Leemon Ikpea:  Tinubu  on Course to Make Nigeria Great and Prosperous

A quick-fire depreciation of the naira was followed closely by a galloping inflation that accelerated at a historic pace. Food and grocery prices became prohibitive. The cost of other things skyrocketed beyond economists’ comprehension, with prices of commodities changing almost daily. The nation tumbled into economic turmoil besides the intractable insecurity. In the saddle amidst the near-cataclysm is President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, who rode to power on the back of the slogan, ‘Renewed Hope’. For millions of Nigerians, to hope is a dangerous thing. However, many others are convinced the so-called giant of Africa, Nigeria, is on the verge of a breakthrough: Chief Leemon Ikpea, the founder and Chairman of the Lee Engineering Group and Allied Companies Limited, is foremost amongst them, writes Bayo Akinloye

Leemon  Ikpea, a major player in the local content sector of the oil and gas industry is an optimist and a firm believer in the capability and capacity of President  Tinubu to deliver a New Nigeria, going by the economic reforms he embarked upon from day one of his presidency. And he is not mincing words to say it.  He says repeatedly that there is light at the end of the tunnel. Ikpea’s conviction that Tinubu’s government anchored on the ‘Renewed Hope Agenda’ will turn the corner is based on the trajectory that had defined the president’s life prior to taking up the responsibility of steering the nation to greater heights.

“It’s not just a cliché that Tinubu redefined the foundation of modern Lagos, which his successors built on. He made bold decisions and executed destiny-defining policies,” Ikpea passionately told THISDAY, his voice filled with conviction.   Such a leader’s past can only illuminate a promising future for the people.”

The billionaire oil mogul sees in Tinubu a courageous leader, unafraid to take the bull by the horns. To the founder and chairman of the Lee Engineering Group and Allied Companies Limited, the president is deeply concerned about Nigeria’s future generations and is determined to rectify as many past mistakes as possible, such as removing the petrol subsidy. Ikpea noted that the petrol subsidy had become a burden, but past presidents lacked the political will to remove it. The President, Ikpea said, had a clear vision for Nigeria’s economic future and understood that immediate obstacles needed to be removed. And one of such obstacles is the petrol subsidy; another is the regimented foreign exchange.

“I understand. I feel the pain too. But I look beyond the immediate pain,” said Ikpea. He admitted that the immediate removal of the petrol subsidy came with its attendant hiccups. Ikpea acknowledged how the nation’s economic problems increased in the twinkling of an eye following the decision of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to float the national currency. “These are teething problems. They are bumps in the road. With Tinubu, we can’t miss our destination. He has a legacy to build on and a name to protect. More importantly, he wants the best for his compatriots.”

Amidst the groans and moans of the masses, including corporate entities, Ikpea sees things differently. He points to the current appreciation of the naira and hopes it can firm up further.

“The process is gradual. It’s understood that many of the country’s challenges accumulated over decades. Successive leaders shied away from taking bold decisions until things came to a head.  So, who bells the cat?” Ikpea argued. Courage is a true sign of leadership. When the going gets tough, the tough gets going. Did we see that in the president?”

Ikpea did not mince words, pointing out that “it is always darkest before dawn” and firmly believes that Tinubu is on course to make life better for Nigerians and businesses. “In the meantime, we must believe, endure, and support the President.” To underscore his point, Ikpea explained the possibilities that the Dangote Refinery would throw up, helping to solve part of the issue of forex liquidity and regular fuel supply, along with its multiplier effect.

“There is more to Mr President’s leadership agility than meets the eye,” said Ikpea. The oil magnate stressed that Tinubu feels the pain of Nigerians, but he is not panicky. He is focused and relentless in pursuing his policies that may be unpopular under the circumstances but would bear fruit in the years to come. He cited the amended Students Loan Act, the reopening of the borders, and other policies, including the decision to trim the cost of governance as a pointer to the fact that the president means well.

Rather than protest, the oil and gas magnate preaches patience. Rather than revolt, Ikpea recommends resilience. Instead of fury, the billionaire businessman encourages a futuristic outlook while admitting that the current economic hardship exerts a toll on everyone and everything.

“I don’t see any reason for protest. The president has not spent up to a year in office. In every society, in any part of the world, if a reform is in place, some people will suffer; most will feel the impact,” the businessman said. “However, that impact will not remain forever. After some time, light is seen at the end of the tunnel. In my mind’s eye, the greatness of Nigeria is on the horizon: Nigeria will be great again. It is not uncommon to expect opposition, and it is apparent some are taking advantage of the situation.”

 The self-made, ingenious oil and gas magnate reiterates his conviction that hard choices being made by the country’s leadership today are a promissory note to a certain productive and prosperous future. Not many may share his conviction, but Ikpea says that if the federal government conscientiously implements his economic policies, there will be light at the end of the tunnel.

“Successive governments were reluctant to put an end to subsidies enjoyed by   certain entities which could have been deployed   to fix roads and the healthcare system and provide other essential services for the masses,” Ikpea stressed. “Right now, we have a new administration in the saddle that decided that enough is enough and took a bold step to stop the fuel subsidy, promising to instead, use the monies for infrastructure development and several other things for the benefit of the people.”

Ikpea urged Nigerians to exercise more patience with the Tinubu administration.

“My advice to Nigerians is to be patient. I feel the painful pinch of the reforms. It must be endured with the hope and confidence that things will return to normal. In the interim, we should all support the president and his administration. Normalcy will return sooner rather than later,” added Ikpea.

