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Uju Ifejika, Africa’s Most Successful Female Oil Tycoon

Brinttania-U Nigeria Limited is an affiliate of Brittania-U Group. The Company is an indigenous and Integrated Oil & Gas Company, Incorp...

Brinttania-U Nigeria Limited is an affiliate of Brittania-U Group. The Company is an indigenous and Integrated Oil & Gas Company, Incorporated on 4th December, 1995 under the laws of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. The Company has Upstream (Exploration & Production), Downstream, (Supply & Trading), Shipping and Sub-Surface Engineering Affiliate Companies. With the company’s vision aimed at being a profitable and fully integrated Nigerian Oil & Gas Company of first choice, in all aspects, as a business entity their mission statement is based on the concept of being professional, ethical, with clear business objectives that ensure growth, profitability and customer focus. Brittania – U’s core business is Petroleum, with operations covering the entire spectrum from exploration to production, refining, trading, supply & distribution. They have over the years built momentum to respond to local challenges, but act globally, to meet international standards in their business operations.

Their main objectives are to contribute to the nation’s value creation for the well-being of the people, better quality of life, quality products, fair price, job opportunities, while ensuring they operate in a safe and clean environment, with the ultimate objectives of ensuring maximum returns to our shareholders, not forgetting the need to provide International standards and quality Petroleum Engineering, Field Development Planning and Asset Management services to both Marginal Field Operators and IOCs.

Interviewing this remarkable woman who sits at the helm of affairs of this very successful indigenous company was an inspiring and exciting experience. Her warmth, humility, sense of humour and a simple disposition to life came as a shock to me, giving her position and social status. Below is an excerpt of an exclusive chat I had with her.

M.A: Who is Mrs Uju Ifejika?
UJU IFEJIKA: (smiles) that is a good question, I am Mrs Uju Ifejika, born to Chief and Chief Mrs Clifford Ogwu and Elizabeth Ibeze both of blessed memory. My father was an accountant and my mum was a very successful business woman, I think I took after her, and we are ten children , all graduates, I happen to be the 6th of the ten children and the second girl, we have 4 girls and 6 boys all alive and all married with kids

M.A: What was growing up like for you, tell us about your childhood?
UJU IFEJIKA: Growing up was very exciting and fun because my dad was a sub – treasurer as at 1957/58, and you know what that means, that was a very high position at that time because that was before independence and Nigeria didn’t have central bank, they didn’t have all this banks, all they had then was the treasury, treasury was the government bank, so he was the head of treasury. Growing up was fun because I was born into a very comfortable middle class family, because as at that time we lived in the GRA that is the Government Reserved Area from birth and up to the 70s when my dad retired from active service, so we lived all around the country, the north, here in the west, in the east, Rivers, I was born in Opobo in Rivers State, at that time my father was a sub – treasurer in Opobo when I was born and that was 1959. It was fun, because you get to see a lot of people, and then everywhere my dad was posted, he went with the entire family.

M.A: Tell us about your education?
UJU: I had the privilege of going to the best schools because of my dad’s position as the sub treasurer, for my primary education I started off at the central school Nsukka in the 60′s , and then went to the university primary school at Nsukka also, before we left and then went to Awka, and there I went to “Parterson school” in Awka, it was while we were in Awka that the civil war broke out and then we went back to the village , that was the first time we were going to the village we were there for about 3 months, before they starting shelling in Onitsha and we had to move to Onuobi, that was where we were throughout the war. By the time the civil war was over, my dad was posted back to Onitsha so we came back and I went to central school in Onitsha, within that period my dad was again transferred to Umuahia, and I went to UCC primary school library avenue at the GRA in Umuahia and that was where I took the common entrance and I had one of the best result there was at the time, a 36 aggregate score and I got admission to Queens school Enugu which for the eastern state was the best school at the time. I did my secondary school there, and I rose up to become deputy senior prefect before I graduated. Then I did my A levels at Ibadan, and then went to ABU to do a diploma in law in 1980/81, had one of the best 10 results and then we were given admission to do our degree courses, so I read Law in ABU and finished in 1984.
Meet Uju Ifejika, Africa’s Most Successful Female Oil Tycoon
M.A: Why Law?
UJU IFEJIKA: Actually that’s a good question (smiles) my dad actually wanted me to go into medicine, and he encouraged me to go into the medical line and bought me medical books, but by the time I was taking my final exams I had already dropped chemistry and physics, because to me , I need something that will challenge my inner being, I remember by the time the result came out my dad noticed I didn’t have any result in chemistry and physics, he actually told me , there was a mistake with my result, and I told him I actually dropped those subjects but forgot to tell him, he went ballistic, but it was too late, Law was something I have always wanted to do from childhood, and when I got to Ibadan , they offered me sociology in the university of Ibadan , I rejected it and that was why I had to end up doing a diploma in law before the actual degree, and when I finished from Law school I did my youth service in Texaco. Then you had to be very lucky to work in any of those multi nationals as a youth corper, we were just two who served there, and by the time we finished I was retained as a junior counsel and I rose from that position to senior counsel to an acting chief counsel in 1991 and by 1997 I was made the company secretary and that was the first time they had a very young person holding that position, because the position of company secretary at that time is a position held by people who were 50 years and above , I remember when I took up the job, some people said I won’t last long in that position . You see one thing about me is that I like challenges, and I perform better under pressure, other people wobble under pressure, but if you want to see the best of me, it is when i am under pressure. So by the time I got in there I change a lot of things, for instance it was the first time that we put in place online real time share holders trading documentation which I can see on my table or anywhere and know who is transacting on our shares online real time, also with that position was the first time we won the stock exchange merit award for the company, we won that award in the oil and gas category consecutively for 5 years and because they figured I was a multi-talented person, I was given the Company Secretary Public and Government affairs, which again is the first time any person not to even talk of a woman held such a position there and because of what I did with it, by 2003 they extended it to cover West Africa, Nigeria, Togo, Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Congo and Benin Republic. I held those positions until I decided to take an early retirement in 2007.

M.A: Any Particular reason why you chose to build a career in the oil industry after studying law?
UJU IFEJIKA: I am a very loyal person, I’m not one of those people that dance around, in my entire career I found out that the twenty years plus I spent in my career was just with one company, Texaco, and when Texaco merged with Chevron, it now became Chevron Nigeria Plc. Those were the only companies that I worked for, so if they didn’t merge it would have been only Texaco I worked for. Naturally leaving the oil industry, although the downstream sector, because I have never worked in exploration and production, I wanted to try the exploration and production which was the upstream sector. My experience was not deep in the oil industry because I was just a company secretary, and you don’t get involved in marketing operations or in exploration and production but I decided to take a chance and see what it is like.

M.A: What is the story behind Brittania – U?
IFEJIKA: Brittania – U Nigeria limited is an indigenous oil and Gas Company, the company was registered under the Nigerian company and allied matters act on 15th December 1995. The company wasn’t operational until 2001 when the federal government marginal field initiative came into being, and the company bided for three blocks , the Obigwe, Stop creek and the Ajapa and they were lucky they were awarded 100% equity or interest in Ajapa which is OML90. The block used to be a chevron block and by 2003 the block was formerly farmed out to Brittania –U as the operator and farmee. The company signed the farm – out agreement finally in 2003 with Chevron according to the Federal Government terms and conditions. At this point it now became a challenge to take the company from where it was in 2003 after getting the block to where it should be, because part of the conditions of getting the block by the Federal Government, was that you must have a foreign partner and Brittania – U got a foreign partner, at the time it was Synthrolum Inc of Houston USA. They signed a participating agreement with them in February of 2006 then I hadn’t joined them, and by December of the same year , this same company had two other blocks and the companies that the farmed into their blocks didn’t know that they were not really into oil and gas, although they were into GTL (Gas to Liquid), they now wanted to go into oil and gas proper, but when the company farmed it out , they found out that they were having issues at the time and they needed the partnership to beef up their shares at the stock exchange so by December they sold, and the company they sold it to was energy equity resources. Now the moment that happened, the management of Britannia – U decided that they were not going to allow them be the operators and they were not going to allow them to carry them, that the Nigerian company was going to source their own funds. The reason why the company did that was because between January to December of the partnership nothing happened to show that this foreign companies that were coming in where ready to operate in Nigeria, so by the time they sold their interest in December 2006, the company still hadn’t started operating, so by 2007 when I took an early retirement and joined the company, that was in the October of 2007, I told the management that we will have to go and look for money to operate, we were lucky at that time most banks at that time in Nigeria didn’t know anything about oil exploration and production, so they were not ready to deal with indigenous companies , because it’s like the fear of the unknown, so I was lucky that Union bank at that time under the leadership of Mr Ebong gave us a loan of 23 million dollars, although our partners which was Energy Equity Resources could not come up with their own part of the money, so we went ahead to drill, but because at that time, everybody believed that as a foreign company they had the technical competence , we went on with the appraisals that they did and went ahead to use their coordinates and we drilled a dry hole and a whole 23 million dollars went down with it. For someone who has never been an upstream person it was the most difficult time for me because here I was excited about going into something different and then took a hit of 23million dollars not 23 million naira, but that didn’t deter me, the only thing that I did was that I had to call people. One thing people don’t know is that we have a lot of resources in country, there are Nigerians who are very competent, versatile in oil exploration and production but people don’t look for them, so I called around I said “look I’m in crisis and I’m looking for people who can give me new coordinates “so we got some Nigerians , about three of them and I Zeroed in on one , I asked the guy “please can you give me this coordinates “and he said “yes madam but it will take you two weeks” , that was not good enough for me, I had a rig sitting down at 350 dollars a day, and two weeks was not going to work for me, so I told him , I needed the coordinates in 48 hours, he said it wasn’t possible, and I told him it was possible, I said the person you are sitting right in front does not have the word impossible in her books, so don’t you mention it is not possible, what I want you to tell me is how you can manoeuvre and get this thing out in the next 48 hours and that he did. Within 48 they got me new coordinates and 4 days after that we discovered oil. That was the beginning of Brittania – U , you cannot say you are an upstream oil and Gas company when you are not in production, its either you are in partnership or you are an operator. Now the second challenge for us was how we were going to bring the oil to surface, we now went to the IOCs all of them that we went to it was either they didn’t have haulage to take our crude or they did not have separators. So I asked them what other options we had and I was told at that time that we could do a floating production facility and I asked them how much it was, we got people to bid, and I got the very seasoned technical people we had on our board to evaluate the bid coalitions that our people did to know which of them have the competences to give us everything, because we wanted a facility where we can start the process from beginning to finished product. Eventually we came up with a company in the US Star engineering who we now commissioned to do the drawing of the FPSO and we also told them we wanted them to tailor it to meet Chevron standard. Being a Chevron person, I know that chevron has a certain standard which everyone is comfortable with, so what they gave us was 10,000 barrels per day FPSO, it was fabricated and built in Houston Louisiana. We gave them a tight time frame, and we were glad that they built the FPSO from start to finish in seven and half months. From the time we started out drilling from February of 2008 to April of 2008 and commissioned the building of the FPSO from August of 2008, they built it and delivered it March 2009, it was commissioned by the current Senate president, Senator David Mark in Homer Louisiana. As a business person every day you have to be thinking out of the box, so I asked my team, “if we have taken delivery of this FPSO, yes we will produce the crude, it has a 10,000 barrels per production facility with an expansion capacity of up to 20,000 barrels per day, if we do that how do we move the crude from our FPSO the point of production to where we are going to sell it or the customer that we are going to deliver it to,” because if we don’t have control over that chain that might be a very big problem because of the problem in the country at that time , anyone could be a victim of piracy and hijack. Also most times you are looking for a vessel or tanker to use and you find out that most of the Nigerian companies had a huge problem with maintenance, and on the other hand one thing the IOCs will never do is compromise their standards, so I had to buy my own tanker, it was a 78,000 barrel tanker plus a tug boat and with that we could function, we went ahead to sign on a handling agreement with Chevron in 2010, our first crude was produced in January of 2010 and it was to be sold to Chevron.

M.A: For someone who didn’t have a background in petroleum engineering or any experience in the upstream sector of the industry, weren’t you the least afraid of venturing into unknown waters?
UJU IFEJIKA: I think that is one of the biggest problems a lot of people have, u see you are asking me a question, can I ask you a question? You go to sleep everyday knowing fully well that you can sleep, when you are sleep, you are virtually dead the line between death and life while you are asleep is very thin, but you don’t consider it you go to sleep. It’s the same way for me, I have never walked in exploration and production but the only thing I was able to do was to rise above my fear level, because you can imagine someone who came out from a paid job and what I was paid as a severance pay was less than 10 million naira, then for me to go and ask for 23 million dollars from a bank. I’m not a petroleum engineer , I’m not a geologist, I have never worked in exploration and production, but the only thing I know is how to take something that is nothing and create something out of it that you can see and appreciate, for you to be able to do that, you must not look at what people are saying, you should look into your inner intuition because all of us have it, it is you as a person that matters not any other person, because the vision of what you want to do is with you and no one else, and this is what I discovered early in life. Not being an engineer or a geologist was immaterial, today I speak the language of geologist, I can interpret the maps and when they bring in technical things we look at it together.

M.A: What would you say is your motivation and driving force?
UJU IFEJIKA: My motivation is first to exercise that inner hidden strength which all of us have and most times in life we don’t even get to explore it, all of us where born with a vision in Jeremiah 1 God says that “before you were formed in your mother’s womb I knew you, I set your path”, so if God said that, for you that he created, he is a God of perfection and he created you for something, you own job is to discover that and 80 to 90% of us don’t find it on our journey on this planet, some will discover it but the fear factor would not allow us to see it through. For me the motivation is , as an individual, a human being created by God there’s no word “impossibility”; in my book. The only thing that is impossible is waking a dead man but every other thing is possible my dear.

M.A: What do you think are the challenges entrepreneurs face in Nigeria today and what solutions do you proffer?
UJU IFEJIKA: You see a lot of people that claim to be entrepreneurs are not entrepreneurs, an entrepreneur’s job is to create, but what you have are mostly copy – cats, just because someone is producing a particular product and its selling , doesn’t mean you should get up and say you want to do the same. You can succeed to a point but that product might be the vision of the person who started it. For Nigerians they should know that everyone has his or her own uniqueness, there are things you have passion for, go and look for that passion and then get it right, that is the first challenge, the second challenge would be how to raise money, some people are very scared to take loan, I am indebted to the bank to the tune of about 200million dollars, and the banks will be praying for me because they don’t want anything happening to me, I don’t have an asset that is cash that will pay that money, I might have asset in which the might have to work to get their money back should anything happen to me, but I have taking a lead to go take that money, many people won’t do that and you cannot be an entrepreneur without taking risks, but it must be a calculated risk, I take risk big time, but calculated risk. Before I go to the bank to take money I have already decided what I want to do with the money, I am not one those who take money from the bank and go buying cars or houses, if I take money to put into a project, the money must go into that project, the project in time will bring out money, if I want to live like a queen or a president I will, but you first of all create something that generates that money, because the moment you take that money from the bank and start spending it, you have already said that project will not work. The third one is that , the government should create enabling environment , some of them are starting small, but because there are a lot of laws militating against them, like taxes, for example some of them that are creating things don’t get tax holidays, they are not been given incentives, in other countries there are entrepreneurs that are creating wealth, and are being encouraged by policies put in place that are investor friendly and entrepreneur friendly but we don’t have that here. Those are the things militating against entrepreneurs here, I mean real entrepreneurs.

M.A: So what do you think in your opinion is the role of women in Nation building
UJU IFEJIKA: You cannot divert this question from the concept of the African family circle, the family setting in Africa believe that women’s position is in the kitchen and child bearing, now we are trying to say we are much more than that, this mentality has been on from the days of our fore fathers, it is not something that you will change overnight, so in nation building one thing I know is that women are very articulate, they are very focused, if you give them things to do they will deliver, I believe there are women who have the energy to work like me, there are lots of them in Nigeria, they only thing they need is the opportunity, and Nigeria as a country should start tapping into that untapped potentials of women in Nation building, the sky will be the limit , things will change in Nigeria. So in term of their role, they need to be more engaged in contributing to anything in every sphere of the country. Look at me , nobody ever knew that a woman could be in oil exploration and production, when I came into this industry, at first when we are having meetings my
M.D will tell me I didn’t need to be at the meeting since they were technical, but I will insist on sitting with them, with time they started saying I was an engineer myself but without the certificate (smiles). So for me as a woman doing what am doing now, it shows that there are women who have more guts than myself that can do much more. People thought Britannia – U won’t last, but today I have piloted Britannia – U for 5 years now and we have Britannia – U Ghana, Brittania – U USA, we have the Nextee which is the shipping company, and we have the downstream and we have the data appraisal arm, so it’s a one stop shop company and these are all formed in five years. I can tell you there are women out there who are more intellectually capable to do much more than I have done these 5 years.

