Witchcraft and Jungle Justice

This story, published in a Nigerian newspaper last week, is worth reproducing in full.

A woman, Oluremi Bolaji, 32, held residents of Ijeshatedo, Surulere and its environs spell bound when she mysteriously appeared on the minaret of the Ijesha Central Mosque in Lagos.
Residents of the area had woken up to see the woman perched dangerously atop the minaret which is under construction as part of ongoing renovation works on the three-storey mosque.

The scene of the incident became a Mecca of sort as residents from the neigbouring communities gathered to witness the incident. Many of the onlookers expressed surprise at how Bolaji managed to climb the mosque tower even as they wondered how the mother of three would be rescued safely.

Meanwhile, there were different sides to the Bolaji saga. While some people claimed she was a witch on a failed mission, and reaping the fruits of her wickedness, others said she was mentally deranged, a claim corroborated by Bolaji’s father. According to Bolaji’s father who wept openly at his daughter’s risky situation, the victim was mentally ill and the family had been making plans to move her to a psychiatrist home for treatment before the incident.
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Nigerian Slogans #1

Nigerians like to paint slogans on pretty much anything with a vertical surface, which range from amusing through stating the obvious to downright bizarre.  I’ll post the more interesting ones I see on here from time to time.

Seen in the back window of a minibus taxi:

No Food for Lazy Man

They should print that in large letters across parts of the UK.

Stencilled onto a municipal water pipeline every 30m or so:

Water No Get Enemy

Well, no.  I suppose it doesn’t.

Mission Creep?

A sign outside a secure facility in Lagos:

Nigerian Army Small Scale Drug Manufacturing Unit

Either the Nigerian army has undergone serious mission creep or this is an astonishingly frank admission.

Yeah, right.

Russian Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin commenting on the deal between Rosneft and ExxonMobil to develop a deep water project in the Black Sea:

Sechin said the deal was a proof that the investment climate in Russia had improved.

“We have managed to convince even ExxonMobil of that,” Sechin said.

ExxonMobil is reknowned both within the oil industry and without for investing in places where angels fear to tread.  The presence of Exxon, or any other supermajor for that matter, says absolutely nothing about the investment climate in any particular country.  Exxon is operating in places which feature even lower than Russia on the Heritage Index of Economic Freedom such as the Republic of Congo (168th out of 179), Chad (165th), and Angola (161st), but this is hardly a ringing endorsement of the investment climate in those countries.

On a Wing and Oprah

But this is the most amusing of all:

Australia is hoping to capitalise on its high profile in the US following talk show host Oprah Winfrey’s recent trip down under to encourage Americans to invest in the resource rich country.

Resources Minister Martin Ferguson will meet with leading oil and gas figures in Houston this week to promote investment opportunities in Australia.

Yes, because the oil barons of Houston and Tulsa often turn to Oprah Winfrey to help decide where to invest their next billion.

If the Australians want to attract oil and gas investment, they should probably start by addressing some of the problems highlighted here.

Pull The Other One

This is also amusing:

BP chief executive Robert Dudley has reportedly suggested safety lessons learned from the Macondo spill in the Gulf of Mexico may strengthen the company’s hand in securing further oil deals around the world.

“In an unexpected way… what we have learned has attracted governments around the world who say we have learned more about this (oil spills) than we intended,” the BP boss was quoted as saying.

Aye.  And I’m sure ING purchased Barings Bank because it wanted to capture its corporate experience in presiding over one of the most spectacular financial collapses in history.

Now I can appreciate Mr Dudley is trying to put a positive spin on anything he can, but I thought they sacked Tony Hayward for speaking as if his audience was made up of complete idiots?

UPDATE

Actually, now I think about it, I’d imagine that one of the most attractive aspects of BP is that they were willing and able to transfer $30bn of hard cash into a government account when they had no legal obligation to do so.  There must be governments around the world licking their chops at the thought of having BP close to hand.

Gazprom’s Challenges

This is amusing:

The Kremlin’s ambition of turning Gazprom into a global energy titan is undermined by Soviet-style thinking, poor management and corruption, according to leaked US diplomatic cables.

Who knew?

