Damilola Overcomes Obstacles To Realise Her Entrepreneurial Dreams
Damilola Owolabi is the Chief Executive Officer of Dreg Waters Petroleum and Logistics Limited. She is a typical example of a young woman who is taking advantage of ‘common sense’ to enrich her life and impact the world. How she became the CEO of her oil firm truly demonstrates and remains a case study for young Nigerians who are aiming to extend their frontiers in entrepreneurship.
WHEN Damilola Owolabi introduced herself as the Chief Executive Officer of Dreg Waters Petroleum and Logistics Ltd., she sounded as one of those children born with the silver spoon who succeed by milking their parents’ wealth. But after further conversation, it became apparent that Damilola is one lady who knew early in life what she wanted and went after it doggedly. The success story of the 24-year-old indigene of Kogi State has not been a cheerful ride. And despite coming from a modest background where she had to pay through her nose to complete her degree, she has been able to stand tall.
“My parents were civil servants. So, as a family, we didn’t have much but we were happy,” she explains. “My background was such that we were taught to trust God for everything. There was nothing like malls, vacation or outing of any sort while I was growing up.”
Interestingly, at age 10, all Damilola requested and desired, as a birthday gift from her parents, was a small shop. She started business when she was in primary school and has kept to this path ever since. Indeed, she developed a deep passion for entrepreneurship since she was an eight-year-old, when she started exhibiting a tendency in this direction.
“I should say I actually developed interest in business at the age of eight, when I was still in primary school. Then, I would sharpen pencils for my classmates, who would pay me in return. On my 10th birthday, I remember asking for a little store from my parents where I could sell stuff after returning from school.
“In the university, I was practically running a plaza in my room as I was selling virtually everything people needed. My mates and friends named my room Dami’s Plaza. The business was successful to such an extent that I could afford to pay my school fees in some situations when my parents were short of money. I attended a private university; so it wasn’t easy for my parents. My goal then was to leave school with a profit of about N1million but I left with N700, 000,” she says.
In 2011, immediately after her graduation, Damilola, who read Public Administration at Madonna University, Okija in Anambra State left Lokoja for Lagos upon realising that the latter is a home of opportunities. But her early days in Lagos were that of great disappointment and regret. On arriving in Lagos, she met a young man who introduced her to fabrics business and was to assist her. Unfortunately, however, the male friend ran away with her money.
Recalling the sad incident, she narrates: “I intended going to Ghana to bring in fabrics and different stuff to sell in Lagos, but I was robbed and all the money was gone. That experience made me feel like I had reached the end of the world because that was virtually everything I had.”
However, rather than give up, she decided to give her dream another shot. So, when she was to go for National Youth Service, she borrowed N10, 000 from her aunt to buy waist bags with the intention of selling them to other corps members. That turned out to be the remedy to her financial problem, as she recorded a huge success.
“With the profit, I was able to pay back my aunt, make up for my bills and still had little money in my account,” she recalls. “After NYSC, I got a job as a sales representative in a telecoms company, which was good for me because I enjoyed it. But I later resigned. I left because I wanted my own company.”
Damilola explains that Dreg Waters Petroleum and Logistics Ltd was established three years ago to fill a vacuum in the oil and gas sector. Her mandate was to simplify the processes involved in acquiring licences and permits to operate an oil company in Nigeria.
Prior to this time, she had undertaken an entrepreneurship course at Fate Foundation in a bid to improve herself. This not withstanding, she still had no idea what kind of business to venture into.
“I was no longer in a school environment where I had a ready clientele to sell to. So, I needed to find a way to fit into the Lagos environment and get to know the things happening there. I met a friend in the oil and gas sector who complained to me about the difficulties involved in procuring his importation licence from the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR). I told him to give me some time and I would get back to him, though I didn’t have the faintest idea on how to help him. Neither did I know then that I would end up in the oil and gas sector.
“However, I had to first study the DPR, the process of getting licences and how to operate among others. After acquiring a good knowledge of what it was all about, I got back to my friend, asking him if he would want me to do the processing. He assented and I took up the process and was able to get the permit for him. With that success, I requested him to refer me to others having the same challenge. He referred me to two other persons and since then, it has been good business all the way.”
What Dreg Waters does includes among others, the monthly processing of naval clearance, DPR permits, and NIMASA (The Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency) certificates for oil marketers, both local and international. She explains that her clients rely on them for timely delivery of licenses and permits, which have contributed to their success story. According to her, Nigeria needs the right documentation and timely approvals of licences and permits in the petroleum, water dredging and logistics industry.
Using herself as an example, Damilola would want Nigerian youths to identify their unique skills and talents and use same to build worthwhile careers for themselves, thereby contributing to nation building. She challenges young Nigerians not to wait upon the government to do everything before they start something for themselves. This is not to say that government must not play its part by providing enabling environment that would stimulate and bring out the best in the citizens.
“The new administration must invest more in SMEs because this is what can take this country to the next level and help it overcome the problem of unemployment,” she says.
On the challenges she has been facing in the industry, she says the issue of trust is a big problem in the country, especially in the oil and gas sector.
“It’s a bit difficult for clients to release funds and all necessary documents, but we have tried to build some level of trust,” she explains.
She also has a word for successful women. “Any woman who has achieved a certain level of success should be able to help other women. Women should not allow themselves to be intimidated by men. They should go all out to become the best in whatever endeavour they might find themselves.”
Get the latest news delivered straight to your inbox every day of the week. Stay informed with the Guardian’s leading coverage of Nigerian and world news, business, technology and sports.