Category Archives: Working in Nigeria

Arrival in Lagos

By early August 2012, I had finished my work in Houston, obtained a Nigerian STR visa and was ready to go to Nigeria.  Midis Energy Services provided a ticket on the United Airlines direct flight departing from Houston on Tuesday August 14th, 2012 and arriving in Lagos the following afternoon.  A couple days before I left Houston, I sent an email to Chris Henshaw asking him how I would get from the airport to the hotel.  Shell warns newcomers not to take local taxis and I had been told that new staff were booked into the Eko Hotel until they could visit several apartments and select a suitable one.  Chris responded that he would pick me up at the airport personally and take me to my new apartment.  He also provided four different telephone numbers to contact him.

When I arrived at the airport in Lagos, there was no one waiting for me and I discovered that, despite two calls to T-Mobile before I left to make sure that my mobile phone was enabled for international roaming, my phone did not have service in Nigeria.  I found a Nigerian wearing a yellow vest with a Shell Pectin logo and I explained to him that I was a new contractor for SNEPCo that had just arrived from Shell in Houston, had a list of four phone numbers for my agent in Lagos and a cell phone that did not work in Nigeria.  The Shell representative took the list of numbers, reached Chris on the fourth number and passed his phone to me.  Chris apologized for forgetting to pick me up and said “I’m coming”.

I would later learn that “I’m coming” translated to Texan is “I’m fixin’ to leave in an hour or so.”  I told him to look for a Texan with longish hair and full beard wearing faded blue jeans, hiking boots, a desert tan 5.11 shirt and straw Panama fedora with a black hatband.  Since I ended up being the only white guy waiting in the airport three hours after the flight landed, the detailed description was superfluous.

Chris took me to an apartment at 31 Queen’s Drive at the east end of Lagos Island and introduced me to my upstairs neighbor who was also an American from Houston working through a different agent as a contractor to SNEPCo.  There was no food or cooking utensils in the apartment and no place nearby to get a meal.  Chris offered to take me to the Eko Hotel on Victoria Island and buy dinner.

Over dinner, Chris inquired about my background – apparently he had not read my resume.  I told him that I had been a minority partner in a company that did forensic geochemistry consulting and that my last consulting project before coming back to the oil field was working for the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office on a white collar crime investigation.  I had left the company and was in Nigeria to recover the money I lost when I left the company.

Chris looked distressed, got very quiet, and did not finish his dinner.  Since Chris was not drinking alcohol, I thought he was offended that I was drinking expensive single malt whisky.  Perhaps he was Muslim and I had offended him by drinking.  I note that I need to be considerate of this in the future but for tonight, I will just order another malt.

The Long Strange Trip to Lagos

I was employed as a contract subsea controls engineer on the BP Thunder Horse subsea wells team in 2006.  I worked with the control system for the Completion and Work Over Riser (CWOR) system installed on Transocean’s Discoverer Enterprise drillship.   The Discoverer Enterprise was one of two Transocean rigs under contract to BP in the Gulf of Mexico (GoM).  Early in 2006, it became apparent that welding defects on the Thunder Horse subsea manifolds would allow hydrocarbon leakage to the ocean if not corrected and that correction of the problems would result in a significant project delay.  BP did delay the project to correct the welding issues.

During the first half of 2006, I was working about half-time for BP.  Between trips to the Discoverer Enterprise, I had the opportunity to vacation in Spain with a friend who was working in Iraq, dispense eyeglasses in Honduras and El Salvador with a medical mission from Baylor University, take some training at Blackwater in North Carolina and with Brian Hoffner in Houston, and visit my family in Missouri.

By mid-year, it was apparent that the project delay would likely be at least another year.  During this period, subsea well completions using the CWOR system that I worked on would be delayed and I would only be working part time, if at all, while the system was being refurbished and modified.  A mutual friend offered to introduce me to John Simon, Shell’s global technical authority for subsea controls.

I met John for lunch in the summer of 2006.  Since Shell and BP both used subsea controls from FMC, where I had worked before joining BP, there was little question of my technical qualifications.  John suggested that since I liked to travel to remote locations in Central America with medical missions, had formal training in security and was an expert on FMC subsea control systems,  I would be the ideal candidate for subsea controls work package lead for Bonga North (BN), a new Shell project in Nigeria.

