07 January 2019, Sweetcrude, Lagos — Dr. Ibilola Amao, is a name synonymous with the development of local capacity in the Nigerian oil and gas sector, especially where mentoring women and girls in the area of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, STEM, is concerned.
Aside from being the Chief Executive Officer and Principal Consultant at Lonadek Oil & Gas, she has bagged numerous awards both locally and internationally for her immeasurable contribution to the growth of the oil and gas sector.
Dr. Amao is also one of the advocates for a one-time U.S presidential contestant, Hilary Clinton’s initiative, Vital Voices- an American international non-profit and non-governmental organisation that works with women leaders in the areas of economic empowerment, women’s political participation, and human rights. The organization is headquartered in Washington D.C.
In this chat with OpeOluwani Akintayo, Dr. Amao who also sits on the Board of the Energy Institute, London, picked on several issues in the oil and gas sector, likewise issues surrounding female participation in the extractives.
What is your take on the participation of indigenous firms in the oil and gas sector?
I was on a journey of local content advocacy for about thirteen years- from 1995 to 2010 when the Nigerian Content and Development Act was passed into law. In this journey of advocacy, I started work with the National Engineering of Technical Company which was a joint venture with the NNPC. So, I can say I am one of those who benefited from the technological transfer as a result of that JV. We then realised that if the National Engineering & Technical Company Limited, NETCO could create value in Nigerian through a single contract executed with local companies then, we can also replicate such because it would help increase local capacity and create value in-country. That was how the journey of advocacy for local content began, and today, we have multiple NETCOs, likewise independents and marginal field owners who are Nigerians. We must commend the Petroleum Companies Association of Nigeria that fought the wars of indigenous companies being awarded contracts in spite of their lack of huge capitals. The IOCs wanted to take over everything because they would argue that indigenous companies didn’t have the capacity and competence, however, we were able to establish the importance of local participation. We also recognise the efforts of international companies like Slum Berge and Halliburton that helped a lot of Nigerian companies to set up their own, and today, we have Nigerian companies providing services either independently or in partnership. The passage of the law in 2010 opened the way for a lot of indigenous companies to come in and take advantage of the opportunities. That’s why you see that contracts are now being published both online and on paper for Nigerians to bid and be part of international companies- which was not the case so many years ago. So, there’s been a huge improvement but, there’s still a lot more to be done in terms of indigenous companies coming together to form a consortium. A lot of local companies can do more and execute more projects if we come together. We need to come together so that we can bid for and win bigger projects.
So, is this a fall out on the part of NCDMB not doing enough to encourage local companies?
The NCDMB is doing a lot. The problem is not with the Board or IOCs but with owners of Nigerian companies. It has got to a point in time when owners of the companies must see the bigger picture beyond their own companies, and seek to collaborate either through partnerships, strategic alliances or JVs, or consortium efforts with other local players. We must see our fellow Nigerian competitors as partners with which we can work together. The IOCs have already bent over to encourage local contents and the NCDMB has put processes on the ground to encourage collaborations but, not too many Nigerian companies are collapsing their corporate silos to collaborate as regarding the type of capacity required to win major capital projects- I haven’t seen that in a long time. I would like to see five local companies come together to bid and win both local and international contracts.
What are the problems affecting the upstream, midstream and downstream sectors in the oil and gas industry? And how do we go about solving them?
Upstream is big money. You are looking at hundreds of millions and billions of dollars. Because we don’t have that kind of capacity, it requires a lot of humility to call for partnership. Even the IOCs share risks with the NNPC in some of the assets, but I’m yet to see Nigerian companies doing such. We have to de-risk assets to be able to access huge capitals and investments. That’s why we have just the IOCs playing in the upstream.
With the service providers, we have carried a lot of foreign technical partners for too long a time. We need to begin to look at technologies, and localising knowledge because, without technology, we are not going to move any further.
Midstream Nigeria needs to begin to look at gas as the main driver of industrialisation and development. Domestic gas is the future for Nigeria because we need it in the power, energy, and agro-allied sector where we use gas for feedstock, gas to power, and gas to fertilisers. We need to look at local gas companies like Falcon, NLNG, Frontier, and others. We need more investments in gas companies so that we won’t be using just LNG, but CPGs and others. There are so many categories of gas that could be game changers for Nigeria.