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and his protege, former Gazprom board chairman Dmitry Medvedev who is now Russia’s president, have tried to use Gazprom to claw back some of the international clout which Moscow lost after the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991.

Noooo!

But leaked diplomatic cables from US Ambassador to Moscow John Beyrle paint Russia’s biggest company as a confused and corrupt behemoth still behaving like its predecessor, the Soviet Ministry of Gas.

Say it ain’t so!

The leaked cables cast Putin as Russia’s “alpha-dog” leader who allows a venal elite of corrupt officials to siphon off cash from energy sales, comments Russia’s leadership have dismissed.

This cannot be!

On a more serious note:

The US cables repeat the view of many Western and Russian analysts that Gazprom’s management misjudged the future by betting that soaring European demand would continue to support a seller’s market.

Instead Gazprom has faced demand destruction in Europe since 2009 as the global economic crisis forced European customers to slash consumption. They also often switched to liquefied gas from the Middle East, whose producers turned out to be much more flexible in their pricing policies than Gazprom.

Being a more flexible and reliable supplier than Gazprom is not difficult, but Russia being outperformed by a bunch of Qataris is bound to smart a little nonetheless.

“Gazprom was simply unprepared for the inevitable levelling off and current decline in European gas demand,” the US ambassador said in the cables, adding that Gazprom misjudged the impact of liquefied natural gas imports to Europe.

That explains the recent threats.

“Gazprom will have to cope with massive new volumes of LNG on the global market from projects already under way in Qatar and elsewhere,” he wrote.

Exactly how Gazprom and Russia cope will be interesting to see.  Gazprom in this instance can be likened to a fixed-line telephone monopoly which has just seen the first mobile network installed on its territory.  How it reacts will be crucial to its long-term viability.

The BP-Rosneft Exploration Pact

There is much chattering going on in the oil and gas press regarding the BP-Rosneft exploration deal, announced last week, which will see BP take a 9% stake in Rosneft and Rosneft a 5% stake in BP.  This initially took me by surprise, especially considering the treatment handed out to BP’s CEO Bob Dudley when he was CEO of TNK-BP back in July 2008, which effectively saw him run out of Russia.  Now I have no idea what the actual reasons are behind BP chancing its arm in Russia for the third time (it got badly burned in the 1990s as well), but here’s my take on it.

Firstly, and most obviously, BP needs to take a positive forward step.  Currently it is best known for the Macondo well blowout which cost the company $30bn, its reputation in the US and around the world, and its CEO his job.  BP badly needed some press which would re-establish it as a global supermajor in the eyes of investors and the media.  This partnership with Rosneft to some extent achieves that (BP’s share price rose 2% on news of the deal).

Secondly, like it or not, BP needs Russia probably more than Russia needs BP, and this was plainly obvious during the debacle over TNK-BP two years ago.  Page 29 of BP’s 2009 annual review shows that Russia accounts for a third of their crude production, and TNK-BP about 20% of the supermajor’s proven reserves.  BP stayed in Russia because it had little alternative, and given how wedded the company is to Russia anyway, it probably made as much sense to put the whole house on Russia as it did to try to increase its presence elsewhere.  There are few other regions where a company can quickly and significantly add to its production and reserves figures, and the only other area where it is fully committed is the USA (accounting for a quarter of its crude production) and the Macondo incident has left them clinging onto their American operations by the skin of their teeth and in no position to increase them.

Some commentators have likened this new deal as the last desperate throw of a gambler’s dice, which may well prove to be accurate.  If it pays off, BP stand to reap rewards which will turn their competitors green with envy, but thus far BP has done little to demonstrate that it truly understands Russia or the mentality with which the place is run (actually, they also failed to understand the US and the mentality with which it is run, which doesn’t exactly inspire confidence in this latest venture).  Perhaps BP has given some serious thought to its previous upsets in Russia and has a clear game plan to avoid repeating them?  But I doubt it.  I expect sooner or later BP will run into precisely the same troubles which has plagued it, and everyone else, in Russia countless times before.

