Funmi Ogbue is the Chief Executive Officer of Zigma Nigeria Limited with decades of work experience that is laced with an excellent career history of outstanding performance both as an employee and even currently as an employer of labour. In this interview with OER team on the sideline of the 2018 Practical Nigeria Content in Yenegoa, Bayelsa State, she said it is high time Nigerian government came up with a policy statement on women inclusiveness in the nation’s oil and gas industry as evidence of its commitment to give equal opportunity to all stakeholders. Excerpts:


Let’s get to know about you.

My name is Funmi Ogbue, the CEO of Zigma Limited and Jake Riley Limited. I studied Sociology as my First Degree and my Second Degree is in Organisational Development and Change Management. I have worked in most parts of management. I have been in finance, in new ventures; I was leading teams of Geological & Geophysical (G&G) professionals and engineers. I have also worked in HR, in change management, and now in my business leading my team. So, work-wise and experience wise, I have worked pretty much, doing everything that needs to be done in the setting up of a business, I roll up my sleeves and do it. That is why when I was setting up the consulting firm, it was focused on the public sector as I wanted to work at the policy level to make the government more pro-business. And within the oil and gas industry, which is my domain, I have worked from exploration through to production.


Tell us more about Zigma Nigeria Limited and how it has fared as an indigenous company?


Zigma Limited is an Engineering Procurement & Construction Company. We provide support for oil and gas companies by rendering EPC services, well services, as well as Pipeline and Process services. We do the EPC services by ourselves while we do the Well services & Pipeline and process services in partnership with international service companies as their alliance partners. Zigma has won a few jobs, which we have executed successfully and we also have some ongoing. Interestingly, we are now receiving a lot of bids. We are on NIPEX, so we get bids through that. Unfortunately, we haven’t won any of the NIPEX bids because I think that one requires a lot of understanding the tricks of the trade but I just think practice makes perfect. I have got a good team, I have people who are quite experienced and they are doing very well.



So for how long has Zigma been around and can you share some of your experiences in the corporate world before coming up with Zigma?


Zigma has been around since the year 2000 but I have to say that I wasn’t focused on it because I was in employment. My first job was with a company called Abacan, it was a Canadian oil company and I was their first staff in Nigeria. I helped set up its operations in Nigeria. We were sort of the pioneers of this marginal field programme, so we partnered with Alfred James Petroleum, Yinka Folawiyo Petroleum Company and Amni Petroleum. So, we discovered all those fields and when I look at how well Amni is doing today or the Aje field, which its production just came on 26 years after its discovery, it gives me a sense of pride.


I worked with Abacan for four years and then I went on to work for Canadian Occidental Petroleum, which later became Nexen. And again, that was a new entrant into Nigeria. Their only international production operation was in Yemen prior to Nigeria, so they came to Nigeria and hired me and a team of other people to help set up their operations. I worked in most part of that business before I left. I was in new ventures, budget and planning, HR and I was very active in the industry, very active in NAPE and the NECA, OPTS meetings.


After five years, I left to work with SNEPCO. At that time Shell had set up SNEPCO to be the centre of excellence within the Shell companies in Nigeria and to focus on the deep-water fields. The whole idea was that SNEPCO was supposed to be more efficient and have a different culture than the other Shell companies in Nigeria.


Again, I worked for five years and resigned and joined British American Tobacco. That was the first time I was out of the industry and the reason was that my husband was transferred to Ghana and Shell’s business in Ghana then was a very small downstream office. I went back and forth trying to get a transfer but there was no template for transfer between upstream and downstream at the time. Meanwhile, I had a four months old baby.  I commuted from Nigeria to Ghana for about four months. I spent the weekends in Accra and workdays in Nigeria. But after four months, I couldn’t continue; so, I resigned and got a job with British American Tobacco (BAT).


At BAT, they wanted somebody to head their HR for West African area. It was after then that I realised they wanted to do a big re-organisation with somebody who has my kind of experience. They were transforming the business massively. After I did that for a couple of years, I got transferred to Lagos. And if you remember the reason I left Shell was so I could live with my family in Accra.