In the downstream, they need more refineries. It would have been nice assuming the Dangote refinery will be export focused. I would like to see more marginal fields and independent owners who are Nigerians. We should also have some form of modular refineries at the wellheads of sharing facilities. Kerosene, petrol, and diesel scarcity should become a thing of the past in Nigeria. I’ll like to see local marginal field owners refining and we focus on refining and exporting refined products. And, I think we should stop relying on NNPC or government because they have consistently failed us. We need private sector initiatives.
Do you think federal government’s $60 per barrel benchmark and crude oil production of 2.3m barrels per day for the 2019 budget is achievable?
I think that’s ridiculous because $40 per barrel is more realistic. The 2.3million barrels per day is also ridiculous with the kind of restiveness we are looking at in the Niger Delta. Also, there’s the risk of going into the election year where contracting circle suffers. There’s also a lot of pipeline issues, evacuation issues, including the OPEC problem. I think the federal government’s benchmark is an over-optimistic projection, and I’m worried about the economic policies of this present government. It’s careless and irresponsible to peg the budget on such benchmarks.
You have been the convener of the Vision 2020. It is 2019 already. How far has it gone to achieve its aim?
When we started in 2006, quite a lot of people didn’t understand what youth empowerment was all about. Now we are happy that there are many foundations and initiatives like the Tony Elumelu and others springing up. Empowering over 85, 000 people has been a great joy because our trainees have gone ahead to become successful in their businesses. However, right now, we are looking at entrepreneurship. We want to pick out of those 85, 000 people, and see those we can help their businesses grow.
What do you think about women’s participation in the oil and gas sector?
I think first and foremost, the participation of women in the technical section is rather low because of the stigma that goes into what is required and the amount of intellectualism and attention required. Going back to the educational system, quite a lot of girls would not pay much attention to Mathematics, Chemistry, and Physics because they think such subjects are for boys, and that girls should do Biology. In university, not too many girls go into Engineering, technological and geology courses. Even when they graduate, there’s a stigma about female engineers not getting good husbands and having children. So, it’s a foundational problem.
So would say the problem is with the Nigerian culture?
It’s not just Nigeria. It’s all over the world. I sit on the governing board of the Energy Institute in London, and we have a problem in England as well- of girls not going into STEM-focused fields. So there’s quite a challenge trying to get a lot of girls into, Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, STEM. I think in Nigeria, the population of women in the STEM fields is even higher than in developed countries. But the problem is that after they graduate, they don’t practice- they are not in either the energy, power, infrastructure or mining sector. So yes, you could say the culture is stopping them from practicing.
So what’s the solution to this challenge?
I think we need to see more women liking physics, and we need to see more female role models- women who are successful in the sector need to take up these girls.
You are already a success story. What are you doing to help?
Since 2006 when we launched our Vision 2020 youth empowerment programme, we have empowered over 85, 000 people. And over the last year, I’ve been involved with the Vital Voices which is a Hilary Clinton initiative, where we connect with some other American initiatives. I have also been mentoring women and girls in STEM.
I’ve worked with many women in Lonadek over the years. We have hosted women Technopreneurs, STEMpreneurs, and others. There is even a young lady in my office who was sponsored to the U.S for three weeks on training for women and girls in STEM. I am doing a lot as an individual, but it’s not a one-person thing. It should be a corporate and a national policy initiative. We need to begin to look at women in STEM. If you look at Dubai, Oman, Abu Dhabi at the moment, they’ve come up with strategies to get more women and girls into the sector. The government needs to understand that fifty percent of the population are women who carry a lot more burden and responsibilities for their families, children, and society. Women should get a lot more involved in technical sectors like oil and gas, mining, energy, and technology. It will not be a short-term thing but it will create long-term value for the country in the end.
How did you become an Engineer, and why?
