Special Report: MT African Marvel at Virgin Forest Energy’s Jetty, How it All Started

"I am that Vessel of Honour Used by God", Project Facilitator, Bishop Etim Ante

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It is no more news that MT African Marvel, a 25 thousand Metric Tonnes capacity and 160 metres length hull berthed at a Jetty owned by Virgin Forest Energy in Akai Ebughu community of Mbo local government area of Akwa Ibom State.

News filtered to the nooks and crannies of the state that the pleasant surprise happened on Wednesday, August 11, 2021. Virgin Forest Energy Limited operates petroleum depots, otherwise called Tank Farms, which warehouse refined petroleum products for distribution to marketers.

The Chairman of Virgin Forest Energy, Mr Johnson Chukwu was on hand to receive crew members of the MT African Marvel and stakeholders during the historic event. The company’s Managing Director, Lady Nneoma Johnson Chukwu led other members of the company’s Magenment team to feature at the event. Others at the semi-formal ceremony included the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) led by their Zonal Operations Comptroller for Portharcourt, Mr. Ineh Goddey. Johnson Chukwu lauded Governor Udom Emmanuel for supporting the company to thrive in business.

Also appreciating the Secretary to the Government of Akwa Ibom State, Dr. Emmanuel Ekuwem and the Chairman, Akwa Ibom State Committee on Foreign Direct Investment, Mr. Gabriel Ukpeh for showing exceptional collaboration, Johnson added that both the staff of Virgin Forest and the community have contributed immensely to the feat being attained.

More About Virgin Forest Energy Limited

Virgin Forest Energy Limited is a player in the Nigerian oil and gas downstream sector. The Depot Manager of the company in Akai Ebughu, Mbo, Omote Victor who spoke to Crystal Express on Tuesday, August 17, stated that Virgin Forest Energy Limited “is a Nigerian energy downstream oil trading company dedicated to the provision of top-rate petroleum products and to its vast array of clients and customers across Nigeria.” He said the company has been a player in the oil and gas down stream sector since 2010. He disclosed that the company which was registered in 2010, has its Corporate Head office at 28B Babatunde Jose Street, Off Adetokunbo Ademola Street, Victoria Island, Lagos.

Responding to questions in connection to the berthing of the MT African Marvel, Omote Victor stated that it was the first time the Medium Range Vessel would berth directly at the company’s Jetty of the Tank Farm. He explained that though the vessel has the capacity of conveying 25 thousand metric tonnes of products, it actually brought 15 thousand metric tonnes which is about 20 million metres.

The depot manager added that since 2017 when they commenced operations in Mbo, they had never brought products in a vessel of that magnitude. He further informed that vessels which brought products in the past, were usually halted at “buoy 14”, where lightering vessels were often used to tranship the products bit-by-bit.

Mr Omote recalled that when they arrived six years back, the river was about three to four metres deep. He revealed that it took the stakeholders over six years to engage experts to be able to dredge the channels to about 7, 9 or 12 metres deep. He pointed out that dredging was yet to be concluded, saying the company would keep doing its best to maintain the Medium Range Vessel size for the berthing of her products.

A quick search on the website of the company at www.virginforest.com.ng confirms the company’s operational philosophy. The site reveals the company’s history, vision/mission, corporate profile, careers, as well as services and executive management. The company’s management team is made up of the Chairman, Board of Directors, Mr Johnson Chukwu who also prides as the initiator/founder and Managing Director of Cowry Asset Management. Other team members are Mrs Nneoma Johnson Chukwu who is the Managing Director & Chief Executive Officer; Moses Chinweuba Ani, Secretary & Head, Human Resources and Samuel Onakororo Olotewo, Head, Operations & Logistics, among others.

Prospect of Ebughu Virgin Forest Energy Depot in Akwa Ibom State

The siting and operations of the Virgin Forest Energy Limited in Ebughu of Mbo LGA is significant for its status and prospect. Speaking of the company’s take on the strides being attained, the Depot Manager, Mr. Omote Victor said the energy expended had been massive. According to him, the excitement was high, especially considering the recent arrival of the MT African Marvel Medium Range Vessel at its Jetty. He noted that the feat was significant as Akwa Ibom State now joins the league of cities like Lagos, Rivers, Cross River and Delta as one with an active maritime industry. Omote believes independent petroleum marketers in Akwa Ibom State would no more go to Cross River State or Port Harcourt to get products, as the capacity that would be available can feed the state and its neighbouring states.