BAT was really an exciting company and I enjoyed the time I worked there. The transformation project we embarked upon was very aggressive. It was quite an exciting time and I was looking after 13 countries. I was perhaps one of the highest female African in BAT at the time, and I enjoyed it thoroughly. But again, I had to resign because my husband got transferred to Liberia and the distance between Liberia and Lagos was much farther. While I was there, I started consulting and I worked with the UNDP. So while working for UNDP, I was attached to the President’s office.


Thereafter, I have worked on a lot of public sector projects in Nigeria for about 10 years.  After a while, it gets a bit tiring when you realise that it is like the search for the Holy Grail. Also, when I realised that the public sector was not going to be transformed in a long time, I decided to go back to my first love. So, I picked up Zigma. My husband and I had established Zigma many years ago. So, I went and picked it up and focused it on these services that I talked about earlier. And so far, we have won some jobs but we are not yet to the point where I can say we’ve arrived but it’s growing.


So, what will it take a woman to wear the kind of cap you are wearing now because many women may be inspired by your success story in balancing both work and family life? 

I have to tell you, it takes a lot. When Ann Pickard was the MD of Shell, she said something I will never forget. When she was asked what it takes to be the CEO of Shell she said: “I can’t lie to you, there is nothing like work-life balance”. ‘If you are discussing work-life balance forget it, its work, work balance. She explained this by saying, “I come home at 5 or 6 pm, put my child to bed, and I go back to my work and I carry on till about 10 pm. So, there is nothing like oh! we want to have it all; you just can’t have it all. It’s a man’s world and if you want to succeed in a man’s world, you have to work doubly hard”. Simply put, this has been my experience.

So, yes, it’s not easy! I’m up till late; in fact, the other day I started setting an alarm to go to bed and everyone thought it was a joke, like who sets an alarm to go to bed? But if I don’t set the alarm to go to bed I will be on my computer the whole time. I won’t go to sleep and then in the morning, I struggle with waking up because of tiredness. So, I have found out that, as I am getting older, for my own well being I have to start having a bedtime.


But it’s exciting, it’s fun, it’s hard work. I’m trying to balance being a mum because the children don’t want to hear your excuses. Then another thing is having a partner that is supportive. Before I came here (PNC), I was in Onitsha, for a client’s father’s funeral and my husband encouraged me to go. He said, “don’t worry, take the driver, I will take our son to school and pick him up after school. So, you need to have that sort of support. Even when I contemplated cancelling the trip, he encouraged and assured me that he was going to take care of our son for the few days the driver won’t be there, which was a huge inconvenience for him because he also has a job with quite a large portfolio.


Sometimes, it looks as if a good number of successful career women are either divorced or single mothers, what is your view and how can women be encouraged to remain in a good relationship especially for the sake of the children?

For us, it’s been the fundamental thing, when you look at your children and you’re not successful there, you can’t say you’re successful at work, it really counts. When I was in BAT, I was earning a lot of money but I resigned because he said, “look, we have to be together.” Even though I travel a lot now, I travel and go home, it is different when you are living permanently in another place. I think nobody had resigned in Shell for the sort of reason like mine. Everyone kept wondering if I was okay; or, how do you leave a Shell job because your husband said so? But I had to look at the long-term impact of saying to him, “I’m sorry I can’t come because of my job.” Within five years, the marriage will be over. So, I just said, well, we will figure it out. I won’t have money for some time but I will find a way and luckily we eventually found that way. Now, when I look at those salaries that I thought were a lot then, it’s nothing compared to the stability I have now.


Have you ever been denied opportunities or not treated properly on the basis of your gender?

No, I have been fortunate to always work in quite progressive organisations. In fact, the last job I held in Shell was the Head of Change Management and Diversity and Inclusiveness. It was my job to make sure that all types of employees felt a sense of belonging and had a work environment where they could thrive. So, we had to categorise the people that were disadvantaged in the business and it was the Nigerian engineers, the women, the gays, the lesbians, people who didn’t go to Oxford and Cambridge, etc. They were the diversity dimensions that we were watching and we try to make sure we gave each dimension adequate focus.


Now, in the oil and gas space, the question I always ask is, “women are disadvantaged, why is nobody talking about it? While everybody is busy fighting for local content, no one is looking to say, who are the people in this space? We have to make sure that each group is properly represented. In this forum (PNC), there is not a single female-owned service company, not one. There’s not a female-owned oil company. The only one we have is Mrs Alakija.

