Garlands for Ernest Azudialu-Obiejesi, Oil & Gas Icon, at 60

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Dr. Ernest Azudialu-Obiejesi

On Friday, April 17, 2020, Dr. Ernest Azudialu-Obiejesi, the Group Managing Director of Nestoil Group turns 60, but beyond the aborted funfair given the current lockdown occasioned by COVID-19 pandemic, Ernest Azudialu-Obiejesi’s life is worthy of celebration. Eromosele Abiodun writes

Having blazed the trail of indigenous companies in the upstream sector of the oil and gas Industry and thus creating novelty given his venturing into the technical aspects of the industry hitherto an exclusive preserve of foreign companies and keeping the momentum in critical projects on the engineering, procurement, construction and commissioning as well as fabrication and marine side of the upstream sector for almost 30 years, Azudialu-Obiejesi has packed so much into his life in just three scores years of his sojourn on mother-earth.

Early Life: Humble Beginning in Okija and Education

From his humble beginning in Okija in present day Anambra State, Azudialu-Obiejesi had set his eyes beyond the confines of his village on lofty targets in distant and difficult terrains. He knew quite early that the world out there is competitive and unforgiving of errors, he therefore took time to study in order to gain inspiration for the task he had envisioned.

He commenced his primary education at St. Johns School, Fegge Onitsha Anambra State in 1964. However, this was truncated in 1967 by the Nigerian civil war which lasted till 1970. After the war, he got into New Bethel Primary School Onitsha to complete his primary education. In 1973, he gained admission into the elite Dennis Memorial Grammar School, Onitsha (DMGS) for his secondary education which he completed in 1978. After his secondary education, he attended Government College Owerri, Imo State for his Higher School Education.

Upon completion of this programme, he worked with his father at the family trading business, DA Ifeanyi & Brothers Trading Company, where he participated in trading activities. This was to be his first real exposure to the business environment. During his tutelage under his father, he was able to learn the rudiments of trading and started thinking of ways to transform, expand and revolutionise the family business.

In 1983, with encouragement from his father, he set up what was to be the first of many business ventures – Obijackson West Africa Limited. The company engaged in direct procurement from overseas suppliers and manufacturers of household goods and consumables, engineering and carpentry tools, cosmetics and beauty products. The company’s head office was located in Lagos, and branches set up in Onitsha, Aba, Maiduguri and Cotonou. Azudialu-Obiejesi nurtured the company from inception, grew and diversified it, with extensive interest in manufacturing, haulage and real estate development.

Upon leaving Okija, his comfort zone in Eastern Nigeria, he realised that the future, though pregnant with promises, requires starting out early, with diligence, out-of-the-box thinking and hard-worn genius for the promise to be liberated from the clutches of obscurity.

Over the years, through dint of hard work, the lessons of his humble beginning soon propelled him to the very top of the Nigerian oil and gas Industry with controlling stakes in companies such as Nestoil, Neconde, EWT Energy Works, Century Power, B&Q Dredging and Shipside Drydock. He has, however, not forgotten how and where he started, hence his focus on the development of the town of Okija and environment as a critical corporate social responsibility focus.

Despite being introduced into the trading business at an early age, Dr. Azudialu-Obiejesi found time for formal education. He believes in the power of education as the only springboard that can actually lift humanity out of poverty. He holds a bachelor’s degree in accountancy and a master’s degree in Business Administration from the University of Benin. He was awarded an Honorary Doctorate degree in Business Administration (DBA) from the renowned University of Nigeria, Nsukka. He is also an Honorary Fellow of the Nigerian Society of Engineers (FNSE). He was a finalist in the prestigious Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year 2012 and gained recognition from the Petroleum Technology Association of Nigeria (PETAN) for Industry Achievement of the Year Award 2014. Under his leadership, Nestoil companies were nominated in 2017 and 2018 by the London Stock Exchange Group as ones to Inspire Africa, being companies that generated vital employment opportunities, contributed to sustainable economic growth and are the bastions of best practices and good corporate governance practices.