So what’s in it for Rosneft?  For starters, they get whatever experience BP brings with them from their Prudhoe Bay operations, which is in the Arctic albeit onshore.  Their projects will get a veneer of respectibility in the eyes of investors, who will be reassured by the presence of a western supermajor.  And they are probably somewhat confident that should they decide to start giving BP the runaround after it has committed considerable cash, time, and resources into a project there will be few parties shedding tears, least of all the Americans.  A weakened BP is probably an attractive prospect for a Russian state-owned oil company to partner, and it would be most interesting to know who approached whom with the initial offer.  I would guess that it was Rosneft which identified BP as an outfit with expertise and capital which was in no position to give them any trouble, thus ensuring the benefit will be in one direction only; and BP, with few alternatives, has accepted and will hope for the best.  Interestingly, BP and Rosneft were partners on the Sakhalin 5 development in a joint venture called Elvari Neftegas, but after preliminary exploration activities the development was halted, supposedly because the tax regime in place at the time was unfavourable.  It would be interesting to see what part, if any, this previous joint venture played in the decision to form this new agreement.

Whatever happened, it looks as though BP didn’t bother to consult its partners in TNK-BP:

BP’s share swap and Arctic exploration deal with Rosneft is reportedly under scrutiny by partners in the UK supermajor’s Russian joint venture TNK-BP over whether it violates the terms of their partnership.

Alfa-Access-Renova, the investment vehicle through which a group of Russian-connected oligarchs holds a 50% stake in TNK-BP, had understood the joint venture agreement meant BP would only pursue new ventures in Russia via TNK-BP, according to UK newspapers The Times and Financial Times.

Which would be a somewhat embarrassing oversight given Bob Dudley probably knows the aforementioned oligarchs a lot better than he would perhaps like.

Also blubbering are US politicians:

BP PLC has hailed its $16 billion share swap with state-owned Russian oil giant OAO Rosneft as a ground-breaking maneuver in the oil industry, but the deal already has drawn criticism in Washington over its potential implications for U.S. national security.

Yet the Rosneft tie-up could end up exacerbating BP’s already fraught relations with U.S. authorities. Already, some U.S. politicians have expressed concern about the national security implications of a share swap between a Kremlin-controlled oil firm and a company that in 2009 was the top supplier of petroleum to the U.S. military.

Rep. Edward Markey, the top Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee, called for the deal to be analyzed by the Committee on Foreign Investment, a branch of the Treasury Department.

“BP once stood for British Petroleum,” he said. “With this deal, it now stands for Bolshoi Petroleum.”

Republican Congressman Michael Burgess, who sits on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, also said the deal “deserves some analysis and scrutiny.”

Well, Bolshoi Petroleum it may now be, but the Russian phrase which springs to mind is “Tuffska shitski”.  During the course of the Macondo well incident, US politicians took every opportunity to do as much damage as possible to BP both in the US and globally, and repeatedly threatened to impose crippling fines on the company long before the causes of the incident were known, made cash demands from the company which had no legal basis whatsoever,  made noises about nationalising BP’s American assets and engaged in no small amount of ignorant Brit-bashing to boot.   What did these idiots think was going to happen?  They effectively forced BP into looking elsewhere to consolidate their position and recover, and now they are complaining about the choice of partner BP has made.  As is said in the WSJ article, and I mentioned earlier:

The deal entrenches BP’s position in Russia, at a time when the Gulf spill has raised doubts about the company’s ability to grow in the U.S.

Quite.  Rather than remain forever in a state of humiliation in front of panels of ignorant American politicians, BP has attempted to bounce back by exercising probably the only option it had left.  That this may now mean the US has lost a reliable, politically safe energy provider leaving its energy security partially in the hands of an unfriendly foreign entity is of little concern to Russia or BP.  The blame for this lies entirely with Obama and his team of rent-a-gobs who didn’t know when to stop hammering BP and were more interested in political posturing than governance.  America’s loss, despite the many faults of BP, is Russia’s gain.

