Last week I wrote about the partnership agreement with the Government of Uganda that was on the cards for Oranto, one of Nigeria's plucky oil groups taking on the IOCs. But what about the man behind the company. In this series, I'll be looking at some of the figures behind Nigeria's new breed of punchy homegrown oil players.
Arthur Eze is a Nigerian oilman and politician and CEO of Oranto, but you'd be mistaken for thinking he was just another oil mogul. To many people, Eze is known as Prince Arthur because of his heritage and tribal ancestry. It's actually his brother who is the traditional ruler of the Ukpo village in Anambra State, but Eze himself is what the tribe call the ‘ozoigbondu' of Igboland.
Like many Nigerians, he studied overseas following his elementary education in Nigeria. Eze felt the call of the Beach Boys, baseball and Hollywood and left Anambra for the sunshine state: California. From 1974 to 1978, Eze studied mechanical and chemical engineering at California State University at Long Beach and found his passion for industrial life.
Eze founded Atlas Oranto Petroleum in 1991 and began oil exploration activities in West Africa. The company grew exponentially and today is the largest holder of oil exploration blocks in Africa. The strength of the company is not just in its acreage though. Oranto's yield per block is staggeringly impressive: just two oil blocks alone are producing 100,000 barrels of crude oil each day. Atlas Oranto Petroleum today owns several producing and non-producing oil and gas assets across Nigeria, Liberia, Equatorial Guinea and the Gambia, but has 21 oil and gas licences in total across Africa.
Like many Nigerian oil men, Eze is politically involved and was very close to the Goodluck Jonathan administration. Unusually, Eze seems to have been spared from President Buhari's purge of businessmen who found success in the Goodluck years despite the fact that he gave away nearly $100 million of his own money to the PDP during the last election cycle. Some other oil men in Nigeria haven't been quite as fortunate.
Oranto currently are not involved in the government procurement cycle, though in the past Eze has been involved extensively in the infrastructure of Anambra state. In years past, Eze was awarded the contract to build the Anambra State Broadcasting Service and Television Studio, but recently Oranto lost an agreement with the Nigerian Energy Ministry in June this year because of some lingering due diligence concerns. He's a savvy political operator though, so you can imagine these concerns will be resolved swiftly enough.
Eze is also a big philanthropist and if he's Africa's 8th-richest man, he must also have a shot at being its most generous too. Eze made the headlines in 2013 when he donated $12 million USD at a fundraising event to help fund the construction of an Anglican Church Youth Development Center in Otuoke, Bayelsa State. It's no coincidence that Otuoke just happens to be the hometown of President Jonathan; like I said, a savvy political operator. Eze also made a $6.3-million USD donation to flood relief efforts in Nigeria the year before and regularly makes large donation to educational causes and universities.
In 2017, Oranto Petroleum announced that it was on the brink of signing a petroleum exploration licence and oil production sharing agreements with the Government of Uganda. The agreement will cover the Ngassa area of Uganda which accounts for 410 square kilometres near Lake Albert. Eze has always been a shrewd business operator and he made sure that Oranto was one of the first companies to bid in Uganda's first competitive oil exploration licenses, launched in 2015.
Eze's business model reverses the established model whereby the big multinational oil players get the big blocks and the rest trickles to the local players. At Oranto, Eze's plan is to acquire oil acreage with massive value before chopping them up into portions and selling them to the IOCs when the values increase.
Oranto are already one to watch, but things really will get interested once they get back into the good books at State House.