The other day, security Agencies in Nigeria reportedly ordered the destruction of a ship laden with stolen crude oil and news credited to the Nigerian National Petroleum Company (NNPC) have it that an average of 437, 000 barrels of crude oil is stolen in Nigeria daily! This mindless stealing, one understands, has been the way of life for many super rich Nigerians in the oil sector and their foreign collaborators. However, one former oil company executive, Udom Inoyo, often beats his chest confidently to declare that he was spotless throughout his 32 years of work in ExxonMobil, a key player in the oil sector in Nigeria. Mr. Inoyo served as the Executive Vice Chairman of Exxon Mobil Companies in Nigeria before his retirement a few years ago. What a pleasant and comforting statistics. It is also a lesson that even though corruption seems to walk on all fours in Nigeria and almost all the who is who in the country have oily fingers, having dipped them into the slimy black gold illegally, there are exceptions. One clean man or woman in the right place can, indeed, save a society enmeshed in the thick of corrupt practices.
Mr. Inoyo who turns 64 on Wednesday, 19th July wasn’t the only employee of the company hired from Akwa Ibom State, the operational base of Exxon Mobil. However, built tall and straight like successful basketball stars, he could have been the tallest in height among his peers in the employment of the corporate organization. But he could not have been sponsored into that employment by a corporate chieftain or a political godfather at the time he joined the company in 1989. This owes to the very stringent entry level standards adopted by such companies in recruitment of staff. He braved it all from the status of a young middle executive and attained the zenith as the Executive Vice Chairman of the organization in Nigeria. This was made possible by his combination of hard work, integrity, and discipline. While in the company, he carefully imbibed the corporate culture and was accountable round the clock. In fact, he fits the definition of a thorough-bred servant of the company for which he devoted most of his productive years.
On retirement, he could have chosen to live in any part of the world, travel around the globe and play golf; a game he loves so much, however, to the surprise of many, and in a display of selflessness, he presented himself for consideration as a Governorship aspirant of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Akwa Ibom State. After going through the usual gambits of consultations of party chieftains, stakeholders, professional associations which found him to be a deep thinker and articulate Keynote Speaker lined up speaking engagements for him. True to their expectations, he never disappointed. Neither did he defer the hope of the needy who flocked to him for support. He treated such indigent persons respectfully, didn’t make a public show of his kindness and in reaching out to such a segment, did not denigrate their dignity in the quality, quantity, or manner of liaison with them. Nevertheless, when the time of decision arrived, political prophets and those who held the levers of power, allocating such powers authoritatively, shunned him by declaring that ‘god’ had spoken to them and he wasn’t the “anointed” or ‘preferred’ choice of “God”. Mr. Inoyo shrugged off that incident and jetted out - back to school – in pursuit of personal development. A man who loves learning so he can adapt to new situations and grapple intelligently with circumstances, it is this commitment to learning and regular sharpening of one’s skill sets and his Angel–spirit that made him to sponsor a Tech Week for youths in ICT in Akwa Ibom where several young techies excelled and were exposed for further mentorship.
Mr. Inoyo sponsored the first ever Akwa Ibom Tech Week in 2021 with events in Oron, Eket, Ikot Ekpene and Uyo. The grand finale had Akwa Ibom people doing well in the ICT industry internationally attending the event as guest speakers. Some of them were OttoAbasi Williams, Senior Vice President at Visa, Aniedi Udo-Obong, Google and Usoro Anthony of MTN. That event promoted indigenous innovations from the state to investors. The winners of the pitch competition got cash prizes and free mentorship for 3 months by industry leaders.
Besides an inclination to show up for disadvantaged groups in the society like teachers which his community service Foundation, Inoyo Toro Foundation has doled out over 400 million naira in prizes to Teachers and mentorship of students across Akwa Ibom State in the past 15 years, Mr. Inoyo reached out to honour the legacy of one of the world’s living foremost journalists ; Ray Ekpu with the endowment of the Ray Ekpu prize in Investigative Journalism in the sum of N500 , 000 annually. The yearly Award, administered by a cream of Journalists headed by Nsikak Essien, former Editor of National Concord Newspaper has produced winners in the past two years and the endowment is in perpetuity. That award has served to celebrate Ray Ekpu as a role model, a trail blazer, an uncommon Ambassador, and an excellent professional from his state of origin. That prize money is the biggest single purse so far in the State and indeed, the South-South axis of Nigeria presently. Mr. Inoyo, in taking a decision to honour Ray Ekpu, may have been influenced by the fact that both of them, at different eras left their state, then in the back waters of Nigeria and made their way to the topmost heights in different sectors of life in the world without blemish.
