Adaku Ufere leads Centurion’s Energy Practice Group from the firm’s Malabo office. In this interview, Adaku tells us about her fascination with the oil and gas industry, her plans for the Energy Practice Group, and about the predominant sector trends in 2016.
How did you get your start as an energy lawyer, and what drives your passion for energy policy and law?
My passion for energy comes from my roots as a Nigerian. Growing up in a country where the machinery of the economy is so dependent on petroleum really heightens your awareness of the importance of oil, gas and power to a nation.
I studied for my LLM in Oil and Gas at the University of Aberdeen, where I gained extensive theoretical experience in the energy sector. There I had a wonderful teacher, Professor John Paterson, who really opened my eyes to how fascinating and useful the legal technicalities of the energy industry are. The start of my practical experience was as Legal Counsel for GE Oil & Gas in Nigeria. Although my portfolio was focused primarily on oil and gas, I also worked with GE’s Power division.
The entire process of the petroleum industry – from exploration and production to transport and storage to refining and retail – is a workaholic’s dream. It is an endless source of inspiration. The education never stops. Every day, new forms of energy are being discovered and developed. Old processes are being updated, new safety measures being introduced. It’s the world’s greatest assembly line.
I find it fascinating that control of this multi-billion dollar industry hinges on words on a piece of paper. The wording of a Production Sharing Contract, Joint Operating Agreement or a piece of energy legislation drives whole economies. How can you not love that?!
Centurion has built its reputation on serving the oil, gas and power industries. What do you see as the immediate priorities for the Energy Practice Group?
We have gone from a world awash with petrodollars to a seemingly uncertain future. However, I firmly believe that this is the best time for the industry to re-group and re-strategize. Hard times expose whatever weaknesses were hidden by prosperity, and this gives oil and gas industry professionals the ability to trim the fat where necessary. This temporary paradigm shift has shaken things up and will ensure that those who survive the crisis will emerge stronger and better.
The Centurion name and the name of our CEO NJ Ayuk are institutions in the African energy landscape, so we have a wealth of connections and goodwill that is already established. The immediate priority for the Energy Practice Group is to consolidate our energy projects and forge a unified team across the company; this includes the Accra, Douala and Johannesburg offices, as well as Malabo.
In light of recent events the efficient management of our cost base is a key priority, the challenge being to balance short-term measures against long-term trade-offs. This will take several forms, one of which is offering clients alternative billing arrangements with lower current billings, which herald the promise of greater revenue for the firm over the long term.
We’re also working on establishing new in-house technology platforms to make the work of our lawyers more efficient. At this time training, identifying and applying specific skills will put us, not just a practice group but as a firm, in a very advantageous position when the tide turns.
What do you regard as the predominant trends in African energy policy in 2016? How do these trends impact the legal services industry?
Renewables have held sway for a number of years now, due to the desire of many in the energy industry to diversify and reduce dependency on oil and gas companies and assets. This has led to the development of a number of new legal spheres in the renewable energy industry, which previously did not exist. The advantage of specializing in a relatively new frontier is the fact that one is not held back by outdated practices, and lawyers can develop their practice in accordance with the times. Power Purchase Agreements have become an extremely interesting area of work because of the long negotiation process involved. In the past three years alone, PPAs have shown a dramatic increase in market share.
The diversification of funding strategies due to falling oil prices is also on the rise. Infrastructure building, while not a new trend, has become a key focus area while oil companies batten down the hatches and prepare to weather the storm. This will spur a lot of energy firms to become more flexible in their skill sets to accommodate these opportunities.
How can policymakers and legal services providers contribute to building and improving African nations’ power sectors?
The fact that over half of Africa’s population has no access to electricity makes the power sector one of the most urgent and potentially lucrative sectors in Africa. Electricity consumption is directly correlated with economic advancement, and an improvement in Africa’s power sector is a step in the right direction towards fiscal autonomy on the continent.
Among the myriad energy sources available, gas is on track to be the fastest to implement. However, in Africa’s somewhat unstable environment, the transportation of gas is susceptible to external tampering influences. Therefore, the development of an LNG transportation strategy will greatly aid a gas-to-power transition. When natural gas is liquefied, volumes are greatly reduced. LNG is easier to transport and can be stored, unlike gas in its natural state.
Regulators should encourage private sector participation. Nigeria provides an instructive example: Privatization there heralded the biggest turn-around the country’s power sector has seen in decades. To encourage private sector investment, the need for efficient and consistent regulations remains paramount to quell investors’ fears.
Enhancing the financial viability of the sector is an immediate concern as well. Too often electricity tariffs do not reflect the true cost of electricity, leading citizens to lose confidence in their governments’ abilities to safeguard their interests. Costs need to be transparent and processes properly regulated.
What is the role of a pan-African law group like Centurion in building capacity in the energy and legal services businesses across the continent?
Centurion is playing its part in developing African talent in a major way. Each of our four offices, in Johannesburg, Accra, Douala and Malabo, attracts the best legal talent from all over Africa. There is no bias against hiring non-nationals for a particular region. Centurion has also proven to be a great legal training ground, as past alumni have moved on to influential positions in the energy and legal landscape.
We provide capacity development opportunities in various specialist areas to public and private sector organizations seeking to expand their high-level performance in the oil and gas industry. In addition to this, we design tailored workshops featuring practical and interactive sessions that allow professionals to build on their existing experience. Our approach is to collaborate closely with clients in evaluating the legal aspects of their organizational needs, and to develop working relationships that transcend borders and truly add value to energy projects and initiatives, wherever they may be in Africa.