Dr Jesse Salah Ovadia, a new member of staff in Politics at Newcastle University, travelled to the Niger Delta in November 2013 to participate in the 3rd Practical Nigerian Content Conference, an annual policy forum for government officials and stakeholders to discuss the promotion of local content policies in the Nigerian oil and gas industry.

Local content policies in Nigeria set targets for the participation of Nigerian citizens, companies, and raw materials in the oil and oil services sectors. Ovadia’s research concerns local content policies in the natural resource sector as a mechanism for state-led development and for linking extractive industry to industrial development and economic growth in the non-oil economy. His contention is that these policies allow for the possibility of positive developmental outcomes instead of a “resource curse”.

Organised in partnership with the Nigerian Content Development and Monitoring Board (NCDMB) and the Bayelsa State Government, the conference’s purpose is to discuss and debate the key issues that will form the basis for Nigeria’s local content agenda. Ovadia addressed a room of roughly 400 attendees, including representatives from the relevant government ministries, agencies regulating the oil and gas industry in Nigeria, civil society, senior industry officials, and the media.

Speaking on a panel entitled ‘How can Nigerian Content Develop Further Over the Next 3 years?, Ovadia used the opportunity to share his applied policy research and recommendations. He was joined by five other panelists, including representatives from the oil industry and the Director of Monitoring & Evaluation for the NCDMB, the agency responsible for regulating local content in Nigeria. He was the only academic invited to participate in the conference.  

In 2010, Nigeria passed into law a new Nigerian Content Act. The first piece of legislation signed by then-Acting President Goodluck Jonathan, the act set up the NCDMB to help the country capture more of the estimated US$15 billion invested annually in Nigeria’s oil and gas industry.

In the past few years, local content has become a key topic in the burgeoning field of natural resources and development. Now being promoted by the UNDP, World Bank, the African Union, and many other development agencies and international organisations, local content potentially allows resource-rich countries to overcome the so-called ‘resource curse’ and build backward and forward linkages from extractive industry into the non-oil economy.

Ovadia has worked as a local content consultant for private companies and for the UK Department for International Development (DFID). His book, The Petro-Developmental State in Africa: Making Oil Work in Angola, Nigeria, and the Gulf of Guinea will be coming out later this year from Hurst & Co. Publishers.