“The golden formula is that you make your own luck; start by always being prepared for opportunities”- Effiom

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Social media recently went abuzz when news broke out that a Nigerian female geologist, Mrs Oghogho Effiom has been elected as the African Regional Director of the Society For Petroleum Engineers – SPE International, which makes her the voice of Africa on the SPE table globally.
Oghogho has about 20 years of technical experience in the Upstream oil and gas businesses with assignments in Nigeria and the United States covering offshore drilling operations, reserves estimation, field development and execution. Her current role involves project maturation, risk management, technical integration, and stakeholder management.
She is a senior production geologist, a 4D seismic interpretation subject matter expert and a front end development project manager, currently working with Shell Companies in Nigeria leading projects in both deep water and shallow offshore.
She was the 2020 chair of the SPE Lagos Section, winning the 2020 Presidential Award for the section. In 2019, she received the SPE African Regional Service Award. She served as chair of the 2018 Nigerian Annual International Conference and Exhibition, and the 2016 SPE Annual Technical Conference and Exhibition Soft Skills Workshop on Strategic Planning.
Oghogho holds a master’s degree in asset integrity management from Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen and a bachelor’s degree in geology from the University of Benin in Nigeria. She is happily married to Joseph and has two teenage sons.
In what is seen as a generational take over from her predecessor and a massive win for the African region and also women in STEM – being the first woman to serve in this capacity; Oghogho brings with her a wealth of technical expertise, having distinguished herself on many leadership fronts locally, regionally and globally.
In this interview with Majorwaves Energy Report’s Editor, MARGARET NONGO-OKOJOKWU, she sheds more light on her role, her vision for the SPE Women In Energy as well as other issues of National interest. Excerpts.

 Congratulations once again on your election as the top SPE leader in Africa – the incoming Africa Regional Director, a position that sits you on the Board of SPE International!  What does this mean to you and the SPE Sections in Nigeria and indeed in Africa and what specific targets are expected of you as you occupy that seat?

Thank you for your kind wishes. Indeed, it is a very big achievement for Lagos section in particular, which is my ‘home’ section. It’s an honour to me as a person, and  I’m very glad to have been considered for the position of Regional Director for SPE Africa. I can tell you that the appointment is so new that my specific brief has not been handed off to me yet. My official start time for this position is late September to early October. So, by then, I’ll have much clearer view of what my specific brief will be and I would be happy to share that.. For now, what I know is that I’ll be representing Africa on SPE International Board, I’ll be representing the interest of African SPE members,

and I’ll be contributing to many of the initiatives that SPE International is trying to champion, for example, diversity and inclusion in the oil industry, business and leadership within the oil industry, various standards and procedures that are being developed in the oil industry. So it’s a whole raft of activities that SPE is championing, and I’ll be the voice of Africa on the Board.

That sounds interesting. So, for those who may not know much about what you do, could you please speak to us about your current role as a senior Development Planner for Shell Nigeria?

My job in Shell is a Senior Development Planner. It is very similar to Project Management in the Hydrocarbon Maturation process. When projects get initiated, a development Planner defines how they get to the production stage. For example, you want to produce a number of barrels of oil in the future, you get a Project Manager like myself to work with the team to select the best sub-surface, surface and development concept that will help to deliver the barrels that is needed at a particular time , under a particular budget, with certain target for the schedule.. Its centred around  oilfield production, hydrocarbon maturation and  project management.

Your previous role included opportunity maturation, risk management, technical and stakeholder management means to an average reader. Some of the terms sound familiar but please explain what they really mean.

Indeed, my job involves risk management. I have  to be able to quantify risks and make decisions in a way that’s logical and reputable, and gives good results. In everything that you do, imagine you’re an investor in the oil industry, and you want to invest billions of dollars, you have to know what the risks are – what are the threats? What are the things that can prevent you from achieving those goals? What are the strengths of the project? What are the weaknesses? How do you determine whether this decision you’re going to make is a good decision or not? So, that’s also part of what my previous role involves. I must add though, that

risk and decision management is an integral part of my current role as well. Once you reach a certain level of seniority, it is impossible to avoid managing risks and making decisions.

Looking at your role at Shell Nigeria, what are your thoughts on the current trend on the energy transition globally and how do you think Nigeria should play in this global discourse? Also, do you see this move as threatening to your present field? If yes, how do you think people like you and your colleagues can survive this transition?

So a little bit of my background; I started my career as a geologist, I also studied Geology at the University of Benin and what a geologist does for the oil industry is that you are part of an exploration team that actually finds hydrocarbon. So my job essentially has been finding hydrocarbon, developing them, designing wells, drilling them and ensuring that oil gets into the tank. I’ve done that in the last decade or so of my career. Now if I think about where the industry is going currently , there’s a lot of push to reduce carbon emissions in the atmosphere. So you see that

there’s a lot of push towards more sustainable and more renewable energy sources, and I think that’s the way to go. However, there’s still going to be a place for hydrocarbons in developing nations in the future.

