Reminiscences

OPINION: My experience in ExxonMobil and lessons for Akwa Ibom youths

By GEORGE AKPAN

Let me start by introducing myself. My name is George Akpan. I am from Ukanafun LGA of Akwa Ibom State and a graduate of Law from the University of Cross River State (now University of Uyo). I joined ExxonMobil on November 1, 2007 and retired in November, 2020.  But before joining Mobil, I went to University of Lagos where I obtained Masters degree in Law  I then taught in UniUyo for about three years.

I left UniUyo and travelled to Scotland where I obtained by second Masters degree in Petroleum Law, Policy and Economics from the University of Dundee in  1998  with the help of the Joint Japan and World Bank Scholarship. From Dundee, I won a Scholarship from the Singaporean government and went to the National University of Singapore where I did my Ph.D in Foreign Investment Law and Policy.

After my PhD, I went to the Bahamas where I taught law students in the University of West Indies LL.B Programme. I was there for  two years.

From the Bahamas, I went to the United Nations University, Japan, for my post doctoral fellowship, and from Japan I got a job with the  University of New South Wales Asia in Singapore where I taught Law to Business students.

It is while I was teaching in this university that I got a job with Mobil and returned to the country as I said, in 2007. My employment letter was signed by one Mr Udom Inoyo, who was then the Human Resources Director of the Company. That was my first time of coming across that name and hearing about the bearer.

My designation on first appointment was Associate Counsel and Field Law Manager. I was initially posted to QIT where I provided legal counsel to all the departments in QIT.

On my first day at work, I was in the office when someone came into my office and asked me “Have you met Mr. Udom Inoyo? He wants to see you.” I quickly recollected that that’s the person who signed my appointment letter, and I was led to his office.

Immediately Mr Inoyo saw me, he asked, “Are you the young man from Singapore?’’

“Yes Sir,” I answered.

“Okay. Welcome to Mobil. Let’s see after work.”

After work, I went to see him again. He told me he had someone to introduce to me, and drove me to Paul  Usoro’s office in Victoria Island. Paul is an accomplished son of Akwa Ibom. He introduced me to Paul and his wife, Mfon, and asked Paul and wife to mentor me as I am the only Akwa Ibom legal counsel  in the Law Department of the Company. Paul and Mfon became very helpful mentors to me in the course of my 13 years in the Company.

But I found Mr. Inoyo’s gesture to be deep, striking and exceptional. It means that he had my interest at heart even before he met me. I received immense help from Paul and Mfon and the  friendship I struck with  Paul and Mfon remains till today and that also began my close relationship with Inoyo.

Inoyo is a very detribalized person, from Nsit Ubium LGA (his wife is Annang from Oruk Anam); honest with a great deal of integrity. Inoyo is passionate about people and our state, Akwa Ibom. Inoyo is a no-nonsense go-getter who goes for excellence all the time. He wants development for Akwa Ibom.

It was Inoyo who facilitated Mobil’s donation of N8 billion to our state government to fund the construction of Eket-Ibeno Road. I know about this because I negotiated the agreement with the State’s Ministry of Justice and drafted the agreement governing the donation. Inoyo also helped a lot of our people get into Mobil, but I will not mention names for ethical reasons. There are many people in Mobil today who became aware of such positions because of Mr Inoyo.

But I will like to say that employment in a company like Mobil follows strictly international best practices. The company will always go for the best. There is no room for ‘slots’.

Udom Inoyo also helped our people to get contracts from the company. There are people today who are major contractors because of the benevolence of Mr. Inoyo. I pray that all those who have benefitted from Inoyo’s kindness would show gratitude by speaking for him instead of the false narrative making the rounds.

Inoyo established the Inoyo Toro Foundation in 2006 to drive his philanthropic activities. I am the Secretary of the Foundation. Every year, the Foundation puts out a budget for its activities and raises money to fund them. But ever so often, inoyo will write out a cheque for as high as N10 to N15m from his account to augment whatsoever the Foundation raises from other people. The Foundation has over the years sent some teachers from Akwa Ibom public schools to American International School, Lagos for training and brought Accenture Consulting to Uyo to train our teachers also.

Inoyo has also converted his father’s estate in his village into a Community Library equipped with IT facilities for the use of the public free of charge. Of course, we all know that when the COVID-19 pandemic hit last year, the Foundation also partnered a bank to donate a PCR Testing equipment to our dear state. This equipment is capable of testing for HIV, typhoid and hepatitis, in addition to COVID viruses.

Because of his exposure, Inoyo believes more in a structured approach to social enterprise (philanthropy) than throwing cash at people on the streets.

It pains me that Akwa Ibom people do not seem to appreciate Inoyo as much as he deserves, maybe because he is misunderstood and he is rather self-effacing.

Let me speak on the SPY police matter which I know well enough because I was a lawyer in the company. Many years ago, the company decided to offer jobs to a lot of our young people from the oil-producing communities of our state. These were mostly high school graduates, but many of them later gained higher qualifications. The company sent these several hundreds of  people to the Nigerian Police for training in security. On completion of training they were employed as supernumerary police (SPY Police).

But after sometime, these workers took the company to court, asking to be treated as employees of the company. The case went up to the Supreme Court and was decided in their favour. Mobil was then thrown into a dilemma: how does an international oil firm in the business of oil production employ over 1,000 workers in security, a non-core function?

The company and the workers agreed after lengthy and rigorous negotiations (they were led by eminent lawyers like Femi Falana) that they should be paid off with agreed sums. The payments were huge. Each person got millions of naira.

I can say categorically that it was Udom Inoyo then as the HR Director who consulted widely with the Federal Ministry of Labour and other authorities and proposed huge payouts to these workers. He played significant role in the settlement of the case with the SPY police personnel. Of course, there were some of the SPY policemen, actually a few, who were not satisfied with the settlement as you would expect.

I will advise Akwa Ibom youths to focus more on obtaining high quality education, up to Masters or Ph.D, and be prepared to  defend these certificates at any level. Opportunities are for the prepared minds. The concept of slots is an aberration. It is ever so embarrassing to see persons who cannot defend the certificates they flaunt. Where university education is not feasible, it is important for our youths to focus on acquiring good vocational skills that are needed in our society. The future belongs to people who will be adequately educated and skilled to meet emerging opportunities.

As we prepare to build a new, industrialized Akwa Ibom, our youths should be sufficiently skilled to take advantage of emerging opportunities. Politics cannot be a fulltime job! As they say, you must have a second address.

Dr. AKPAN, a retired Mobil executive, lives in Canada

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