Timipre Wolo: How I Started First Nigerian Restaurant in Aberdeen

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SUPERSATURDAY 

Young, cerebral, and undeterred; a dreamer and an achiever. She is more than that: she has facilitated international scholarships, SME loans and training to help about 400 young Nigerians dream and achieve their goals. Meet Timipre Wolo. An optimist and motivator, she awards scholarships and mentors girls at the Internally Displaced Persons’ camps through her Centre for Gender Equality, Education and Empowerment (CGEEE) and her company, TFN Energy Limited, an oil and gas firm. With a Bachelor’s degree in Law and a master’s degree in Oil and Gas Law from the University of Aberdeen, Scotland, the silent achiever and innovator shares her enthralling success story with Adedayo Adejobi 

• I’m Gifted with Extraordinary Grace

• I Have a Determination to Be a Change Driver

•  My Commitment Is to Help More Women Acquire Good Education

A Loss and a Dream

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rowing up in the oil rich but highly impoverished Niger Delta region, Timipre recalls her fascination for development and her resolve to bring this to her people someday. She dreamt of being a lawyer and owning a company, but was almost disillusioned by the loss of her mum at an early age of 12. The loss of her hard-working mother took a toll on her family and left them to depend on her civil-servant dad’s lean salary. Timipre, however, stayed resolute and determined to make mum proud.

Some of her making-mum-proud moments included representing her school in competitions and breaking the record of being the youngest prefect. Her resolve also drove her to take on a 12-hour night-shift job as receptionist at 16, while doubling as a Law Diploma Student.

“I wanted to help lighten the burden on my father who was committed to seeing all five of us get university education,” she pointed out. She later gained admission to study Law at Ambrose Alli University.

In her final year in the university, serving as the first elected female vice-president of the National Union of Bayelsa State Students, she was accepted and sponsored to attend the United Nations Youth Assembly at the United Nations Head Quarters, New York. An opportunity and experience she described as “divinely orchestrated turning point” for her.

Timipre did not stop making her late mother proud even though she moved to Scotland for a Master degree in Oil and Gas Law at the University of Aberdeen. She found an innovative way to support herself in school.

“I had noticed that there was no single Nigerian restaurant in the whole of Aberdeen so I saw opportunity for a new business amidst the growing Nigerian community there. I started a food business which included delivery services. The catering project was a stroke of ingenuity, the kind of inspiration which I can only attribute to my mother,” she admitted.

How She Blazed the Trail

Upon obtaining an LLM, with Commendation, Timipre returned to Nigeria and began her career in private legal practice while also running the Greener Nigeria Initiative, a non-governmental organisation she co-founded with focus on the environment. In 2010, she joined the Legal Department of the Petroleum Technology Development Fund (PTDF) for capacity development in the oil and gas industry in Nigeria and was subsequently appointed Special Assistant to the Executive Secretary. The following year, she was assigned the responsibility of leading the team tasked with fostering closer collaborations between the PTDF and relevant stakeholders in the industry. She became the youngest person to ever serve in the PTDF management team. Her team was responsible for leading and formulating strategies for capacity development under the Fund’s Post Amnesty Policy, adopted as fallout of the Fund’s membership of a sub-committee of the Post Amnesty Committee set up by the Late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua in 2009.  Timipre attributes her milestones at the PTDF to team effort and was renowned for her impeccable professionalism and attention to details.

Under her headship as the pioneer Head of the Fund’s Industry Collaboration Unit, Timipre championed several ground-breaking youth empowerment initiatives, one of which led to the award of scholarships to about 400 disadvantaged youths from across Nigeria to study at various institutions overseas. Some of these initiatives included pioneering foreign undergraduate scholarship initiative that targeted 50 restive youths from oil producing communities and other parts of Nigeria in 2012; a Special Training and Educational Scheme leading to the award of 70 foreign undergraduate scholarships in 2013;  an educational collaboration between the Fund and the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR) for 60 young Nigerians to study at undergraduate level in Norway in fields such as petroleum engineering, marine engineering, mechanical engineering and other oil and gas related fields. Others were a partnership between the Fund and a financial institution to support 120 trainees of the Fund access SME loans to enable them set up small businesses in 2014 and a pioneer partnership with a United States university with the award of scholarships to 20 girls and 20 boys from very humble backgrounds in 2015 and 2016 respectively.

The young philanthropist’s penchant for innovation and quest to break new grounds led to her championing the first ever helicopter pilot training programme for the petroleum industry in Nigeria. Under the scheme, 20 young men and women selected from across Nigeria were fully sponsored to train as internationally certified commercial helicopter pilots. After obtaining their licenses, Timipre played a key role in initiating PTDF pioneer job-creation partnership with the private sector. This partnership culminated in employment of 15 of the young budding pilots into positions hitherto held by expatriates. Amongst them was Nigeria’s youngest pilot, Tosin Ajibola from Kwara State, and the first female helicopter pilot from Katsina State, Ruqayat Suleiman, along with three other young women from Ondo, Rivers and Bayelsa States.