M.A: So what factors do you think I responsible for your successes so far?
UJU IFEJIKA: First and foremost I have absolute trust in God, I’m one person who believes that everything I own or have today or what I will achieve tomorrow is possible because God allowed it. When you have a good relationship with God , he opens your eyes of faith to see that you have limitless capabilities, without that most times we want to do it on our own, we forget that we are nothing without God , and he created you for a reason. My success comes from the fact that I have a good relationship with God. The second one is that I am somebody who believes in the world of possibilities, if you feel that nothing is impossible then nobody can tell you otherwise. Then also being able to be a hands on person, I am not one of those CEOS that will tell you I have the best technical person, I have the best engineer , no, I believe in team work, two or three heads are better than one. I want to see what you are doing because at the end of the day the bottom is me. I don’t sleep, I start my work at 8 am I close from my office 9pm to 10pm, a times I go home and I start working again, because nobody can understand your business better than yourself. I make sure every decision I take and whatever I do make business sense, at the end how does it affect our bottom line. Those are the reasons why we have made the much success we have in so short a time.

M.A: What challenges has Britannia you faced in the last 5years
UJU IFEJIKA: There are many of them, First you have to fight with the banks to believe in your project before the advance money to you, we were able to surmount that, then having field competent people who are really hands on people, then the other one was the place where we were operating was shallow water but with a lot of current, when the rainy season comes the swells are up to 20/25 feet and it kept cutting the anchor chains, it lead us to shut down for about a year and then intermittently the year before, so those ones where the challenges we faced, and you know you cannot have those challenges where you are shut down and have anyone come to your aid. There are things we need to put in place as a government for a country that has been into oil since 1958, things like emergency response, where indigenous companies can call out for assistance and get instant response, we have had accidents and we couldn’t even get any help. The other one is that you have just one block and you are meant to provide jobs for a whole lot of people in the community, so you have to do a balancing act, being able to do that and still remain a profitable company.

M.A: Are you the only female operator in oil exploration and production in Nigeria or the African Continent?
UJU IFEJIKA: I think am and not just the continent, I think I am the first female operator tha is alive today.

M.A: What is the future for Brittania – U?
UJU: I don’t like pre-empting my God, I think everything that you are doing , place it before God, and listen and hear him because he speaks to us, that’s one thing that my father in the Lord, Pastor T.B Joshua thought me, God speaks to us, when you find that inner peace and connection to him you should be able hear Him, you know at that point that you can’t take decisions on your own, you have to seek God’s face for guidance and direction. If you ask my own opinion it is that I no longer know what God has in store for me, Brittania – U is no longer an indigenous oil and gas company, if we have Ghana, if we have USA, I am looking at growing a company that will compete favourably with the IOCs, high ethical standards, exhibition of professionalism, am looking at grooming the company’s future. My dream is to build a company across the sub-continent its beginning to happening already; we have other countries that we are talking to for assets and all.

