointment processes.
  • We issue numerous media releases and broadcast interviews to raise awareness of governance learnings
  • We offer discounts on our services to NPOs and SMEs, in an effort to assist them with improving their governance and thus growing and thriving as a business.

Alaba: Since your appointment as the institute CEO, what are your biggest challenges and role in corporate governance?

Parmi: We have a duty to hold our members to account in the public interest. This has meant introduction of a new member code of conduct and disciplinary regulations to govern this. What has been a challenge is that membership of the IoDSA is currently voluntary.  An individual does not need to be a member in order to serve as a director. So there is unfortunately no common benchmark or standard for directorship. 

Sometimes the IoDSA brand gets tainted by “bad” directors who are found to have acted unethically, as the public does not realise that these directors are not necessarily our members, and thus we have limited mandate to act against them. Another challenge is the way in which corporate governance gets applied in corporations, often in a tick-box compliance fashion. This is form over substance and not conducive to achieving the desired outcomes of good corporate governance. Changing mindsets and behaviour around this is critical and there is no one size fits all solution.

Each organisation needs to consider what makes sense for their business. Instead of wanting to follow a compliance driven approach of ticking boxes, organisations should follow a mindful application approach of putting practices in place that in their judgment ultimately achieve the necessary outcomes of ethical leadership, effective control, good performance and legitimacy. The judgment of the governing body is critical in this approach.

Alaba: What is your view on how leadership is changing, amid broader efforts in society to see greater inclusivίty in terms of race, gender, and socio-economic background, and a move towards making a more positive and sustainable contribution to society?

Parmi: We are advocate for diversity on boards, not only in terms of race, gender and socio-economic background, but also in terms of skills and experience. Diverse groups are able to tackle problems from various angles and this leads to better decision making. We have a specific focus on advocating for more women on boards. With women controlling consumer spending and forming half of the educated workforce, it does not make sense that they are still largely underrepresented in South African boardrooms.

The role of directors is definitely changing as we move towards a more stakeholder focused way of running business.  In the past, the primary focus of directors was financial return for their companies. That has changed considerably over the years, where business is now seen as a corporate citizen of the country in which it operates. And it thus needs to be conscious of the impact that it has on society and the environment in which it operates. This is why integrated reporting (as opposed to just financial reporting) is so critical.

In today’s fast-paced world, achieving the right skills as a director is not a target but a journey: business models, socio-economic models, political models – sometimes it seems everything – are changing and old certainties seem to be in the process of continual redefinition. Directors, who play such a critical role in organisations and, indirectly, the fabric of public life, are least able to feel they have achieved the right skills mix.

In general, professionals have a certain credibility and respect in the market, which they need to protect through ongoing learning, adapting and competence.

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Alaba: Let’s talk about entrepreneurshίp. What is your view on how female entrepreneurship can be fostered?

Parmi: Entrepreneurship is a critical contributor towards our economy and should thus be fostered.

Alaba: Το what extent can digital connectivity catalyse South Africa’s economic recovery, for example helping foster both flexible working and the levelling-up of rural areas?

Parmi: Digital can open many doors and opportunities for people to participate in economic activity.

Alaba:  Before the year ends, what would you ultimately like to achieve?

Parmi: Greater awareness of the power and impact of good corporate governance can make, not only on companies, but also on a country. South Africa as a country desperately needs ethical and effective leaders to steer our country in the right direction to prosper. We have been lobbying for enhancements in director appointment processes in both the private and public sector in South Africa. It would be great to see some traction on this from the policy makers.

Alaba: Lastly, what has been the most significant-ever moment for you professionally – and what advice would you give your younger self?

Parmi: I have received many accolades including:

  • Rising Star Award from the Nelson Mandela University.
  • Finalist for Businesswoman of the Year at the Top Women Awards.
  • Global Woman Achiever at the World Women Leadership Congress.
  • Ethical Leadership Award at the SAICA Difference Makers Awards.

However, I think my most significant moment professionally has to be having the privilege and honour to lead the IoDSA. In fact I was the youngest person to be CEO of the IoD SA, and the first ever person of colour. This platform gives me an even louder voice to influence and advocate for ethical and effective leadership in South Africa.

In terms of advice to my younger self, a few things I actually often tell my daughter

  1. Girls can do anything boys can do – never let our gender hold you back.
  2. Pick your battles and don’t sweat the small stuff.