Over the next few weeks, I was offered this position with Shell International Exploration & Production (SIEP) in Houston.  The project would involve doing the preliminary engineering during concept select phase in Houston and then transitioning to a 4 week rotation in Nigeria during later phases of the project.  SIEP was contracted by Shell Nigeria Exploration & Production Co (SNEPCo) to provide the deepwater infrastructure engineering for projects operated by SNEPCo in Nigeria as SNEPCo did not have deepwater engineering capability at that time.

Bonga North (BN) along with Bonga Northwest (BNW) and Bonga Southwest-Aparo (BSWA) were SNEPCo’s three deepwater projects in Nigeria when I started with SIEP in 2006.  BNW, an extension to the existing Bonga field, was the most mature project being in execute phase with Vetco already building the subsea controls. Vetco was the subject of previous investigations by the US Justice Department for Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) violations which resulted in very large fines for both Vetco and Shell and a deferred prosecution agreements for both companies.  BSWA was preparing the Invitation to Tender (ITT) and BN was just starting concept select phase.

Concurrently with the engineering for the three SNEPCo projects being done in Houston, Jerry Jackson, a Shell manager from Houston was sent to Nigeria in late 2006 or early 2007 to establish a deepwater engineering capability for SNEPCo in Nigeria.  Jerry did an amazing job and by the time I arrived in Nigeria in August 2012, 80-90% of the engineering staff at SNEPCo was Nigerian.  Several of the Nigerian engineers had worked for SIEP for 3-4 year assignments on deepwater projects in the Gulf of Mexico and several others were sent to Houston for several months at a time to assist us with the engineering on the SNEPCo Nigerian projects.

All three of the Bonga projects were eventually shut down for various reasons. The  subsea controls lead engineers on the other two projects indicated that they did not want to work in Nigeria when the projects were restarted, so I volunteered to take over as lead controls engineer for whichever project restarted first.  BNW was the first to restart and by the time it resumed, SNEPCo already had a significant deepwater engineering capability.  SIEP did provide some engineering support for BNW from Houston – primarily high-level review of ITT documents and review of the technical tenders from the two bidders.

I was contacted in 2011 by a Nigerian who had been assigned to SIEP about the same time I started in 2006 and had returned to Nigeria.  He said that BSWA was restarting and asked if I was still interested in working in Nigeria.  He explained that SNEPCo no longer contracted with SIEP for SIEP engineering personnel as it was too expensive after SIEP’s markup and that I would have to leave SIEP and contract through a Nigerian company.  I agreed to work for SNEPCo through a Nigerian agent when I completed the Cardamom project in the GoM.  He put me in contact with a Nigerian agent and I negotiated a day rate and other terms with the Nigerian agent.  Unfortunately, Cardamom was delayed and I did not go to Nigeria in 2011.
The Cardamom subsea control system was the first of a new generation of subsea controls to be delivered to Shell by FMC so it underwent extensive Factory Acceptance Testing (FAT) and Extended Factory Acceptance Testing (EFAT) at the software developer’s lab in Houston during the first half of 2012.  BNW would be the second system to use the new FMC architecture and was a few months behind Cardamom’s completion schedule.  The two systems were side-by-side in the software lab at W-Industries in Houston and the programmers working on BNW were applying the software corrections for the punch list items that we found on Cardamom to BNW as we found them.  My Nigerian colleague agreed that starting about May 2012, I would work half time for SIEP completing the EFAT testing of Cardamom and half time for SNEPCo assisting SNEPCo’s Nigerian staff with the FAT and EFAT testing of BNW.

I was put in contact with Chris Henshaw (who also used the names Marshal Effiom or Chris Effiom), the general manager at Midis Energy Services Limited, 29 Alhaji Bashorun Street, Southwest, Ikoyi, Lagos, a different Nigerian agent than I was sent to the year before.  This time, Midis would only agree to pay me 75% of what was agreed the previous year.  I called my Nigerian colleague and told him that I would not be coming to Nigeria after all.  My Nigerian colleague stated that I should have been offered the same day rate as the previous year and that he would look into it and call me back.  My Nigerian colleague called back a few days later to explain that the offer in 2011 was a “gross rate” and that I would be responsible for paying taxes. The 2012 offer of 75% was “net after taxes” and that Shell would pay 25% of the gross day rate to the Nigerian government for taxes.  Since I would receive a foreign tax credit for the Nigerian taxes against my US tax liability, this was essentially the same offer as 2011.  I was not familiar with the Nigerian culture of corruption and accepted the offer,  agreeing to start working a nominal 6 week on, 2 week off rotation in Lagos about August 2012.