Timipre Wolo is a goal-getter that set out to change the narrative. She went the extra mile to see young pilots get engaged after their training.

She explained, “The essence of training them in the first place was because there were identified existing gaps in that area. Whereas helicopter is one means of transporting workers and supplies to the oil and gas rigs in the Niger Delta, most of these helicopters were manned by expatriates. Also, being part of their journey and seeing the transformation before my very eyes, I just could not bear the thought of them returning to Nigeria to join the already teeming unemployed youth population.”

Thriving in Male-Dominated Terrain

Speaking on how she overcame the challenges of being the only representation of the South-South geopolitical zone and youngest member in a male-dominated PTDF management team, she said she was too focused on the task ahead and was able to scale the hurdles because of her determination to leave an indelible mark.

“The truth is that when you produce results, nobody remembers your gender or where you come from. The Petroleum Technology Development Fund (PTDF) Management was very proud of the initiatives and constantly showcased them in the media. So many women in Nigeria and around the world have proven that given the opportunity, women are change drivers and I was determined to be one. I attribute my successes to being visionary, strategic, dogged, driven and most importantl, to God, who has gifted me with extraordinary grace.”

Honoured as an Achiever

Timipre’s contributions to local content development in the petroleum sector as well as her service to humanity and leadership excellence has been recognised by internationally and locally. She was a finalist in the ‘Professional Achievement’ category of British Council Awards 2017 and was also recognised by the Commonwealth Youth Council. In 2015, she received the African Woman of Worth Award by the African Women in Leadership Organisation (AWLO) alongside two serving female deputy governors (Deputy Governor of Lagos State and Deputy Governor of Akwa Ibom State). In October 2015, she was listed as one of ‘Those who inspire Nigeria’ alongside President Olusegun Obasanjo, Wole Soyinka, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and others. Timpre has also been nominated in the ‘Career’ of the “Woman of the Year” Awards 2017.

Her Metamorphosis: From Employee to Employer

When the PTDF discontinued the special training and educational scheme in 2016, due to the economic recession, Timipre decided her assignment at the Fund was done and it was time to chase her professional dreams of starting her energy company. She believed she would be able to fund her passion. “One of the reasons I am very passionate about women being educated is that when you are educated, and you combine that with your faith, then you can take a leap and break any glass ceiling,” she told ThisDay.

Knowing full well that women are naturally averse to risks, she admits that it was a huge risk resigning from a well-paying job, but that she took it in faith, trusting that God who brought her that far would have her back. She noted, “I had to remain focused and dedicated to the goals ahead of me. My decision to start my own energy company is one of the best decisions I ever made.”

Her company, TFN Energy Limited currently helps girls from the internally displaced persons (IDP) camps through scholarships to cover fees, school supplies, feeding and some living stipends. She confirms that this year alone, TFN Energy and CGEEE have awarded scholarships to five girls from an Internally Displaced Camp (IDP).

Timipre admitted, “Nothing is more gratifying. If I was sitting down in my cozy office on the 10th floor of the PTDF Tower, perhaps these five girls would have become part of the statistics that got pregnant or married off as child brides. I am thankful for my PTDF journey as it helped me discover purpose through service. I have seen and experienced firsthand, how education of the girl can impact not just a family or a community but an entire nation. And that is what fuels my passion. I now know that this is part of the reason I am here because seeing these lives transform gives me an indescribable sense of satisfaction and fulfillment.”

Her Mother’s Influence

At a time and age millennials are focused on the mundane things of life, she has drawn strength from values of selflessness, love and care. These she picked up from her late mother. She shed light on this: “I guess it is the influence of my mother. Prior to her demise, she would wake me up very late at night and speak to me about why it was very important to have an education. She said it was the key to becoming whatever I wanted to be. She was a mother to everyone and we always had a lot of non-relatives; orphaned or underprivileged young adults whom my mum supported as head of the Teens Church at the Deeper Life Bible Church back then. Also my personal journey and experience so far has contributed to shaping me into the woman I am today; a multifaceted woman of virtue, faith and purpose.”

Timipre dedicates time to mentoring young women and girls through the CGEEE platform, and her non-denominational Christian Fellowship, One Hour with the King which she founded in 2013.

“I take mentoring very seriously because if I had a mentor growing up, perhaps I would have avoided some of the pitfalls and mistakes I made.  And so, I see the success of my mentees as my success too because they are a part of my journey just as much as I am part of theirs.” 

She has a team of volunteers for CGEEE and organises trainings and mentoring sessions at the CGEEE Headquarters in Abuja.

“I have so many mentees around the world now so even though I don’t have any biological children yet, I feel so blessed to have all these young women in my life who look up to me and to be honest, I also draw a lot of inspiration from them as well. One of my favourite quotes is ‘help others rise’. Greatness comes, not from a position but from helping to build the future,” Timipre noted.

Recently, she was appointed the 2018 President/Chairperson, Ladies in Oil and Gas Nigeria, hopes to work with the founder and other women in the industry to not only advance the cause of pushing for more opportunities for Nigerian women in oil and gas, but to achieve increased participation of women-owned businesses in the sector.