His boundless passion for education fired him to mobilize support for funding of the establishment of International Centre for Energy and Environmental Sustainability Research, ICEESR, at the University of Uyo.
A lover of Books, he featured at the 2021 World Book Day to read from the Book ‘The Tipping point’ by Malcolm Gladwell and that inspired a cross – section of students who gathered to participate at the Event in Uyo.
Through its flagship program, Inoyo Toro Foundation which he set up, has consistently anchored rewards for hundreds of teachers, mentorship for thousands of teachers and infrastructure intervention (Adopt-a-school) for several schools since the establishment of the Foundation in 2007.
In partnership with Stanbic IBTC Bank, that Foundation procured and donated the complete set of Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) facilities to Akwa Ibom State, to save lives in the heat of COVID 19. He leveraged his international network and tremendous goodwill to ensure the facilities arrived in Nigeria at a time international travels were restricted, and export of PCR machines were disallowed. The facilities were located at the Specialist hospital in Akwa Ibom making it Nigeria’s only state government running two PCR facilities at the time.
As Coordinator, Coalition of Akwa Ibom Professionals in Lagos (CAKPIL), he mobilized CAKPIL to provide medical consumables to Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) in AKS during COVID-19 epidemic.
He sponsored highly specialized capacity building workshops for Akwa Ibom lawyers through the Nigerian Bar Associations in Uyo, Ikot Ekpene, Eket, Oron branches and in the aftermath of ENDSARS Protests in Nigeria, instituted a Coalition of Lawyers to offer free legal services to victims of police brutality during the protests in Akwa Ibom State.
Mr. Inoyo played a critical role towards the settlement of the obnoxious onshore–offshore oil dichotomy in the days of Obong Victor Attah as Governor.
He encouraged many Akwa Ibom people in corporate world and business. One of such beneficiaries of his gesture in this direction, Charles Udonwa, Chairman, Norfin Offshore Shipyard Limited once said, “There would have been no Norfin Shipyard in Akwa Ibom without Udom Inoyo”.
Mr. Inoyo attracted the first electrification project and the first tarred road project in his community.
He established an employment/empowerment network in his home community, leading to several people from the community getting employment and empowered for vocations and businesses.
He played a front-line role in the establishment of ‘UFOK’, a union of Akwa-Cross employees in ExxonMobil, which started to stimulate awareness and push for the engagement of several Akwa Ibom and Cross River folks in ExxonMobil. This contributed towards a situation where 35% of all employees of ExxonMobil were Akwa Ibom indigenes. Those are some sample lessons in community service by a private citizen who wasn’t in government or politics. His interventions provided an example in community mindedness.
Several other lessons which the trajectory of Udom Inoyo teaches include the need for travelers in life to ‘stay on their own lane’. Interactions with him also taught one “to engage with others using one’s strengths and not with the strengths of the competition. If he were to explain that in the Sunday School classes which he taught at First Baptist Church at Lagos, he would have cited the example of David and Goliath and he would have stressed that David was an expert slinger unlike Goliath. With Udom Inoyo, every project requires careful thought, deliberate analysis, a clear plan of action, delivery timelines, accountability, and feedback. He is a good listener, believes in reasoning, sharing of ideas, seeking out the opinions of others and showing respect for superior arguments by acceptance of such well-articulated stances. His ‘I don’t know it all’ attitude starkly shows his humility which his physical height and the corporate status he attained sought to hide from people. In all his engagements, he tries to lift others up to the level of his own height.
Mr. Inoyo’s life further provides lessons in leading a principle centered life anchored on positive values and to show respect, even to subordinates. He teaches the need to recognize that subordinates have a mind of their own and so must not be shut out or asphyxiated. He believes that subordinates must be allowed to also breathe.
In a society where elites and the more privileged tend to be apologetic for their well-earned successes in life, Mr. Inoyo would have none of that; “don’t be apologetic about your Pedigree, your well-earned status in life and your circle of friends” he would say. According to him, the heights which most great achievers have attained are like climbers on mountain tops, it took a strenuous effort, carefulness, focus, discipline, so why apologize when you get to the summit? Why should Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo be apologetic about their elitist credentials?
At first sight, Mr. Udom Inoyo’s tall height, serious mien and accomplishments emit signals of unapproachability, but a close interaction reveals that he is just like the guy next door; he is human, humane too and often impacted by the same emotions which break every other human being.
Happy 64th birthday, Udom Uko Inoyo, a great Patrician, and non-political statesman.
Dr. UDEME NANA is the FOUNDER, UYO BOOK CLUB.