‘My Romance with the Oil Industry’
Oluomo Oluwole Oluleye, an accomplished technocrat who served as pioneer Executive Secretary of the Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency as well as a former Executive Secretary the of Petroleum Technology Development Fund, in this interview with Mary Ekah, recalls his early life, career and the journey so far
Can we have a peep into your growing up days?
I hail from Efon Alaaye in Ekiti State but had my early education in several schools as an itinerant student moving along with my late father, Major General James Oluleye (rtd) who was a military personnel who got numerous transfers. My first taste of primary education was at the Christ’s Church, Mapo 2 in Bere, Ibadan. Then to Apaukwa Municipal School, Army Barracks, Enugu, 1st Reece Squadron School in Kaduna and back to Apaukwa again in 1965. Unlike my mates, I took only one entrance examination, to Government College, Umuahia owing to the fact that my uncle, Supo Abidakun, had his secondary education there. I passed the entrance examination and my father, who incidentally had an official function in Port Harcourt, took me along and dropped me off at Umuahia for the interview. Seeing my uncle’s photographs with other students in his dormitory further reinforced my desire to attend the school, acclaimed to be the best in the then Eastern Region. On the last day of the interview, the principal was very nice but finally said no one was sure where the country was going with the crisis in the Western Region, the Tiv riots and others and that I should try and go to the West to attend Government College, Ibadan. I left the interview crying and that put paid to the hope of attending my dream college.
So what did you do after you couldn’t get into Government College, Umuahia?
I reported to another school, Igbo Etiti Grammar School early January 1966 but shortly after, the first coup occurred. I must say that most of the senior army officers one had come in contact with lost their lives during this period. I was in the school when the counter-coup happened in July 1966. My father was then in Kano as the second in command to late General Muhammad Shuwa. The Nigerian Outlook had a publication that my father and Shuwa were responsible for the Kano killings. The picture in the paper was not that of my father. Of three Yorubas in my school, two had scrambled off. I was no longer safe and had to disappear with the help of Oforbuike Nwobodo, who later became a top official of the Nigerian Red Cross and the international arm in Geneva. On getting to Enugu, I discovered God had a hand in my leaving as the 1st Battalion Nigerian Army was directed to move to Kaduna. I tried to get into the train and was rebuffed until Warrant Officer 1, Atanda and his wife saw me and forcefully took me into their coach as their child to beat the tight security as events and hostilities thereafter rapidly escalated.
Most people who grew under military fathers have some unpleasant stories to tell. What’s yours?
I must confess that for most part of my growing up, I thought my father hated me as a child as I was constantly whipped and he would say that if I got it wrong, it may be worse for my other siblings. My father wanted me to study Law whereas my interest was in Agriculture and specifically, Animal Husbandry. It was difficult to approach my father, being a stern disciplinarian. He commanded and you obeyed, we never saw the loving and caring side until he retired. But Mrs. Omololu, a family friend, obtained the admission forms of the School of Agriculture Akure and that of the Animal Health School, Moor Plantation, Ibadan for me; all in a bid to ensure that I did not stay at home. I took the entrance examination and passed and my career in Animal Agriculture began. While at the Moor Plantation, my Principal was the late Dr. Elizabeth Crockett DVM, Ph.D and she had a profound influence on me teaching Animal Parasitology and Pathology. Asking what my future plans were in my second year, I told her I liked the way she taught us effortlessly and she encouraged me to go to the USA. I applied and got a visa through her assistance but I couldn’t approach my father who wouldn’t consider any of his children going abroad to study, partly due to financial reasons, as he was training about six other children apart from his biological children. Dr. Crockett wrote a passionate letter urging him to let me go as I would be able to realise my potentials and become an agriculture entrepreneur on my return. He agreed and rent for his house being paid by Premier Hotel Ibadan at the time was timely and I had also gradually saved over about $3,000 a two-year period from stipend paid in school (exchange rate then was almost one Naira to two Dollars). My father reminded me he had nothing to offer me other than education and I took this to mean that I should go and achieve on my own and be of the best behaviour. I found this to be useful advice on arriving in America where I had unfettered freedom but a lot of responsibility. I think it is only fitting to say I only came to idolise my father at the latter years of his earthly sojourn. I make bold to say that I never got so close to him early enough as I found him to be too stern and impregnable. It was much later that I came to appreciate him as a soft-spoken, committed family man behind the facade of a strict, fire-spitting soldier.
