I can’t stay outside Nigeria for long – Simbi Wabote – Punch Newspapers

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The Executive Secretary of the Nigerian Content Development and Monitoring Board, Simbi Wabote, tells BLESSING ENENAITE about his career, achievements and other issues
What inspired you to become a civil engineer?
My initial career choice was to be an accountant. The reason was because I thought accountants worked everywhere. But, I was a science student who did Physics, Mathematics, Chemistry and Biology in secondary school.
Then, I spoke with a professor at the Rivers State University of Science and Technology, who is now late. He was a foremost civil engineer from my community. Also, I got the inspiration (to be a civil engineer) from one of my mentors, who was a civil engineer. That was when I decided that I was going to be a civil engineer, and I love it greatly.

What are your roles as the Executive Secretary of NCDMB?
I manage people by enhancing their capacity to deliver on the mandate of the board. I ensure that we have enough funding and follow the due processes to get approval for everything that we do. My role is very broad but again, I cannot do everything. Hence, I strategically delegate authority. I have people who manage various functions and I also report to the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Timipre Sylva. The effective running of the organisation is my primary objective.
What are your notable achievements so far in office?

I have quite a lot of them. First, I was able to set up a 10-year strategic road map. When I accepted this position, I got to know where the organisation was as of then, and where I desired to take it to. It was very important to me so that I won’t work blindly and I follow the set targets.
For me, that was a huge achievement. To be able to consistently and consciously implement that road map is very fulfilling to me. Other achievements include completing our 17-floor office complex in Yenagoa, Bayelsa State, in record time. The complex also has a 1,000 sitter auditorium and a four level car park. It is one of the tallest buildings in the South-South/South-East geo-political zones of Nigeria. That is huge for me.
My other achievement is being able to enhance the capacity of my staff because without people, one cannot achieve anything. That is very notable for me. I also brought some initiatives into the organisation. One of them is the oil and gas initiative fair which is being organised every two years. Another initiative is the rapid development of our industrial parks today. We have two of them already completed to enhance manufacturing.
In addition, we have reduced the amount of paper we ‘use’ by going digital with the things that we do.
Do you have any personal recognition or award for your works so far?
I have several of those awards displayed in my office in Lagos and Bayelsa states. I was awarded the Local Content Icon for Africa by African Leadership Magazine in 2021. The awards I have turned down are as many as the ones I have received.
What are the challenges you face in your office?

I came in from the private sector where I had spent 27 years. It was quite challenging because the work patterns are different. In the private sector, I knew who my stakeholders were. But in the public sector, I do not know them. They are everywhere.
The other challenge is that one has to interface with the legislative arm of government, which also brings its own challenges and opportunities, as the case may be.
Also, trying to push local content to where we wanted it to be came with some challenges.
We face challenges of projects not being able to be sanctioned on time for us to move at the pace we want. The challenges are there but we will continue to face them and see how we can address them.
What is your career trajectory?
I gained admission into the Rivers State University of Science and Technology, Rivers State, the same year I finished my secondary education at Stella Maris College, Port Harcourt, Rivers State. Then, I was posted to Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria Limited, Warri, Delta State, for my National Youth Service Corps in 1989.
In 1990, I got employed by the then All States Trust Bank, where I worked for a year, before gaining employment at SPDC on September 3, 1991. From performing civil functions, I went into various departments, including building and managing projects. I was in Warri for 12 years and my career in civil engineering culminated in building the Osubi Airstrip in Warri, where I was its project manager.

In 2002, I got transferred to Abuja and I joined the external affairs division of SPDC. There, I was the National Assembly relations adviser for SPDC. The republic just came alive and we were struggling to understand how the legislators operated, and how they impacted our business. We had to establish functions on how to interface with them (legislators) so that their laws would not affect our business.
I did that for three years and I got transferred to Port Harcourt, Rivers State, where I became the head of civil engineering in the east division of SPDC. In that position, I managed lots of projects before we had the community crisis in the Niger Delta. I was then drafted under a small team to develop a community content strategy in order to get the communities to work with us and to bring about peace in the Nigr- Delta region.
After three years, I got transferred to Lagos to become the head of procurement for SPDC and also in charge of Nigerian content development for Shell companies in Nigeria. I managed that portfolio for another three years before I got transferred outside the country to Dubai, United Arab Emirates, to be the general manager of local content for Shell companies worldwide, which I did for four years.
I came to Nigeria in 2015, and I was made the general manager in charge of business relations, and later appointed an executive director of SPDC which I was doing until 2016 that I got appointed to be the Executive Secretary of Nigerian Content and Development Monitory Board. That is what I have been doing up until now.
You said after NYSC, you got into the banking sector. Was it a decision you made from the onset or was it a second option for you when you didn’t get a civil engineering job initially?
I was not really looking for job opportunities. The banks that were popular then were First Bank, United Bank for Africa, Union Bank; and they were called the orthodox banks. It was in the 1980s that the new generation banks started, to a large extent.
From then, these new generation banks were looking for analytical people. They were not so much interested in conventional banking and finance graduates.

