Among Dr. Ambrose Bryant Chukwueloka Orjiako’s kinsmen, the Igbo, it is a common saying that when something bigger than the farm comes up, it is only natural to sell off the yam barn, for a man whose house is on fire doesn’t go after rats. So, it happened that although this silent achiever was born in October 1960, the EndSARS protests and the aftermath weren’t the right atmosphere to celebrate an extraordinarily humane and peace-loving gentleman. Besides, this is a man, who prefers to lead a quiet life. But a diamond jubilee is a landmark and the story of a man whose life may be the only book many need to read to be inspired to success must be told, somehow.
A chick that will grow into a cockerel begins to show the signs from “birth”. Born to the family of the late Chief Daniel and Lolo Rebecca Orjiako in Calabar, Nigeria, A.B.C Orjiako, as he is fondly called, got secondary education in his hometown, Uli, Anambra State in Eastern Nigeria, where he made Grade 1 in his Senior Secondary School Examination. He headed to University of Calabar where he studied Medicine and Surgery. As an undergraduate, Orjiako was already manifesting his leadership qualities as he served as the African Regional Director of the International Federation of Medical Students and also Chairman, Standing Committee on Education African Medical Students Association.
He emerged as the best graduating medical student in 1985 and headed to the University of Lagos Teaching Hospital for his specialty training in orthopedic surgery and trauma management. He qualified as a Fellow of the West African College of Medicine as well as a Fellow of the Nigerian Postgraduate Medical College 10 years later, distinguishing himself as a cerebral medical practitioner for many years.
However, like Alfred Lord Tennyson’s Ulysses, Dr. Orjiako is a lover of higher challenges. There is always something more to be accomplished, new grounds to break, ever willing, ready, and resolved to try. Thus in 1996, Dr. A.B.C Orjiako launched out of the comforts of his medical practice where he had distinguished himself as a Specialist Orthopedic Surgeon to venture into the world of business, where his training and nature have combined to help him flourish like the biblical tree planted by the rivers of water.
A wise man doesn’t test the depth of a river with both legs and if you must join a fight where clubs and sticks are the rule, then you must first cover your head very well. Thus, although business runs through his blood, coming from a business family; although he already started getting involved in the oil and gas industry and also set up businesses even as a medical doctor, he nevertheless proceeded to the Harvard Business School to hone his business skills and immerse himself in the principles of modern business.
Today, A.B.C Orjiako has business interests that stretch from the oil and gas sector to other sectors like real estate, construction, shipping/maritime, and pharmaceutical where he is the Chairman, Board of Directors of Neimeth Pharmaceutical International Plc. And he has to his name companies like Abbeycourt, Glencore (based in the UK), Zebbra Energy, Shebah Exploration and Production Company Limited, and Abbeycourt Energy. He has been a director of MPI and Etablissements Maurel et Prom, which are listed on the New York Stock Exchange and Euronext Paris.
Meanwhile, Orjiako’s nose for opportunities even from a million miles; his ability to leave the comfort zones of medical palace to venture into the chequered waters of Nigerian business environment, particularly the oil and gas sector; his desire to play in the main bowl and mainstay of the Nigerian economy; and his natural proclivity to business with a human face, have all contributed to his pride of place as top indigenous (I prefer to say home-based) player in the tough turfs that Nigeria’s oil and gas industry is.
Aptitudes of perceptiveness and discernment of the times as well as some strokes of serendipity set great men apart from the ordinary and the mediocre. Dr. A.B.C Orjiako’s intuition and perceptiveness can be likened to that of the three princes in the old Persian fairy tale, “The Three Princes of Serendip”. The story is based on historical facts around the time of Persian King, Bahram V, ruler of Sassanid Empire (located in modern day Iran) from 420 – 440AD, but also embellished with folktales.
In the writing, King Giaffer sends his three princes from the kingdom of Serendippo to far removed land, away from the opulence and privileges of royalty to better equip them for leadership. In the course of their odyssey, their uncommon ability to discern, based on the marks and disruptions on their tracks, that a lame camel, blind in one eye, missing a tooth, carrying a pregnant woman, and bearing honey and butter on either sides earlier passed their route, not only saved their lives from false charge of theft, but equally gained them fame, fortunes, and position of influence before Emperor Beramo. It is actually from that writing, “The Three Princes of Serendip”, that the Earl of Orford, Horace Walpole, coined the word “Serendipity” in a letter he wrote on 28th January 1754.
