Diezani Allison-Madueke ...A passion from the creeks to the peak By KUNLE HAMILTON Saturday, July 14, 2007 Sun Style Index She made history last year when oil giant, Shell Petroleum Development Corporation, SPDC, appointed her its first female Executive Director in 70 years of Shell operations in Nigeria. Married to one-time Chief of Naval Staff who was at various times governor of Imo and Enugu State, Admiral Alison Madueke (retired), Diezani whose name means "Look before you leap" comes from the creeks of Bayelsa State and like an Amazon, she is poised to wear fatigues and arm herself with a blueprint she believes will bring immediate succour to the troublesome Niger Delta Region in order to urge all militant factions in the area to lay down their arms and stop kidnapping three-years-old kids. A graduate of architecture and current External Affairs Director, SPDC, Mrs Allison-Madueke shares the story of her marriage, highly successful career, and her thoughts on why successful women must also succeed both in the bedroom and the kitchen How well has your name, Diezani, ruled your actions? My name was actually put together from scratch by my father in 1960 at the time I was born and it literally means "Look before you leap". It probably did nothing for me in my early years when I wasn't aware of its true meaning. We have a saying in architecture form follows function and as I grew much older, the meaning of my name began to play itself out; form has actually followed function. What were the early years like? I grew up in the newly built Shell residential camp in Rumuomasi, Port Harcourt in Rivers State. My father was one of the first set of senior staff Nigerians to be hired by Shell in the late 1950s. It was a pretty idyllic childhood (her family was one of the first five Nigerian families in the Shell camp. I went to the Shell Nursery and Primary Schools, spent afternoons at the swimming pool, joined mum's tea parties, et cetera. But we also had a feel of the other side of life. My father made sure we visited and saw the village life in Yenaka on quite a number of occasions. We would drive up at the weekend, crossover with a pontoon and take the short forest walk to the village and spent time canoeing to the sand bank in the middle of the river. It was dad's way of ensuring we didn't forget our roots and the kind of life he had, which was hard considering the fact that his mother died only a few weeks after he was born into a polygamous household. It was for him a struggle, but in that struggle, he was the only one of his brothers who sought to go to school even though they laughed at him. He persevered and became a most respected teacher in the area; canoeing from one community to the other to teach. He got a colonial scholarship to study Statistics and Mathematics in the UK. That was not quite long after he married my mum. My mum joined him, he did his masters and when he returned it was with the intention of becoming the village headmaster; he was that passionate about making impact on people's lives. But at the time, Shell was trying to recruit Nigerians with the right qualifications into senior positions and so hired him. What was his full name? Well, at the time he died, he was His Royal Highness, Chief Frederick Abiye Agama, the Ogbotom Edede of the Epie Atissa Clan in Bayelsa State. The Epie Atissa Clan includes Yenagoa, the state capital. My father was instrumental to the creation of Bayelsa State. My maternal grandfather, Chief Nelson Kemeninabokide Porbeni, the Etonkepua of Kabowei Kingdom was from Abari in Patani LGA of Delta State and he, along with other Ijaw leaders of his time started the campaign for an Ijaw State as early as the 1970s. I am quite proud of my family heritage, not just of royalty, but most importantly, of service to the people and the communities we lived in. Which other schools did you go to? After my early education in the Shell camp and in the aftermath of the civil war, I continued at Hussey Model School. Around 1968, we returned to Port Harcourt where I attended the Township School and in 1970, I went to Holy Rosary Government Girls Secondary School. I finished my WASCE in 1975 and went to the Federal School of Arts and Sciences in Mubi, Gongola State(now Taraba) for my A' Levels. In 1977 I moved to the UK to study architecture. At first I thought I would do Fine Art because of my creative streak. But my grandfather, the late Chief N. K. Porbeni, patriarch of the Porbeni family and one of the last of the great Warri chiefs, travelled all the way from Warri to tell me in no uncertain terms that my father hadn't spent all that money on my education for me to study Fine Art. In fact he brought me to tears that day. The structured part of me sat down, thought it through and I realised that Fine Art on its own would not satisfy me holistically. Architecture combined well the potentials of my structured and creative sides. How much of that training have you put to use? Although I started my training in England, I moved to the US and did a five-year professional course in architecture at Howard University after which I interned there in the US. After awhile I didn't feel professionally challenged enough with drawing side of architecture, so I moved into construction management and then on to facilities maintenance and management, which also catching up in the United States. I ended up working for the Planning and Development Department of my alma mater, Howard University and worked as a project manager in the major ongoing restructuring and development programme that the university had embarked on at the time. While doing this, it was suggested to me that Shell in Nigeria could do with my sort of expertise in facilities and maintenance management in particular. I was encouraged to apply and I did. I was employed into the estates area of operations in the Lagos office of Shell. This was in 1992. I worked in estates till 1997, but switched jobs with increasing responsibilities, pretty much all the civil infrastructures in Lagos, Abuja and Jos as well as acted as an architectural consultant on various projects in the eastern and western divisions of Shell. At what point did you move into external relations? While I was managing all these civil structures of Shell including residential areas, I came under the notice of the then Managing Director and his wife, Mr and Mrs Brian Anderson. Mrs Anderson particularly discovered that apart from managing very well the infrastructural issues in the house, when she hosted social functions, she could discuss them with me and leave the additional