Blog: An Interview with Sonia A. Ebiki, Esq
This transcript is part of a series of Top Voice interviews brought to you by IBR Group International on the topic of sustainability. To learn more about our Top Voices in Sustainability interviews or to discover how you can contribute, please contact us directly.
Here's the transcript to the full interview:
Q1. Hi Sonia, would you care to introduce yourself and your background, your education, and your professional responsibilities?
Thanks for inviting me to respond to your questions, I am truly honoured. My name is Sonia Ebiki. I am a legal practitioner licensed to practice in Nigeria. Currently, I work as the Head of Legal Department at MG Vowgas Limited, an EPCIC/ Oil servicing company based in Port Harcourt, Nigeria. As the head of the legal department in the said company, I am responsible for overseeing all legal matters and ensuring compliance with relevant regulations and laws applicable to the energy industry. Additionally, I provide legal counsel and support to the company. This includes contract negotiations, risk assessments, and other legal aspects of our operations.
Q2. Who (or what) inspired you to become an energy legal professional, and what encouraged you to become a responsible steward of construction and sustainability?
My passion for energy law was greatly influenced by my father, Mr Gift Ebiki who shared captivating stories of Nigeria's oil industry and its significance, especially in my home state, Bayelsa, Nigeria. Growing up in a region with a deep-rooted connection to the energy sector sparked my interest in becoming an energy legal professional. During my undergraduate studies, I had the privilege of being taught by the distinguished Prof. Damilola Olawuyi SAN. His exceptional teaching skills not only shaped my interests in energy and environmental sustainability matters but also laid the foundation for my current role as a responsible lawyer clamouring for access, efficiency and sustainability in the energy sector. These experiences have not only inspired me but also instilled in me a strong sense of responsibility to contribute to the industry's sustainabledevelopment and conscious practices in the field of energy law.
Q3. As part of its carbon reduction proposal under the Planning Act 2008, the UK body responsible for offshore wind energy projects recently announced that Hornsea 4 Project has been granted planning permission to be built just off the North Sea coast. Are you able to provide any tangible insight for our reading audience about the process behind offshore wind planning applications? How does it all work, and why did approval for Hornsea take so long to complete?
Under the UK Planning Act 2008, offshore wind projects exceeding 100MW are considered Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects (NSIPs) and require a development consent order from the Secretary of State. The planning application process involves consulting with relevant bodies, local authorities, and communities before submitting the application to the Infrastructure Planning Commission. The Commission has 28 days to accept or reject the application. If accepted, an examining authority is appointed to assess the proposal and make recommendations to the Secretary of State. The examination is typically done through written representations and should conclude within 6 months. The Secretary of State makes a decision within 3 months after receiving the examining authority's report. The timeframe may be extended, and interested parties have a 6-week window to challenge the grant or refusal of consent.
The Hornsea 4 project's approval was delayed until July due to additional information needed for wildlife compensation. Reports show the consent time has increased from 2.6 years to 4.2 years between 2012 and 2021, prompting stakeholders to call for a review of the planning process. The government promised to reform the process to support faster delivery of renewable energy projects after pressure from the industry.
Q4. What is Nigeria's President's position on the issuance of new oil & gas licences as a stakeholder with global interests in a just energy transition?
The Nigerian government has shown dedication to diversify its economy and curb greenhouse gas emissions. There have been ongoing discussions regarding the promotion of renewable energy sources such as solar and wind power, with the aim of exploring new opportunities. Nigeria, like many other countries, have made changes to its energy policies and approaching response to global interests in a just energy
transition. Simply put, Nigeria's president has called for an equitable balance between fossil fuel and green energy in the race of energy transition.
Be that as it may, Nigerians President has also stated that oil still remains Nigeria's biggest exchange and like many African countries Nigeria still needs to explore its hydrocarbons to help provide power to millions of people without electricity and economic development of the nation. Thus, it is evident that there would be continues grant of oil and gas licences in this regime albeit exploring other forms of cleaner energies in pursuit of energy transition.
Q5. As an energy lawyer, what practical skill set would you say is required to succeed as a working professional in your industry?
As an energy lawyer, possessing a robust skill set is paramount to excel in the dynamic and multifaceted energy industry. Key skills that contribute to professional success in this field include specialized expertise in energy-related laws and regulations, a keen sense of analytical and problem-solving abilities to address complex legal challenges, and exceptional negotiation and communication skills to advocate effectively for clients.
Moreover, a successful energy lawyer should also possess a strong business acumen, enabling them to comprehend the commercial intricacies of the industry and provide strategic legal advice that aligns with clients' commercial objectives. Furthermore, adaptability is of utmost importance in navigating the ever changing energy landscape, especially in light of the ongoing energy transition process. Being proactive in staying abreast of industry developments and embracing innovation are critical traits that empower energy lawyers to navigate emerging legal challenges and opportunities in the pursuit of sustainable and just energy solutions.
In summary, a well-rounded skill set comprising expertise, critical thinking, persuasive communication, commercial awareness, and adaptability are the key components that underpin success as a legal professional in the energy industry.
Q6. Egypt has confirmed plans for a 500MW onshore windfarm, which will make it the largest of its kind in Africa (See here). What are Nigeria's future plans for onshore wind?
The Northern region of Nigeria holds significant potential for onshore wind installations. Surprisingly, despite the Nigerian Meteorological Agency operating stations, the only large-scale onshore wind turbine in Nigeria can be found in Rimi Local Government Area, Katsina state, with an estimated output capacity of 10MW. The Federal Government of Nigeria has shown significant effort to promote renewable energy in Nigeria, including onshore wind energy as succinctly captured in the newly passed Electricity Act 2023. The Act makes robust provisions for the utilization of renewable energy sources in the energy mix. Section 3 2)(a) provides for development of the electric power sector based on optimization of renewable energy sources such as wind, solar, hydro etc. other sections of the act promoting wind energy include; Ss 80, 166, an 171 of the Electricity Act 2023. However, as it is in every industry and nation, policy and regulation making is only but a step in the right direction. The crucial part is actually following through and implementing all provisions of the policies and regulations.
Q7. What is your professional outlook for the UK African energy and infrastructure industry over the next 3–5 years?
In the coming 3-5 years, I look forward to a substantial expansion and numerous investment prospects in the UK African energy and infrastructure industry. The African continent, known for its abundant natural resources and increasing population, offers an appealing market for energy and infrastructure ventures. The UK's proficiency in energy technology and financial capabilities positions it as a key player, collaborating with African nations to establish sustainable projects in the energy industry.
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