Tony Attah: A round peg in a round hole at NLNG,one of Nigeria’s alternative revenue sources

It has been Attah’s responsibility in the last three years as managing director and chief executive officer of the Nigerian Liquefied Natural Gas Limited (NLNG) to oversee the country’s effort at earning income from gas. And he has been performing the task quite creditably.

With more than 25 years’ experience in the oil and gas industry, Attah knows the business of gas and the intricacies associated with it. He has been part of the success story of NLNG since he joined the company, contributing immensely to the huge returns the company has been making to its investors that include some multinational oil companies, apart from the Federal Government.

As a matter of fact, the company has, since its establishment, generated over $90 billion in revenue and paid over $33 billion as dividend to its shareholders, and also paid more than $6 billion in taxes to the government. That’s not a bad investment.

Apart from the revenue it has generated, NLNG has contributed significantly to the reduction of gas flaring in the Niger Delta region. That is one problem that has remained almost intractable over many decades, which made Nigeria occupy an unenviable position on the list of gas flaring nations. Today, with the contributions of NLNG, the country has reduced gas flaring from about 65 per cent to about 20 per cent.

Contrary to assumptions by many Nigerians that NLNG is only involved in gas exportation, the company is also heavily involved in the domestic gas market through the liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), or domestic gas, a by-product of LNG which accounts for only about five per cent of its output.

Before the coming of NLNG, the country’s domestic gas capacity was a paltry 50, 000 tons. Now, the company contributes about 50 per cent to the current capacity of over 500, 000 tonnes. The company aims at increasing its involvement in the domestic gas market to be able to reduce significantly the about 100, 000 deaths recorded annually from smoke inhalation, which is said to affect mostly women and children.

“We are not just trying to make money, we are trying to help the nation by eliminating gas flaring in Nigeria; eliminating the statistics of women and children dying from smoke inhalation, as well as bridge the infrastructure gap that impacts negatively on power availability in the country by encouraging use of LNG in the country”, Attah said in an interview. “We have power plants but no gas supply, because the infrastructure is poor”.

He said the future of Nigeria lies in gas, because of the energy transition that is ongoing, adding that the world now wants cleaner energy, which puts pressure on resources. “With climate change, we have an advantage as a gas business because the energy transition will accentuate the relevance of gas”, he said. “It may downplay certain dirtier fuels such as coal, though in the end, it will have to be about the competitiveness of gas”.

Attah has been in the gas industry long enough to be able to read the market situation as correctly as a weather man would read the weather without error. 

That explains why he is not frightened by the potential decline in the country’s fortunes from gas, no thanks to disturbing signals that are coming from three other major gas exporters who are set to release their gas into market against the background of a supply crunch expected in 2023. In fact, it is a challenge he is prepared to face headlong.

According to data from HIS Markit, Nigeria was, between 2015 and 2017, the world’s fourth biggest exporter of LNG, after Qatar, Australia and Malaysia, exporting up to 21.3 million tonnes in one year. Now, the United States, Russia and Mozambique are expected to release more gas into the market.

Nigeria’s hope of cushioning the effects of the move by those three countries lies in the execution of Train 7 of NLNG’s expansion project that will increase its capacity by 35 per cent, from 22 million to 30 million tonnes of gas. The company has not expanded its capacity since 2007.

Attah is grateful for the support he is getting from the Buhari administration for the execution of Train 7, which is a welcome departure from the attitude of previous administrations to the project.

“The most important factor is government support and we can safely say we have that now”, he said. “Previous administration saw Train 7 as one of many other competing potential projects; this government is more focused on us”.

Background fits the job

Attah has gone round the oil and gas industry in a career that has seen him work on two continents – Africa and Europe. He can correctly be described as a round peg in a round hole. A graduate of Mechanical Engineering from the University of Ibadan and a Master of Business Administration from the University of Benin, he has led multi-disciplinary teams working across different cultures.

With a strategic and commercial mindset, Attah possesses excellent managerial skills that focus on people and ability to deliver business value. A member of the Council for the Regulation of Engineering in Nigeria and Society of Petroleum Engineers, he was, before is current appointment, the managing director and chairman of Shell Nigeria E & P Company. He had also held the positions of vice president HSE and Corporate Affairs; Vice President, Human Resources, as well as other roles in operations that included project building.

Attah has his eyes focused on improving on the excellent performance that has been associated with NLNG from inception and position the company to be an inspiration to Nigeria, in terms of standard and economic relevance.

Under him, NLNG has been rated the biggest company in Nigeria and the first home grown company.