Like the three princes, A.B.C Orjiako was discerning enough to see the changing structure of the upstream sector from one dominated by the International Oil Companies (IOCs) to one where indigenous companies would begin to have greater opportunities due to government’s deliberate efforts to ensure that indigenous players have greater say and owing to frictions between the IOCs and host communities. He equally foresaw that the IOCs would increasingly divest from shallow waters to deep waters for reasons of vandalism, oil theft, insecurity, and poor relations with host communities, which made onshore explorations increasingly less profitable. Also, the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB), which should have been passed before now, will ultimately have the oil majors release more of their holds in the industry.
Thus, once he put his hand to the plough by setting up the Shebah Exploration and Production in 2004, he never looked back. He was indeed discussing an acquisition deal with Shell Petroleum when someone brought him and the highly experienced founder of Platform Petroleum, Austin Avuru, together. The two great minds struck a merger deal in a matter of minutes, co-founding the Seplat Petroleum Development Company PLC in 2009. Seplat was actually derived from Shebah Exploration and Platform Petroleum. With such solid technical and business management capacities, it was not surprising that Maurel & Prom, one of the topmost oil concerns in France, acquired 45% shares in Seplat. It is equally not surprising that the company has taken the oil sector by storm and blazes the trail of indigenous players. Seplat completed the first ever dual listing on both the London Stock Exchange and the Nigerian Stock Exchange in 2014.
With the global demand for all forms of energy in 2040 expected to be a quadruple of what it was in 1990 (according to BP World Energy outlook, 2019); with African population expected to increase by 100 percent in about 30-year time; with Nigeria’s population anticipated to hit over 300 million in 2050; and with global climate change projected to reach critical proportions in half a century time, Seplat as a key player in the Energy Utilities and Resources value chain, is equally positioned and further positioning to lead Nigeria and indeed Africa’s quest for a reliable, safe, efficient, and green energy.
It is apposite to state that even Orjiako’s training as a doctor has greatly contributed to his huge success in the business world. As a doctor, you are trained to leave no room for errors because you are dealing with human lives. He has brought the qualities of discipline, organisation, empirical decision-making, teamwork and team management, which are key to successful medical practice to bear.
As earlier mentioned in passing, Orjiako’s philanthropic nature has been a catalyst for his growth in the business world. By 1996, he had already founded the Daniel Orjiako Memorial Foundation, DOMF, to immortalise his late father. So far, the Foundation has seen tens of thousands through primary and secondary education, while hundreds have benefited from its university scholarship. These are in addition to the Foundation’s special supports to science education, healthcare as well as provision of micro-credit to rural farmers.
Therefore, it is not surprising that Seplat, where he is the Chairman, has excelled in Corporate Social Responsibility, CSR, to the host communities, providing health services, scholarships, and social infrastructure. The goodwill Seplat enjoys among the host communities, who see themselves as owners has helped to protect the company’s assets and shielded it from the challenges faced by the IOCs. Orjiako’s kind dispositions also greatly underscore the Seplat’s excellence in staff remuneration, welfare, and motivation. Thus everybody is happy and committed to baking the cake.
Orjiako and his businesses have equally soared on the wings of integrity, transparency, and accountability. Little wonder he passed the due diligence test needed to be appointed into the Africa Advisory Group of the prestigious London Stock Exchange, LSE.
But it will be sheer daydreaming to think that the path to success is rosy. From the grossly misrepresented Assets Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON), Shebah bank debt saga to the associated convoluted court cases that appear to be geared more at a smear campaign on Orjiako, Seplat, and his business interests, A.B.C has had his own baptism of fire, betrayals, and crucibles common to great men.
However, as a great man, A.B.C is neither fazed by challenges nor intoxicated by success. In 2011, Forbes Magazine named Orjiako as one of Nigeria’s silent super rich, an apt description for an unassuming gentleman, who lets his accomplishments speak for him. Yet, like Ulysses, he is not close to slowing down, either by advisory or great heights attained. He still roams with a hungry heart and considers it is so dull to pause, to rust unburnished, and not to shine in use! He still strikes the sounding furrows, determined to keep striving to find and not to yield.
To Dr. A.B.C Orjiako, husband of a beautiful wife, father of four, philanthropist, devout Christian, Papal Knight of St. Gregory, lowly river that receives tributes of a million mountain streams, I say a happy birthday in arrears. May your days be long. May your coasts get larger, and may your future dwarf your yesterday and today. Congratulations.
––Anichukwu writes from Abuja