He assured residents of Akwa Ibom and the neighboring states of regular and efficient supply of petroleum products at affordable prices. He noted that such would only be possible because of the dredging of the Mbo River Channel and commencement of direct berthing of vessels at its terminal.

His words, “Indeed, dredging is yet to be completed. We are still working hard to maintain this level of shipment. The stakeholders have expended billions of naira on the dredging. All we want is to maintain availability of products for public consumption.

“The Akwa Ibom State government has really done well, giving us a conducive business environment to thrive. They’ve provided peace and security which aides our smooth activities. It is our prayers that the state government led by Mr Udom Emmanuel would sustain the tempo, because no meaningful development can thrive in a chaotic environment.

“We also call on the state government to open access roads and repair some of the existing roads to enhance a stress-free conveyance of products for distribution to the final consumers. We desire basic infrastructure that can assist us to expand our scope. Our expansion also would affect Akwa Ibom State in a very positive way, especially in providing more employment opportunities for indigenes of the state.

“Just as we chose to establish our first depot here in Akwa Ibom State, it was also our decision to come to Oron. We are working hard to expand our coast to other states of the federation”, Omote said.

He thanked the host community for the continued support and cooperation, calling on them to sustain the goodwill.

Project Facilitator Speaks, Makes Interesting Revelations

The President-General of Oron Union, Bishop Etim Ante is an indigene of Akai Ebughu, the community that plays host to the Virgin Forest Energy Limited. He is the MD/CEO of Nso Nigeria Limited, a petroleum company registered since 1991 with branches across Akwa Ibom and Rivers States. Incidentally, he is equally a petroleum marketer. The PG is also the facilitator of the project. These blending circumstances made it an impactful interaction when our correspondent visited his Office on Tuesday for his reaction.

The PG was quick at pointing out that “the berthing of MT African Marvel at the Jetty of Virgin Forest Energy Limited was nothing more than proving the obvious, that Oro waters have the capacity to host any category of ship in the world. Bishop Ante added that he was the vessel of honour whom God had used to bring the company to fruition. He disclosed that the Jetty was sitting on his personal land which he purchased many years ago for business purposes.

“I acquired that land many years ago for a similar business. Obviously, I had not been readily prepared to start off the business. That’s why I willingly surrendered the land to my friends because they were more prepared to commence and actualize the project. I had to sacrifice my time, energy and resources to stay around and supervise the processes for five good years to ensure that everything started well and on a good note”, Ante said.

Bishop Ante made some revealing comments, stating that Akwa Ibom people suffered disparity in the petroleum industry, until they met then Governor Godswill Akpabio who intervened to rescue them.

“During my tour of branches of the Union, I told Oron people that I’ve worked hard and brought my business partners to build the two tank farms. My brothers and sisters in Akai Ebughu and Abiakowo had freely given their land for this project. It was always a big issue for Akwa Ibom people to go to Port Harcourt and get petroleum products for distribution.

“Of course, it was the fight between Late Senator Victor Akan of Akwa Ibom axis and Senator Joseph Wayas of Calabar that caused the administration of President Shehu Shagari to relocate the second petroleum refinery to Port Harcourt. But our colleagues from Port Harcourt and Eleme always embarrass us, especially at the level of IPMAN’s leadership at a time when it was our own turn to emerge chairman”, he further explained.

According to Bishop Ante who was then the Secretary, Independent Petroleum Marketers Association of Nigeria (IPMAN), Akwa Ibom State chapter, they had organized themselves and had a meeting with the then Governor Godswill Akpabio. He said the Akwa Ibom chapter was then led by Late Edem Ita Esq who was the MD/CEO of Itason Gas Petroleum, Uyo. He said the meeting with the governor became a major breakthrough as a depot was agreed to be established somewhere in Oron.

But whether the depot was so sited became another major cause of worry as further exertion of power became a fertile ground for a swollen seed of discord. Speaking on this, the PG had this to say.

