Writer, Poet, Social Commentator
Friday the 23rd day of April 2010 was a good day at work for everyone except for me.
The National Assembly of Nigeria had passed the Oil and Gas Policy Local Content Bill into law. This act set out specific work scopes that must be performed in Nigeria thereby guaranteeing fair access to foreign companies. The Act sought to increase indigenous and local participation in the oil and gas industry by prescribing minimum thresholds for the use of local services and materials and to promote the employment of Nigerian staff in the industry.
It further provided for certain privileges for indigenous companies by making sure there was first consideration for the training and employment of Nigerians and it set out the criteria to be used by the operator and the contractor in assessing how first consideration was to be given to Nigerians in the process of evaluating bids for goods and services required for projects. In addition, the Act also affects, professional services engagements including legal and financial services in the oil and gas sectors of Nigeria.
The Partners of Suasor & Patronus were all smiles, the Senior Associates too; even ‘under-fives’ like me, were having pre-mature dreams of a better tomorrow. Acting President Goodluck Jonathan (as he then was) was the protagonist and every major Law Firm in Nigeria believed they would find themselves somewhere amongst the support cast. Celebration was thick in the already loaded air and the promised Partners’ Cocktail Event later, that night promised a fitting toast to good news. Most interestingly, friendly pats seemed to be the new cool: “well done” came with a pat, “how are you doing” came with its own and the usually scary “what is this you think you are doing?” now had a friendly pat to tone it down. This was an omen of good things to come.
The Cocktail was already in full swing when I walked in and I knew the severe frowns of Partners and other Seniors should have been greeted me but all I received were pats from everyone. I looked around the hall and I could just about pick out the “men” and “boys”; of course, I strode to join the boys.
“Hey” my colleagues greeted me. “What took you so long?” one of them asked me.
“Traffic” was my short reply as I turned to look around once more. The chatter around me was increasing by the minute and after a few moments, I could no longer hold my worry so I blurted into the discussion beside me. “Do you guys think anything will change?”
“What do you mean?” Dele asked. He was the oldest amongst our group and took the Defence immediately, his rasping voice showing early signs of irritation from his correct suspicion that I was about to ruin his night.
“I mean do you think this Local Content Law thingy will change anything?” I asked again, ignoring his tone.
“Like what Riki?” he asked, “I beg you, I am not ready to argue tonight” he said firmly, now clearly irritated.
“I’m just saying *na, Dele, our salaries, proper trainings, due compensations, annual bonuses and every other good thing enjoyed in other well grounded professions; I don’t know, I’m just saying **jare. Will this law even be enforced?”
“You are such a skeptic.” he walked away with a dismissing wave of his hand and I concluded he believed all would be well. Good for him.
I turned to Tunde, Dele’s closest friend at the office.
“It’s not like that and you know it.” I explained, “I just don’t see what the hype is all about. This is not the first time that Laws have been passed without proper enforcement and you know it.”
“Well, I agree with you Riki,” Dele said, “but don’t forget the President is from the oil producing region and will surely want to see this Law enforced. There would be a Local Content Commission and Content Development and Monitoring Board. Besides, since this one involves Lawyers you can be sure we will make sure it is enforced. Ha, ha!” He winked at me.
“I still don’t see any reason to rejoice, at least not yet.” I refused to back down, “Do you realize that the law even requires that the service companies must have ownership of equipment, Nigerian personnel and capacity to execute. How many law firms truly have the Personnel; and I don’t mean in numbers but in competence. How many actually train their staff or even allow them to attend development seminars?” My Skepticism was deep.
“Man I feel your pain and to tell you the truth I have given up on that a long time ago.” Dele confessed. “Let’s just hope things will improve with all this celebration. I have almost even lost my appetite. Excuse me.” He gulped down the last of his drink and moved to another group; another discussion.
I looked around the rest of my peers but they avoided my eyes. Hian! I turned away and bumped into one of the partners. “I’m so sorry Sir.”
“Oh, no bother Riki.” That soft pat again. “You are not eating anything? Hope there’s no problem?” He asked, almost genuinely concerned.
I was not fooled. “Actually sir I was just wondering what this fantastic news portends for us juniors in terms of more structured trainings, salary increases, bonuses and all.” He frowned and I held my breath. He raised his hand and for a split second, I thought he might hit me and indeed his hand landed on my shoulder only that it was soft and friendly. Without another word, he walked away. I looked at his withdrawing frame and I realized he had passed his message.
I continued surveying the small crowd that graced the hall, my mind juggling and aligning my plans. I was certain nothing was going to change; nothing except the pats.
*Na is a colloquial form of ‘Now’
**Jare is a Yoruba language expression used for emphasis