Appreciating Olu Akani @ 70
By Gboyega Bello
Today, 2nd January, 2020, my friend and mentor, Engineer Olu Akani, clocked the proverbial age of three scores and ten years. In a country where rightly or otherwise, life expectancy for men, according a World Health Organisation data, is 53.7 years, Engr. Akani deserves not only being appreciated, but also offering, on his behalf, supplications to God for being his guide and guard, his saviour and shield, his protector and provider, these many years and more.
Consequently, I consider it expedient to appreciate him with this little piece.
Engr. Akani’s path and mine crossed in about early months of 2000 by sheer serendipity. He had been drafted from Eleme Petrochemical Company, then a subsidiary of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), in Rivers State, to join a coterie of hands assembled by Engr. Funsho Kupolokun, who was at that time Special Adviser to President Olusegun Obasanjo on Petroleum Matters. Others in the assemblage were Engr. Sa’ed Farouk, who is NNPC’s Chief Operating Officer, Corporate Services, from the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR), Lagos; Engr. Godwin Arhore, from National Petroleum Investment Management Services (NAPIMS), Lagos, who retired as
General Manager at NNPC Downstream Company, NNPC Retail Limited, over a decade ago; and Mr. Abiodun Ibikunle, also from the DPR, who had joined the group much later and retired as Executive Secretary of Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency (PPPRA).
Yours truly was made to join the team, when after rounding off campaigns on deregulation of the Downstream Petroleum Sector at about 2002, Engr. Kupolokun requested I stay back in his office. I had been drafted from the Office of Presidential Adviser on Petroleum, manned by Dr. Rilwanu Luckman at the time.
Engr. Akani brought to the table more than 20 years of experience which commenced in 1976 as a lecturer at Petroleum Training Institute, Effurun, in Delta State. He joined the services of NNPC same year, rising to the position of a manager at Eleme before he was seconded to Abuja in 2000.
Engineer Akani’s impacts on my career are not quantifiable. In summary, however, they include the following:
1. Content development. Having cause to prepare several papers together for the Presidential Adviser on Petroleum, or the Special Adviser to the President on Petroleum Matters, as the case maybe, he introduced me to the technical basics of the Industry such that during the period and years afterwards, I have the rare competence to draft informed speeches and correspondences for principals at the helm of the Industry as well and my corporation.
2. I learned from him the pubic service culture. He was humble to a fault. Never exhibited anger. Paid extreme attention to details; punctual to office; dutiful; careful in handling confidential documents; most importantly he was a dyed-in-the-wool adherer to due process. He ensured that he obtained permission from his principals before undertaking any line of action, an aspect of his qualities that had helped me stayed on course. The only time I was oblivious of it, I earned a query from a boss!
3. He is a kind of person who offers helps once he realized you needed one. My typing skills are high. Incidentally, so are Engr. Akani’s. The difference between us in this competence, however, was that he had deep knowledge of the computer generally, mine I must confess, was superficial. To help me out, I recalled that he delivered to me more than nine Microsoft and Corel Draw manuals which boosted my competence eventually.
4. He is conscious of his health, attending the gym as a routine, any wonder that he looks much younger than his age.
5. He is devoid of an itchy palm. Because of his forthrightness, highly sensitive projects were entrusted to him to handle, e.g. the private refinery licensing rounds of the early 2000s and a host of others.
6. Perhaps the most critical take away I had from Engr. Akani is his repeated admonishments that I get myself deradicalized. As a young man, ambivalence was not part of my character. I saw things as either black or white, nothing in between. I could look a boss in the eye. I had stood my ground before my bosses. Fast forward, I now know how career-limiting such attitudes could be, which at times now brings to my remembrances, Engr. Akani’s repeated golden pieces of advice to me: “Gboyega take it easy. I say, take it easy,” on some stormy occurrences. You don’t need to say that again. Close to three decades of public service experience, I now know which attitudes work and which don’t; which progress a career and which limit it. I have learned how to fall in line.
Unbeknown to many, however, Engr. Akani, who attended Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Kumasi, Ghana, was born with a silver spoon in his mouth. His dad, Mr. Yusuf Adeagbo Akanni Adepoju, due to the pan-African worldview of Ghana’s former President Kwame Nkrumah, made a place for himself in that country’s public service, pitched against the fact that most Nigerians in Ghana at that period were generally petty traders. Indeed, the elder Adepoju used to refer to him as doctor, preferring that Engr. Akani becomes a medical doctor.
Elder Akanni’s death, while the little Akani was only nine years old, put paid to that preference, as left in the care of his mummy alone, he opted for a course that would require him to graduate as early as possible. Chemical Engineering it was.
It may surprise Engr. Akani to note that I did not enjoy working with him! Sorry to say this publicly, I beg. That is the plain true. As a matter of duty however, I endured. You gain from working with him, which is fine, but you sacrifice all your leisure time to achieve excellence. To him, Saturday and Sunday, if there were works to be done, are working days. Such conditioning probably caught up with me to the extent that I never see weekends as workfree days. I need to unlearn this, to hit his age record and beyond. He subjected every word to the minutest scrutiny, so much worse a sentence. You spent hours constructing and reconstructing a sentence, at the end of the day he was hardly satisfied. Extremely fastidious for the liking of any newly married young person as my case was in those days.
Engr. Akani’s workaholic nature and deep understanding of the Industry did not go unrecognized, however. They endeared him to many chief executives of NNPC, who, one after another, persuaded him to work with them as Senior Technical Assistant (STA), an exulted position, but which meant more or less nothing to the humble Engr. Akani.
He started as STA to Engr. Kupolokun in 2003, however, on the appointment of Engr. Abubakar Yar’Adua in 2007, he retained him in his position. Even after he had retired from service in 2010 as a Group General Manager, two other chief executives of NNPC, Alh. Sanusi Barkindo, now OPEC Secretary General, and Engr. Augustin Oniwon, retained him on contract until the end of their respective tenure. None has beaten this record till date in NNPC.
And he is a damn good family man whose children are all doing fine across the globe, making impacts on people and nations. One of them is Bambo Akani, who is the founder and Chief Executive Officer of Making of Champions (MoC), a Sports Media and Management Company, which since 2012, has been involved in reinventing Nigeria’s success story in international sporting events. The young Akani attended University of Cambridge and earned his first and second degrees from the citadel of learning in Chemical Engineering, crowing it with an MBA in Kellogg University in the US. His love for his country made him to abandon a decade-long career in Investment Banking and Management Consulting to work for Nigeria’s sports development. Such is the silent contribution the Akani family is making to Nigeria’s development.
As Engr. Akani turns 70 today, my prayers are that God in his infinite mercy grants him long life in good health.
Three hearty cheers to the man behind many thrones. Congratulations!
Gboyega Bello writes from Abuja