Paris

My leave has ended, but lacking a visa (it’s being processed in London) I could not return to Nigeria and so was ordered to present myself at a company office in Paris (where my employer is headquartered).  My route took me to Bangkok, where I had to spend a day in order to get my tickets changed, followed by a 7 hour flight to Dubai and a further 6 hour flight to Paris on Emirates Airlines.  I was fairly lucky on both flights, having pre-selected a half-decent seat, 45C (aisle, near the back, chance of an empty space beside me) on a Boeing 777.  I selected the same seat for both flights for no other reason than if it was good for one it would be good for the other, and by pure concidence the plane was the same as well.  So I did both flights sat in the same seat, but the second flight was half emtpy and I had the whole row to myself, once the French Arabic chap – who could be a poster-boy for a hijacker awareness campaign – had shifted to another empty row.

Even on the first flight I was fortunate enough to be sat beside somebody who was able to keep his insides inside him.  I mention this because when I flew from Lagos to Dubai a few weeks before, the Nigerian chap beside me, as well as falling asleep on me every few minutes, chose a moment ten minutes into our circling Dubai airport to throw his guts up all over the seat in front, the pocket with the magazines catching most of it.  The clot had no idea that air sickness bags are provided, so I dug mine out, got it open for him, and he then demonstrated to good effect that they are pretty useless objects unless held with both fucking hands and your gob shoved right into the opening.  The next salvo hit the carpet.  Fortunately, none of it went on me, we were not far from landing, and his stomach seemed to only contain apple.  Had he thrown up a gutful of Nigerian goat stew on my lap on the tarmac at Lagos, there would have been an air rage incident which would have made the international papers.  I felt a bit sorry for him, it can’t be much fun being sick in a plane.  But I can’t help thinking the airlines would do far better to tell people how to find and use an air sickness bag than instructing them how to put on life jackets in the event the aircraft, inverted and on fire, plunges into the sea at six hundred miles an hour.  Attend to yourself before helping others.  No shit.

Anyway, I’m now in Paris, where I am contemplating being an airport taxi driver instead of an engineer in the oil and gas business in order to realise my dreams of owning a yacht.  Still, mine was a decent driver in that he did not spend half the journey on the phone to his girlfriend with one hand occasionally on the wheel (as was the case on my way to Bangkok airport) and nor did he collect his wife and stick her in the front seat (as was the case on my way to Phuket airport) and nor did he drive at a speed aimed at impressing any Formula 1 team scouts who happened to be in the area (as was the case on my way from Bangkok airport).  In fact, he got me there in one piece in a car which was both safe and comfortable, something which is a rare experience for the average oil and gas expat.  For my peace of mind I was charged 80 Euros.

The hotel is the most magnificent establishment on earth.  At least, compared to the Eko Hotel in Lagos it is.  Substantial differences between the two are as follows:

Sofitel Hotel, La Defense, Paris: Receptionist offers you a friendly greeting and checks you in.
Eko Hotel, Lagos: Receptionist offers you a friendly greeting but has no idea who you are and has no record of your booking.

Sofitel: Receptionist asks for a credit card.
Eko: Receptionist asks for a credit card and you reply with “Do I look insane?”

Sofitel: Check-in takes 2 minutes.
Eko: Check-in takes 90 minutes.

Sofitel: Complimentary drink is offered.
Eko: Complimentary bribe is expected.

Sofitel: Helpful staff show you to your room.
Eko: Bone-idle staff explain your room is in another building, 200m away.  Off you go, sir.

Sofitel: Wide-screen LCD TV.
Eko: CRT museum piece.

Sofitel:  Room service order promised in 20 minutes, arrives in 12.
Eko: Room service order promised in 40 minutes, never arrives.

Sofitel: Complimentary cookies.
Eko: Complimentary cockroaches.

Sofitel: Housekeeping staff are African and they clean your room properly.
Eko: Housekeeping staff are African.

Sofitel: Towels smell of fabric conditioner.
Eko: Towels reek of BO.

Sofitel: Bedsheets are white.
Eko: Bedsheets are grey.

Sofitel: Keycard works after one swipe.
Eko: Keycard works after ten minutes of furious swiping.

You get the picture.  The hotel is situated in the La Defense district of Paris, lying a few kilometres west of the city centre.  It is Paris’ main business centre in which enormous corporations sit in high-rise buildings, each marked with their logo, and face off from one another in a statement of capitalist might which might seem out of place in Paris.  Which is probably why they all got plonked in their own district away from the little street cafes and historical boulevards of the city centre.  Being a business district, it is vibrant during the day but dead after office hours, but at any time the reflected quality of Parisian public spaces is evident, at least compared to somewhere like London.