Business:Growing Immense Value from Nothing

Beyond being one of the pioneers of local participation in the technical aspects of the Nigerian upstream oil and gas industry, Azudialu-Obiejesi, is a man noted for hard work and steadfastness, hence the reason he was able to grow immense value from nothing.

He had first stint in business and entrepreneurship when he joined his father’s family business in 1978. After 5 years of detailed tutelage under his father, Dr Azudialu-Obiejesi was ready to plunge into the business world. He set up his first company – Obijackson West Africa Limited, which was essentially a trading company across the West Coast of Africa and beyond. In no time Obijackson became the forerunner of businesses spanning oil servicing, exploration and production, engineering procurement construction and commissioning (EPCC); dry dock services, power, aviation and dredging.

Azudialu-Obiejesi’s flagship company Nestoil is by far the biggest EPCC company in Nigeria’s vast oil and gas industry. With Neconde’s acquisition of Shell’s OML 42 Oil Field in 2011 he proved that limitations only exist in the minds of men who choose to recognise them. Beyond the impressive reserves, OML 42 has 6 TCF of gas reserves to be developed in the next four to five years towards delivering about 500 million scf of gas per day to the domestic gas market. Another one of his companies – Century Power Generation is currently developing a 1500MW gas-fired power plant in Okija, Anambra State.

Nestoil has successfully consolidated its leadership role and charted a new path for indigenous players in the oil & gas and energy sector of the Nigerian economy, through Innovation and technology. Some of the ground-breaking projects delivered by Nestoil over the years include:

• 40km K2S project – This was the Kolo Creek to Soku Gas Plant, an EPC project to build an export pipeline to reroute gas from the Kolo creek gas area to the Soku gas plant facility for Shell Petroleum Development Company Nigeria (SPDC).

•The Shell Kolo-Creek-Rumuekpe Trunkline Replacement Project (KCTL). This project was first of its kind. It involved a method of pipeline installation that preserves the delicate natural environment of the Niger Delta.

•The Shell Nembe Field Logistics Base (FLB) Project. The FLB operations and project execution created a window for population growth in and around Nembe creek community.

• The Shell Nembe-Cawthorne Channel Trunkline Replacement Project (NCTL). The pipeline installation required 7 major river crossings, the longest (Sego River) being approximately 1.1km.

Nestoil Limited and its sister companies, B&Q and Impac recently received the latest certification for Quality Management System, the ISO 9001:2015. The certification which is issued by Germany-based DQS, a leading certification body officially confirms that Nestoil and its sister companies have put people, processes and systems in place to ensure quality delivery of products and services to respective customers at all times.

Dr. Azudialu Obiejesi is a non-executive director of Julius Berger Nigeria Plc and Smile Telecommunications Limited.

But the road to success did not come easy for Ernest Azudialu-Obiejesi. Unknown to many, Nestoil, the brainchild of Ernest Azudialu-Obiejesii began in a one room office on Idumagbo Avenue in Lagos Island in 1991. He had decided to give up the trading business and chart a new course in his entrepreneurial journey. He settled for the oil and gas industry. From a staff strength of about 10 persons, he has nurtured Nestoil into a conglomerate which employs about 3,000 people. The conglomerate renders services spanning oil and gas pipeline construction, pressure vessel manufacturing, civil construction works, dredging, horizontal directional drilling, major steel fabrication, aviation, exploration & production, drilling, engineering and dry-docking services.

At the time Azudialu-Obiejesi ventured into the oil & gas industry, local content was still a figment of people’s imagination. He saw the landscape move from a tranquil one to a stormy one with locals demanding more say in the mining of “black-gold”. After nearly 20 years of literarily weathering the storm alone in an industry dominated by foreign service companies, government finally signed the Nigeria Content Bill into law and set up the Nigeria Content Development and Monitoring Board (NCDMB) to enforce compliance and protect the interest of local players in the industry. The move has seen the emergence of new indigenous players in the oil and gas space.

