[INTERVIEW] Oyvind Sandve - Fugro RUE - on Nigerian business climate
This week, ABC had a one-on-one with Oyvind Sandve, marketing and sales manager at Fugro RUE, a global oil and gas company. Mr. Sandve, a Norwegian businessman, has vast experience in doing business in several African countries – mostly in Nigeria. This week, he shares his insight about the Nigerian business climate and what many foreigners need to know about adapting to this industrious African market.
What brought you to do business in Africa in the first place?
"I first came to South Africa in 2007 for my master degree and I lived there for 18 months, just outside Cape Town in Stellenbosch. Afterwards I lived in Abuja, Nigeria, for two months writing my master thesis about ethnic militant groups in Nigeria. Then I got a job with a Norwegian company so I stayed in Port Harcourt for some months and thereafter moved to Lagos, staying there for several more months. That was my entry into the African business market. "
And what was your impression of the African business environment prior to that?
"As most people, I would have thought that there would be more blatant corruption. This is because I have actually studied the topic, but also because Nigeria has a very unique reputation for this. "
Did you have a different impression after a firsthand experience?
"I soon realized that there were strict tendering rules for the major companies, and that all were treated equal, because of mechanisms like the Nipex electronically bidding mechanism."
So how many African countries did you do business in?
"I studied in South Africa and worked in Nigeria, but I have been to 7 sub-Saharan countries and 3 in the north, so I have been to all corners of Africa as well as Africa’s heart, Uganda and Rwanda."
Which country proved to be the most challenging or eventful to work in?
"Nigeria is not famous for being an easy country to work in, and this is still my opinion. What Nigeria lacks is consistency and accountability from the legislators. Investments in the oil sector are expensive and might have to be written over 20 years, hence there needs to be a stable political situation, and promises that the investment is safe. All the regions have different cultural aspects which can make it difficult to do business."
Was it easy slicing through the market or did you have to jump through many hoops?
"As expected we had some hurdles to overcome working in Nigeria. However, we had good Nigerian people on our team who were able to help us understand the business climate in Nigeria. It is very important to have Nigerians on the team if you want to achieve anything in Nigeria. We have been very successful in our operations in Nigeria, and we have been in the country since 2005. We have our ups and downs, but altogether we have made Nigeria one our main markets."
What field did you specialize in?
"We are in the subsea business, and we specialize in diving and ROV operations, which we carry out from own or chartered vessels. We have had the multi-purpose vessels working in Nigeria this year so it has been a busy year. Our clients are Exxon, Shell, Subsea7 and other major oil companies /service providers."
What should a potential investor know before coming to invest in Nigeria or Africa?
"Understand the culture where you are operating. Culture is underestimated in business, and African culture follows what I call African logic. In the OECD countries we often have a long term perspective, and we don’t need to make money the first years. This is different in Africa, where there are elements of “get rich quick” mentalities. Another aspect is equipment maintenance. Attention to detail is very important. Coming from Norway, where we with 5 million people have the most high tech offshore area in the world, it is sometimes hard to explain how important long term planning and details are to have a smoothly run project. ‘No wahala’ which means ‘no worries’, is too often used in Africa. This attitude creates a laxity that affects the future of business.
Any lighter side to your experiences you care to share?
If you stay in Lagos; rent a fast boat and take it out to the remote beaches not far away from the city center. You will feel like you are on a different planet only 10-15 minutes away from the bouldering mega city of Lagos. Also take a trip to Lekki Market where you can find beautiful Nigerian arts at a very reasonable price. I bought two very large oil on canvas paintings which are still in my house – very cheap and of great quality."
Any words of wisdom for entrepreneurs or foreign investors coming to Nigeria?
"First, I’ll advise that you have a fair amount of certainty of success before venturing in. Nigeria is a shark market and only the most clever survive, or the ones with enough money to waste. Second, trust people, but don’t be gullible. Nigerians are friendly, but there are some elements that are highly questionable. If something seems too good to be true, it probably is."