Visionary and vibrant, a man of verve and vitality, Henry Okolie-Aboh, President of Westfield Energy Resources Limited, rules his world and conquers other frontiers. Composed, cosmopolitan and convivial, his face irradiates his golden heart. Shrewd and systematic, Okolie-Aboh is a businessman extraordinaire, who has against many odds risen above the ashes of pain, penury and perdition. One of Nigeria’s biggest entrepreneurs, the effervescent oil mogul, who clocks 50, as Funke Olaode uncovers, is a character of golden moments
His audacity of hope, his perspicacity of vision and his solemnity of passion are nonpareil. He imbues one with dreams and empowers with kindness. He’s a verdant shade for a scorching sun. Above all, he’s Henry Okolie-Aboh.
“Welcome!” he choruses genially in a characteristic conviviality. His cream-coloured, crispy moderate agbada catches the eye with a matching pair of pure leather shoes. His eyeballs sparkle behind the glasses as a warm smile form on his face. That’s vintage Okolie-Aboh. Spick and span, he’s always dressed to the nines.
But there’s more to the Presiden of Westfield Energy Resources Limited than his looks.
For a starter, he’s an extraordinary businessman; extraordinary, because of his beginning. extraordinary, because of his dreams and drive to excel; extraordinary because of his wealth and wisdom. For one thousand and one reasons, Okolie-Aboh stands out among his peers. The native of Uli, Anambra State, is a global player in the oil and gas industry. His passion for philanthropy is a testament of his illustriousness.
Born on September 6, 1970, by a father who was an electrician in Federal Government College, Maiduguri and a mother, who was a petty trader, the oil magnate is the second of eight children.
He’s a golden boy with vision, vibrancy, verve and vitality and rules his world while conquering other frontiers. Composed, cosmopolitan and convivial, his golden heart radiates love and purpose. As a businessman extraordinaire, he’s beaten many odds.
Talking about his roots, Okolie-Aboh recalls: “My father moved to the northern region right after the civil war.”
Explaining the reason for that, he adds: “I understand at that time the Igbo were trying to rediscover themselves and find a means of livelihood. There were no jobs in the east.”
So, his father, who first made the move among his family, headed to Maiduguri in Borno State where he was employed as an electrician at the Federal Government College in 1973. Two years later, in 1975, he, his mother, and younger brother joined him.
“So, that was how we got to live in Maiduguri,” Okolie-Aboh reveals with a tinge of nostalgia in his pupils.
It’s not difficult to imagine his heart palpitating as he recalls the moments of anguish that plagued his family due to penury.
“As a family, Maiduguri for me at that point was rough,” he begins.
“My parents came from a very humble background and survival was a struggle. Resources were very scarce. Three square meals a day at that time was a huge luxury. I never had the privilege of going to nursery school because my parents could not afford it.”
During that seemingly hopeless period, there was a sliver of hope.
“We lived within the confines of Federal Government College, Maiduguri at that time. Living there very early in life, mixing up with the students helped me immeasurably,” Okolie-Aboh admits.
“I was still in primary school but I knew quite a lot of the students at that time which influenced me growing up.”
As a child, Okolie-Aboh and his siblings were no strangers to excruciating labour.
“We did all sorts (of work) to support the family,” recounts Okoli-Aboh.
“My parents had farms on the school’s premises and we had to support the family by farming. My elder sister, Eunice, Brother Simeon and I hawked all sorts from bread, cold drinks, etc., at motor parks to support the family.”
That came at a price: they sometimes had to miss school. Yet, he relished the joy of childhood.
“We had pets like birds and rabbits,” the oil magnate says with delight. “We played street soccer and other sports with neighbours. So overall, Maiduguri at that time was really, really fun.”
For his primary education, he attended Wulari 1 Primary School and Army Children School. Thereafter, he attended Federal Government College, Maiduguri and the University of Jos. He graduated with BSc in Mathematics.
“At that time the desire of every young child is to read medicine, law, accountancy, or engineering,” says Okolie-Aboh responding to the question of why he studied Mathematics.
“For me, it was accidental,” he says about studying Mathematics.
“I didn’t make the cut-off mark to study Medicine. I was offered Mathematics which I gladly accepted because I was not willing to stay at home for an extra year to re-sit JAMB.”
In retrospect, he’s glad he didn’t have to study Medicine.
“Mathematics is a beautiful subject. I enjoyed it! It allows for analytical thinking.”
He adds, “Mathematics is like a springboard for me. With a degree in Mathematics, you could do a lot of things and going into banking was a natural transition because you could learn a lot of things so easily.”
He started his professional career with Ordrec Investments Limited in 1996. Later, he worked as a relationship officer with FSB International Bank Plc and Guaranty Trust Bank Plc. At FSB, he worked as a team leader in ENSEC at its energy division managing the accounts of first-class oil service companies.
At ENSEC, Henry worked at the Onne Oil and Gas Free Zone acquiring a wealth of experience in free zone operations, project management and supply chain management. With his team, he procured materials and supported the operations of companies like Chevron, Mobil, Shell, Total, Agip and others like the Nigerian LNG at that time.
Having started his professional career as a banker, Okolie-Aboh wanted more. He was more than concerned about earning a livelihood.
“I wanted to get into business.”
