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The Queen of Black Gold

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Diezani Alison-Madueke turns heads, not only because of her sartorial elegance. With a record-breaking career of many firsts, she is a force to reckon with in Nigeria’s corridors of power and among titans of industry.

Her list of career firsts could fill up an entire chapter in Nigeria’s book of powerful people.

Alison-Madueke is the country’s first female Minister of Petroleum Resources, a post she has held since 2010. She was the first woman to lead a country delegation to the annual Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) conference. She was Nigeria’s first female minister of the mega Transportation Ministry and the first woman to be appointed to the board of Anglo-Dutch oil giant, Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria. She recently added more feathers to her cap when elected the first female president of OPEC, and also the Gas Exporting Countries Forum.

Alison-Madueke’s rise to the top in an aggressive male-dominated industry has been studied by critics and admirers alike.

As sliding crude oil prices (expected to go down to $30 a barrel according to a recent Goldman Sachs report) send volatile tremors across economies and sectorial bottlenecks linger, there is no hotter seat than Alison-Madueke’s.

OPEC’s decision (largely driven by Saudi Arabia) to maintain production in the face of decreasing oil prices has been called a double-edged sword. One that defends the market share of member countries, yet hurting a few key economies, Nigeria included.

In the scheme of things, Alison-Madueke’s optimism is unmistakable – and unshakeable. She is confident and articulate.

“I am not shaken by the vagaries and viciousness that surrounds the sector, the economy and the politics of Nigeria,” she says when we meet her in February in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital city.

She says this with gusto; you can tell she has had this attribute all her professional life. She admits her early experience as an architect provided the foundation.

“When you study architecture, you fundamentally have to make structures stand up, the integrity of a building is crucial; it is otherwise a failed project,” she says.

 

Early life

Being a creative person, Alison-Madueke decided a career in architecture, at Howard University in the United States (US), would complement her personality. Studying her chosen subject well, and with an MBA from Cambridge, she moved very quickly into construction, facilities and project management in the US, before returning to her home country Nigeria. There is where she understood the nuts and bolts of the oil and gas industry.

“I returned to Nigeria to take up a job in the civil infrastructure section of Shell at the time. I moved into public affairs and soon joined venture relations which [found] me working directly with the major governmental organizations in the oil and gas sector under my domain now. I had to learn the hardcore operational details of the oil and gas industry during that period. Having understood the operational details, I took the position of External Affairs Director – the first time a woman had been made a director in Shell Nigeria in over 70 years of it being in operation.”

With each new step, came even bigger global – and social – responsibilities. The topic of women’s empowerment is not far from her mind.

“All the firsts, each time they came, were very humbling and a great privilege. When you realize that the steps you are taking and the glass ceilings you are breaking open the door for other women to enter into that arena, it is something very pleasing to me. I believe that as women, it is important to remember that there are many other women who have been shut out of many areas of professional expertise and as you rise up the ladder, always remember to turn back and give a helping hand to other women to rise along with you,” she says.

Alison-Madueke identifies her parents as early influencers. Her father had been a teacher in colonial days and attained a scholarship to study in the United Kingdom whilst her mother joined him to study nursing and midwifery. Her father returned to Nigeria to take on a senior position with Shell-BP. To their young daughter, they were strong role models.

“I don’t see how I would have had the innate confidence and strength that I had without that sort of a background and influence,” says Alison-Madueke.

 

Confronting challenges

As Nigeria’s Minister of Petroleum Resources, Alison-Madueke sits at the helm of a sector that has been plagued by operational challenges. When she took on the role, her mission was to change the narrative of Nigeria’s core revenue-producing sector, and boost investment.

“This is a period [rife] with challenges as we have seen with the drop in the price of crude over the last few months which has of course, affected the federation’s budget quite drastically as well as [that of] many other crude-producing countries around the world. We are grappling with that, reviewing our processes in the oil and gas sector here to make us much more competitive, to have a much more enabling environment for investors and to begin to look at future investment and ring-fence them now to ensure we have them over the medium to long term,” she says. Nigeria is Africa’s foremost oil producing country and Alison-Madueke’s ministry oversees the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), one of Africa’s largest state-owned petroleum enterprises. A lot of hope is pinned on the sector to take the country forward.

Alison-Madueke’s tenure has recorded some transformatory highs in Nigeria’s oil and gas sector. Her drive to empower local enterprises saw her champion the passage of the Nigerian Oil & Gas Industry Content Development Bill.

The bill was signed into law by Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan in 2010, influencing indigenous participation and the development of local capacities thus changing the face of the sector. It saw a notable growth in the number of Nigerian-owned exploration and production companies and indigenous entrants, which was a first for the industry. Importantly, it created more jobs.

“The act has ensured that well over 300,000 jobs have been created because of the trickledown effect it has had on the economy but more than that, it has brought into play a whole host of new players, across society, into the downstream service sector of the oil and gas industry – from supply, fabrication of parts for the downstream service sector, fabrication of pipe mills, a massive rise in ownership of rigs and marine gold vessels for use in the oil and gas sector. It has given Nigerians first consideration in many areas of the oil and gas sector.”