Nothing has given a clue on how you became involved in the petroleum sector. How did that happen?
My late father piled so much pressure on me after my Ph.D graduation in Animal Science that I eventually returned home in February 1983. I had my NYSC at the Veterinary Medicine Department of the University of Ibadan and got an appointment with the Department of Veterinary Parasitology after the one-year service there but I preferred the University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University). A parastatal was being set up under the Ministry of Labour and Productivity which is the National Productivity Centre that would have a Department of Agriculture and Rural Productivity as part of the set up. The Centre had only room for Doctorate holders as professionals as envisaged by the UNDP/ILO blue print setting up the place. I attended an interview with some others who went to the University in the UK, USA, and Italy and so on and who had also applied to the Federal Civil Service Commission. After the interviews we later got employed and had designations as Consultants or Senior Consultants. The centre was set up under the auspices of the International Labour Organisation and the United Nations Development Programme. I worked as much as I could at the National Productivity Centre but gradually the entire pioneer staff began to leave for greener pastures in their droves. As I rose through the ranks, I continued to have this strange feeling that I was going to either lead the Centre, or at least get so close to the very top, as I was the only remaining trained pioneer staff. I sought additional work outside the centre and spoke to a colleague who had also been sidelined in his earlier place of work for speaking the truth about some adulterated fuel imported into the country, then the Special Assistant to the Secretary to the Government of the Federation. I told him in addition to my current work, I wanted to work with committees being set up for various assignments. Within two weeks, he called to inform me of the setting up of a high-powered Presidential Committee to be known as the Special Committee on the Review of Supply and Distribution of Petroleum Products. I was to work under the Secretary to the committee Mr. O.O.O Ogunkua, with late Chief Rasheed Gbadamosi, who as chairman had the unenviable task of guiding the motley crowd of technocrats to make a meaningful headway in achieving the committee’s terms of references. The other key person guiding the committee was Engineer Funso Kupolokun, who was Presidential Adviser on Petroleum. It was at the feet of these highly cerebral personalities that I equipped myself with the technical nuances of the black gold. This marked the beginning of my divine romance with the oil industry. I would say my Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency (PPPRA) experience paved way for my appointment as Executive Secretary, Petroleum Technology Development Fund (PTDF).
How will you describe your brief stint at Petroleum Technology Development Fund as Executive Secretary?
It was short but eventful and impactful. I was able to make the difference both in human capital and infrastructural development. We left legacies that those coming behind will talk about for a long time. I have also been lucky to have brilliant officers whose skills were properly harnessed for optimum performance. The records are there.
As a public servant and technocrat, after retirement what next?
As a public servant and technocrat, I have a fulfilled career. A career spanning over 33 years, starting from the National Productivity Centre, to the Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency as the Pioneer Executive Secretary and to being Executive Secretary Petroleum Technology Development Fund (PTDF), among other national assignments. God has always been my guide and guard throughout my path to the top. He has been sending the right people my way and such positions also afforded me the opportunity to learn how to manage men and resources. I set up a poultry farm in Efon Alaaye here over 10 years ago as a hobby and the business has grown geometrically and is now able to provide income for over five hundred Efon Alaaye and Ekiti State indigenes, by extension in terms of sales of outputs and proceeds from the farm. On the social and political front, I’m very much at home in Ekiti now, doing my best to impact positively on the lives of my people. We are not poor in Ekiti as many people erroneously believe. They call us a “civil service state” and that we are not viable. But very soon, Ekiti people will realise the enormous potentials at our disposal.