At a time when most people have lost confidence in the continent and looking for escape routes out, it is quite refreshing to meet someone who believes so much in the continent and its youths.

A cross-team of editors from African leadership magazine caught up with Dr Akindele Akintoye, chairman of Duport Midstream company, during a zoom interview session. He took the reporters through his entrepreneurial journey and expressed strong confidence in the continent’s potential.

Excerpts:

You have more than strings of achievements in the oil and gas industry and a visible track record, both at Platform Capital and Duport Midstream. Can you share some of your experience in building this hugely successful venture?

I think I have had more failures than successes. Part of the things I have committed my life to do is tell more about the failures than my successes. After all, I think it will be misinformation if you focus on what went right and not the things that did not go right because success itself is born out of failure. The more you fail, the more you are likely to succeed.

My first degree was in engineering. I studied Chemical Engineering at Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife in the 1990s. I worked for a few years as an engineer at the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), I was irritated by the non-execution of projects for a variety of reasons, the most important of which was financial. So, I said to myself, let me develop finance skills which will then enable me to contribute my bit to our industrial development. This decision was based on my strong conviction that I did not spend five years in a university plus two years of ASUU (Lecturers) strike to graduate and just be an operator. So, 24 years ago, I switched careers from engineering to finance, starting in Corporate Banking (with a concentration on Conglomerates and Multinationals operating in Nigeria) and later Technology/Telecoms Origination, Financing and Relationship Management, and finally Corporate Finance during a 6-year period. I completed my Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) examinations along the way and then switched to Private Equity, and Investment Banking for about 18 years. I then made sure I participated in investments in a lot of sectors while focusing on investments in Telecoms, Technology Energy spaces across various sub-sectors from infrastructure to terminals, energy storage, power plants, and gas processing plants.

While investing in these sectors, I placed emphasis on supporting locals because I genuinely believe it is the only way we can solve our problems on the continent. It is only if we get locals involved in key sectors that will unlock value. Nation-building is everyone’s job. So, I spent time building expertise in understanding how we make things work and the areas we think we can have the most impact with optimal results. A mix of capital, regulatory partnerships, expert teams, and international collaboration can unlock and create the most value in the midstream space. The upstream space has been significantly researched, invested, and scaled in most of the sectors. The raw outputs from these upstream activities are always exported rather than being added locally to foster economic development and growth before finished products are exported.

Nigeria is more of a gas country than an oil country. We have 800 times more gas than oil. As potential investors, we did our extensive research and consultations and found various policies and incentives for investment in the midstream space in Nigeria and generally across the continent. We put our team together and started the journey. We had an agreement with our upstream partner, Summit Oil International, a very great partner to us. We had executed our agreement with Summit and then bought land near the field so that we reduce the length of the pipeline to mitigate risks of vandalization, security, and all the other related challenges. We engaged the host community, partnered with them, and created direct and indirect jobs. We then started our journey.

Are there ingredients that make Duport different from other companies in the oil and gas industry? What are some of those? Could it be operational policies, could it be in-house style, could it be the team members? Something differentiates you from the rest. Can you tell me what that is?

I will tell you a few things, but first, thank you for that question. Duport is more than the energy park we are building. The energy park we are building is just one of our businesses, we have other products and business activities like product trading, engineering services and carbon credit trading. At Duport we are a family. I know everybody says this and it has become a cliché, but we put in a lot of time and resources to ensure we achieve a good family work environment.

People here at Duport work hard because we all have one common purpose. What makes Duport Midstream Company Limited different from other companies is our shared goal, the desire for a narrative that is positive, turning all our negative energies around and channeling them into creating something that the next generation can say — if they can do that, we can do that. We have just one shared goal at Duport Midstream Company Limited. We want to make a difference and show that we are not just people who consume.

We are not the highest paying company in the oil and gas industry by a mile, but we have the best people here. I come to work every day with people who are solution-driven and legacy passionate. From day one, people have told us we can’t do what we are doing, it’s not possible. In that impossibility lies the magic of possibility.

So, people that come here are challenge-driven.

