Godwin Eyarubere Omene belongs to Nigeria’s league of intellectuals – suave, shrewd, sensational and successful with an extraordinary depth of intellect and vision. He is a man of many firsts. It was on record that Omene was the first indigenous deputy managing director at Shell Petroleum Nigeria and became the first chairman of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC). After 52 years in the oil industry, Omene remains an expert whose opinions weigh more than gold. Following an encounter with the indefatigable Omene,
Funke Olaode writes about his trajectory in life and career
A man of many firsts; constantly aiming for the best and nothing less, he has always succeeded with remarkable outcomes in his academic and professional careers. He is an accomplished gentleman. Ageless in thought and vision, his trajectory and many successes are not mere coincidences. They are the results of many years of outstanding academic heights and providence. Godwin Eyarubere Omene is not just your man next-door. He is a man who has written his name in gold personally and professionally.
The ambience of his home reflects a man who is at peace. Looking sharp in an army green suit, which quickly remind you of his days as a corporate guru. For 52 years, he worked in the oil sector where he rose to become the first indigenous deputy managing director at Shell. But for providence, Omene, native of Mosogor in Delta State’s dream would have been aborted due to circumstances that surrounded his birth which prompted the name, ‘Godwin’. Going memory lane, he says: “I am a miracle child and that was how my parents described me because of the circumstances surrounding my birth. Before I was born, my mother was travelling with eight other women to a neighbouring village market in a canoe.
“She was pregnant and was carrying me in her womb. On their way, the canoe capsized in River Ethiope and all the eight women drowned except my mother who was rescued while floating on the water, and the next day, she gave birth to me, and my father called me a miracle child and he named me Godwin.”
From being the first indigenous deputy managing director at Shell Petroleum Nigeria to becoming the first chairman of NDDC, Omene has always been on top of his game. It would be mistaken to think that his career is defined solely by the Ivy League university he attended. Not really as he has equally distinguished himself as a scholar right from the Native Authority Primary School, Jesse where he shone brilliantly, to Government College, Ughelli in Delta State where he graduated with a distinction.
Later, he moved to Imperia College of Science and Technology, London and graduated with a first class in Mining Engineering in 1965. Omene earned a distinction in postgraduate diploma in Petroleum Reservoir Engineering from the same college.
Omene’s feats are exhilarating; always coming first in school. Was Omene a book-warmer or one could say he is just naturally gifted?
“With a sense of modesty, I can say that I am a naturally gifted person right from my school days as a child. I always had that ingenuity of quicker understanding in my studies and that helped me to study with ease and I saw myself always coming out first in my studies and in all my examinations. I am a procedure person and it helped me a lot in life, coupled with the special love of God for me as person,” he admits.
If the story of Shell is written today, Omene would surely occupy a prominent space. Since he left as the first deputy managing director of Shell Petroleum Nigeria after years of dominance by expatriates, Nigerians have continued to occupy that position. What did he do to change the structure?
Beaming with a sense of accomplishment, he discloses: “Before I became the first deputy managing director of Shell Petroleum Nigeria, we were having expatriates occupying that position and Nigerians were not given the opportunity. But as soon as I came on board, I changed the existing structure and since I left, no expatriate has occupied that position except Nigerians, and that is how it is supposed to be, even from the past.”
Omene has been involved with Nigeria oil sector as he can still recall with ease, presence of mind and amazing accuracy, past and present occurrence about happenings with Nigeria’s natural resources. Throwing more light on the benefits of mining to the Nigerian economy, he states: “I had opportunity to discuss the benefits of the mining industry with President Muhammadu Buhari, when he was the minister of petroleum as an army general. I told him there were lots of benefits in mining, especially in the Niger-Delta area, and some parts of northern Nigeria.
“I encouraged him to also provide 13 per cent derivation in mining of all mineral resources for the North, just the same way he gave 13 per cent derivation in crude oil to the Niger Delta area. He agreed with me and saw it as a good idea, and when it was discussed at the government level, it was accepted but they proposed it should be increased from 13 per cent to 20 per cent derivation in mining of mineral resources in the northern parts of the country.”
