“She was ready to do any job to fend for her children… I decided within me to take care of her at old age watching her do all sorts to cater for us.”
After 23 years of meritorious service in the Oil and Gas Industry, Dr. (Princess) Victoria Haastrup, attained a higher level when she became the Executive Vice Chairman/CEO, ENL Consortium Limited, the concessionaire that manages Terminals ‘C’ and ‘D’ of the Lagos Port Complex, Apapa. Haastrup, wife of the former Deputy Governor of Osun State, Prince Clement Adesuyi Haastrup, worked as a personal assistant to Dr. Rilwan Lukman and Edmund Dakoru, during their tenure at the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC). A woman imbued with a can-do spirit, Haastrup has on several occasions driven herself from Lagos to Abuja. In this interview, she talks about her trajectory in the corporate world.
Where is Haastrup coming from?
I came from the Oil and Gas sector before coming into the Maritime industry and the experience I got from my background, trainings and determination helped in what I am doing presently.
On my own, I have sent myself to short courses to develop myself. I read a lot because I love reading. I studied business studies in the college which helped me in my chosen career. The ability to manage the business in any sector where I work is key apart from technical and professional skills. I had always known that I wanted to go high in life, I was never contented coming from a humble background. My background was the type where my parents most times could not afford food on the table, had challenges of paying school fees except for the mercy of God that took me to where I am today. That kind of background created in me the willingness to go high in life. One of the things I decided from my youth in life was not to marry until I could stand on my own. It was a tender age determination never to be a burden to any man.
I wanted to be a resourceful woman; I wanted my voice to be heard where it matters. I said to myself, poverty will end on me in my family. I wanted to help my siblings, be sure that I could give my parents good life that they did not enjoy. My mother being a worthy young mother would do all sorts to put food on the table for her family. She would sell and wash clothes for people in the stream. I watched her as a young girl use coal pot or steel iron to stretch clothes at the corridor of her house then to make ends meet.
I saw that she was ready to do any job to fend for her children; all that I put together today and called entrepreneurship. I decided within me to take care of her at old age watching her do all sorts to cater for us. So if I didn’t become someone in life, how will I be able to provide for her and my siblings the way I wanted? My father was already an old man when he gave birth to me and couldn’t do much. That was why my mother did a lot to care for us. I thank God who saw me through my agitation. That spirit of wanting to do the best still guides me till date. It has also toughened me, made me strong and courageous to be the woman I am today.
Looking at you today compared to where you were coming from as a growing girl child, how did you eradicate poverty in your family?
At the age of seven, my aunt who I lived with would wake me up at 4:00 a.m. and we would go to the farm together. When we come back from the farm, I would hawk on the streets of Yaba and Ebute Metta. These days we call it ‘child abuse’, but they were the things that strengthened me as a woman. I am a very hard-working woman. There is no ‘NO’ in my dictionary. When I hear ‘No’, I go to where I will hear Yes. I will never give up because I am rugged and passionate about what I do.
When one door closes, I go to where another bigger wider door will open for me; there must be something to do to get things done in my own life. If I do not move, manna will never fall from heaven for me. My background rekindled hope in me to always be distinguished in wherever I find myself. If I can become what I am today, any girl child, lady or woman can even do better than me and that is why I do not give up on anybody.
How did you go through school?
I went to school by the grace of God. My father could not afford to train me beyond secondary school. After secondary school, I went to England and found myself working and doing all manner of menial jobs to be able to fend for myself. Those situations did not let me compromise my dignity as a woman. I am a Christian; hardship was not the end of life. I was ready to work. I would leave my house at 5:00am to clean an office to be able to pay my bills.
How do you cope as a wife, mother and high-level corporate executive?
As far as I know, women have a special grace that men do not have. How we women do it is only God that knows. At times, we do not even understand how we do it as wives, mothers and office people. Sometimes, it amazes me how we used to cope.
That is when grace plays a role because women do it effortlessly and would not even know they are multitasking. When I was raising my children, I would wake up at 4:00 a.m., all that my children needed for school, I would prepare them before I go to bed even though I had returned home about 10:00 p.m. I would not let the house help do it for me, and will still go to work the next day.
