A former communications representative of Addax Petroleum Development Nigeria Limited, Dr Michael Owhoko, speaks to ALEXANDER OKERE about his career, marriage and other issues
What was life like for you in Warri as a child?
I am from Emadadja in the Udu Local Government Area, near Warri, in Delta State. I lived in Warri as a child and life was good. There was ethnic harmony; one could not differentiate among the Ijaw, Urhobo and Itsekiri. We saw Warri as a symbol of unity.
You said your father was a former customary court judge. What exactly do you mean?
He was a chief judge of Udu Customary Court. He was not a lawyer; the court was based on tradition and led by people knowledgeable in the customs of the Udu people. He was made a chief judge based on his knowledge; he was not appointed based on his age. His job as a judge was part-time while he was also a palm wine merchant.
For how long did he serve in that capacity?
I was his last child, so I don’t know because I was very young.
How many wives and children did he have?
He had three wives and 10 children.
How did he manage to keep his family together?
I left my father’s house at a tender age; my mother took me to Warri to live with his sister. That was where I grew up, so I did not really live in a polygamous home. I lived with a very strict aunt. I could only go out when she was out of the house for her business. Some of the values I imbibed actually helped me in life.
How did your father manage his palm wine business while adjudicating on cases?
He had many palm trees and people that worked for him.
You also said you could not go to secondary school because your parents could not afford it. As a customary court judge, did your dad not earn enough to send you to school?
I attended a primary school but after that, my parents couldn’t raise money to send me to secondary school despite that I passed my common entrance examination. My dad earned a stipend as a judge but he was a polygamous man with many children. I didn’t know the expense, but I know he didn’t have the means to send me to secondary school.
How old were you as of that time and what did you do to keep yourself busy?
I was 18 years old or younger. When I could not attend secondary school, I was enrolled in a typing school on the street where I learned typing and shorthand. I did not complete the training before moving to the Federal Ministry of Labour, temporarily. From there, I joined Federal Government College, Warri, as a typist. I later joined the Pipelines and Products Marketing Company of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation as a typist. I bought clothes with my first salary because I did not have clothes fit for an office environment.
Did you eventually enroll for the Senior School Certificate Examination and how old were you then?
I was about 20 years old then. I was motivated by the pupils of the Federal Government College, Warri. I saw them graduating from school and moving into universities, so I wanted to be like them. So, I enrolled for an evening school programme; it was a crash programme at the Institute of Continuing Education. It was tough because I had to attend classes after work. Sometimes, the lectures began at 6pm and ended at 9pm or 10pm and I could not get home until 11pm. It was through that programme that I enrolled for SSCE.
Did some of your friends or colleagues at work see your resignation from PPMC as a thoughtless decision?
Yes. It was tough. I remember that my boss tried to discourage me because he thought I could study on a part-time basis. But I wanted to have a feel of secondary school education. While at the NNPC, I was elevated from a typist to a typist supervisor – a senior staff position that enabled me to make enough savings for a full-time degree programme at the University of Ilorin without recourse to financial help from any person. God orchestrated it.
You had your first, master’s and doctoral degrees in Political Science and could have joined a higher institution as a lecturer with the qualifications. Why did you choose journalism instead?
After my first degree at the University of Ilorin, I took up a job at the then Weekly Metropolitan somewhere in Surulere, Lagos, and from there, I moved to the banking sector. It was from the bank that I returned to the media. It was while in the media that I decided to pursue a master’s degree at the University of Lagos because the media was unstable at that time. But I have remained in journalism because of the passion I have for the profession and because it is what I have done since I graduated from the university.
What will you describe as your most exciting moment as a reporter?
It was the point when the Nigeria Liquid Natural Gas was to be inaugurated in 2000 and a few journalists were taken to Bonny, in Rivers State, to cover the event. There was no Internet at that time so we had to use fax machines. It was like a war because our editors were waiting and our reports had been published as breaking news. Another experience was when I was flown to Kaduna State for an event. After the event, the organisers said they could not afford to pay for our flight back home. So, we had to go back by the road and it was an uncomfortable experience.
You worked in at least four different newspaper houses and a bank in less than 10 years. What was responsible for your short stay in those organisations?
By nature, I’m an ambitious person who keeps setting goals. That informed my short stay in the organisations where I have worked. I spent the longest time as an employee at Addax Petroleum. I spent about 13 years there; maybe it was because of the environment.
How did your media experience pave the way for you as communications representative at Addax Petroleum Development Nigeria Limited, which you joined in 2006?
