Ernest Azudialu-Obiejesi’s Strides in Oil And Gas Value Chain – THISDAYLIVE

Ernest Azudialu-Obiejesi’s Strides in Oil And Gas Value Chain – THISDAYLIVE

Updated: 3 months, 14 days, 16 hours, 35 minutes, 5 seconds ago

INSPIRED LIFE

By Lanre Alfred

Dr. Ernest Azudialu Obiejesi’s life is a lesson in human preparedness for opportunities and a case study of the aggressive pursuit of success. The Group Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer of Obijackson Group knew that growth could not wait for some other time or some other person; when the need to fill a yearning gap emerged from the blues, he never allowed such opportunity to pass him by without giving it his best. From his humble beginning as a rookie trader with entrepreneurial teeth sharpened by his father, Obiejesi’s meteoric rise to the pinnacle of business success has written all over it uncommon foresight and doggedness only seen in a man who knows where he is going. There is no gainsaying that the universe aligned with his dreams and aspirations, but that is not to say that his path was paved with shiny diamonds only laid to pick on a platter.

A Deserved National Honour

Enthusiastic encomiums have continued to trail the recent conferment of national honour – Order of the Federal Republic, OFR – on Dr Ernest Azudialu Obiejesi, Group Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer at Nestoil Group. He was honoured alongside 443 other Nigerians who have distinguished themselves in different fields of endeavour and for their contributions to the growth and development of Nigeria. The awards ceremony took place Tuesday, October 11, at the International Conference Centre, Abuja.

Dr Azudialu was among 77 Nigerians conferred with the OFR, the fifth highest national honour, for his business successes and boundless and borderless philanthropy, for which he continues to enjoy a deluge of recognition at home and abroad. Those conversant with his trajectory have unanimously chorused that he deserves this national honour and more for how far he has come in life and for his impact on humanity.

Prior, the serial award winner had been honoured with several awards like the 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; and Petroleum Technology Association of Nigeria (PETAN) Industry Achievement of the Year Award – 2014, among numerous others.

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.

Azudialu set up the Obijackson Foundation to tackle the issues of extreme poverty, illiteracy, hunger, and poor healthcare and make a real and measurable change in Eastern Nigeria and beyond.

“The organisation is dedicated to improving the socio-economic well-being of the nation’s people through improved access to good quality education and healthcare in addition to cultural enrichment. Our intervention areas range from community development initiatives to food programmes to health schemes, the gemstone of which is the Obijackson Children’s Hospital in Okija, Anambra State,” he said.

The Obijackson Women and Children’s Hospital in Okija was built and developed into the foremost women’s and paediatric healthcare institution – the first of its kind in eastern Nigeria. The hospital has delivered hundreds of women with state-of-the-art diagnostic, surgical, and other equipment. The Obijackson Foundation caters to patients with no funds to pay for treatment. Nobody has turned away from this hospital because of their inability to pay their bills. Dr Azudialu 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 for him. The hospital directly employs about 100 locals. Hundreds more are indirect employees in the form of contractors and other service providers.

An Entrepreneurial Path Set Early

Growing up under the mentorial tutelage of a trader-father was the launch pad the young Ernest needed to have his entrepreneurial path carved for him. His trading skills were well honed in Onitsha by a father who had weathered the storms and made a success of the art of buying and selling. As such, unlike a rolling stone that gathers no moss, he knew early where he wanted to go. His smartness and entertaining skills as a kid notwithstanding, he stuck to his guns and went to found his business in 1983 after a stint at ‘D.A. Ifeanyi & Brothers Trading Company’ owned by his father.

“I came from a family rooted in business. My father was a businessman trading in commodities. He encouraged us early to pay attention to what he was doing in his shop. So I got exposed to business early in life and started the trading business in the 1980s, precisely in 1983 when I registered ‘Obijackson West Africa Limited’”

Why ‘Obijackson’? One of the extracurricular activities for which the young Ernest was known in school was his Michael Jackson-like dancing skills. “Obijackson came from the name I answered when I was in school. I was nicknamed so by my schoolmates because of the dancing skills I exhibited in school. In fact, that actually overshadowed my real name. My surname is Obiejesi. The first three letters, ‘Obi,’ were combined with Jackson. So I carried the name to my business and registered it,” he explained.

Today, Obijackson has fully grown to a conglomerate stature. The conglomerate can be said to be the history of my life and business. It is a journey that started with trading now to the oil and gas business and the huge investments we have now. So many companies and investments have come out of it. When he talks about Obijackson, he talks about a group of companies birthed to fill up gaps and opportunities over the years.

The birth of Obijackson West Africa Limited did not only speak to Azudialu-Obiejesi’s business mind; the broadness of his vision was also captured by the fact that he had his eyes on the entire West African region. Buoyed with the little success he recorded after moving to Lagos in 1986 from Onitsha, from his two-bedroom office at Idumagbo Avenue, he soon spread his tentacles across the region, as he became the rallying point for commodity traders from other neighbouring countries who patronized him.