He reiterated that no sacrifice “is too big to make for one’s country,” pointing out that in the US, the UK, and other developed countries, “several sacrifices were made by their citizens to ensure their nations were where they are today” and that “if we want Nigeria to be great and to become a developed nation, we must make some sacrifices.”

For a nationalist, patriot and philanthropist like Ikpea, realism and optimism drive him for his people’s ultimate good and prosperity as he continues to intensify his investments in the nation’s economy. “We have ongoing gas projects, several of which will also increase government revenue,” Ikpea stated. We’re starting a new one, which will take about three years to complete. We signed that contract a couple of months ago.”

Notwithstanding the exit of some IOCs, Ikpea said the ongoing construction of his multibillion-naira fabrication yard was a “foresight that was envisioned long ago, long before the federal government signed the local content development bill into law.”

The oil and gas magnate stressed his futuristic fervour, noting that he had envisioned “there might be times when it would be difficult to get foreign exchange” and “the vision to create more job opportunities has always been there.” 

“Once this project becomes fully completed and the yard becomes operational, the multiplier effect will be massive,” Ikpea explained to THISDAY. He reveals that the fabrication yard’s construction is nearing completion. 

With the progress made on the project, Ikpea is looking at its completion “in the second quarter of the year” to inaugurate the fabrication factory. Once that is done, he told THISDAY, “we expect almost immediate patronage from the IOCs, other oil and gas industry players, and the government.” 

The billionaire businessman stressed that “one major benefit is that it will allow the country to save a lot of foreign exchange.”

“The fabrication yard in Warri is currently undergoing a test run of all the equipment there. The factory will soon be ready for inauguration. We had informed the federal government, especially Mr President, to come and inaugurate this project. It’s a project that we will help to drive his dream through the oil and gas sector,” stated Ikpea.

A technocrat, Ikpea clearly understands the role of governance and policies and demonstrates his optimism about the Tinubu administration. He provides a basis for that optimism.

“Apart from Mr President’s track record, any human being that is highly criticised, and negatively spoken of, come what may, usually succeeds. The motivation to prove his critics wrong is very high. Those negative criticisms trailing him will serve as wind in his sails,” said.

  For him, the Tinubu administration would turn out to be the “best government we would ever have.” 

“Yes, it will be one of the best governments we have ever had in Nigeria because it has seen the mistakes in various sectors of past governments and the anger of Nigerians. I am sure the Tinubu government will put a smile on the faces of Nigerians,” he reasoned, pointing out that the president exudes the confidence of an astute politician and administrator.

When the federal government announced the unification of the foreign exchange market, it was greeted with mixed feelings. For Ikpea, floating the naira is in the best interest of Nigeria’s monetary stability. Even though the exchange rate of the naira to the dollar has not returned to its pre-Tinubu reign, for the first time, the parallel market and the official market rates are almost the same, signalling the stability of the national currency.

The government has unfinished business in the oil and gas industry, according to Ikpea.

“But at the same time, the staff and the people in the industry are first-class personnel because they’re well trained. I could tell because I have been in the industry for 47 years,” he said. “I have been following them right from the beginning. Nobody can steal a kobo in the NNPCL because their procedures are stringent, with meticulous attention to due process. The NNPCL has become a well-structured organisation. It remains one of the best parastatals this country could ever have.”

Ikpea gives a simple suggestion to keep the wheels of oil running.

“I will suggest that the federal government should rehabilitate the over 5,000km pipeline in this country. These pipelines were laid in the late 1980s. Calculate the years: it’s more than 30 years. There must be corrosion. The same pipelines have remained,” the oil mogul pointed out. They have not been changed, resulting in oil loss and theft because criminals exploit the corroded parts of the pipelines to siphon large-scale quantities of oil. That leaves the government losing a lot of money. If the government could do the hard work, a lot could be saved for the nation’s coffers.”

If the government wants to avoid crude oil theft, the pipelines “have to be rehabilitated by fixing the badly damaged ones and “they should create a good network of pipelines and bury them deeper into the ground,” noting that “if the depth was three feet before, let them take it six feet down; that way, it becomes more difficult for potential oil thieves to reach the pipelines and steal oil.”

Ikpea recommends a high-powered surveillance of the pipelines that could nip criminal activities in the bud to make the hard work meaningful. He also believes careful consideration should be given to refineries. They need to concentrate on the pipelines and the refineries to ensure that they are functional because if the refineries do not produce, we will continue to have problems.”

Ikpea’s focus remains on deepening the country’s success stories, facing the challenges and building more enormous frontiers for national prosperity. He stresses the matchless contributions of the Nigerian Content Development and Monitoring Board (NCDMB) to strengthening the hands of local players in the oil and gas industry.

He feels the NCDMB has a lot going for it and can only get better without undue interference and politicisation of the agency.  Ikpea suggests the continued strengthening of the local content board so that more successes can be recorded regarding indigenous capacity in the oil and gas sector.

As a vibrant local player in a dynamic global industry, the founder of the Lee Engineering Group and Allied Companies Limited has stepped up to the plate by acquiring marginal fields. By the time the company starts production, it will not need to import some items of equipment into the country because it will use the ones manufactured in its fabrication plant, which is cost effective. Ikpea will bring his many years’ experience in the construction industry to bear.

His leading indigenous EPCOM (engineering, procurement, construction, operation, and maintenance) company, the Lee Engineering and Construction Company, has achieved several milestones and received numerous commendations, awards, and certificates from local and international organisations.

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