I was an energy correspondent and at that time, a company put a call across inviting me to run their public affairs unit. That company was Gaslink Nigeria Limited; it specialised in piping natural gas for powering industries. I never wanted to move into the corporate world, I wanted to remain in the media, get a PhD and move into the university system. That was my initial dream but I got stuck when I moved into the corporate world. As an energy correspondent, I interfaced with oil and gas firms. While at Gaslink, Addax put a call across to me and I was carried away by the offer.
In 2016, you published one of your books, Career Frustration in the Workplace. Was it connected to your career experience?
Yes. I felt my experience should not just go down the drain. I documented them and began to release them to the public to guide younger Nigerians and employees in office politics which can hinder career growth. There are unwritten rules and invisible forces at the workplace. The only way to avoid falling victim is to follow through on the organisation’s core values and mission statements as well as make concerted efforts for improved performance through skills acquisition, value addition, and integrity while avoiding actions that undermine the company’s objectives.
Why do you think some employees get stuck in an organisation after working there for many years or find it difficult to move on?
I think it is because they don’t have ambitions or goals that would move their lives forward. If one has ambition, one would develop certain skills rather than just become laid-back and content with the little stipend they get as salary within their space. Risk is another thing many can’t take.
You are one of the voices calling on major oil firms operating in the Niger Delta region to site their headquarters in their host communities. What, in your opinion, is keeping these multinationals away from the region?
I will say proximity to the seat of power is a factor. Lagos used to be the seat of power and major players in the industry are based in Lagos. I don’t think it was because of insecurity. The NLNG headquarters in Borno State used to be Lagos and there has not been any incident of kidnapping of their members of staff. The Nigeria Content Development and Monitoring Board has its head office in Yenagoa, Bayelsa State, and there hasn’t been any incidence of kidnapping.
The reason we are calling on multinational oil companies to relocate to the Niger Delta is that it would help the economy of the region. The relocation of the headquarters of oil companies to the Niger Delta will engender economic opportunities for the region along with a multiplier effect that could engage idle youths.
The controversy over the management of funds at the Niger Delta Development Commission has not ceased, with some leaders in the region wondering why the audited report on the agency has not been made public. What is your take on the issue?
The NDDC is a Federal Government agency set up to develop the region and it has a reason for not releasing the report. But at the end of the day, it would be for the good of the Niger Delta people.
The NDDC is a conduit pipe from where resources meant for development are drained. Since it is a Federal Government agency, a forensic audit to reposition it for improved services in line with its objective is a good idea. The award of contracts to National Assembly members, Presidency officials and other influential persons without the execution of jobs should be stopped. It is criminal and satanic.
Feminism is a big issue in Nigeria and you described it as the ‘agony of men’ in one of your books. What are the major misconceptions about it?
It is something that is really peculiar to the modern-day woman, perhaps, those that grew up independent of their parents, without proper values. They want to share the same authority with the men, irrespective of what the Bible says – that a man is the head of the home. Two captains, naturally, cannot be in a ship. The role of a woman and a man are clearly defined in the Bible. There is no ambiguity. When a man tries to play the role of a woman and a woman tries to play the role of a man, there is bound to be frustration somewhere.
Why do you think the philosophy behind feminism should be curbed?
I don’t enjoy it when I see marriages break up. Compared with the 70s and 80s, the number of single parents is growing. Why are marriages packing up? The woman should realise her position in the marriage as a helpmate and drive the man’s dream. Trying to stand independent of the man would provoke a lot of contention.
It would seem like the class of men who do not support feminism find it difficult to dissociate themselves from the belief that a woman must queue behind a man. Doesn’t it?
It doesn’t really follow. Sometimes, the wife could represent the husband; she’s his better half. It is a partnership with one goal; there shouldn’t be any clash.
Are you married?
Yes, I am. I got married in 1991.
How did you meet your wife?
I met her in a supermarket. When I saw her, I saw the beauty. From the outward appearance, I was convinced, so I decided to go close to her to understand her character. I began a conversation with her and in the middle of the conversation, she was convinced.
What were the things you saw in her that took your eyes away from other women?
Her honesty in behaviour stood out. She could go to the market with the money I gave and return what was left to me. I felt that was something I could live with and it informed my decision to marry her. When I proposed to her, there was some resistance because things were not too good for me financially.
What would you consider the biggest lesson life has taught you?
I am not bothered about the desperation to make money. I try to work hard on my own and believe that hard work is like a mirror. People would see it and it would attract favour naturally.
I am told that I’m close to 60 years but the truth is my parents never told me when I was born because they didn’t know. But I estimate my year of birth to be 1965. My regrets are my inability to attend a formal secondary school and not knowing my actual date of birth.
Culled from ThePunch Newspaper: