A TRIBUTE TO MR UDOM INOYO ON HIS RETIREMENT FROM MOBIL PRODUCING NIGERIA
By Samuel J. Asamudo
It is no longer news that our friend and brother, Mr Udom Inoyo, Executive Vice Chairman of ExxonMobil Affiliates in Nigeria which include Mobil Producing Nigeria Unlimited (MPN) and Esso Exploration and Production Nigeria Ltd (EEPNL), has retired from the company he worked for in the last 30 years plus. As one of those who interacted with him from the first day I got to MPN offices until I left the company, I would like to use the occasion of his retirement to say a few words about my relationship and interaction with him during my career in the company.
First, I must congratulate Udom on his successful career in the company. It is not easy to build a career at such a high level in a complex and competitive company such as MPN while navigating through the company’s rules, procedures, policies, standards of business conduct and its politics.
Those who retire without blemish must give gratitude to the Almighty for it is not through their hard work, interpersonal skills and connections alone but also the grace of the Almighty that saw them through the challenges of ExxonMobil career. One could work very hard and observe all company policies and procedures, only to have a very junior operator (regular or contract) at a remote location under one’s area of responsibility make a serious mistake or commit an infringement of key company rules and regulations for which one could be held accountable.
Rather sadly, it is only people who do not even know Udom or those who claim Udom didn’t help them that always come out to publicize their opinion. On the other hand, many persons whom Udom assisted in one way or the other don’t feel the need to speak out. As a result, negativity takes centre stage. Also, the policy of the company makes company personnel very careful about speaking out for fear of running foul of company’s guidelines on the protection of sensitive information.
Perhaps, now that Udom has retired, people will be more willing to share their stories on how Udom positively impacted their careers. This is where I come in because, at certain critical moments, Udom positively impacted my work in the company.
I met Udom for the first time when I arrived at the company’s offices in Bookshop House, Lagos, for an employment interview. At that time, the only person I knew in Bookshop House was a friend who was an NYSC member serving in the company’s Public Affairs department. As soon as I arrived in Bookshop House my friend took me to see Udom who was the Senior Human Resources Coordinator in charge of Recruiting. Udom received me very warmly and gave me some reading materials to occupy myself with while I was waiting for the interview to start. In view of the general impression that not many Akwa Ibom indigenes had been employed at MPN headquarters at that time, I was impressed and over-joyed that one of us had made it in the company. But how did I get to be invited for MPN employment interview in the first place?
After graduation, a friend who worked in QIT gave me the company’s employment form to complete. He later took me to see one of the Mobil “big men” in his official residence in the company’s Management Housing Estate (MHE) in Eket who was very impressed with my resume and promised to forward my application form to his boss in Lagos. He was optimistic that I would be invited for an interview when a vacancy became available. I have no doubt that he forwarded my application to Lagos but I never heard from the company. My resume must have fallen into the crack. However, as my friend was serving in Bookshop House, I took the additional precaution of giving him a copy of my credentials to hold, just in case anything came up.
Seemingly by chance, my friend met an alumnus of my university as he was completing an MPN employment application form in Bookshop House. My friend confirmed from the gentleman that an interview for recruitment of accounting personnel was coming up the following week. My friend who was aware that I had already submitted my application through an MPN senior employee in QIT was surprised that I had not been invited to the interview as promised.
He immediately set to work to have my name shortlisted for the interview. Unfortunately, he found out that shortlisting of candidates by the Controller’s department had been finalised but as the saying goes: “When there is a will, there is always a way”. My friend received help and I was invited to the interview.
Although Udom had never met me before, he was very welcoming and encouraging. However, he could only “help” within company guidelines and procedures. This is the point that many people miss. As I got to know during my career with the company, MPN personnel work in an environment of tight internal controls involving policies, procedures and standards of business conduct. Running foul of any of these control measures could result in disciplinary action, up to termination of employment.
Unfortunately, friends and relations who approach company personnel (regular employees or contract staff) for “help” rarely know of these constraints, and even if they do, they expect the employees to find ways to sidestep these controls. If the company official is not ready to comply with their wishes, such company official is labeled “not helpful”. In this way, MPN employees from Akwa Ibom State lose the goodwill of a lot of their friends and family members because they could not “help”. Udom is one of the MPN personnel who have had to contend with this accusation, especially because of his top management position.
In any case, within company procedures, Udom ensured that I participated in the interview. After my success in the first interview, he also ensured that I was invited for the second interview. Another friend of mine came for his own employment interview a few days after me and he told me afterwards that during his interview, one of the panelists praised the HR Coordinator for presenting good candidates from his state for the interviews. My friend and I were employed – my friend in QIT Maintenance and I in Controllers Department, Lagos. That was in 1991.