They were looking for engineers to come into the sector, and they had architects and engineers who got into the sector then. I was actually doing a lot more of civil engineering than banking. I was the resident structural engineer for my bank’s head office in Lagos. I personally supervised the project. I did some quasi-banking functions, but I did more of civil engineering.
NCDMD mandate is to implement local content in the country. Does it also imply encouraging Nigerians to patronise locally made products?
Yes, it does, technically, in the oil and gas sector. One must understand that our remit is the oil and gas sector. We try not to go beyond our remit. The oil and gas sector encourages businesses to use locally manufactured products and goods. We also encourage manufacturing in the country. For instance, the cables we use in the oil and gas sector are all manufactured locally, and we enforce the utilisation of those cables in our projects.
There are certain ministries in the country that some citizens are not aware of. Do you embark on campaigns to enlighten the people about NCDMD’s objectivess?
Yes, we do. We are very active in the media space. We also carry out regional sensitisation workshops, where we tell people about our ministry. We collaborate with the bureau of public service too. We also have a platform where we talk to agencies on the services that we provide.
What are the elements that brought you this far in your career?
First, I give credit to Shell because when I started working with them, they invested a lot of money in building the capacity of their staff. That helped me a lot.

Secondly, I spent a lot of time building my own capacity, aside from what the company did for me. I read a lot of books regarding leadership and management.
What personal principles have helped you over the years?
I have a lot of them. Objectivity is my watch word in any decision I take. One should not attach emotions to their decisions. Another principle for me is integrity. One must have integrity as a leader if one wants to have followers, and one must demonstrate it. Integrity is a word which has been abused by a lot of people. For me, integrity means if you tell your staff that you have to start a meeting by 12noon, they all know that it is that time you would start the meeting. If you tell them to be in the office by a certain time, your staff should know that you will also be at the office by that time. So, one has to maintain personal integrity. I take that very serious.
My other principle is forthrightness. I am very forthright and transparent in my dealings with people. I believe that if one does not communicate what they do or who they are, nobody will know. In summary, forthrightness, objectivity, integrity, and my Christian faith are the values I hold dearly.
Some students desire to study civil engineering but there are not enough opportunities for them in the sector which makes them delve into other sectors. What do you have to say concerning this?
I don’t know about not having enough opportunities for them (civil engineering graduates). Besides, civil engineering is one of the oldest professions in the country. Today, people still build roads and houses. Development has not stopped and people still design all manner of structures for building. So, it is like every other profession. It is a thriving profession but one has to look for the opportunities that exist within the profession.
It has been said that it takes a level of intelligence to study civil engineering. Is it an assumption or is there a truth in the saying?

It is an assumption because the course has its own prerequisites. As long as one is a science student, one has the potential to study the course. If one is not a science student, then, different assumptions spring up. Civil engineers are not super humans. Today, I don’t know what I am again because working for an organisation like Shell meant that I didn’t dwell on civil engineering alone.
However, one cannot lose one’s professional base. When a person spends 10 to 12 years practising a profession, one cannot easily stray from that.
Some persons have said that they studied certain courses because of how lucrative they perceived it to be. Was that also the case for you when you decided to study Civil Engineering?
No. Anyone that looks at profitability before choosing a career has started on a wrong note. I believe that if one is passionate about what one is doing, that person will be successful in it. It is one of the values that I hold dear. If one looks at people who have achieved greatness all over the world, it is because they are passionate about what they do. If one does not have passion for what they do, that person will not be successful.
As someone from an oil-rich state with some challenges over the years, how have you been able to better the lives of your people with your office?
First, I am a detribalised Nigerian, and NCDMD is not a localised or regionalised organisation. It is a Nigerian organisation and I try as much as possible to develop young people and create job opportunities for them. I have been able to do that and in the process, my people also benefit from it; just like other Nigerians.
People of the Niger-Delta have often requested for a fair share of the country’s revenue considering that the bull of it is made from there. Do you think the government has met the yearnings of the people in that regard?