The chief executive did not need an enabling law. He dared to thread where others had failed. And so, in 1991, from his little office at Idumagbo, one of the busy market hubs in the heart of Lagos, he took the plunge with the birthing of Nestoil.

Philanthropy: Making Corporate Giving a Philosophy

As his businesses began to flourish, Azudialu-Obiejesi set up the Obijackson Foundation as a platform to propagate his humanitarian endeavours. Through a well-thought-out strategy of empowerment, the Obijackson Foundation became a catalyst for growth, job creation, skill acquisition, healthcare delivery, infrastructural overhaul and cultural renaissance. The evidence is overwhelming. Before 2013, there was no single bank in Okija. Okija residents would go as far as Onitsha in order to perform a single banking transaction. This meant that people kept cash at home with the attendant risks. It also meant that most Okija residents were shut out of the organised financial payment systems and the attendant opportunities therein.

All that was before Obijackson swung into action, acquired land, constructed a building for the bank and invited the bank to set up operations in Okija. That bank remains the only commercial bank in Okija till this day. This has greatly improved ease of doing business in Okija and created direct and indirect jobs for the people. Azudialu-Obiejesi says, he “feels a sense of duty to support people who want to succeed in life, but just need support to stir them in the right direction.”

There is also the Obijackson Women and Children’s hospital in Okija he has built and developed into the foremost Women & Paediatric healthcare institution – first of its kind in eastern Nigeria. The hospital with state-of-the-art diagnostic, surgical and other equipment has delivered over 300 women with zero mortality till date. Patients who have no funds to pay for treatment are catered for by the Obijackson Foundation. Nobody is turned away from this hospital on account of inability to pay their bills. Azudialu-Obiejesi himself says the sheer profile of the hospital and the impact in saving the lives of women and children across eastern Nigeria makes this project extremely humbling and fulfilling. This hospital directly employs about 100 locals. Hundreds more are indirect employees in the form of contractors and other service providers.

Recognition: Celebrating Milestones in the Life of Tireless Achiever

Dr. Ernest Azudialu-Obiejesi’s life is indeed a testament to a tireless spirit in search of new discoveries. Moving from his oil and gas industry core business into the telecommunications and construction space, it was clear to him that more needed to be done, if Nigeria is to transition from a promising nation housing the largest black population to one that holds her place in the world. He, therefore, meticulously went in search of new discoveries earning a lot of laurels as he birthed novelty. Today, Ernest Azudialu-Obiejesi has to his name the following awards and counting:

· THISDAY Newspapers Young Global Champion Award for Good Governance and Excellence in Entrepreneurship – 2011

· CNBC Africa/ABN West African Entrepreneur Award – 2012

· Nigerians in Diaspora Organization Business Person of the Year Award – 2012

· Oil and Gas Man of the Year at the Nigeria Advancement Awards -2013

· Zik Prize for Outstanding Business Leadership -2014

· Sun Newspapers Businessman of the Year award -2014.

· Petroleum Technology Association of Nigeria (PETAN) Industry Achievement of the Year Award – 2014

· Award of Excellence by The Faculty of Management Sciences University of Benin for Extraordinary contribution to Nigerian Oil and Gas Industry – 2016

· African Wealth Report AWR Honorary Award for Visionary Leadership – 2016

· Pipeline Professionals Association of Nigeria Partnership with Energy & Corporate Africa for distinguished Excellence and Contribution to the Indigenous Development of Nigeria Oil & Gas Industry – 2017

· Distinguished Fellowship of the Nigerian Society of Engineers [FNSE] – 2018

Milestone: Celebrating an Impactful Life at 60

Indeed, his life in the last 60 years has being one of not only surmounting critical challenges, but one that has given so much of himself in keeping with the time-honoured maxim, which holds that life means nothing without impact.