Godrey Ogbechie:‘As a woman, you’re the one that can take the best decisions for you’
The Group Executive Director of Rainoil Limited, Mrs. Godrey Ogbechie, has made a name for herself in the banking as well as oil and gas sectors. A 1988 graduate of Agricultural Economics and Extension from the University of Calabar, she also holds a Master’s Degree in Business Administration. In this interview with KINGSLEY JEREMIAH, she spoke on critical issues in the two important sectors, challenges facing marriages, women in Nigeria and more.
Kindly describe your journey into the banking and oil sectors?
My journey into the banking sector started in 1988 when I was posted to the defunct Universal Trust Bank for my National Youth Service Corps (NYSC). I worked there for about 12 years and I worked in every position, including as an operations manager. I later moved to Fidelity Bank in 2002. After working with the bank for seven years, I left in 2009 as the Head of Human Resources. That signalled the end of my sojourn in the banking world. I joined my husband at Rainoil Limited in 2009 as the Executive Director. Rainoil is an integrated downstream oil and gas company with about 71 retail outlets at the moment. We have one tank farm in Calabar, one in Oghara, Delta State, and another one in Ijegun, Lagos. We are in the whole downstream value chain, but we see ourselves more as a retailer because that was where we started.
What are the challenges in the oil and gas sector?
The industry in Nigeria is seriously challenged. We know that we are a sovereign nation, and, to a large extent, we can form our own policy and decide how we want to run our government. However, the oil and gas market is an international market. We cannot hold the market tightly and still be able to compete internationally, especially when we are not self-sufficient. We only have crude oil. However, how to refine the crude oil for use requires a lot and we can’t operate in isolation from the world. Our refineries are not operating. So, we bring out the crude oil and transport it outside this country for refining and return it. Since all those activities are based on international market prices, we cannot say we want to sell it at a government-regulated price. If we do so, the whole market will be disjointed.
The real problem is that because we are subsidising petrol in Nigeria, we are doing the rich a favour by doing so. The poor man does not have a car, so we are subsidising the life of the rich. In other countries, what they do is they sell petrol at the actual market price. The subsidy money can be used to develop education, health and other sectors that are accessible to all Nigerians. If we were subsidising health and education, Nigeria would be a better place. If petrol was selling at the actual market price, some people would not have more than a car and we would not be spending money on travelling. There is a need to deregulate the sector and ensure that the refineries are working so that the whole cycle can start and end here. If there was no extra cost that we incurred by taking the product out and bringing it back, the finished product would be cheaper for an average Nigerian to access.
What do you think is responsible for unemployment in Nigeria?
The fact is that the economy is not activated in a form that will encourage job creations. In Nigeria, the government is the biggest spender and employer of labour. But in other nations, the private sector is the biggest employer of labour.
However, the private sector can only employ people if it is stimulated to create jobs. One business needs another business to thrive. For instance, as we are in oil and gas, our core focus is selling petroleum products, but we need construction experts and many other experts for the entire value chain to work. If the business is booming, it will influence all the people who render services to that industry.
Why do we have a wide skill gap despite having many institutions of learning?
We all know that our educational sector needs a revamp. There is a big gap between what the students are learning in school and what is adopted in the world. Occasionally, I see the statistics that says most of the courses taught in schools will go into extinction five years after graduation. I don’t understand why somebody would go to school and would not have the capacity to deliver at any level. We are constantly hiring people and I am amazed at the inability of many young adults to speak English or think clearly. I think our educational sector needs to be revamped because we are not adequately preparing students for the outside world.
When I was in school, I took a course in Computer Education and I could remember that we only had one computer to serve us in the computer room. We were about 30 in that class or more and we saw the computer like a monument that couldn’t be touched. Till today, a lot of students are taught how to use a computer without actually using it. There is a problem in the technical educational sector, where we ought to be training people in artisan jobs. Higher National Diploma (HND) holders are not well appreciated. Although many people are better suited for technical jobs, they run from polytechnics because their qualifications will not be valued. But these people can be independent and start their own businesses.
We need to look at the books they use in schools. I saw a book being sold in a school and has a sample of the N500 note, but with another person’s picture. I wrote to the head teacher that the book they recommended had a misleading image and she told me the fault came from the publisher. Even though the publisher might have made a mistake, what would it take her to review it? It took an outsider to spot the error.
What other things do you do?
My husband and I run two non-governmental Foundations. We named a foundation after my husband and boss – Gabriel Ogbechie Foundation. Through the foundation, we reach out to young people in the areas of education (mainly students in tertiary institutions) and health. The second foundation, AGAM Foundation, was founded and named after my late parents. We support primary/secondary schools and teachers as well as provide scholarships to young people in Cross River State.
My husband and I are from humble backgrounds. We are aware that it’s the grace of God that made us who we are today. My husband’s father was a policeman and he grew up in the barracks, while my father was a teacher in a primary school. But our parents valued education and gave us a good one. That made the difference in our lives, as it created opportunities for us. Since we benefited so much from education, we felt the need to support or help the young generation, who have no means to get a quality education. We are passionate about educating young people.
What is the secret behind your marriage?