responsibilities for me to handle particularly from the public relations perspective. She would ask me to be present at the different functions as they travelled around the place and leave the networking of ambassadors and other dignitaries to me. As a matter of fact the gentleman Mark Moody-Stewart who became the next Chief Executive of Shell Group Worldwide and who had previously worked in Nigeria had come visiting. I recall that after a particular function given on his behalf, I was coming down the stairs in the house, he was remarking to the Andersons about the success of the function and the efficiency of that "wonderful public relations lady they had". The Andersons looked at each other, looked at me and then said to Mr. Moody-Stewart that I was actually Head of Civil Infrastructures. He said no, that was not right. Thereafter, the MD strongly suggested to the then External Affairs Director who happens to be the current MD and Country Chair of the Shell companies in Nigeria that I be moved to external affairs. So I found myself in external affairs. But whilst they had expected me to go into public relations and become a face of the company, I made it very clear that I preferred a more cerebral role. The newly created Corporate Issues and Crisis Management Unit had just evolved in the Shell Group worldwide, especially here in Nigeria given the Ken Saro Wiwa incident and similar challenges that involved the image of the company. I became the Head of the unit here, so I developed the first ranked list of priority issues; reputation issues, et cetera. I did this from 1997 to 2002 and then left for Cambridge University for my MBA, using the prestigious Chevening scholarship I had been awarded four years before by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the British Council here. Getting the MBA was of course another proof of your structured life, no doubt? Well, yes. After the MBA, I returned to Shell Nigeria I was indeed away on sabbatical. I'd had useful discussions with the company and was asked to consider moving into the joint venture department, which handled the various joint venture partners the largest of which of course is NNPC. Shell operates the largest joint venture with the Nigerian government (NNPC). Total and Agip are also joint partners. My brief was again to head a new unit of Shell here as Head, Strategy and Planning of the joint ventures. By 2004, I became the Lead Joint Ventures Representation Adviser and key facilitator of all the major approvals initiated from the various joint ventures and line departments of Shell. I was in Lagos. It was from that job that in early 2006 that I was informed that the Shell Petroleum Development Corporation had appointed me to become the first female Executive Director in the history of the company in Nigeria. Given these professional exploits and maximal career commitments, how did you squeeze in and manage marriage and motherhood? I suppose I have never really seen myself as a high-flying career woman. Even throughout my years in America, people saw me as an ardent professional. Yes, I work very hard and often throw myself into whatever responsibilities I'm asked to handle, but I always saw myself as a woman looking to settle down and have a robust family very much like the one I grew up in. Unfortunately, through no fault of mine, I didn't meet my husband until I was 39, which is late in any culture. In fact at that point I think my family had pretty much given up on me and marriage. (Laughs). So how did you meet your husband? Out of the blues I met Admiral Allison-Madueke (rtd) who had lost his wife three years previously in a medical operation. At first, I didn't think anything would come of it, but it happened so very quickly; in exactly two-and-half months of meeting him and going out on a dinner date in 1999, we had gone to the registry and gotten married. Later we went to my parents' church, the church I grew up in - Christ Church in Port Harcourt and blessed the marriage in July. I immediately inherited five fully grown children whose age range at that time was from 10 18. All of us made major adjustments and I threw myself into family life and tried to balance it with work as best as I could. I'm really pleased to say that in a pretty short time, we all pulled through together. The children and I grew, fought and loved as a family and today, we've all bonded well. With them all grown up now, how do you feel? I am so proud of all of them. They now range from 18 28 and I had a little boy in 2001 who is now six years old. His name is Chimezie. My eldest daughter who is 28 is married to a lovely man, Uche, in the United States. They have given us two grandchildren and I was there both times when she put to bed, to support her. Our next daughter, Ngozi is 26. She returned earlier this year and is working in an engineering firm in Lagos. Like her sister, she also has her masters in Systems Engineering. Number three, Uju is 23. She finished her masters in Public Health Management last year at George Washington University. She told us she wasn't challenged enough and so she has gone on to study Medicine at the Ross Medical University in Dominica. Number four, Ogonna is turning 21 this month (July 2007). He is in his third year at the University of Maryland, USA. Number five, Chima just turned 18. He is in pre-university college and he wants to study engineering too. And our little boy, Chimezie is just going on to Primary II. It is a full family and I think that God just blessed me even though I married late; He gave me pretty much a ready made family and children pretty much the ages mine would have been if I had started at what man would call the right time. God has blessed me with a husband who is extremely supportive of every venture that has come my way without feeling threatened in anyway. I look back and I see that God never makes mistakes when He plans for you. You grew up mostly in Port Harcourt and Warri, so how much of a Bayelsan are you? I grew up as a Rivers State indigene as we all did who happen to be Bayelsan now (that is before Bayelsa State was carved out of Rivers). My father was quite instrumental to the carving out of Bayelsa State. We all take great pride obviously in identifying with our own state. There are indeed many Bayelsans, like me, whose marriages and careers took them out of Bayelsa for a long time. But that does not mean that I have been any less concerned about the developmental and infrastructural issues in Bayelsa as well as the whole of the Niger Delta Region. I am a Bayelsan by birth, my father is a Bayelsan