People that come here are self-starters. They are self-motivated. Elon Musk said recently ‘if you are looking for motivation, quit being an entrepreneur. Go and get a job’. Everybody here is an entrepreneur. That means they run with their own entrepreneurial mindset, which is solution-driven. What makes us different is that we do not lie to ourselves or accept excuses. We set our goals. We work very hard at achieving them. We stick together. When we bleed, we bleed together. When we have fun, we have fun together.

We are a team. The guys that you work with every day for 12 hours a day and more are our family. A family working together to build the first smart energy park in the world. This is being achieved by people who are 95% homegrown, most of us locally schooled, local engineers, local lawyers, local designers. It shows that we are not a wasted generation, but most importantly, it shows what is possible if you give people a vision. When that vision is well missioned and built on a foundation of strategic positioning that unlocks value in an ecosystem of opportunities supported by an enabling environment, possibilities are created.

That is the core that makes us different. So, again, it is about agreeing on our shared vision and communicating our story. My colleagues here who come to work every day, are the talents that make things happen. Every talent in front of you as a leader is a stone. What type of stone will it be? — a stepping-stone to a cornerstone, a wall, or a block? Accepting it as a barrier or a stumbling block is a dead end. I refuse to perceive any of our teammates as a hindrance or a stumbling barrier. Any stone in front of me is a stepping-stone on the way to a cornerstone.

The Nigerian government recently is hoping to pass into law the Petroleum Industry Bill. How will this bill influence the growth of the oil and gas industry in Nigeria?

It was meant to have been passed in April, but it has not been passed yet; I believe the thrust of the bill is trying to get the oil and gas regulatory framework into the 21st century, make it more a market-driven practice. So, the bill is going to change things like the regulatory, the physical, the administrative and the governance systems and policies in oil and gas. It will bring some sanity into a lot of areas of the oil and gas sector, and I think there are a lot of winners from this

For example, the gas sector is a major winner from this. In the gas sector, there are now more tax advantages to produce gas, not just for oil and gas companies, but also for industries that consume gas. There are other aspects of the bill that seeks to ensure sector specialization by companies and discourage a generalist approach under one company. In the past, one company could do upstream, midstream, downstream, but now you must have separate companies demonstrating different skills set and capabilities, showing partners and value creation strategies in each vertical. It can be the same shareholders’ groups or affiliates, but each company will be subject to different corporate governance processes in line with their sector and along with attendant regulatory oversight.

Also, from the penalty point of view, the penalties have increased significantly from as low as NGN20,000 to as high as NGN20,000,000 in some cases. Penalties for not paying your royalties on time, penalties for even defaulting and not paying, those penalties are a lot more punitive. It is now more preventive and will ensure people do the right thing. And, of course, there are other areas of the bill like splitting up the regulatory environment into an upstream regulator and a midstream and downstream regulator. To have one person regulating upstream, midstream, or downstream may not be the best because the skill sets required are different. Lastly, but most importantly, is the trust arrangement that communities will now get. They will now be trustees, a trust structure that the host community benefits from, taking on a CSR initiative. So, it is no more oil companies talking to kings or chiefs. We now have a trust structure. In finance, we call it intergenerational protection.

What are your projections for the future concerning Nigeria’s oil and gas industry, and how best do you think as a country, Nigeria can create a thriving environment for businesses like yours who also want to be represented on the global stage?

I believe in an ecosystem and partnership mentality. Life isn’t linear and shouldn’t be. I think my life is more than my job. My life is a sum of all my activities as a human, a professional, a spiritual being, a student of life, a citizen, a neighbour, and all aspects of my 360-degree existence. For example, I am a faculty member of the University of Lagos, where I teach in their master’s and Doctorate programs.

I’ve given lectures at prestigious universities such as Harvard and Chicago Booth Business Schools, among others, but I’ve determined that the University of Lagos (UNILAG) is where I want to invest my time and skills since I can have the most influence. You can’t keep putting up effort where it’s least needed. Education is crucial in unlocking value in the oil and gas, and energy industries, energy, and other critical sectors. Education that delivers practical knowledge not just to pass exams. The future of the oil & gas industry is tied to the knowledge of Nigerians and partnerships with the global community which this new Petroleum Industrial Bill will ensure. We must all get involved in knowledge dissemination, partnership identification and sustainable development to ensure we turn our natural wealth into common and shared wealth.

