By Ebere Onwudiwe and Pat Utomi
Dr. Emmanuel Egbogah, former founder and chairman of Emerald Energy Resources Ltd who passed away recently was a rare Nigerian. He was first and foremost, a first-class mind and a humble gentleman not given to the pretensions and boisterousness of the Nigerian moneyed class. Egbogah exemplified, in a new way, the globalisation dictum, “think globally, act locally.” He lived and believed in working with the local community rather than against it. This kind of thinking was given expression in Emerald’s decision to involve the local communities where they produced oil in its oil exploration and production business in the Niger Delta.
Because this approach was the best antidote to the militancy in the Niger Delta, Egbogah brought the idea into the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB). This should be a no-brainer anywhere else but in Nigeria where obvious solutions to national problems count for nothing. In fact, it has been found in strategic management scholarship that equity-and profit-based incentives foster collaboration in companies. The same collaboration can happen when companies introduce such incentives in oil communities where they operate.
When he was the executive chairman of Emerald Oil Company, Egbogah practised what he preached. For many years there, he gave a stake to the oil communities where Emerald operates. They became part owners of the company. Consequently, his company experienced zero vandalism for the simple reason that one does not vandalise his own property!
Egbogah brought this brilliant idea to the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) in the form of its Host Community Development Fund provision. You would think that Nigerians will run with this idea. You would think wrong. Those who know Nigeria know that its politics is deaf and dumb. She is frequently impervious to national interest because of her killer politics of “them and us.”
Egbogah was a great example of the reverse of the brain drain, the so-called brain gain. He left Nigeria as part of the brain drain season when the push and pull of opportunities for professional improvement abroad caused many Nigerians to ‘check out.’ There, he excelled in his field and became renowned and in demand in many resource-rich countries. He served as Technical Advisor and Technology Custodian for the national oil company of Malaysia, PETRONAS. He became the Enhanced Oil Recovery Advisor for the Libyan National Oil Corporation, where he managed 40 billion barrels of oil reserves; and in Houston, Texas, and Calgary, Canada, held some of the most executive positions in the oil industry.
But this classic brain drain was reversed in the case of Egbogah. His love for his homeland could not allow him to spend all his professional life abroad despite the allure of high positions, fame and excellent working conditions. His lectures overseas on oil field development, reservoir management, applied petroleum geology, petroleum reservoir engineering, enhanced oil recovery and strategic planning for many international oil corporations made him a popular choice in the lecture circuit abroad. Even so, he left all that fame and the money that goes with it for Nigeria where among other contributions, he became the pioneer petroleum engineering lecturer at the Institute of Applied Science and Technology, later, the Faculty of Technology at the University of Ibadan, UI, his beloved alma mater.
He matched this brand of giving back and civic consciousness with a large doze of philanthropy. He donated .6 million dollars towards the construction of a centre for petroleum engineering at UI. His support for education was quintessential. At the University of Port Harcourt, he funded the Emerald Energy Institute for Petroleum & Energy Economics, Policy and Strategic Studies with one million dollars. When that worked out well, he gave them a Bioenergy Research Laboratory followed by an endowed chair in Petroleum Engineering.
In his support for technical education, he gave millions in buildings, computers, and scholarships too for many students. The institutions that benefited from his detribalised generosity included Bell University of Technology, Ota; Federal University of Technology, Owerri; Lagos State University and Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka. There are also many high schools which we do not list here for reasons of space.
One lesson that the life of Egbogah teaches is that of professionalism, hard work, love of country, detribalisation and empowerment of others, promotion of local communities, education and philanthropy and detribalisation as evident in the bulk and geography of his investments in education in Nigeria. These are all lessons that our more fortunate citizens should learn if only because they help build all of us into one nation.
It is always good to lend a helping hand by promoting the welfare of others through the generous bequests to good causes. Egbogah showed us that one does not have to be a Dangote or a Bill Gates to lend a helping hand. Like him, we can all start with our alma mater even at the level of secondary schools. Egbogah was great at this too. He invested 101 Mac Computers in his secondary school alma mater, Dennis Memorial Grammar School, Onitsha for the teaching of computer science. But his big heart went beyond his own alma mater, as he gave the same number and type of computers to the Community Secondary School, Umupkpu, Awka, also for the teaching of computer science.
We have dwelled on Egbogah’s philanthropy in some detail to stress the importance of civic responsibility in our country. There are many of us in positions to lend a hand to so many of us, to improve their life chances and put a smile on many faces. This is especially important in these days when our country has shamefully surpassed India as the world’s leader in the extreme poverty of citizens. Often many of us are focused on our civic duties, and this is very important because we can be punished if we fail to do our civic duties such as paying our taxes and obeying the law of the land and others. But our civic responsibilities which are voluntary can only be fulfilled by choice. It takes a really big man to share with others, to care for others and to invest in the next generation. This is civic responsibility, the type that the life of Egbogah teaches.
But of course, giving to help others improve their lives does not exhaust the ways of civic responsibility. Helping to educate people in active citizenship; to be conscious of their human rights; encouraging citizens to participate in governance by boosting freedom of expression and building community leadership by donating generously to community organisations as Egbogah did are among other active manifestations of civic responsibility.In all, we rate Egbogah a good man and a good citizen because he was keenly involved in the betterment of his country and his fellow citizens.
Prof. Onwudiwe and Utomi, friends of the late Egbogah, live in Abuja and Lagos.