The government has done its best to meet the yearnings and aspirations of the people. Human wants are insatiable but I believe that the government has done quite a lot, in general. It created the Niger Delta Commission, the amnesty programme, the 13 per cent derivation and other measures (to meet the desires of the people).
Did you at any point feel bored and wanted a change from the sector having worked for almost three decades at SPDC?
No, I never felt bored because I was given different responsibilities at different times. If you check my career path throughout my 27 years at SPDC, I was moving every three years and changing jobs to do something new.
While moving from one city to another at SPDC, were you moving with your family?
Yes, I was. I am a family-oriented person. I have three daughters and one wife. I moved everywhere with them. If you ask my kids now, they will tell you that they either attended three primary schools or three secondary schools because I was moving everywhere with them.
What are the highlights of your career at SPDC?
One of the highlights of my career was building the Osubi Airport in Warri. That was a major achievement for me. Secondly, when I look at some of the projects that I completed beyond the airport, I feel good with myself. Then, when I look at my career path, I think God has been very kind to me in the sense that I entered SPDC with a group of young men and when I left to an extent, I was at the top of my career. I had a very rapid growth within the organisation. When I look back today, I am excited.

While working at SPDC, which country did you enjoy working in the most?
I think I enjoyed working at Dubai, United Arab Emirates, to a large extent because when I got there, I had the opportunity to work with a diverse set of people from different parts of the world; unlike in Nigeria where I had to work with the same set of people. There were different people from Europe, the Middle East and Africa. It was like a melting point and I enjoyed it. The environment was also exciting. However, I do not miss the place because I have had my fair share of it.
Would you have preferred to stay in Dubai?
No, I won’t. I opted to come back to Nigeria because I felt four years was more than enough to stay over there.
In the early years of your career, did you envisage a federal government appointment?
I never did because the truth is that working with establishments like SPDC, one is very sure of one’s career path because it is a stable company. They provide for everything that one needs until one wants to retire. So, I never envisaged working for the public sector.
How would you describe your childhood and what were your childhood dreams?

I grew up like every normal child and without a silver spoon. My family background was very poor and there was a time I went to school with bare feet because my parents could not afford to buy me sandals. At one point, I had to wear bathroom slippers to school. I tell my children these stories. I remember telling my last daughter when she requested sandals to go to school. I told her that in my days, I usually go to school barefoot. She turned and looked at me and said, ‘your dad must be very wicked’ (laughs). She could not comprehend that my dad could not afford the money to buy me a sandal then.
Do you still keep in touch with your childhood friends?
I still keep in touch with my secondary school friends. Thanks to social media, we are able to connect on Facebook and WhatsApp. We meet on a scheduled basis. Every month, there are meetings and if I have a chance, I usually join them. We reminisce about our days in school and it is usually exciting.
What other achievements do you look forward to?
I look forward to contributing a lot more to the development of Nigeria. I have a lot to offer if given the opportunity. I believe in this country and its potentials and I believe that we would get there somehow. It may not necessarily be in my generation but if we sow the right seed now, it will germinate in the future.
Do you desire an elective or appointee position?
I am not a politician and I don’t belong to any political party but if I am invited to contribute my quota to the building of my nation, I would want to do that. However, I do not desire an elective position.

Are you proud to be a Nigerian?
Absolutely! I am a proud Nigerian any day, anytime. I profess that in everything I do within and outside the country. I find it difficult to live outside this country. If not for work that took me to Dubai, I find it difficult to stay outside this country for a very long time because Nigeria is a beautiful country that has a lot to offer. However, we just have to build it up.
A lot of Nigerians, especially the youths, have given up on this nation. What do you think is the way forward?
I think maybe because we have not been able to communicate effectively on how this nation has developed over time. If we compare the map of Lagos in the 1960s and presently, we can say that we have truly come a long way. Take a map of Abuja 40 years ago and compare it to now, we would see that we have come a long way. A lot of Nigerians are out there making this nation proud in academics, sports and other areas.
In the United States of America, the most educated black people in that country are Nigerians. There is nowhere on earth that one would not find a Nigerian. We have not communicated enough to the youths where we are coming from and where we are today. Also, we have not demonstrated enough examples for them to see how far we have brought this nation. Nigerians have a can-do spirit which every citizen is supposed to be proud of. This can only bring hope that this nation will be great.
How did you meet your wife?
When I was working in Warri, I usually drove to Port Harcourt on weekends. I grew up in Port Harcourt and I used to stay with my friend then. When we were sitting outside, I saw my wife pass by our area while going to work. One day, I decided to have a conversation with her. In the same manner, I wanted to woo a girl that I saw and I had no intention of getting married to her. We got talking, started having a relationship and discovered that she was my soul mate by virtue of how well we related. One thing led to the other and we eventually got married.

You are blessed with three daughters. Were you ever tempted to have a son?
I had no temptation as such. My mother gave birth to seven sons and one daughter. So, she has already produced all the boys I need on earth. I love my daughters very much and the African tradition of desiring a son did not apply to me.
What advice do you have for people who desire to be in your position today?
They should embrace hard work, dedication, focus and passion.
What are your hobbies?
I love to read, engage in debates and discussions, and play golf.

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