We have seen some policies of the Federal Government like the amnesty programme. As somebody who has been in an interventionist agency like the NDDC, do you see these programmes as capable of redirecting the youths as you posited?
That amnesty programme has worked. If you measure the performance of that strategy, you will see that it has worked. Once you set up a system, for me as a technocrat, you need to look at key performance indicators to measure the success of the system: what are the results we are expecting? Does the input match our expected result? To a large extent, it has worked. We have seen some value created. We have seen some young pilots come out of this programme. These same people can be used as role models to the rest of the youths.
Having served on the board of the NDDC and considering the experience you have gathered in the corporate world, don’t you think you can transfer these experiences to other areas of the society like governance?
Yes. There comes a stage in everyone’s life when you start giving back to society. I was part of the team that put together the first Rivers State Investment Forum. It showcased the investment potentials and opportunities that abound in the state. it was very successful. There is no service to humanity that is lost. But you do not necessarily have to be in government to that. Some of us have passed on our experiences and services to government. I understand the challenges in governance. It is easy for people in the private sector to criticise government. It when you get close to government that you understand some of the challenges in governance.
From your speech, you seem to have a passion for the youths. Have you run any programmes for the youths?
Over the years, I have employed over 200 engineers who have passed through me and most of them have become very successful. My philosophy has been to catch them straight from the university, build the proper work ethics into them and make them grow to become successful engineers. For me, that is a way of adding value. They can compete anywhere in the world.
Through my company, I have given scholarships to many students and industrial training opportunities to several youths.
Again, I do lot of mentorship, almost on a daily basis. I believe we need to keep talking to the youths, so assist them plan for a better future.
What is your idea of governance; what should people expect from their leaders?
Honesty, sincerity and respect for those you lead. Whether Nigerians have been getting these from our leaders depends on individual’s perspective. Well, our leaders have tried.
But, I tell you one thing: God anoints leaders for two purposes; either as a lesson or for blessing.
When you are not working, what do you do?
I am a family man: I am married with three kids. I spend time with the family. But my greatest passion is water sports. It is amazing the calmness in water sports, in fact it is another huge opportunity that lies in Rivers State. I do a lot of jet skiing. From the Port Harcourt Boat Club, I take my jet ski with friends and ride through the creeks and seas to Bonny and other riverside communities. It is amazing the beauty of the place.
I also love going to places I have never been to admire people and their cultures.
In your rides through the creeks, you see the beauty and resources that are yet untapped. Don’t you think both Government and the private sector need to do more to harness these resources?
Honestly, I see huge potentials in Rivers State. Port Harcourt is a peninsula and every peninsula in the world is amazing. And Port Harcourt to me is not just the book capital of the world but also the oil capital of the entire Gulf of Guinea, just as Houston the oil capital of the Gulf of Mexico.
Port Harcourt is a melting pot. Before this time, Port Harcourt was the entertainment centre of the country, coupled with the traditions and different masquerades of the people of Rivers state. Indeed one of the greatest masquerades that have been played in this world is the Odum masquerade of Okrika. As child, I was there with Red Cross, it is phenomenal.
So, when you look at all these put together, and to think that Rivers State has the longest coastline in Nigeria, it is unbelievable. Huge opportunities for tourism. So, if we look at these opportunities, it’s a spring board waiting to explode. It is not just energy, there is agro, and there is tourism. The beauty of it is that it also showcases the culture and traditions of the people of the state. We just need the vision to see it and begin to develop it gradually.
What will you say motivated you to engage in Philanthropy?
In my own little way, I have always given donations to charity homes. I also helped the Catholic Church in the building for affected youths like drug addicts, prostitutes etc.
Can you tell us about your Educational Background:
I attended St. Cyprian’s Primary School, Port Harcourt. Then I attended Federal Government College, Jos, at a very young age. I went straight into the university. I finished at the University of Jos, where I read Mechanical Engineering and design in 1986. I did the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) programme in Abuja where I served at the Federal capital Development Authority.
I have always had the zeal to work in the oil industry. I worked in some multinational oil companies both in Nigeria and overseas. My speciality in the oil industry was especially down-hole tools.
I can confidently claim that I was the first COREN engineer in Nigeria because when i started in the industry, COREN was relatively new in the country. Indeed, in the oil industry, when you talk about COREN, the first name to be mentioned is my name. I have remained focused in the profession and I went on to set my own company, Cortech Oil Services Limited. As an indigenous company, we are still focused n delivering excellent services. Indeed, because of our very high standards, most people think we are a foreign company.
Before then, I worked with Corpro Systems Limited, United Kingdom, one of the oil giants in Europe, for 17 years, where I rose to the position of regional manager for West Africa.
Before the advent of Local Content (Nigerian Content Act), I went into negotiation with my employers, Corpro Systems Limited, on the need to develop indigenous professionals.
Sometime in 2006, I set up my own company, a fully indigenous company, Cortech Oil Services. Since then, the company has been providing excellent services and we have trained a lot of indigenous engineers to world class standards.