So, the last bid round that they did, I went to DPR and I said to them, “how are you going to make sure that women are represented in this bid round?” The man I spoke with was surprised, he asked, “What do you mean? The women should compete like everyone else”. So I asked him, “How many women have the kind of balance sheet you’re asking for?” Even when they say you must go and bring a bid bond, how many women can get finance from the Nigerian banks? Culturally women don’t own property, so you can’t provide a property for collateral and then if you give it a go, most of the banks MD are men. So, what kind of conversation are you going to be having with them? I am tired of people telling me “you are too aggressive, you don’t behave like a woman, go and relax, go and cook for your husband.” That’s just the mindset out there. There has to be a targeted effort on the part of the government to deliberate on how to develop an inclusive system so as to accommodate women, just the same way there has been a targeted effort to do local content.


In other African countries like Uganda, Kenya, women have quite a good representation in their oil and gas industry but that isn’t the case with Nigeria, how can this be ameliorated?

More women need to be encouraged to participate both in government and parliament. We have to look at the correlation the women bring in government and women in parliamentary. It has been a common argument that the more women in parliament, the more successful the society becomes. So, the correlation is that more women in government will translate to more women in parliament but the whole thing has been truncated. This government doesn’t seem to have any gender target; even the few women in government appear unperturbed.


Do you have any programme to encourage women to participate in the industry? Do you have any special project? 

Not necessarily, but I have tried to talk to everyone I know in government to do something for women in the oil and gas. But the response has been, oh! There is an existing one already. But I really think that if it is coming from the NNPC or the NCDMB, it will come as a policy drive and a way to encourage more women participation in the industry. There are a lot of women engineers even the non-engineers that have the desire and the drive, who can be encouraged to become active players. There is nothing that they are doing in the oil and gas industry that women cannot do. And in my own company, when there is a woman that is qualified I will hire that woman first.


During the Women in Energy session of 2018 NAPE conference, employers were encouraged to consider qualified female applicants for employment even when pregnant. How do you see that? 

Funny enough, when I got hired in Shell, I went to my interview pregnant and that year my rating was the highest in my career in SNEPCO. Employers need to realise that pregnancy is not a disease. A lot of people will not hire pregnant women, but I went to the interview with my big tummy. They hired me and I will forever be grateful to Ib Udofia and the other members of my interview panel. SNEPCO had a crèche and my baby used to come with me every day to work so Shell is actually a model gender friendly organisation. I just don’t know why that culture hasn’t cascaded down to their contractors.


As a female CEO, what is the major challenge you have with your team, especially the male members of your team? 

Like I always tell my team, my challenge is that I like work too much and even work harder than them. I don’t know if it’s because I’m a woman because I found out that I’m always the one that goes the extra mile; always the one that’s pushing. Notwithstanding, I have an excellent team.


What impact has the Local Content policy have on your operations?

I find NCDMB under Engr. Simbi Wabote quite helpful to my business. Prior to this present Executive Secretary of the NCDMB, I was barely aware of it and didn’t know what they do or how it could benefit my business. It just seemed to me like an old boys’ network and I didn’t know it was this transparent and systematic. He has made more opportunities available to all people. Despite being pulled left, right and centre, he makes himself available to help whenever he can.


Lastly, what word of advice do you have for Nigerian women, particularly for those who may be interested in coming into the oil and gas industry?

I will say that the oil and gas industry has a specific way it works, and anyone desiring to play in the industry needs to understand that it’s a long-term play. I have this picture that I show everyone. It has the picture of a dog that is looking very hungry with this quote “the patient dog eats the fattest bone”. When you look at the dog, it looks so emaciated that it appears as if the dog has died of hunger. So, that’s a bit of how the oil and gas space is like. At a point, you feel like you’re about to literally die and then something good happens.


So, I will advise that people come in with the mindset that the return on their investment is not going to be instant. It is not like trading or any other sector when the big projects start, that’s when the real challenge starts. But you can be waiting for big projects like Zaba Zaba, Bonga South West etc for God knows how long. But I think it’s an exciting space if you learn about the sector and you are patient, you build your credibility.


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