M.A: Outside Brittania – U do you have other affiliates or do you intend to branch out into other areas?
UJU IFEJIKA: Yeah like I told you, apart from Brittania – U exploration and production, we have the trading arm, the shipping arm – Nextee, we have the data appraisal, we have Brittania – U Ghana, we should commence activities there shortly, we have Britannia – U USA, and we are looking at other places like equatorial guinea, Namibia, Libya, Liberia, ivory coast, we are seeking opportunities wherever they come.
 M.A: Talking about family, you are married with kids, how many do you have?
UJU IFEJIKA: I am married happily to Mr Emmanuel Ifejika and I have 6 kids, 4 boys and 2 girls, 3 biological and 3 adopted, my son is 23, and the last biological child is 13, then I adopted 3, two boys and a girl, ages three and half and three .
M.A: How do you strike a balance between your role as a wife, mother and an entrepreneur? Don’t you have difficulties managing all these areas and still remaining focused to achieve all you have done?
UJU IFEJIKA: You should ask me how am I still managing to be alive ( laughs) Anyway that’s why am telling you that men don’t know the ability God has endowed women with, I am not one of those women that advocate feminism , for me you are first and foremost a wife, once you have that at the back of your mind, and then secondly a mother to your children, and then an entrepreneur or a corporate woman, at no point should you let any of them suffer, one if you allow the home to suffer you cannot be focused, if you don’t look after your children and they go astray, that’s another burden on you, if you now start chasing your career or business and the home suffers when you get all the wealth who will you enjoy them with. So for me I go to all my children’s functions in school. At home I still cook and go to the market at my level, success is not in monetary terms, it is in managing all these things together. You must be able to balance every area of your life, we women have the ability to multitask, men don’t.

M.A: You mentioned earlier that you have 3 adopted kids, why adopt kids when you have kids of your own?
UJU IFEJIKA: Yes a lot of people have asked me that question, you see for us as individuals you must give unto God something, He is giving you good health, good position, wealth, friends and relations who love you , you must care for somebody, a lot of us will feel because we go to the orphanages to give them clothes and food stuff we have done enough, but how are you sure that the caregivers don’t have need for those clothes and food and have taken them home for their own personal use? In this country there is a lot of poverty so anything is possible. If you really see human beings as God’s image you must show them love, not as unto man but unto God , take one of them into your house show them the love you have shown your kids , because you don’t even know who amongst them will carry that your name, Awolowo today the people carrying his name are those that enjoyed free education that he put in place, look at Ahmadu Bello and Zik their names are still there because of the lives they touched, who were not even their biological children. I must confess they are a bundle of Joy to me, when I come back from work all stressed out , they are there to lift my spirit, like some therapy of some sort, my biological kids are all gone from the house but I have these little ones who make me so happy and I am blessed.

M.A: What do you think are the factors militating against Nigerian women in attaining greater heights in their business endeavours?
UJU IFEJIKA: I think I want to see a situation where we women will stop looking at the men to patronize us by giving us positions and making us to happen, stand up for your right, do things that showcases that you are not asking for any favours you can do it on your own. We are asking for 35% affirmative quota, most times they give women because they want to fulfil all righteousness, although some of them merit it. Why do you want to limit yourself to that 3%t, if everybody is up and doing then that 35% will be a thing of the past, why look at 35%? if I can do what I have done , women can do much more, let them get up go to the bank, put up proposals , I didn’t have a penny when I started growing this company but today it is a company that anybody can look back and be happy with. If I can do it as a woman, then they can, the only thing I need them to do is step out and rise above their fear level.

M.A: Do you think that the government is doing enough to support women or they need to do more?
UJU IFEJIKA: They need to do more , more in the sense that it is not enough to give somebody money, or tell the bank of industry to give them money, they need to encourage them, the multinational companies have a program called “train the trainer”, you that is training somebody you need the training also. There has to be constant training for people in business, new technologies are been born every day, government needs to put a structure in place to train these women, it’s not every time you just induce money into businesses you should train them too, and then create an enabling environment for them to put want they have learnt to good use. Then they should put cooperatives in place or partner with banks to make money available, there are still a lot of people who cannot give a woman money because they believe she will use it to buy jewelleries and clothes, that is not true, put them in a place where they will be able to exercise authority and make them accountable.

M.A: Finally how do you see Nigerian women in entrepreneurship in the next 5 to 10 years what will you want to see that will enable a lot of them be like you?
UJU IFEJIKA: This an area that people are not looking out, for me what I want to see is a situation where there are more women in all spheres, I have said it that starting from next year am going to start mentoring women. I am looking at creating 20 to 30 women entrepreneurs across the country especially in this area that I am involved in, once am able to do that I will unleash them, the men will now stop talking about 35% affirmative quota, they will now start seeing that women have candle spirits and you can’t hold them down. This is what I want to see, more women entrepreneurs.