Zik Zulu Okafor
It was Saturday, March 6, 2021. The Ibusa Think- Tank paused to celebrate the birthday of one of their own, a woman that is writing a new story in the corporate bloc . Her name is Dame Winnie Akpani, Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of North-West Petroleum and Gas Company Limited, an indigenous oil and gas marketing company with a cut of distinctive character.
But they did not create a merry marquee to clink glasses and celebrate this elite of the technocracy. Not in a Covid colonised times.
The mode was virtual , spiritual in hue as it was laced with prayers and a tonal appreciation of her strides.
Now, the Ibusa Think-Tank is that
brand of organisation that lives its name and spec. Made up of high profile technocrats, doyens of industry, professionals of national acclaim and intellective figures, the Think Tank wears a conservative garb, its voice deliberately tame but with an iron-cast mission to achieve its transformational goals in their homey town, Ibusa. So, they celebrate their members seemingly to thank them for the tough choice to be part of a race of sacrifice . And they had to appreciate this daughter, sister and wife , for she is undoubtedly a woman in the eye of time. For them, her crystal vision, extraordinary sensitive insight and courageous carriage of both her personal and professional convictions that have resulted in her manifest progression within the organised private sector truly elevate her to a pedestal of generational inspiration.
And there is indeed no question that Dame Akpani is an exemplar, not only to the bucolic kids and youths back home to her native Igbuzor ( Ibuzor ) now anglicised as Ibusa, but to a nation in search of elpis, the mythological Greek personification of hope. For here was a child of middle class parents that graduated with a BSc degree in Mathematics from the University of Benin. She could have proceeded to do an MBA and seek a job in the mainstream banking sub-sector of the economy and rise quickly through the ladder. But endowed with a rare perceptive and interpretative imagination, she chose the long route and the tasking endurance that a job in accounting firm demands. So, she settled for a job as a Trainee Accountant at Oni Lasebikan and Co, now Ernst and Young. With an unshaking resolve to attain the zenith of her career, she moved to Arthur Anderson & Co known today as KPMG Professional Services. Here, she would qualify as a Chattered Accountant in 1990. Destined to run her own decreed corporate course, she still did not move to one robust bank or some big multi national having attained the position of an Audit Senior at her resignation in 1992 from KPMG. Instead, she migrated surprisingly to a relatively unknown Flame Petroleum and Gas Company Limited, a start-up oil marketing company, as a Financial Controller. Today, with the benefit of hindsight, it is easy to see that she had her eyes on the ball ; a gripping perception of her tough and capricious destination and the road map to the hub of its network. That would explain why she spent five intensive years here with meticulous attention to details, rising pronto to the status of an Executive Director. But just that was it. She’d had enough of working for organisations. Now a pack of experience, it was time to test her enterprise. And so, in 1998, North-West Petroleum and Gas Company Limited, an indigenous oil and gas trading company was born.
Twenty two years after, that company that took off with only N200,000 ; yes, N200, 000 capital base start-up, boasts of annual turnover in hundreds of millions of dollars. From a seemingly trifling local business of supplying diesel to homes, guest houses , banks and corporate organisations, North-West has taken a dizzying leap into a massive international oil trading and services company with investments in midstream and upstream sectors of the oil and gas industry. The company founded on luminous vision with grit and granite-cast integrity now operates two ultra-modern mega Petroleum Products Storage Terminals with combined capacity of 96.8 million litres certified and licensed by the Department of Petroleum Resources, DPR, and an ultra-modern berthing facility plus its distinctive 24 and 26 nozzle state-of-the-art mega filling stations now spreading across the country.
Dame Akpani’s incredible corporate statement is unequivocal, her strides, phenomenal. It is in concise terms, what many recognise as the reward for an intelligently analytical mind , a clear thinker and incisive corporate leader.
Now, many an observer of her enduring race to a rare pedestal of honour in the very slippery oil business have also alluded to some elements of luck besides hard work. Yes, this CEO with an adorable poise and amiable primness agrees. But like the christian that she is, she would rather call it God’s grace, that unmerited favour, love shown to us by the Almighty God ; what Gresham Machen described as the centre and core of the bible. Because she is a christian, she believes indeed she has immensely drawn from the treasury of grace and so strives persistently to humanise her corporate ventures. This mindset is reflected in the form of her organisation’s colossal corporate social responsibility, CSR and her soulful relationship with people irrespective of their social standing. From her company’s host communities to the nation at large, in education , health care, security and police affairs, from the market women through artisans to many on the back street and the fringe of life, Dame Winnie Akpani and her company are helping them to turn the corner, making timeless contributions to their operations, welfare and general reconstruction of their life and living for good.
Back in her home town , Ibusa, she continues to illuminate the passion of her compassion. Though a global player today, she is consistently reaching out to the town she calls home, to oil the wheel of their hopes and aspirations, sitting with them ; the ordinary people, traders, home-makers and small scale farmers, to understand their challenges and to lend a hand.
And her sacrifices in these humane enterprise have not gone unnoticed. Pope Benedict XVI, way back in 2009, awarded her The Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice medal or Cross of Honour, the highest award of the Catholic Church established by Pope Leo XIII in1888 for distinguished service to the church and humanity.
For those everyday people therefore , for her host communities, the church and many institutions across the nation and the global community, Dame Winnie Akpani is not just a corporate titan, she is a compassion worker and her company, North-west , an emblem of hope.
To the Dame and doyen of Nigeria’s corporate arena therefore, the Ibusa Think-Tank says, ” Happy Birthday ” again.
…Zik Zulu Okafor is the MD/CEO Zulu Films Ltd.