My late father was a civil engineer who later became an Oba (king), Oba Engr. Idowu Onadeko. He was extremely passionate about his job and career. So I grew up watching him, likewise my mother who was a matron at LUTH. My late father encouraged me when I decided to go for engineering. He encouraged me when he discovered I liked Mathematics. So girls must have support at home. Then, I had very good Mathematics and Physics teachers. They were Philippine teachers at Queens School in Ibadan at that time. And because we were all girls, there was no discriminating or bias towards anyone. I did very well in Mathematics and Physics and even got awards in Mathematics. But when I left for my A Level in England, I had to face biases from teachers who were mostly men and preferred the boys. But then, I continued. And then at the university, we were two girls in a class of fifty. I managed to work hard and got first class in Civil and Structure Engineering at the University of London. And when you get a first class like that, you are exempted from going for masters. So I went straight to Bradford University where I did my Ph.D. in Civil and Structure Engineering- I specialised in designing where I can build oil and gas facilities. I had lecturers who were open to working with me without discriminating. So, discrimination between teacher-student is another problem. That’s why we set up this Vision 2020 Youth empowerment and registration initiative because we realised that career counseling is important in helping, likewise support from teachers and lecturers.
After you were through with studying abroad, what were those challenges you faced while trying to find your feet in the sector?
First, when I was done, my late father encouraged me to register as a trainee. So even though I had my Ph.D., I registered as a trainee so I could become a chartered engineer. And I was also fortunate to have met a mentor and role model, Engr. Dr. Mrs. Adetokunbo Somolu who was an engineer with the NNPC. She took me under her wings and helped me with my first opportunity in the oil and gas sector. So I moved from the most infrastructural background into leveraging my oil and gas design ability, and I am grateful to her for the help.
How did you set up Lonadek Oil and Gas Limited?
It was by divine intervention. After my studies, my late father gave me some money to go to Abuja for my NYSC registration. When I got there, I discovered that the Corporate Affairs Commission’s office was next door to the NYSC office. As I stood on the queue, I saw another queue that was longer than that of the NYSC. So I just asked a simple question to know why the other queue was long. I was told it was for those who wanted to register their businesses. So, I left the NYSC queue, went over to the CAC, and asked how much it would cost to register a company. I was told, and I found out it was half the money in my pocket. That was how I registered Lonadek from my name Lola and my father’s surname, Onadeko. Three months later, I got the documents for the company and that was it.
How has been the journey so far running Lonadek?
It has been extremely interesting because I’ve never for once deceived myself that I’m a business person. I’m a problem solver, mathematician, and a value creator. So, I just want to get on with those things that empower and enlighten people. Lonadek has evolved from me as an individual delivering quality services to my customers, clients, family, and friends, into more people joining me to deliver quality goods and services in our areas of core competence. In reality, Lonadek is structured as a business with people engaged to run it while I get on with the very exciting things I like to do which are engineering, technology, innovations, creating values for individuals and companies and being an agent of transformation. I’m more focused on the technical and consulting side, while I allow the administration of the company to be run by a board of directors who are wired to do such.
How do you joggle the tasking job and home front?
I’m very blessed. And I think it’s because my husband had identified from day one that I’m a focused person. I love my God, my family and job passionately. So I’ve been blessed with a very understanding family. My sisters, friends, and husband support me- as long as I meet my requirement as a mother and wife then, I have the opportunity to do other things I want. I just make sure I don’t drop any ball that could be catastrophic.
While growing up as a child, what were those traits, advice, and lessons instilled in you by your parents that made you into who you are today?
My late father says a good name is better than all the gold in the world. I can tell you today that I’ve never taken a bribe, neither have I received bribe since my foray into the highly corrupt oil and gas industry over twenty-seven years ago. My mother also says hard work doesn’t kill. So, on Saturdays, everybody had to work as house help. Even though we had house helps yet, we all worked and sweated out before we had breakfast. I’m driven by the value system already instilled in me by my parents, and it’s too late to change.