and my heart obviously resides in Bayelsa. I am also the granddaughter of Chief N. K. Porbeni and I spent many a holiday in Abare in Patani LGA, Delta State. So you see, my roots stretch across important parts of the Niger Delta Region in terms of knowledge and passion for the area. What is your take on the many problems that bedevil life in the region? My heart bleeds to see the lack of development in the Niger Delta Region over the decades. I have told many professional colleagues over and over that we cannot afford to sit on the fence. I will never sit on the fence when there are life-changing decisions to make. If you have a passion for change then you should put yourself up for service to your country and to your people. So much militancy and hostage-taking is sucking in the region, what is the solution in your opinion? The neglect of the Niger Delta Region didn't happen overnight. It has grown and grown and become a cumulative neglect and it has now got to the breaking point. Therefore, it is quite understandable why the militants rose in arms against the neglect. Indeed, let's face it; had they not done so, the country would not have sat up to address this neglect and the plight of the area; not just the Nigerian government, but the international community as well as. However (Cuts in) So where should we go from this breaking point? At this point where three-year-old kids are being kidnapped, it has become quite another thing and government must gird its loins and show real intent at this time. The solution to the Niger Delta quagmire is a two-way thing; government needs to go in and deploy hard core developmental infrastructure in the region and mobilise the work as quickly as possible within a period of few months. (Voice rises with passion). They need to open up roads, railways, marine and maritime services to mop up excesses of unemployed labour. We need to string together major dredging contracts across the region and align with NDDC to implement them. We need to get indigenous contractors and the militants themselves involved in helping to coordinate some of these projects and we need to do it in the shortest possible time. At the same time, we need to look towards the petroleum industry, the resource that sits under the very feet of the indigenes of the Niger Delta. We need to revisit the various legal parameters that govern that industry; the Petroleum Act, the Joint Operating Act, Production Sharing Contract all need to be revisited and reworked. Government has not done that for over 15 years. We need to also look again at the Nigerian Content Bill and distil it further into what we would consider a Community Content Bill aligned directly with the needs of the Niger Delta, across the region. We need to take the Land Use Act, revisit and rework it in a focused and deliberate way to pave the way for the opportunities for what I call Equity Indigenous Participation of the peoples of the Niger Delta in the oil and gas industry. And the only way all these can be done is for government to execute a focused and deliberate programme to make it happen. Would government find enough expert human capital to devolve to in the region in order to encourage this equity indigenous participation? Oh yes, I think we have enough Nigerians and Niger Deltans that can take up the slack in terms of equity indigenous participation. There are enough young companies and the not so young ones that can string together to give themselves enough financial standing to take on the technical and financial prowess needed for farming out some of these marginal oil fields and other areas of endeavour within the petroleum industry. One firm may not be able to do this but there are ways of doing this; trusts can be set up, cooperatives can be set up to merge communities across the region. They would form cooperatives and be incorporated into companies. Believe me there are all sorts of schemes that can be looked into to make this happen if government is willing and purposeful. What you are proffering sounds a bit like what Prof. Charles Soludo did with the banks. The same thing that led to the recapitalization of insurance companies, yes? I suppose it is a similar panacea, but really the truth of the matter is the banks and insurance companies are systems that are already highly expertised' for want of a better word to put it. But to bring immediate succour to the Niger Delta Region, we've got to start somewhere, and fast too. We already have the right tools on ground. What we need is to be given the right governmental support and support systems as I've identified. And I tell you, it can certainly be done. Beyond this, I think we have been seriously and progressively short-changed as a nation in terms of core developmental infrastructure especially in the areas of roads, railways, aviation, electricity, health and education. If we get our base infrastructure right, everything else will begin to fall in place. Do you think the place of the Nigerian women is still in the bedroom and the kitchen? Interestingly, I suppose I am still one of those women who feel there is absolutely nothing wrong with a woman excelling in corporate and public service and yet should ensure she does her best to excel as a wife and mother. In our culture, it would be foolhardy for any woman to set out to excel in service at the total expense of her family. One must balance the two. When I mentor younger women, I teach them that the higher you rise, the more homely you should become. There are times I would actually come home after a few days trip around, and spend the entire weekend to cook various dishes to be frozen down for my husband during the course of the week so that he can enjoy my own home-cooked meals as much as possible. I expect every woman to try to make her home a very inviting and comfortable haven for husbands and children to return to daily, no matter what it takes, otherwise their personal success as women won't be complete. And it is in this regard that I raise my hands and doff my hat for all Nigerian women who have excelled both in enterprise and politics as well as being celebrated home-makers; women like Dora Akunyili, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Oby Ezekwesili and Nigeria still has many more like them in the executive, legislature, judiciary and the private sector. Whatever I apply myself to; it is with a vision that I may be remembered as one woman who worked hard to bring a better life to the greatest number of people and communities of our country as possible, in a way that they've never been impacted before.