On my first night I chose to eat in the bar/restaurant in the hotel, being jet-lagged and not in the mood for venturing out.  I went down at 6:40pm but found the restaurant was not open until 7pm, only the bar.  The difference between the bar and the restaurant seemed to be purely what menu was available at the time.  This threw me.  I’m used to Thailand where opening and closing times are generally identical to those of the customer’s immediate preferences, as is the menu.  You want it, we’ll make it for you, whenever you want.  For $5.  But this is Paris.  And it wasn’t $5.  Anyhow, I decided to be a bit Parisian and order an Italian Burger from the bar menu (actually, the nice garcon had informed me in a whisper that he could swing it so the restaurant menu was available, but I couldn’t recognise a single thing on there and the prices started at around what you’d pay for a small condominium in Thailand).  As the waiter took my order, the following conversation took place:

Waiter: Would m’sieur like some wine with his meal?
Me: Erm, OK. Glass of house white, please.
Waiter: Pardon, m’sieur?
Me: Erm, um, a glass of your cheapest white wine, please.
Waiter: Perhaps m’sieur would like me to recommend a suitable wine to go with his meal?
Me: Erm, yeah, that’s probably best.

At this point the conversation switched from being spoken out loud to merely thought:

Waiter: Ah! You are Eenglish! You are – how you say? – fucking neanderthal, oui?

Indeed.  Still, the burger was pretty damned good, fried egg and all.  Not very Parisian, you might think.  Nor did I.  Apparently, so everyone keeps telling me, Paris is the gastrinomical capital of the world.  But I was here about 10 years ago and I thought the two things which were the most overrated in Paris were the food and the women (and that was before I’d ever been to Russia).  Now I don’t know if I am being a barbarian, or an Italian Burger at 20 Euros is an example of culinary excellence, or whether the Parisians have got the whole world hoodwinked and are laughing to themselves every time anyone starts rabbitting on about how wonderful their food is.  I’m an engineer not a food connoisseur, but I can offer an opinion on what I am served.

Yesterday I was in the works canteen, admittedly not the height of culinary excellence anywhere, but I was served a cube of boiled ham four inches in each direction and a pasta which looked like the efforts of a student on his first night in self-catered halls.  The daily chicken and rice served to us in the Lagos canteen would have won Michelin awards by comparison.  So I don’t know.  Probably I will get stuck into the French food whilst I am here, but don’t be too surprised if I end up visiting an Irish pub or McDonalds at some point along the way.  Incidentally, I’ve heard that France is a country where McDonalds enjoys considerable success.  I might be onto something here.  Maybe the French get too pissed on wine to really know what they’re eating?  I noticed the canteen did serve wine, after all.

Anyway, I’ll be here for another week, and the weather has improved this morning which hopefully will mean a bright, sunny weekend.  Everybody is excitedly informing me that the sales have started, the timing of which in France are dictated by the government.  Can’t have shopkeepers marking down their own stock whenever they please now, can we?  Chaos would ensue, and we’d need to form yet another republique to cope.  Still, it’s nice to be in civilisation again and I’ll be sure to visit one or two of the huge shopping centres they’ve got scattered about.  I might even buy some clothes.  Having come here unexpectedly from Phuket the most suitable clothes I had with me were jeans, a Hawaiian shirt, and a Berghaus fleece.  Compared to how everyone else in La Defense is dressed, I might as well be wearing a yellow Kappa shell suit.  But at least I don’t need to wear a coat, hat, and scarf like the locals do.  Having spent the best part of four years in Russia, 10C is what I would call fresh, not cold.  The way people here are wrapped up, you’d think they were in Moscow.

It’s nice to be here.

Holidays

Posting has been non-existent because I am currently in Thailand on holiday.  After almost 3 months in Nigeria, Phuket never looked so clean, inviting, and friendly.  I’m way too busy enjoying myself to be blogging.

Remember this post?  All is forgiven.  Phuket is the best place on the planet.