The interesting thing about his business registration was he had his mind and eyes yond the shores of Nigeria. As young as he was then, he wanted to do something that would cover the sub-region of West Africa, which was why he went for West Africa Limited instead of ‘Nigeria Limited’.

Indeed, he started with two rooms on the last floor of the building at Idumagbo Avenue, from where he went on to take over the whole floor as the business expanded. His area of business was the importation of commodities from China. It was very big business as other businesses were coming from neighbouring countries to patronise him. It was a boom then, and he was doing very well. From there, he moved to the cosmetics business. He had his own cosmetics line. He started doing wine. He had his own wine line. He produced the wines from France, brought them to Nigeria and sold them.

It is a given that huge success follows a diligent mind like Azudialu-Obiejesi, who does not dilly-dally about what he wants out of life. And exactly that was what happened.

The Making of a Conglomerate

Not one to sit back with the mindset of the biblical ‘Rich Fool’ who felt he had gathered enough riches and felt it was time to sit back and enjoy. Azudialu-Obiejesi is ambitious, and his passion for growing from commodity trading to something bigger took the better part of him.

Yes, he got to a point when he felt Obijackson West Africa Ltd could run independently or without his hands-on supervision. He could see that the company could make money even without him being involved totally. So he asked himself what else he could do aside from sending messages to China for the goods they ship to Lagos. He sells them and makes money. Then he repeated the same thing. So it became a cycle. So he asked himself, “What could I do with all the time on my hands after completing each cycle of commodity trading?”

Today, 13 companies in the conglomerate do different things in the oil and gas ecosystem. Some of them are very successful; some are still trying to find their feet, while some have made investments that put them on the socio-economic map of the country as businesses of reference for particular services.

In 1991, Nestoil was incorporated as a fully indigenous engineering, procurement, construction and commissioning services company, thus heralding Obijackson Group’s foray into the petroleum industry. Today, Nestoil has become a reference point in the industry for its exceptional services in pipeline construction, repairs and maintenance, fabrication and pressure vessel manufacturing, detailed engineering design and consultancy, civil construction works as well as dredging and shoreline protection. Operating from its expansive 59-hectare Abuloma industrial layout, the company not only covers the entire value chain of the oil and gas industry; it has been nurtured into a conglomerate with a staff strength that has grown from ten to over 5,000 direct jobs in 30 years.

In another development, if Nigeria’s Local Content Policy in the three streams of the petroleum sector has experienced much success, and definitely it has, Azudialu-Obiejesi has carved his name in the sound of time in that regard. Over the years, through its constant clamour, belief in and inclusion of local content, Nestoil has grown from that rookie company to Nigeria’s largest indigenous service-providing company, a development which analysts believe has helped in building capacity for Nigeria and enabled it to curb capital flight.

Before the Nigerian Content Act, most operations in the nation’s oil and gas space were executed by International Oil Companies (IOCs). It would not have gone the other way, though; the lack of indigenous skilled personnel for the services taken up by the IOCs was so evident. Reports say that the era of skills importation into Nigeria cost capital flight of about $380billion. The equation and narrative have since changed with companies like Nestoil, which has been churning out bespoke, world-class oil servicing support in the industry. Over 95 per cent of its employees are Nigerians – an uncommon feat compared to other players in the sector. The company is a foremost employer of local labour across the value chain of the oil and gas sector.

The company’s repair and maintenance facilities are built with the highest health, safety and environmental standards, ensuring safe working conditions. The company’s operational strategy delivers competitive prices, short lead times, high-quality workmanship and overall reliability in the service to the clients.

The industrial trust reposed, Nestoil did not come on a platter. There were days of presentations when Azudialu-Obiejesi and his team were laughed at and turned down by the panels he was meant to convince. Dogged and experienced, he pushed on until he became an entity that could not be ignored. When they started understanding the business, it took five years of presentation to convince the IOCs that a Nigerian company could do this business, we gathered.

Today, the “King of Swamp,” as Nestoil is proudly known in the industry for its daring moves and attendant successes in terrains even international companies dare not, has accomplished milestones by taking up challenges and difficult projects in the Niger Delta, even in turbulent seasons. 

The completion of the landmark Obiafu-Obrikom-Oben Gas Pipeline (OB3 Pipeline) promises to be a watershed in Nigeria’s march towards commercialising over two billion cubic feet of gas per day and generate billions in revenue as well create thousands of employment opportunities for Nigerians.

The pipeline system is a critical component of the Nigeria Gas Master Plan (NGMP) meant to deliver gas from the rich reservoirs in the eastern Niger Delta to the markets west of Nigeria. Part of its scope is the construction of the Obiafu-Obrikom-Oben Gas Pipeline (OB3) under the bed of the River Niger, which is over two kilometres –the first of its kind in Africa. It is not coincidental that Nestoil was awarded such a monstrous project; its track records stood it in good stead.

