By C. Don Adinuba
In the 1985 prestigious Ahiajoku Lecture in Owerri, Imo State, entitled “Igbos in the Context of Modern Government and Politics in Nigeria: A Call for Self Examination and Correction”, Ben Nwabueze, the most scintillating constitutional law scholar in Africa, counselled the Igbo people to be less abrasive and noisy and become more diplomatic and sensitive to their environment. Chinua Achebe, in The Trouble With Nigeria, deplores the showiness and loudness of many successful Igbo elements. These observations by the two great Igbo thinkers and patriots are unimpeachable. Yet, there abound many exceedingly successful Igbo people who are far from pompous. Alex Ekwueme, Nigeria’s former vice president, who is eminently successful by any standard in the world, comes to mind. His modesty is stunning. There is Boniface Madubunyi, who runs the most successful hydrocarbon consulting firm by an African and is the only black person to have oil blocks in Europe and the United States, among other achievements.
If Ekwueme and Madubunyi represent the old generation of sell-effacing Igbo professionals and entrepreneurs, there are younger persons like Emeka Okwuosa, an engineer and founder of Oilserv, easily the leading indigenous firm in oil and gas pipeline facilities, power generation and project management. Oilserve is a household name not just in Nigeria but also in Sierra Leone, Kenya, Republic of Benin, Togo, Tanzania and Uganda, but hardly does the general public know the man behind it all. This is rare in a clime where business executives hire image makers to promote themselves rather than their organisations and their products and services. Okwuosa is very humble but his attainments are not.
Based on Oilserv’s service record to multinationals like Shell, Total, AGIP, Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas (NLNG), National Integrated Power Project (NIPP) and Agip, Bart Nnaji’s Geometric Power contracted the firm to provide a 27-kilometre natural gas pipeline and metering facilities from the oil-producing community of Owaza in Ukwa West Local Government Area of Abia State where Shell operates the Imo River field to the industrial district of Osisioma on the outskirts of Aba, also in Abia. I still remember vividly how Nnaji, a globally influential engineering professor who was to become the Minister of Power, introduced Emeka to me in 2009 in the Geometric office at Asokoro, Abuja. “C. Don, please, meet Emeka, one of the most successful and reliable petroleum industry professionals anywhere”, Nnaji said.
Nnaji is not extravagant with either sentiments or words, yet his description of his guest appeared hyperbolic. Emeka was then 48 years old, but looked much younger, quite slim and seemed taciturn and pretty shy. “He is on the boards of blue chip firms like Afribank”, Nnaji added. “His knowledge of gas development is superb, and so he is partnering with us on the Aba Power Project”. Oil is currently building the biggest gas pipeline system in Africa, which is the NNPC’s OB3 48-inch 137kilometre, including the metering facilities.
I soon realized that Emeka rose rapidly to the post of engineering field manager at Schlumberger, a global oil servicing multinational based in the United States, before leaving to set up Oilserve in 1993 which he in no time grew to a billion dollar company employing 500 engineers, technicians and operators. He had worked in North Sea (United Kingdom), Indonesia, Congo and Benin Republic. Still, he gleefully tells the story of his village background to serve as an inspiration to folks who may not feel privileged. He has told me more than once: “I am the son of a teacher and attended the community boys secondary school in my hometown of Oraifite in Ekwusigo Local Government Area of Anambra State, graduating in Electrical and Electronics Engineering from the University of Ife in 1982. I am locally bred educationally and was able to compete with people from different educational institutions across the world because the quality of education in Nigeria used to be very good”.
Worried at the soaring costs of building materials which have caused a 17 million housing deficit in Nigeria, Okwuosa has set up a firm to do large scale quarrying business at Akamkpa in Cross River State. He is particularly keen on developing local capacity to avoid the error of petroleum firms in the Niger Delta. In response to Anambra Governor Willie Obiano’s call for wealthy individuals from the state to invest at home, Okwuosa signed in September, 2014, a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the government to establish a $150m farm to cultivate and process cassava and tomato which will employ some 2,000 persons directly and indirectly. The governor used the opportunity to commend him for constructing roads for N350m in his hometown and for awarding thousands of scholarships to indigent but bright students as well as for providing water free to hundreds of people in his community. He is also building an N800m health facility in Oraifite basically to assist the poor and those who cannot afford overseas treatment for difficult cases. He has in the past eight years been sending medical missions to his hometown. The Enugu State University of Technology (ESUT) will on Saturday, December 16, 2016, confer an honorary Doctor of Engineering degree on Okwuosa in recognition of his excellent professional services in the petroleum industry, according to its vice chancellor, Professor Luke Anike, in a letter dated November 4, 2016. The magic of it all is that the university has never had any relationship with him. The institution did its homework properly, deviating from the standard practice where Nigerian higher institutions currently award honours to only those Dr Pius Okigbo identified in his famous 1993 Convocation lecture at the University of Lagos in 1993 as “men and women of power and money” like Mrs Maryam Sani Abacha, Mrs Miriam Babangida, Senator Hope Uzodimma and General Jeremiah Useni as well as Gen Abdulkareem Adisa. ESUT has, admittedly, been different. It has bestowed such honours on solid professionals and academics like Chief Ernest Shonekan, Bart Nnaji and now Emeka Okwuosa.
A self-effacing and shy person, Okwuosa will certainly not be pleased with me for this article which is more or less blowing his trumpet. Much as I will willingly apologise to him, it is good to explain that this public tribute is informed by the desire to demonstrate that there are a number of decent, accomplished and highly educated Igbo persons, even in business, who are not boisterous and exuberant. It is also informed by the need to show that well meaning individuals will receive their dues, however humble or modest they may choose to be. Okwuosa is a worthy representative of my generation. History recalls with people like him. in the memorable words of Nnamdi Azikiwe, history vindicates the just.
Adinuba is head of Discovery Public Affairs Consulting.