Nation-building is all our collective responsibility. My company worked with the University to develop a World Class Business School, and you can compare it with anyone in the world. Fully fitted out with modern infrastructure. It can compete anywhere in the world. Why is that important? To attract the best minds to come and study there and work with us to create long-term solutions, whether from governments or investors., we must have a world-class knowledge environment. We can attract the best partnerships. This background is important to your question. The future of Nigeria is collaboration.

Collaboration comes in various ways. It may be via investment collaboration, technology transfer, skills transfer. or corporate partnerships. We must collaborate more because the law of comparative advantage says that each of us has various places, we are strong at. It is not about competitive advantage alone. You get a competitive advantage when you mobilize your comparative advantage together as a people, as a nation, as a tribe. You see, we have all these resources, and we are operating in silos.

So, first, the silo mentality must change by getting the best people to work and network together in an effective environment. By getting the word out there on the knowledge bank available and the upsides to collaboration, we take giant strides forward. Then entrepreneurs can collaborate more effectively. A potential investor can then say, ‘ listen, if I have gas in Imo state, there is already infrastructure built by the Nigerian Gas Company that can pick up my gas in Calabar or Lagos state. I just must partner with the infrastructure company; we start delivering gas to power plants opportunities on the grid and start solving our power problems. That’s Collaboration. For some reason, we believe that owning an asset or opportunity alone is the only way. No, you can collaborate. You don’t have to co-invest. You can partner. You can share resources. You can share human resources and experience. You can share ideas. Collaboration is extremely key in the future of oil and gas in Nigeria. Collaboration between public and private sector. Collaboration between private and private sectors. Collaboration between governments. We have had to collaborate with our host community, with our regulators, with our suppliers. You cannot do it alone.

The Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) paired a lot of people together in the last marginal field bidding round with the aim of fostering collaboration. I am hoping that this happens. That you can have five people own a field together and develop it. Each partner can now step aside and say, “Yes, we want to be owners, but who is the best person that can develop this field? And why? based on expertise? experience? relationships? I think the challenge we need to understand is there is just so much on the table here. We have other resources we need to unlock so we must work together. Imagine what we can do with our gas if we work together. If we can unlock our gas, we can solve our power problems and unleash significant productivity.

If you call up oil and gas companies, partner with the power companies, you will see people that want to invest bring in the capital. We need to collaborate for that future because that future is bright, and the policies are in place. I am optimistic. Listen, I can tell you a thousand and one things wrong with Nigeria, but the few right things, if I focus on that, we can gradually bend and change that narrative. The policy is right. It is getting better with the bill being passed.

You have attributed some of your successes to strategic partnerships that have helped in building your business. What do you look out for when seeking partners for each of your projects?

“If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go farther, go together”. In there lies one statement, ‘go somewhere’.

With any partner you may have, you must be going somewhere together. First, define where that place is. You must both have a shared vision. No matter how good the relationship is, no matter how smooth it is, it will not work if your vision is not mutually shared. Your values will be different, and values are ways in which you get to your vision. So, first is a shared vision. When you have created that vision, set out clearly the expectations of both sides.

My biggest partner is Summit Oil International, which has been fantastic and very supportive. In choosing a partner, first is to agree on your destination. Then, find your fellow travellers and reinforce the destination as often as possible.

Don’t assume because you said it once they remember it. Reinforce it, listen, accommodate, bend, and be flexible, but the journey is extremely important because you must see where you are going together. I wouldn’t know where we are going when we get there if we don’t know it.

Very interesting! So, away from partnership, Duport has worked towards improving the communities in which it is operating. Can you tell us about some of those projects?

Again, let me take a step back; I am from the school of thought that says ‘every enterprise should leverage 3Ps’ – People, Profit and Planet. Only when people, profit and planet are in tandem will the enterprise be sustainable. So, if you are focused on profit alone and don’t take care of your people, it is not sustainable. If you don’t take care of the planet, which is the ecosystem you are working in, it is also not sustainable. For us, the triple P is at the core of our business model. With that in mind, Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is our business model. We track our businesses and adopt the UN SDG goals that apply to us. We are tackling job creation and working with the community to build a big water treatment plant in Edo State.