“This dream could not come to pass as our brothers from Uyo surprisingly decided to go for a site in Ikot Abasi instead of the Oron axis which had previously been agreed upon. It was for this reason that I consulted the project coordinator from the Petroleum Products Partners, Engr. Don Larry from Edo State who worked with us to acquire some lands in Oron for what is today known as the Tank Farm.

“This Tank Farm enjoys community coorpration. Even if we had some kind of resistant from the communities, especially at the initial stage. But, I am happy today that the Tank Farm has become a reality.

Encomium Trails AKSG, Virgin Forest Energy Limited

The President-General of Oron Union, Bishop Etim Ante has thanked the Akwa Ibom State government for its continued support for the successes so far recorded by Virgin Forest Energy Limited. The PG reiterated the importance of a peaceful state, which he said was a great strength of the current administration. He noted that Virgin Forest Energy is a godsent private company sited in Oron to wipe away the tears of Oron people. He said apart from providing job opportunities, the petroleum company has come to stay as a forerunner to prepare grounds for a more viable project like the Deep Seaport.

Also speaking to Crystal Express, the Paramount Ruler of Mbo local government area, His Royal Majesty, Okon Asuquo Abang expressed delight at the development, saying it is a worthy venture and a development that should not elude Mbo people. He thanked the Governor of Akwa Ibom State, Mr Udom Emmanuel for providing a conducive environment for business opportunities in the state.

The Royal Father lauded Virgin Forest Energy for seizing the opportunity provided by God the creator in the needed environment for their activities. He said the deep waters surrounding Oro Nation was directly given by God who had designed the geography for specific reasons. The monarch called on the company to sustain its operational energy as well as its relationship with the host community so as to ensure continuous progress.

“I am exceptionally excited at that development. In this world, there is time for everything. That’s what the Bible says. There have been times in the history of Oron as a people. We have wept and lamented for a long time. But it is time for God to wipe out tears away. God is not a man. He thinks not like a man. He knows what he does with every people and nation.

“We did not migrate to this place on our own. Our coming to this place was the will of God. Therefore God will not bring us here to perish. He has created the waters to surround us with reasons. Our growth and development cannot come elsewhere. It is time for that to be accomplished. That’s why Virgin Forest is here.

“I must extend my warmest regards to the Governor of this State, Mr Udom Emmanuel. His leadership has provided the atmosphere and the necessary cooperate for this business. I pray that he would continue to do more”, the monarch had prayed.

On his part, the Village Head of Akai Ebughu, Chief Edet Edubio lauded the company for the strides and charged them to go ahead in breaking new grounds. He was precise at calling on the company to carry the leadership of the host community along in its development initiatives. Chief Edubio who spoke with Crystal Express at his palace in Akai Ebughu, frowned at the fact that he was just being aware of the berthing of the ship six days after the vessel had landed. He insisted, that due recognition must be accorded the leadership of the community to ensure proper synergy.

Also Speaking, the Youth President of Akai Ebughu, Mr Godwin Albert stated that Virgin Forest Energy Limited has transformed the lives of the people in the community. The President said through employment of youths, the company has drastically reduced the menacing venom of unemployment in the community.

Oro Stakeholders Say Vessel Berthing Pointer to Capacity of Òrò Water in Hosting Deep Seaport

The President-General of Oron Union, Bishop Etim Ante has further averred that the berthing of medium range MT African Marvel at the Jetty of Virgin Forest Energy Limited points to one thing in particular. Ante said the thing proves to the world that Oro, Ibaka and Ebughu have the depth to host any ship in the world. He said the recent event shows that “it was not impossible to meet the dreams of our forebears who saw the area as a natural drought for a deep Seaport.

On his part, the Parameter Ruler of Mbo local government area, HRM Ogwong Okon Asukwo Abang stated that the depth of Oro waters in hosting vessels was irrefutable. He used the occasion to call on stakeholders to support the operations of Virgin Forest to ensure revival of maritime activities in the area.

To the President-General of Afaha Ebughu Development Union, Chief Elder Ita Onukak, the berthing of the ship has closed the arguments by naysayers, that Oron waters were not deep enough for a Deep Seaport. He noted that destiny, though delayed, would always come to fruition, stating that though Ibaka Deep Seaport may tarry, it would surely come to pass.

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