Without sounding like an extremist, I will say the secret behind my strong union is God. This year makes it 25 years that we’ve been married. Love is supposed to be the foundation of a marriage, which made me wonder when people earlier told me love was not enough. I understand better now. Truly, love is not enough. My husband and I have mutual respect. When we met, we were both busy professionals. We had our career paths, dreams and goals. We were just friends and we related very well on an intellectual level. Also, we both love the family unit. I am the oldest child of my parent; so, I grew up with a sense of responsibility to take care of my siblings. Although my husband is the fifth of six children, he is highly responsible. Despite having older siblings, he tries to take up responsibilities like he is the first child.
Why do you think marriages don’t stand the test of time any longer?
Many times, backgrounds and values of people are always different. So, when they come together, the love they have is not enough to hold their expectations. These people find it hard to agree on things and the gap begins to widen. In my own case, it is simply God’s grace. To be honest, most of the things that have worked for us are not the things we learnt. We didn’t go to any school or counselling to know these things. It’s the grace of God when you have the wisdom to settle disagreements in certain ways. I also guess that since we share the same values in marriage, it makes things easy for us.
For younger couples, I will advise them to always communicate. People need to talk about man things. Certain things are not within your control, but you need to talk about the ones that you can control and agree. I have seen a situation where the fact that the wife was sending used clothes to her nephew almost caused a problem in the marriage. Thankfully, it didn’t lead to a separation.
When you are married, you should decide first if there is another option. Once you know there is no other option, it will help you in finding solutions to problems in the marriage. This doesn’t mean I believe people should stay in the marriage if their lives are at risk. But many things happen that shouldn’t lead to divorce. Couples need to talk a lot and agree on things because it will help them to coexist. If a couple both agreed on the position of the toothpaste, let it be as agreed.
Does this mean you have no challenges in your marriage?
I don’t think there is a 25-year-old marriage without challenges. We always have our own share of challenges, but it depends on how you look at them. Specifically, our marriage has never been threatened, but we face other challenges in life generally. For example, I had all my children while working in the bank and I wasn’t always available for them as much as I wanted. My husband was helpful, as he had started his business and his time was more flexible. He would prepare the children for school, drop them at school and pick them up from school. When he had to travel, he would make arrangements for someone to stay with them. That was a challenging time for us. Because, for some men, I might have had to quit my job or there would have been a problem in the marriage. Also, when I did my Master of Business Administration, he made things easy for me. We have disagreements, but we don’t go to a third party to resolve it for us.
How do you relax?
I relax by watching television and I attend a lot of church activities. I also like reading and hanging out with my friends. I must confess that my busy schedule has affected my reading culture, but I want to redevelop it.
How do you encourage women?
I read something recently that touched me a lot. It says, “nobody can love you more than you love yourself.” An average Nigerian woman gives until there is nothing left to give. I want to tell the Nigerian woman to look out for herself and love herself. She should take care of herself mentally and physically because one cannot help anybody if one is not functioning at the best
People think I’m humble, though I don’t know how they arrive at the conclusion. For me, I believe that humility is accepting yourself for who God says that you are. Also, I don’t want to be too far from the average person because I like to see and appreciate what the “ordinary” market woman is going through. It is difficult for some people to help others because they are too far from what the average person feels or experiences. So, when someone says, “I couldn’t eat last night, I can’t pay my children’s school fees, my daughter is sick and I can’t pay N5,000,” some people don’t understand. For me, I want to hear the problem and be of help when it arises.
What is your advice for younger women who want to pursue their career?
For any woman who wants to pursue their career, I advise them to embrace it. They should first accept the fact that they have every right to pursue their career and to aspire to be what they want to be. They need to understand that they have earned the right to be in that space and attain any level they desire. They should also do it for themselves. Once they understand that they are doing it for themselves, and not as a support to anyone, they can proactively gain any knowledge and acquire all the necessary skills they need to thrive. Their fate is in their own hands. Whatever legitimate thing they need to do to move forward, they should go for it unapologetically. You do not get what you deserve, you get what you negotiate.
What are your inspirational words for any woman reading this interview?
As a woman in Nigeria, I’d like to advice women to look out for themselves. No one will love you like you. Know that you are the one that can take the best decisions for you.
Who are your female role models?
I admire a number of women, regardless of their age or societal status. I admire women based on their contributions to the society. However, to mention a few, I’d start with Mrs. Nike Adeyemi, my Pastor’s wife. Even before I had close contact with her, I always admired how she worked hand-in-hand with her husband. When I was about to take the decision to join my husband to run Rainoil, I had my reservations. I wondered if husband and wife could successfully run a business and maintain a great marriage. I looked at my Pastor’s wife and decided that if she could do it, then it was possible and that means I could do it as well. In the corporate world, I’d say Ibukun Awosika. I have not personally met her but I’ve been inspired by her lectures and seminars. I have had the privilege of listening to her speak as a WIMBIZ Trustee and I myself a member of WIMBIZ and I believe she is a great role model for females in the corporate world.
Do you have any mantra you live by?
My mantra can be found in the scriptures. In Matthew 7:12-“In everything, do to others what you would have them do to you.”
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