We are about to launch a management training program where we will then hire indigenes from that area. We will train them and establish them. In Africa, once we see what can be done, we are very critical people, so unlocking possibilities is big for us. A management training program is on the way. Scholarships are on the way. CSR is not CSR to me because if you look at the business model from the 3P model I have explained, it is our business model to invest in our environment and our people. After all, if you do not invest in your environment and people, the conveyor belt of value, people, resources, and systems will dry up.

In the oil and gas industry, do you foresee a situation where we can carve out a space to encourage more young people to participate because a lot of them feel it is a big-ticket industry and foreclosed to those who do not have the means as it were to play in that industry?

It goes back to partnership again. It goes back to the opening of the mind again, and I think that the journey is like when you throw a stone into the river, it causes ripples. It starts with the first ripple. We at Duport have decided that once the park goes live, we will give paid internships to 100 Engineering students every year from all the six geopolitical zones in Nigeria.

We are building more than one park. Another Park is happening in Bayelsa courtesy of Atlantic International Refinery. And another park is going live somewhere in the North; in Ajaokuta — it is a gas park. We are going to build parks in Ghana and other African countries. We will, in the next 5 years give internships to a thousand Nigerians every year who can then see what is possible with their eyes, who can then network with other engineers from other parts of the world. I studied engineering in Nigeria. What we are building today, I didn’t even see one at that time. I read everything in books. Imagine what would have happened if I see how to build one if I had seen one myself. Our workshop will train engineers with this opportunity. I believe organizations must realize that investing in people, education, and development is not CSR, but a necessity for their business; otherwise, as I keep saying, the conveyor belt will dry up, then they will realize that they must train the next generation. Because if you don’t and if you will keep importing talent, for which you are paying a premium, what happens to that environment you are making money from? One day it will dry up.

What we are building today, I didn’t even see one at that time. I read everything in books. Imagine what would have happened if I see how to build one if I had seen one myself. Our workshop will train engineers with this opportunity. I believe organizations must realize that investing in people, education, and development is not CSR, but a necessity for their business; otherwise, as I keep saying, the conveyor belt will dry up, then they will realize that they must train the next generation. Because if you don’t and if you will keep importing talent, for which you are paying a premium, what happens to that environment you are making money from? One day it will dry up.

I believe Nigerian youths are amazingly talented. Give them a chance, train them, expose them. We are doing that. This whole midstream, downstream, gas power value chain where fabrication processes, design, and chemistry are not that complex, I invite you to come and see our present plant. Science is not that complex. Thirty years ago, terminals were built by foreign companies alone, oil tank firms. Now, we are bringing them to Nigeria. I promise you in the next 15 years, refineries will be built locally in Nigeria. By the way, they are already doing it in the creeks anyways. We will get better. We will educate better. The future is black. The future is Africa. We are coming. You can’t stop us.

Our future is young, and we are young.

Interesting, it is certain that you are committed to building this industry; we will probably be expecting to see you looking to run for political office?

I don’t think politics is the only way. Nation-building is everybody’s job. The people that built America were not politicians. Everybody is the head of state in his own house, in his own area, in his own region. Do your part. It is a network of everybody doing that part that changes the narrative, not politicians. We should start looking inwards. Leave politicians alone, look inwards, do your own part, let your neighbour do his own part, let everybody do their part. Africa will survive despite governance, not because of governance.

Are there any parting words you would like to share with young Africans everywhere?

Impossible is not African. Everything is possible in this continent. We come from a very rich heritage and history. We are from a heritage of scientists who first discovered algebra. We are from a race of people who first led mankind on how to build homes and shelter. We had people come here and learn governance, as far back as from Portugal, in the 1600s. We are a people who built the largest man-made structure in the world – the Benin Kingdom Walled City. We are a people who have always made history. I am African, Nigerian! It is my world. It is my time. It is our time, and our time is now!