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Lesley Ndlovu, Africa’s Climate and Disaster Risk Insurance Leader

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Lesley Ndlovu is an executive with extensive international experience in insurance and investment management. He is currently the CEO of the African Risk Capacity (ARC) Group, a Specialised Agency of the African Union founded in 2012. ARC is a hybrid mutual insurer and the commercial affiliate of the Group founded in 2014. The ARC Group was established to help African governments improve their capacities to better plan, prepare, and respond to natural disasters triggered by extreme weather events, as well as outbreaks and epidemics. Alaba Ayinuola of Business Africa Online caught up with Mr. Lesley Ndlovu to reflect on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, lessons, key highlights of ARC 2021 financial report and the ARC Gender Strategy.

Alaba: To begin, perhaps you could briefly share the African Risk Capacity (ARC) position on the pandemic. The challenges, lessons and how the industry is dealing with the impact?

Lesley: The pandemic was a period of great uncertainty for everyone. For us at ARC, it forced us overnight to become a virtual organisation in a business where face to face interaction with our clients is extremely important. It was also an opportunity for growth because it made our clients, particularly governments, more mindful of risk management and anticipating what could go wrong. As a result, we saw double digit growth in our core insurance segments. We are looking to expand our product offering to include insurance coverage for outbreaks and epidemics.

Alaba: What would you say are the impacts and highlights of the ARC 2021 financial report?

Lesley: 2021 has been a challenging year due to the payment of large insurance claims all across Africa. However, we are an impact oriented insurance company, paying claims means that we are helping out people facing difficulty after an extreme weather event and the funds we provide allows the affected people to bounce back and continue with life. Since the inception of ARC, we have paid close to US$100 million in claims.

Alaba: Could you share with us your set goals for the year and the ARC Gender strategy?

Lesley: Our ambition is to mainstream the gender dimension into our insurance business in terms of both underwriting and claims, as women and girls bear the brunt of the impact of extreme weather. The starting point is to gather the data and measure the impact, we estimate that 54% of the claims we pay benefit women. In West Africa, we have worked with partners to provide insurance coverage for women farmers in the karité (shea butter) sector. We see this area as a tremendous business opportunity because it is a historically underserved segment.

Alaba: How are you making sure the ARC insurance offerings are easily accessible to clients in key sectors like agriculture, health, etc in the continent?

Lesley: At ARC, we focus on 3 core client segments – governments (federal and state), humanitarian agencies and small-medium scale farmers. We are building scale and diversification in our business both across products and geographies by introducing new products and entering new markets. Our mandate is to close the protection gap and increase the number of people protected by insurance. We want insurance to be more available, accessible and affordable. We have launched a number of strategic partnerships, including acquiring a stake in Pula Advisors, a leading parametric insurance aggregator, this move has enabled us to grow our market share in the agricultural sector. At COP 26, we mobilised close to US$100 million to subsidise governments in the payment of insurance premiums over multiple years.

Alaba: You recently met with key strategic partners in Nigeria, making it your third visit to the country. Can you tell us about the key outcomes emerging from the meeting?

Lesley: I had the good fortune of being in Abuja at the end of March, this was an opportunity to renew and strengthen relationships with our key stakeholders in Nigeria. We would closely work with the Ministry of Finance at the federal level as well as local insurance companies. With local insurance companies, we provide technical expertise on the development of products and risk management and reinsurance capacity, our local partners provide us with product distribution and local market insights. The scale of the opportunities is so vast that it can only, the opportunities can only be fully exploited through close collaboration between the various stakeholders.

Alaba: Lastly, Where do you visit next on your ARC mission visit and what is the future of climate risk insurance?

Lesley: Climate insurance is one of the most exciting sectors of the insurance market because it answers a pressing need on the African continent. Currently, there are over 700 million Africans whose livelihoods are vulnerable to extreme weather and insurance has a major role to play in protecting their lives and livelihoods. Agriculture is the mainstay of most African economies and any investments into the sector should be protected through insurance products as a de-risking mechanism. I fully expect the industry to grow at double digit rates for the foreseeable future because the coverage gap is large. Closing the gap is of paramount importance in the era of climate change, where the frequency and severity of natural disasters is increasing.

 

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