During that period, he lost his father and a lot of responsibilities rested on his shoulders to support his mother by catering for his siblings.
“I have an older sister and five younger brothers and two sisters. My mom is still alive, very strong. She is 73 this year.”
However, in 2005, at 35, he floated Westfield Energy Resources Limited, thus, becoming one of the youngest CEOs. Over the past 15 years, his company has experienced impressive growth becoming a household name in Nigeria’s upstream sector which later extended to West Africa.
The company is actively involved in engineering, oil and gas equipment procurement, construction, and installation, with offices in Nigeria and Houston in the United States. Intrepid and ambitious, Okolie-Aboh has attended various training in subsea oil and gas exploitation at Harvard Business School in Massachusetts, US.
The resourceful and visionary entrepreneur has successfully established other firms that included Transcore Geoscience Limited and Westfield Subsea Limited.
“It was my determination,” he simply discloses.
“Even though going into business was an effortless decision for me, setting and putting up structures was a huge struggle because the resources were not available.”
For him, it was a struggle from day one.
“Yes, it was tough,” says Okolie-Aboh matter-of-factly.
“But nothing good comes easy!”
He had to work for everything; sometimes he put in 18 hours each day being his company’s website developer, accountant, business development and sales officer.
Because of his audacity and integrity, some people believed in his enterprise.
“Prince Clem Agba, the current Minister of State for Budget and National Planning was then the materials superintendent at Chevron. He gave us opportunities because we were one of the Nigerian companies that were delivering materials on time,” says the businessman.
He adds, “What has worked for me is the fact that I put honesty first. For every one that I have transacted with I am always fair to them. I wouldn’t want to take undue advantage of anyone even in my negotiations with people. For example, I set up Westfield in 2005 just after I moved to the United States with my wife in 2003.
“My first purchase order or contract was a $500 job from Chevron and I didn’t have that. But I was able to use my wife’s savings to be able to fulfill the contract in 2005.
“The next job that I got was about $5,000 and I needed about $3,800 to execute that job. I borrowed money from three of my friends, one even gave me from his credit to be able to fulfil that job. But for everyone that I collected money from I paid back.
“The third was a job of about $28,000 and I needed quite a lot of money to fulfill it. I sent out a purchase order to the company in the State of Nevada in faith. I think it was Honeywell. They shipped the goods to me without putting a dime down and I delivered to Chevron.”
Honeywell ended up giving him the credit references that he used to raise over half a million dollars lines of credit with several US manufacturers and distributors of oil and gas equipment.
On September 6, Okolie-Aboh turns 50.
He’s grateful to God, family, and friends for the life he’s lived so far and their support.
“For me, I’ve always looked up to this landmark because I have a lot of friends, most of whom are older than me. They give this impression that clocking 50 is Eldorado. Also, I hear that life begins at 40. But at 50 you become a man,” the business guru acknowledges.
“I am grateful to God: I look back and see my network of friends, family and, of course, the lives that I have touched. I am also excited to see people are glad when my name is mentioned.
“My father’s goodwill helped me in growing up especially during the defining moments of my career. The likes of my cousins, Sabestine and Koto; Sylva that I lived with in Lagos before I got a job. The likes of Dr. ABC Orjiako, Ossy Igbonwelundu and the late Dr. KDC Ukaigwe.
“These gentlemen,” he admits, “and many other people that I come in contact with in my early life were people that directly or indirectly helped me and I remain appreciative.”
Married for 21 years to his beautiful and darling wife, Adaora, the marriage is blessed with two adorable children, Kenenna and Anuli.
“She is a very intelligent, strong and opinionated person. I saw in her a woman that I was sure would give me peace of mind. She has always been there for me,” Okolie-Aboh.
“My wife and children are very important keys to my success. She has been a very strong pillar of support.”
Besides being an astute global oil player, Okolie-Aboh is also a philanthropist. In 2011, he was appointed as a member of the Board of Trustees, Daniel Orjiako Memorial Foundation Inc.
“My dad, Anthony Aguemezie Okolie-Aboh, was a very compassionate man. He came from a very humble background but he touched many lives. A lot of the people that I came in contact with early in life were people that he assisted one way or the other.
“The measure of a man is not in how big his bank account balance is. It’s in how many lives a man’s able to touch. I want to see myself have at least one signature project for the people of Uli. At the end of my time on earth, I want to be able to have something in my community in Uli, that people will say Henry did this or built this edifice for the common good of all,” says the oil magnate.
As he admits, the first 25 years of his life were “tough and rough.”
“The last 25 years,” Okolie-Aboh enthuses “have been super.”
“I look up to God for many more glorious years ahead. I am trusting God to give me the wherewithal to consolidate on the attainments of the last years,” he reveals.
Besides building successful enterprises, Okolie-Aboh loves to teach.
“I love teaching. I am still trusting God that when I finish this whole hustle of trying to make money, that I will go back in my retirement probably just go back to my village quietly. Incidentally, there is a university in Uli, Anambra State University campus.
“I will just go there to teach entrepreneurship, use my life’s experience to teach the younger generation. Imparting knowledge is something that I love to do. I am trusting God for life, good health and the means. God has shown me favours and opened doors I could not imagine in my wildest dream. I am eternally grateful,” the unassuming business tycoon says.
At 50, Okolie-Aboh has rededicated himself to ‘hustle’ and humanity.