They are not newsmakers, nor are they attention-seekers. They are simply two women quietly doing their work, contributing their own quota to national development in the place they work, unsung, unheard of, like many other women working in positions of leadership and authority, in banks, in the civil service, in big and small corporations, in law firms, in various administrative positions and entrepreneurial capacities.
Then last weekend, I get copies of the “NNPC NEWS—A monthly publication of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation.” They were sent to me by my old friend Ndu Ughamadu, the chief media spokesman of the NNPC and the editor-in-chief of the in-house magazine. He had insisted the magazines should reach me at all costs.
While going through the magazines, I came across the stories of these two women through the interviews they granted separately in the December 2017 edition of the NNPC NEWS. As an eternal student of leadership and a writer of leadership-oriented books and leadership biographies, I usually go out of my way looking for unique cases of leadership from everywhere. As everybody knows, there is no single definition of leadership. Everybody sees and defines leadership from his or her own unique experience and perspective. Or better still, leadership means different things to different people.
I am reading this article in the NNPC NEWS titled: Catching Them Young For A Greater Tomorrow. It features Engr. Betty Ugona, the Executive Director, Storage, at the Nigerian Pipeline & Storage Company (NPSC) which I believe is one of the subsidiaries of NNPC. She may be an engineer, but Betty Ugona is an author who has written three books on leadership aimed at the youths of Nigeria. She has this passion for grooming the youths “for an impactful life and a better society.” She was launching her third and latest book Preferred Above My Peers. Her first book is titled: Your Choice, Your Future, Your Life. For her, the inspiration to write “started as a burden when I discovered some years back that most of our youths are involved in cultism in schools due to loss of focus which could affect their future. I started thinking about what I could do to bring them back on track. As a youth coordinator in my church, I began to interact with a lot of them. I discovered that the root cause of the problem was that a lot of them were making wrong choices…I discovered it was as a result of wrong friends. So, God inspired me to write the first book titled, Your Choice, Your Future, Your Life. To the glory of God, we have distributed about 20,000 copies of the book so far, and it is free. There have been a lot of testimonies by those who have read the book, it has helped to transform lives.”
As God will have it, the executive director of The Guardian, Toke Ibru “saw the book in a plane, read it and called me. He came here to ask for permission to serialize it in The Guardian on Saturday. They serialized each of the nine chapters for nine weeks. Some schools come to place order for copies for their SS3 students every year and the testimonies have been wonderful. People call and book for copies and we send them to orphanages and other places where youths could be reached. I give them out free because that was the inspiration I got from God. I write in the night. After the day’s activities at work, I settle down in the night and the inspiration just comes. I know it’s the special grace of God.”
For Mrs. Betty Ugona, “If you want to define leadership, one of the simplest definitions is selfless service with love and passion for humanity. So, if in an environment everyone is operating in selfless service and passion, ready to assist without asking for anything in return, willing to deliver on any job committed into their hands effectively and efficiently, you can imagine how wonderful such a society would be.”
If NNPC were to be a state like Nigeria, Mrs. Adekemi Akitoye, the Group General Manager, NNPC Leadership Academy (NLA) would have been the Minister for Education. In NNPC’s new commercialization drive, she has been assigned the responsibility of re-engineering all NNPC schools nationwide and turning them into profit-ventures. It hasn’t been an easy battle. It is like asking Hercules to clear the Augean stable. It is like asking this pretty woman to squeeze water out of stone.
For years, the NNPC schools had suffered to the point of near closure. “To tell you the truth, before the decision to commercialize the schools was taken, there was serious consideration for almost four to five years to close them down,” Mrs Akitoye recalls. “So we are coming from an extreme of shutting down to go-and-make-them profitable. You can see that it’s like we are starting from below zero. Most of the staff had given up hope, a lot of services that could have been given such as facility upgrade and provision of work tools such as books, laboratory equipment were neglected over the years because they had been on the shut-down mode. So it was a tall order in November 2016 when we were given the mandate to commercialize and turn them into profit centres.”
In the leadership challenge, the first thing she did was “to concentrate on the teachers and build confidence with them. It was tough initially trying to get them buy into the vision since they had been so demotivated and demoralized. This situation was not just in the NNPC Schools but also at the Leadership Academy which had over the years been considered as a dumping ground for people the management in CHQ did not want to see. So we engaged the staff at a very close level through informal talks and workshops where they were allowed to ventilate on the issues and suggest solutions. From there, we started working on their minds to develop a commercial mindset. Now, people are getting more and more enthusiastic about the new order. We have also instituted a number of measures like awards such as ‘best staff in the junior cadre’ and ‘best staff in the senior cadre’ to motivate them.”
In the new order, courses have been modernized and benchmarked with executive training programmes offered in Harvard, Boston and Chicago that are lacking, to appeal to a broader market and clientele outside oil companies. “We are not limiting ourselves to oil companies because we know that every institution needs leadership training for its managers to remain effective and competitive, so we are really spreading out,” Mrs. Akitoye says.
When will NLA start making profit? Mrs. Akitoye replies: “When we requested for funds for upgrade of the schools to enable us raise the fees, management directed us to meet with Corporate Planning and Strategy Division to work out the economics. We did and we are looking at three years. In three years, NLA should be raking in considerable profits for the corporation, provided all the challenges we have identified are effectively resolved.”
The story of NNPC is not different from the story of Nigeria itself! An Augean stable needing a Hercules!