Such is the grace of women. When men go to work and come back, they stretch out all legs and watch football, but a woman who returns from the same work will run around and put food on the table. I draw strength from Proverbs 31, where the duty of a woman is explained out: ‘She goes to a far place to get her food which will be the best, makes apparel for her family, and cooks nice meals for her family.’ The bible refers to women as blessed. I call it special grace. One of the best things that happened to me is being a happy woman.
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At what point did you decide to marry based on the standard you set for yourself?
I married at the point when I felt I was ready for marriage. At least, I had met some of my needs. I was back from England, academically empowered, had a good job, furnished flat, bought myself a Volkswagen Beetle before I got married. That was the standard I set for myself and God honoured my request.
It was not my making. But unfortunately and lately, the values of people have changed especially our young girls. I call it worldliness. They want to wear what they did not work for. Our today’s youths are biting more than they can chew. I am not against wearing them, but where is the source coming from? Family values are eroding from the system. Worldliness is the root of 419, Yahoo Yahoo, stealing of money from the office. We started from somewhere before we got to where we are today.
Knowing that dock workers are mostly men, how has it been being the Executive Vice Chairman and Chief Executive of ENL Consortium Limited? Do you face male chauvinism?
If dockworkers could not intimidate me and make me run away, no one else can. I inherited over 5,000 dockworkers then. If you can deal with dockworkers you can deal with anybody in Nigeria. Before we got to where we are today, it was tough. At a point they threatened to kill me and I was not scared. I used my motherly instinct to calm the nerves.
Today, dockworkers call me their mother. Why should I be afraid of human beings? I am like a biblical word that says if you are diligent in your work you can stand before kings and princes, that is who I am.
Again the ports in Nigeria were concessioned to private companies in 2006 and ENL Consortium started operating terminals C and D on April 4, 2006. When we took over, we felt the need to form an association of concessionaires in Nigeria so as to achieve a common interest and run an efficient port to meet with world standards.
Has the port concession made any difference?
It has made a lot more difference. Prior to the port concession, the port terminals in Nigeria were in complete shambles and dilapidated. Trailers were flipping over themselves inside the port as a result of bad roads. There were big potholes within the port terminals. There was no equipment to work with; the Nigeria Ports Authority (NPA) was renting equipment to discharge ships and make delivery of goods. ENL met a lot of equipment and plants that NPA was renting to do the job. A lot of the plants we met at the workshop belonged to contractors. I didn’t know who those contractors were. We understudied the NPA, before they handed over to us. It took NPA 42 days to discharge the first ship we met on ground with 36000 tonnes. By the time we, the concessionaires came on board, it took us about eight days or maximum of 10 days to discharge. That is good service delivery and reduction in cost by extension.
What was the magic?
We sent out all those rented plants that we met in the terminals. Today, we have developed the port. We have invested heavily in acquiring equipment to be able to discharge cargo, vessels and make deliveries to our customers. We have repaired all the roads, the adjoining roads, and warehouses which had serious leakages. We have put a lot back on track. We have obligation to do what we have done.
We have the pictorial evidence of how things were before we took over. The port concession has done very well for government because it is a case of whether I am able to make sales or not I will still collect my money whatever my royalty is. NPA can tell you how much they are making as a result of this arrangement. We carried the burden off them.
It is part of the earning that we use to run the port terminals and that is the way businesses are run in other parts of the world. You do not necessarily see the American government running ports or airlines; they leave it to a person who really knows how to run it. Government has no business running its own business.
Given your success story, do you have empowerment program for women?
It is important we encourage women and let them know that it is time Nigerian women rise up and put themselves in strategic positions in all sectors of the economy. There is nothing a woman cannot achieve in life.
It is becoming very obvious to me that women in business must also empower other people especially the younger ones. We should be clamouring for 50 percent representation in all public spheres. Appointments should be on pure merit, not based on gender.
Again, I have a non-governmental organization (NGO) that is tailored towards helping the artisans in Nigeria, particularly in Kwara, my home state.
What are your low moments?
My low moment is when the enabling environment is not there for me to deliver my work. Nigeria has the money to fix roads, hospitals and other social amenities.
I shouldn’t dig my own borehole. A country like China had a visionary leader who brought about change.
It is shameful because Nigerians are suffering and dying. That is why I said that women can make a change. Corruption is a cankerworm. We should reject corruption in every sense of it.