LAGOS (Reuters) - Nigeria has mismanaged relations with Asian oil firms, failing to capitalize on deals which could have helped it develop infrastructure and leaving $20 billion of investment at risk, think tank Chatham House said on Monday.
Former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo sought partners in China, India, South Korea and elsewhere to buy oil blocks before leaving office in 2007 in return for billions of dollars of infrastructure and downstream investment.
But not a single barrel of oil has been produced by Asian national oil companies in Nigeria nor has any downstream commitment been started, leaving the Nigerian economy with no tangible benefit, the London-based organization said.
“President Obasanjo’s stated grand design to achieve a ‘development dividend’ through the oil-for-infrastructure scheme with Asian national oil companies has fallen apart,” it said.
“With it went the impact that it might have made on the Nigerian landscape,” Chatham House said in a 60-page report.
Five decades of oil extraction in Africa’s most populous country have enriched a small elite, but the vast majority of the country’s 140 million people still live on two dollars a day or less.
Chatham House blamed the lack of progress on political interference in what should have been purely business decisions.
“The scale of the corruption, mismanagement and non-execution of projects in the Obasanjo years has sent shockwaves through Nigeria,” the report said.
“His intentions were good but officials failed to spell out the full implications of the scheme. And many used the scheme for private profit. It might have been a good idea on paper but the spirit was breached in the implementation.”
The administration of President Umaru Yar’Adua, who took office in May 2007, has been reviewing deals struck under Obasanjo, cancelling the sale of oil refineries and reviewing oil licensing rounds.
Yar’Adua in January revoked two oil exploration licenses awarded to Korea National Oil Corp (KNOC), saying the Korean firm had failed fully to pay the investment pledged.
KNOC, which says it met its obligations, has taken the case to court and the outcome is being closely watched by an industry concerned that rights awarded by one Nigerian government can easily be overturned by the next.
Chatham House said that following the cancellation of a Korean gas pipeline project and a contract with China to build a railway from the commercial hub Lagos in the south to the city of Kano in the north, $20 billion of investment promised by Asian national oil companies in 2005/06 was at risk.
Chatham House contrasted the Nigerian experience with that of Angola, where it said President Jose Eduardo Dos Santos’ almost 30-year tenure had bolstered a stable central government and helped create a functional national oil company, Sonangol.
That stability had helped Angola emerge as the second-largest supplier of oil to China last year and helped the African country secure at least $13 billion in oil-backed loans from Beijing to help finance essential post-war reconstruction.
“While Nigeria was playing politics with its Asian partners, Angola was driven by economic necessity to quickly access funds to finance its reconstruction,” the report said.
Unlike Nigeria, Angola, which has become Africa’s second biggest producer of oil and now rivals the Nigerians, ensured that commitments made by Asian oil companies were honored.
“Politically it wanted to demonstrate to the Angolan people that it could in peacetime deliver development, particularly ahead of the 2008 parliamentary elections,” it said.
While China’s success in Angola has to some extent pushed opportunities away from Western oil firms, the same is not true in Nigeria, where established oil partners such as Royal Dutch Shell (RDSa.L), Chevron (CVX.N) and ExxonMobil (XOM.N) do not see their Asian rivals as much of a threat.
“In Nigeria we found that a change of government results in a change of business partners. Angola’s President dos Santos has been in power for almost 30 years and so change is very slow,” the report cited one South Korean official as saying.
“It’s more difficult to get a foothold in Angola, but we now believe safer and more profitable in the long term.”
Editing by Patrick Graham