If one were to take the statistics of indigenes of Akwa Ibom State who were employed by MPN around that time, one will notice a spike in the period between 1991 and 1993 when Udom was the HR Coordinator in charge of recruiting and one will agree with me that someone somewhere was quietly doing an excellent job of helping! But beyond this period, a network was put in place which enabled some of us to scout for qualified candidates from Akwa Ibom State, and this network included the Forum of Akwa Ibom Professionals, universities, colleges, social organizations, churches, local governments, etc.
Nineteen years on, I was posted to QIT to assume a managerial position.
Within three months of assumption, I was faced with a serious community crisis arising from a reorganization which led to the separation of a few contract personnel in my unit. The list of those to be released had already been approved months before I resumed in the unit. Although I was not made aware of this list, I was going to take the backlash for it. That was why when the separation took place, I was completely taken by surprise. The pressure came from my immediate community as well as from the wider community. Udom knew how destabilizing this could be for someone who had just assumed headship of the unit. He travelled down to Eket and took me to meet a community leader who assisted me to resolve the problem. Udom didn’t do this in his official capacity since it wasn’t his direct responsibility, but as a friend and brother who wanted me to succeed on my job.
Three years later, when former staff of some service contractors in QIT, in spite of the intervention of the police and other security agencies, held MPN to ransom to press for redundancy payments, Udom again stepped in to help resolve the dispute. At this time, he was the In-country HR Manager/Executive Director and, contrary to some reports on social media, he had no direct responsibility for resolving this particular problem. As a senior management staff from Akwa Ibom state he did not want the community disturbance to disrupt MPN operations as this would not only have affected the company but would also have impacted on the state negatively.
Therefore, he used his government contacts to get the government involved in mediation efforts which yielded ex gratia benefits for the former service contractors’ personnel.
While it is true that senior company officials are required to use their external contacts to help the company address problems with its external stakeholders, Udom was not obligated to offer his services on this matter as no one had requested for his assistance. He intervened out of his own volition and ensured that our people got some ex gratia benefits.
There were some issues Udom couldn’t help me with just as there must have been issues he couldn’t help a few others with because, just every other human being, no one has all the answers and solutions to everybody’s problems and it would therefore be unreasonable for anyone to expect that one person will be able to address all our problems.
However, that fact should not over-shadow or undo all the other good things the person must have done in the past. I am a fervent believer in the Efik adage: “Okuk ikpuikpu, ofong ikpuikpu, owo edi inyene”, i.e – “Money and other properties are nothing in comparison to having people who can give support.” Thus, there were many instances when our people were able to navigate their way out of problems because we had people in the right places at the right time.
For the benefit of those who might not know, Udom was one of those who worked to get our people together under the banner of Ufok which literarily means “the house”. He wasn’t the most senior in rank nor the oldest company employee from our Akwa Ibom State at that time but he had the vision that, as a minority group, we should come together for our common good. “Ufok” is still functional and is doing a lot of good for our people.
In conclusion, I would like to advise that our people should avoid bitterness and petty jealousies and learn to celebrate our people. When other people celebrate their heroes and heroines it is not because those people were able to solve all their problems, but because they made some contributions to the lives of their people.
Most of the time, these contributions are not recognized in the heat of the moment until long after the champions have left the sage. In the 1970’s to 1980’s only few could have foreseen the emergence of an Executive Vice-Chairman of Mobil from Akwa Ibom/Cross River states. If we do not appreciate and celebrate our people how do we expect others to appreciate and celebrate them? Must we continue to propagate the saying: “Nnyin imaha idem nnyin” (we do not love ourselves).
I pray that our state will continue to be blessed with people who can achieve success on the national or international stage. My worry, however, is that in recent years, we have not done as much as I would have liked to see in terms of getting our people recruited into the company work force because, not only has the employment market become more competitive, Nigerians with foreign qualifications now have a great advantage over locally trained ones. This is the result of the falling standard of education in the country.
In the good old days, Udom went beyond the call of duty to search for and identify the best from our state to compete for positions in MPN and this contributed significantly to the spike in our numbers that I referred to earlier.
Thank you, Udom, for all your support, assistance and guidance during my time in the company. May the Almighty continue to bless you and reward you abundantly.
To borrow the words of William Shakespeare, you came, you saw and you conquered, and I join other friends, family and well wishers to wish you and your beautiful family happy retirement and to pray for your good health and success in your future endeavours.
_Samuel Asamudo is an indigene of Ikot Udoma, Eket, ex management staff of MPN & currently based in Canada._