I’m aware you’ve bagged numerous awards. Tell us about them
The most exciting of them all was the Energy Champion award 2016 in London by the Energy Institute. It was the only award I was shortlisted and had to compete with four other people. So I went for the award with my daughter and was not sure who the winner would be. For other awards I had, I just got letters that I had won, and I would show up and receive the plaques. But for the Energy Champion award, I was away with my daughter, seated in a room with many expatriates. My daughter asked if I would write an acceptance speech, but I said no because it would be such a shame to return home with my acceptance speech if I didn’t win. But when I won, I was grateful to God because I was proud of myself- and it was fulfilling being with my daughter who experienced me receiving such an honour. Other awards I got are from the Vital Voices, Nigerian Society of Engineers, Institute of Directors, MMS- I can send you a list of awards I’ve received but, the 2016 award was the only award where there was still a final competition on the day of the award ceremony, and it was the most exciting for me.
Do you believe in feminism?
Absolutely not. I’m a child of God, and I know I’m differently wired from my brother, my father, and my husband. I think the female and the male complement each other. We are entirely different. I know my place in the home and I maintain it. There can be only one captain on the ship. If you agree to marry a man then, he becomes the captain. You can be whatever you want outside the home but whenever you come home, there has to be some order. So, I’m not a feminist. I’m a strong believer in equal opportunity for girls and boys but I’m not a feminist.
We see that many women in the sector don’t grow to apex managerial positions but are rather placed in departments such as PR, advertising because employers don’t want to have to deal with excuses. Do you think employers are right for relegating women or women aren’t just doing enough?
First, a woman cannot achieve her full potential without adequate support. Beyond the fact that we multitask, it’s a lot to ask from any woman. So women need support. Apart from support at the home front, they need support in the office. They also need other women to carry them. In Lonadek for example, 70 percent of the management staff are women, and that’s because I carry them. I know what I went through when I was having children and trying to build Lonadek. Women have to carry and support other women. If you have broken the glass ceiling then, you need to help other women break it too. You need to spend time helping and coaching other women coming behind you too. A woman’s mentor doesn’t have to be women. Aside from that, a woman needs to be determined and focused. She has to develop herself in her career and in every area. And she must want to be successful for someone else to help her to be successful.
Do you mean that opportunities should be given to a woman just because she is a woman and not because she’s worth it?
I think a woman in a technical field definitely has to make a lot of sacrifices earlier on in her career. The type of sacrifices I made was deciding to be a chartered engineer. I went for graduate empowerment programme after my Ph.D. So you have to do what you have to do. After I had my Ph.D. and became a chartered engineer, I took a break to have children. I was diligent that I would work two-three days without sleep. I could outwork my male counterparts. And then, the quality of my deliverables was superior to those of my counterparts. I had a first class. There was only four first class in a class of fifty and I was one of them. So, a woman must outshine her male counterparts if she wants to shine in a male-dominated sector. Your boss has to know that you are an exception and would allow you some free time whenever you need it. And you need to have a fantastic relationship with your superior so that if you outwork your colleagues and deliver over and beyond your quantity, whenever you decide to take time off if you must, people will understand that you had gone over and beyond the job requirement so, you deserve time off. I never took time off work carelessly because I had fantastic support at the home front. I had people who could step in. and when I started to start having children, I took a leave of absence from work because I wasn’t working at the capacity I was used to, and I didn’t want to make a mess of my career. So, I took two years off work to have two children back to back. By the time I came back, I was back full steam. So, a woman has to have support, be diligent, and have the right qualification. So even when you are not there, and a decision has to be made on who to go, your qualification, work, diligence, and deliverables will speak for you. So, there was no way a man would be chosen over me because I had a first class in Engineering, a Ph.D., I could outwork my male colleagues, and I could do without sleep for days to meet deadlines. So, on what grounds would my male counterparts be chosen over me? We need to go the extra mile, and we mustn’t think someone should feel sorry for us or give us anything on a platter of gold. Women must be aggressive and must make it clear that she’s not a walkover in the office. You must also make sure that the home front does not suffer. But as you grow older, and you have earned your place at the table, people would just sit back and accept that you have earned it. But there’s a time you need to pay the price and make the sacrifices.
So, what is your advice for young women, especially those looking into having a career in the oil and gas sector?
Well, she needs to love the career and be passionate. You must sleep, eat and dream of being successful in the career path you have chosen. If you don’t have the passion then, you can’t make the right sacrifices and decisions in your career.