Barrister Mrs Ngozi Ekeoma, discovered early in life that diligence would take her farther than luck would. As such, she has been going about her business life with all seriousness and sense of purpose. It, therefore, did not come as a surprise to many that she is successful today.
As Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of Nepal Oil and Gas Limited and using her company as pedestal, she has become a major force in the battle against unemployment and youth restiveness in Nigeria by taking many of the jobless youths off the streets. The oil and gas company she manages was established in 2004 when she was barely 32years.
Ekeoma holds a Bachelor degree in Law obtained from the University of Lagos in 2004 and was called to the Nigerian Bar in 2005. A young and dynamic entrepreneur with an outstanding flair for business and management, she oversees the company’s day to day activities and has since led the repositioning of the company which has become a reference point for operators in Nigeria’s downstream Oil & Gas sector. Her business ingenuity has given birth to a good number of other businesses and companies. Today, she owns Quest Shipping with an impressive fleet and First Fenders Ltd. Barr Ekeoma is a wife, and mother endowed with a vision that comes with an unusual foresightedness.
She is a mentor and a teacher and takes delight in imparting business knowledge and ideas to younger ones who have the privilege and opportunity of coming in close contact with her. She is widely travelled and has served as a resource person in many workshops, seminars, lectures and symposia.
Ngozi, the daughter of a successful business man in Aba and born into a polygamous family, provides one of the models that make her a notable player in the Oil and Gas sector. She grew up a happy child, well taken care of. Recounting her experience with her father who was a businessman in Aba, she said, “One important thing that I knew about him was that he was a very hard working person. He used to tell his children especially the girls that we had to be up and doing to support our husbands and our families. He married two wives and would always use my mother and my step-mother as examples, saying that he was doing well because of the support he was getting from them.”
“That admonition often comes when he finds you sleeping after 6.00 in the morning. My father will say that anybody that sleeps after 6.00 am is inviting poverty. He will now go further to lecture us that hard work pays. So, I grew up knowing that hard work pays. I grew up as a church person. We were brought up the church way. My step mother will come back from the market to tell us about heaven and hell, right and wrong and we will all be scared thinking that Jesus was coming down and some people will go to hell. I grew up knowing those things I have mentioned which are rare now because parents are too busy to bring their children up in that way because they are concerned about pursuing money while the children are left to watch cartoon and play on the social media. Ours was a well-knit family. When people see the children of my step mother and my siblings playing they think we are of the same mother. My childhood was normal. I did not lack anything even though we didn’t have everything.”
Ngozi married her heartthrob at a relatively young age of 16 against the counsel of her revered uncle. “I was able to cope because of the upbringing I received. Marrying that early did not dampen my desire to be a successful business person.
“I was going to school and was also raising children. And it was not a problem because of the way I was raised. I was raised to know that if I want something, I have to work for it”. The versatile entrepreneur recollects that, in her early years in school, she was not doing well and that necessitated her been sent to live with her uncle who works with Shell. He is a disciplinarian. He was shocked to learn that I was getting married at that age.
She pointed out that her greatest achievement was seeing her children grow. “A friend of mine once told me that God blessed me with things money can buy and things money can’t buy. Indeed, I am blessed with things money can’t buy because it gives me joy that I have children, who could not be said to be on drugs or engaged in other misdemeanours. I have been able to raise children that are well behaved and hardworking in their different endeavours.”
According to her, the second thing that gives her joy is the fact that I am able to create employment even though I have not met my target which is to have over 2000 workforce. At the moment, we have over 200 which include those in the ships, depots, head office and filling stations. That alone has ripple effects in the employment market. “These are the two things I had prayed to do well in even though the latter target has not been fully met. But being able to contribute to somebody’s life gives me joy and I am very happy about it”, Ngozi enthused.
As a child, she just wanted to be a lawyer because of her perception of lawyers as affluent, respected, and charismatic. “I used to think there was something like charge and bail lawyer until I attended the Law School. If you passed through Law School, you will know that there is nothing like a charge and bail lawyer. Even the person that came out of the Law School with a Pass, must have been drilled because in Law School, there is nothing like bribe or cutting corners. Who are you even going to bribe there to get good grades? Coming to Lagos, having children to take care of and coming from my background where my father taught us to be hard working, I knew I had no choice than to be hard working. I was already doing business while going to school. By the time, I finished at law school, my business had already stabilised. In fact, if I had not read Law, I wonder how I will be coping with the oil and gas business that I do. Actually, every aspect of the business I do is Law. I know some people did not read Law and are doing well but if you don’t understand the legalities around the business, you will find it difficult, the oil magnate noted.
Though she is doing her utmost to mentor people around her, she didn’t know much about role models. As far as she was concerned, her interest is people and events that shaped her life some of which are my upbringing and my uncle.
“I don’t think those are role models because when you talk about a role model, you have to adopt everything about that person. But I don’t think there was anybody I wanted to be like. I just wanted to be myself, I just wanted to succeed and assist my family. I started off by wanting to be relevant to my immediate family and to be relevant to the society. When people talk about role model, it sounds like someone wants to be like Dangote, Femi Otedola and others. Becoming successful for me, I just wanted to be me. And I want to succeed in what I am doing and I want people to be blessed through what I am doing. So, role models in that sense are not what I admire. However, there are people, who I admire their stories especially those, who come from nowhere to become successful without godfathers. I appreciate such stories because that’s actually my story. But I have never looked up to anybody just to be like that person. One of my cherished work ethic is to treat people the way I like to be treated,” she added on a philosophical note.
With a tinge of regret, Mrs Ekeoma said that in Nigeria, people work but they don’t get paid, “you provide services to people and you will not be paid and they think it is okay. It is not okay. What informed that was that before my business grew, especially when I was doing petty trading, people used to owe me a lot. And I used to write the names of those owing me in a sales book and I was not happy about it because it was affecting the business. That is why you see some people doing business and their business will not be growing. So, when my business stabilized, one of the things I said I will not do is to treat people the way I was treated.
“ That is why I don’t owe service providers. I want to be as honest with people that I do business with, they don’t have to know me. With that, we have been able to build a good business model. Customers know that once their money is in Nepal account, it is either they get their product or they get their money. I see people’s money as other people’s money. I am always on the side of the truth 99 percent of any time. I remember when one of our ships went to make a delivery in Port Harcourt and NIMASA penalised the ship. I asked for the name of the NIMASA official and I called the man and told him that he could have asked the crew members to pay the money and go instead of the fine. I asked him to give us a technical person who will inspect the ship to know those things he said were wrong with the ship and he did that.
“For me to support somebody in Nigeria who was not interested in collecting bribe, shows that I don’t cut corners. Even though the business environment is very frustrating, I try to ensure that I am on the right side of issues every time.”