Dr Azudialu-Obiejesi has, by dint of hard work, focus, and discerning business acumen, created a group of companies that has placed Nigeria on the global economic map by maximising Nigeria’s energy potential through value-addition through companies such as IMPAC, B&Q Dredging, Energy Works Technologies (EWT), Hammakopp Consortium, Scorpio Drilling, Neconde Energy, White Dove Shipping Company Limited, Nesthak, Shipside Drydock, and Century Power Generation Limited.

The companies have recorded feats as interesting as the stories behind their creations. None came to be as a subject of the founder’s fantasies. Each of these companies was founded to meet the demand of another in the oil and gas ecosystem. And the group has remained on the cutting edge of the energy revolution in Nigeria through its inclusion of technology into projects they handled.

It should be noted that B&Q Dredging Limited plays a major role in constructing the Second Niger Bridge – a key national infrastructure with immense socio-economic benefits for the contiguous states and the entire nation. The ongoing construction received a massive boost following B&G’s deployment of Pirat-X, a 30-feet dredger with offshore dredging and trenching capacity – the biggest in Africa. With the arrival of Pirat-X Dredger, the completion time of the Second Niger Bridge will be fast-tracked to 6 months compared to the 2-year projected completion time.

B&Q Dredging Limited, established in 1996, provides a range of dredging solutions using its highly experienced and motivated multinational workforce to meet global operating standards. Its services range from dredging services, reclamation, sand filling and road embankments to erosion control, shore protection and consolidation. This places the company as the foremost indigenous dredging service provider.

The successful completion of Shell’s mammoth 97-kilometre NCTL pipeline in 2010, delivered a month before schedule, was the icebreaker for Nestoil and B&Q Dredging. The feat singlehandedly opened up doors to more indigenous companies.

The capacities, feats and accomplishments of these companies have not gone unnoticed in the industry. It is in recognition of the values they have continued to add that three of the group’s companies, Nestoil, EWT, and B&Q, were in 2017 identified by the London Stock Exchange out of 300 African companies as companies with a great future for the continent – companies to lead Africa in the next 10 years.

Nestoil, through its engineering and construction arms, has delivered services to a good number of organisations according to global best practices and has earned it numerous product and management certifications. It has the ISO-9001/2015 certification and moved from ISO-2008 to 2015.

Foray into Exploration & Production (E&P)

Dr Azudialu-Obiejesi incorporated Neconde Energy Limited in 2010 as an independent oil and gas company as a special-purpose vehicle for acquiring and developing petroleum assets. With a core operational focus on the exploration and development of oil and gas assets, the company is today the proud joint owner and operator of OML 42. Formerly owned by Shell (SDPC) before the divestment of its 45 per cent and 55 per cent to Neconde and Nigeria Petroleum Development Company (NPDC), NNPC’s E&P subsidiary, respectively, the asset has seven fields that have produced hydrocarbons and five undeveloped discoveries. The 2P reserves stand at 600 MMbbls. The asset is located onshore West Delta with an area of 814 km2.

OML 42 has seven flow stations with a combined capacity of 345,000 barrels of liquid per day. As of Q1 2018, the Batan, Jones Creek and Odidi Flow Stations are operational, while Egwa will be re-opened in 2019. The liquids are transported to the Forcados Export Terminal via the Trans-Forcados Pipeline (TFP).

Like most E&P companies in Nigeria, E&P companies have their fair share of challenges as a result of the volatility of the industry, unstable global oil prices, insecurity, uncertain government policies, and hostility from host communities, among others. Neconde also had its challenging moments, especially with loan facilities obtained for its financial obligations.

A man of high ethics

Azudialu puts great trust in himself and God. He accepts the place that divine providence has found for him, and he relentlessly seeks to impact positively on his immediate society while serving as a worthy role model for the society of his contemporaries and future generations. Great men have always done so while betraying their perception that the absolutely trustworthy was seated at their heart, working through their hands, predominating in all their being. He unquestioningly accepts the superiority and transcendence of destiny; however, he does not see himself as a minor and invalid in a protected corner of the world. He would not sit tight and wait on handouts from fate, like a coward fleeing before a revolution. Rather, he engages with the odds to better his lot and the lives of his beloved while obeying and accepting the dictates and infinite omnipotence of the Almighty Creator.

Unlike many a rich, privileged adult, he is not stuck in contemporary infancy, nor does he conform to tiresome delinquency. Azudialu grew through youth, puberty and manhood immune to the degenerate lure of extreme irresponsibility. In his teens, he outgrew the nonchalance of teenagers forever driven by an entitlement mentality. Unlike most of his peers, he outgrew the image of the proverbial boy stuck in the emotional pit of the adolescent playhouse. Thus, he was hardly self-seeking or irresponsible or lusty for consequence-free independence.

As a man, he does not look down on people from his corner. He abhors the pitfalls of self-righteousness, and he relates with every male and female, boy and girl, child and adult, on the basis of their merits. As soon as he has once acted or spoken with éclat, he is a committed person, guided by sympathy and compassion for his fellow man.