Speaking on perceived gradual shift from oil to technology for fear that the oil may soon dry up, Omene has a different view.
“I will like to correct the general impression that Nigeria’s oil well will dry up soon. The truth of the matter is that our country is blessed with natural resources like oil and gas among others, and oil can never be completely dried up. It is a natural endowment and nature has made it so. It is good the country is diversifying to technology because we need technology skills to discover more oil and also refine the oil.
“As we speak, Nigeria has over 40 billion barrels of crude oil reserve in the ground and every year, crude oil reserve increases because we discover more oil than we produce and we need technological skills to discover more oil and to refine quality oil for export and for internal consumption. Without technology, we cannot discover more crude oil and without technology we cannot produce quality crude oil.”
After many meritorious years in the oil industry, Omene yielded to a clarion call to serve the nation when he was appointed as pioneer chairman of Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC). How did he work towards achieving the purpose for which NDDC was set up, and how has the commission fared since he left?
“In my days at NDDC, I focused on development in all the nine oil producing states in the Niger Delta region, based on the resources at hand at that time and my impact was felt greatly in the Niger-Delta communities. Remember that NDDC was set up as a platform to address all issues emanating from the Niger Delta area, with regards to oil pollution in the area,” he explains.
“It was set up to empower the Niger Delta communities and ensure its people were considered and carried along by government, while embarking on oil production for the country. It was a means through which government could develop the Niger-Delta communities, where major oil production was taking place. As the first managing director of NDDC, I worked towards attaining the purpose for which NDDC was set up, and I believe other Managing Directors that came after me, did the same thing.”
What then could he say is responsible for youth’s restiveness in the Niger Delta area where some groups of youths have taken up arms in protest against the deteriorating environment occasioned by massive oil production and spillage?
“The youths of Niger Delta communities have their reasons why they took to arms to disrupt oil production in their region. According to them, they felt cheated that they were not treated well by government and that their environment was neglected to suffer degradation, despite the fact that the Federal Government is generating huge sum of money that accounts for the running of the country’s administration, without adequately taking care of the communities from where government is making its money,” Omene explains.
“They are calling for government’s attention, which is correct. So the formation of NDDC by government then, was to address some of these issues. Nigeria presently has nine oil producing states from where government generates income and they are all in the Niger-Delta area. For me, I still believe that the issue of youth restiveness in the Niger-Delta should be addressed the government.”
In a couple of days, Omene, the only non-indigene bestowed with the traditional chieftaincy title, Olu Omo Iyanu I of Onigbongbo Kingdom, will clock 80.
How would he say life has treated him in the last 80 years?
“I was born in March 21, 1939. I am just happy turning 80 and I thank God Almighty for sparing my life this far. God has made it in such a way that from my youthful days, I always do things right and I achieve high level of success in everything I do,” Omene says. “Some people who attained the age of 80 are no longer physically strong, but here I am today physically strong and doing things by myself without the assistance of a walking stick or people, and I give God the glory for helping me to age gracefully. Today I am as fit as a fiddle and I give God the glory.”
He can be easily described as a family man, a corporate guru, a community leader and someone who his passionate about God. The motivation to serve God, he says, was borne out of God’s faithfulness in his life trajectory.
“What can a man asked for?” he asks rhetorically. God has been faithful to me and I have every reason to serve God and work in his vineyard. I have facilitated the building of church cathedral in my home town in Mosogar in Delta State, from the money contributed for that purpose. After several years of contributing the money, the person holding the money returned the money.
I had to commit the money, which was in millions of naira to the building of St. Peter’s Anglican Church, Mosogar, in Delta State. My wife and I also built the Knight House of St. Luke’s Cathedral Sapele, in Delta State, and we have refurbished churches and encouraged many people to give their lives to Christ through evangelism. That has been my little contribution to Almighty who has ordered my step in every step all the way.”