What was your growing up like?
Interesting! When I think about my early ages, I wish I can turn back the hands of the clock. (Face lights up with enthusiasm and smile playing around his lips). I grew up in Port Harcourt. I am an original Port Harcourt Boy. My Father used to work with the Nigerian Railway Corporation in Port Harcourt as a station officer. It was quite interesting as Port Harcourt was such a very clean city and there were a lot of playgrounds: No 1 Field, No 2 Field, No 3 Field, Jubilee Park and several others. The streets were so clean that kids could run through the back yards to appear in adjoining streets. That when we saw postmasters, with their lovely hats and bicycles go to houses to deliver mails and parcels. There public cinema houses all around town. We used to hire bicycles and ride around town. So kids had all sorts of engagements! We could go to the stadium to watch football matches (which were regular) or watch traditional wrestling watches. During festive periods like Christmas, you see kids come together to play masquerades like ojionu, agaba and others. You see maids wearing flowered dresses and wrappers to going around the city dancing. It was really fun.
There were also strong family values at the time. If a kid is naughty in the street, an elderly person would scold him and order him to get back to the house. The kid would immediately obey for fear that the information could get to his/her parents. There was sincerity and respect for elders. There was hardly any child that was not involved in Boys Scout, Boys brigade, Red Cross and such organisations. They were attending Sunday Schools and other programmes that helped shape the character of the children. As a child, I was in the Red Cross.
As a child going to secondary school in Jos, I never used the roads. I rode in the trains and it was so much fun and you could see the towns and villages that the line the railway. You could see the cultures and the traditions of the different communities the train was passing through. That way, one could learn more about the country. But all these have changed. I really miss that.
So, what went wrong?
Well, it is sad the way things have gone. I pass through the railway station sometimes and I marvel at the decay. I see what government now is doing to revamp the railway system in Nigeria. But it is sad that we have not imbibed a good culture of maintenance so that we can pass facilities from one generation to another.
The period you were growing up, how did people from different ethnic nationalities relate with each other?
Yes, that period people related with each other not minding who was from Ikwerre, Kalabari, Okrika etc. indeed, everybody communicated in English outside. It was only when you get into your house that you speak your native language. So, it didn’t matter where you were from. It was just core family values. Unfortunately, we are fast losing this.
What can we do to bring the family values back?
For me, there are really fundamental things. They say charity begins at home. We need to start from our homes. For me, poverty is not an excuse for immorality. If we can start from the family to instil simple core values; respect for elders, truthfulness, honesty etc, then we start from there.
Secondly, we need to begin to look at mentorship. You know, a lot of kids have derailed because they were not properly mentored. We need to shape the kids. People need to build role models that the kids need to see. When I was in the secondary school, if you see a guy coming from the university, people were almost kissing his feet. There was that aspiration to be like that guy in the university.
Britain right now is trying to define what they call British values because they have come to realise the need for proper mentorship.
There should be proper ways of engaging the youths. The energy in the youth is phenomenal; the energy can make them move mountains, either to destroy the mountain or to build the mountain. So we need to strategically engage them to refocus them, give them role models; let them have an inspiration. We need to make them appreciate hard work as the only way to success.
Don’t you think that the boom in ICT and the role of social media pose challenges that can make it difficult to achieve what you are proposing?
Definitely. But we need to pick out the good values of technology. We need to harness the beauty in these technologies and encourage our children to imbibe those things that will promote good values. So, it is not just about social media being bad but how it is used, to exploit the benefits for the good of the society.
The youth in our society have been engaged in militancy and cult activities. People have linked this to unemployment. Do you accept this? What do you think should be done to redirect our youths?
In fact, this is a fundamental challenge to everybody. I had the opportunity of being on the board of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC). I was on the board from 2009 to 2011. It was an exposure for me. The commission had all kinds of youth development strategies. The success again is another thing. For me, it was an opportunity to come out of my conclave in the oil industry and see what the larger society was like, and also experience what the larger society was like. You could see anger in the youths. You ask yourself why and what was making them angry. What has society done that is making them angry? It boils down to the same thing: family values and mentorship.
As a state and as a nation, our energy should be focused more on those who cannot than on those who can. This is because if you don’t help those who cannot, they will pull down those who can.
For me, it is not only about going to the university; we need to look at skills acquisition. Technical education is key. This is because some people may be good academically while some people are very dexterous; they can use their hands and be creative. Once we make them imbibe those family values, we can channel them to their areas of strength. No child is born dull: every child has a gift. It is for us to identify that gift, nurture that gift and bring out the best in that child. If we fail, we see the repercussions: the child will redirect that gift to so other things. Probably, that is what we see when we talk about militancy. I do not look at them as militants. I look at them as children that somewhere along the line had missed the boat. But they can be brought back because they are our brothers, sisters, relatives and neighbours. We should look at them with love.
The other issue here is that government need to strategically see how it can create wealth, create opportunities for people to be engaged. It does not necessarily have to be white collar jobs. There huge potentials in technical education. That is the bottom line for industrialisation.