Stability of supply, distribution of petroleum products and a uniform price regime in Nigeria are still challenges. Alison-Madueke’s leadership has seen to the revamp and rehabilitation of key depots to restore product supply.

The Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB), a bid to ensure the oil and gas industry is more transparent in order to attract investment, is yet to be promulgated. While Nigerians wait with bated breath, the Minister sheds more light on its intricacies.

“Despite the fact that the PIB has not been promulgated, the Gas Master plan and areas of fundamental reforms in major oil and gas parastatals such as the NNPC and the NPDC (Nigerian Petroleum Development Company) have been pulled out. The Gas Masterplan is being worked very stringently and has ensured we have not only moved for gas to power but also for gas to industry and to ensure we get value for our gas to export. Quite a lot of reforms have taken place in this area in the last three years to ensure we are not only creative about putting in place the formerly non-existent infrastructure for gas to power, but at the same time, the framework that will allow Nigeria in the next four to five years to become a regional hub for industrialization based on gas.”

In a quest to boost Nigeria’s position as a global oil and gas powerhouse, Alison-Madueke’s ministry has had to deal with the scourge of illegal refineries, crude oil theft, as well as the issue of over 5,000 kilometers of vandalized pipelines.

But Alison-Madueke remains resolute.

“There are no bottlenecks that cannot be overcome,” she says, “but we need to very carefully delineate aggressive responses to a number of issues that we have to deal with. We are working very hard with security services to mitigate this bottleneck. Over the last three years, we have been able to drop the rate of bunkering from 200,000 to about 60,000 barrels per day. It is one of the most irresponsible issues we are faced with as a government because it affects the entire country.”

Identifying pricing frameworks in the gas sector is the next frontier for Nigeria and Alison-Madueke says the sector needs to equip itself better with infrastructure.

“We have put in place over 400 kilometers of pipelines in the last three and half years. We have another over 470 kilometers as we speak for gas infrastructure. We are also trying to attract the necessary investors to help us with that,” she adds.

How does she do it all?

On juggling an incredibly busy professional life with family responsibilities, Alison-Madueke offers a simple formula, which is achieving the right balance.

“Women have really come into their own in all spheres of expertise in this day and age. A woman not only has professional responsibilities to deal with, she is a mother, she is a wife, and she is a sister. A woman handles many roles rolled into one. All my professional roles don’t stop me from playing my other roles. I still have my family-related obligations that I attend to.”

In spite of a hectic schedule, Alison-Madueke takes time off whenever she can.

“The most precious things in life are not the things money can buy. What give me satisfaction in life are the things you cannot pay for: the love of a family, seeing them do well as they grow into their professions and start their own families. When I am standing by a football pitch in the mud and rain, screaming out for our youngest son to make that goal, or just enjoying time out or indoors with them is very refreshing,” she says.

The African woman

Alison-Madueke sees the African woman’s place in society as evolving and her presence now acknowledged with a “no-limit view” on how far she can go. She thanks the Nigerian leadership for effecting the mind-set change in gender issues – at least in government.

“For the first time in the history of Nigeria, we have had a president confident enough to place over 35% of women in top nominated positions in his government. Women are not in tokenism positions anymore. It has been very rare for women to be placed in key positions in government. The Nigerian president has gone out on a limb which is historical where women of this country are concerned and I see this happening all over the continent because African women have come into their own. The times for women have changed. I see, over the next 10 years, major progress for women across the board in Africa and I think it will be quite an accomplishment we will all live to enjoy.”

Among Nigeria’s other powerful female leaders is the globally-famous Nigerian economist and Nigeria’s Coordinating Minister for the Economy and Finance, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, and Arunma Oteh, who served as Director-General of the country’s Securities and Exchange Commission.

Alison-Madueke says networks and support structures amongst women are key to ascending the corporate ladder.

“Women are in competition with each other. This is highly unfortunate. Leadership is not about being liked. It is about making tough decisions for the betterment of the whole and as women rise, they should learn to begin to network among themselves. Creating clusters where other women support each other. Men do this very well.

“I envision an Africa with a lot of strong women in a lot of very powerful positions.”

By the same token, she encourages young adults to be more assertive.

“Don’t wait for your ship to sail into harbor. Swim out to it and climb onboard. Learn to recognize opportunities when they present themselves. They may turn out to be the most critical opportunities and game changers in your entire life.”

Alison-Madueke may have derived these words from her own life, seeing resources as sustainable opportunities, but how does she counter opposition and critique?

“For every stage I have come into in life, I have been responsible to a certain segment. That we can open up sectors like the oil and gas industry and allow so many Nigerians an opportunity to benefit from the natural resource that runs under their feet, and that lives can be changed completely from their involvement in a sector which hitherto was a great mystery.

“The responsibility to impact positively on the lives of so many Nigerians is what drives me. Every day, I face this work with a certain fuel and passion and I am not feeble about it. Even in the face of opposition, I channel my energy into the sector that I run.”

Energy. Power. Fuel. Drive.

The words of the oil and gas industry fit the woman.

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