Most of the developed nations have developed themselves on the strength of their technology, which have been backed by the energy provided by hydrocarbons, they’ve gotten to a place where technology has now taken over, there’s a lot of automation, a lot of digitization and so on and that’s fantastic, but for many of the developing nations like Nigeria and much of Africa, we are still in a place where we need to rely on the energy sources that come from hydrocarbons; I believe we will eventually get to a place where we will need to decarbonize and reduce emissions as much as other countries, but I think that we are still a little bit behind other countries at the moment. There’s a possibility of some sort of leap-frogging taking place in the future,

which means that Nigeria as a nation may join the rest of the world and decide to immediately switch to renewables, that’s definitely possible, but I think that we are still a long way from that right now. What I do see as a trend in Nigeria is our push for more gas. Funny enough some people don’t realise that Nigeria is actually more of a gas province than oil, we have almost three times more gas than oil in Nigeria as reserves, people don’t realise just how much gas Nigeria has in terms of associated and non-associated gas. So

if Nigeria really desires to use the gas the way the Gas Master plan has laid it all out, then we would definitely be better off for it, and I think we are on course in terms of utilizing our natural gas to its full potential.

What is your vision for the SPE Women In Energy which you currently lead?

Regarding my vision for SPE Women in Energy, as I look to the future, I want to see more involvement with SPE Women in events not just within the SPE but within the Nigerian Energy industry as a whole. We are working on having a bigger network of women in the oil industry where we all support one another, provide a platform for visibility of the impact and achievements of the women of the industry and we look out for one another. Take for example, we have a group in SPE called our women, our pride that is building a database of women in the oil industry such that when we need women to be represented on the tables where decisions are being made, we have that database to go to where we can call on the right persons to represent us on that table. my vision is really to continue to expand that. I think there are too many places where decisions are being made or discussions are being had where women’s voices are not being heard, so

my vision for SPE women is that we continue to expand that frontier to create a much more cohesive organisation that really becomes a group for change in the oil and gas industry in Nigeria.

How do you manage tough times; also, what’s your biggest fear as a professional? 

I will start with the second question first; what is my biggest fear at work? my biggest fear at work is being involved with any safety incident because sometimes we tend to forget that the oil industry is still one that is rife with safety issues and challenges that can have a huge impact on life and the environment. I’ve got colleagues who go to the rigs, who go to the facilities, who are traveling everyday even with the COVID situation, we still have the production people who are onsite, still working extremely hard, to churn out the hydrocarbons that Nigeria as a country needed to survive, because Nigeria needs the foreign exchange, needs the products of hydrocarbons to survive, its actually an existential problem, so I still fear for my colleagues, and myself as we embark on field activities, there are still safety risks that can impact lives and the environment, these are the things I pray not to happen as we continue in the oil industry in Nigeria.
Coming to your first question now; how do I manage hard times? It may sound like a cliché, but honestly

Prayers keeps me going; I’m a person of faith, and there comes a time really, where you’ll just have to yield yourself to the higher powers of God, because sometimes when you dig deep and are down, you may not always find the strength within yourself to help keep you going.

Family is also a very important factor, then friends, when you have the right support system, really good friends that uplift you, it gets you through hard times. if there’s any advice I’ll give to the readers, it would be to surround yourself with people that uplift you. there are so many things in the society now that are there to bring you down, so don’t surround yourself with people that will bring you down, surround yourself with people that will lift you up, whether they are friends or family members, church or religious leaders and so on, do that because that’s the only way you can really survive tough times.

How do you manage work-life balance?

Work-life balance for me is also called stakeholder management. the way I see it is that we’ve all got stakeholders, and your stakeholders at home are your family: your spouse and children;

in my case I have a husband and two children. And in the office it’s my boss, it’s my team members, my clients etc., Now I look at the work that I do and life generally as though we are juggling balls in the air and sometimes some balls can drop and its okay to allow some balls drop if you know that that ball is not going to break. there are times when you can’t allow the ball that is made of glass to drop and break. So its knowing which of your balls is a glass ball, which of your ball is a Plastic ball that will bounce back and which of your ball is a wooden ball, which may not break but you will have to do some work to pick it back again. I ‘ll give you an example, there are times when I had to miss my children’s soccer and basketball games, maybe I’m not the kind of parent that they’ll call to come and read stories in the class because I’m working during the day but I always to explain to my kids that this why Mummy cant’ do this at this time’ and we’ll make a deal on what we can do instead?. I’m amazed at how understanding children can be, they’ll just say ‘Okay I want you to do this for me on Saturday or Sunday’, and I will say oh that’s a good compromise, and we go with that. The second thing is that my husband is extremely supportive, he’s a hands-on father to our kids and a very supportive spouse. It’s a gamechanger that whenever I am unavailable, my husband covers up for those gaps, and he does it so well, by not telling the kids ‘see, your mum isn’t going to show up at your school today’, but more like ‘hey, guess what? Daddy is going to be the one to come to school today!’ And they get excited hearing about it. They really don’t know the difference, just that sometimes they see Dad, sometimes they see Mum, and at other times they see both of us. So it’s about having that united front as stakeholders and being extremely transparent with them about what you can and can’t do. I can’t do everything and they are well aware that the things I can do, I did and the things I couldn’t do, I explained and made it up to them and made sacrifices for them. The same goes for work: it’s not every task I could take on and not every assignment I could go on;

there were times I had to turn down an assignment because my kids needed me more. I recall there was a time I was being posted to a different location in Nigeria on an official assignment and I couldn’t go because my son was at the time taking his Common Entrance Examination and I wanted to be available for him at that period. I didn’t take on that assignment, which could have led to a promotion for me as well. It was a decision that I made and had to bear the consequences for it, I mentioned it to my husband, and we agreed to let it go, no complains, and that’s it. So it starts with you being honest at least with yourself first, about what is important at that time, what you can and cannot do, putting all your stakeholders into consideration and working towards satisfying them as much as you can. Even I call myself my own stakeholder as well, because there are times when I just need my own peace and rest; that I have to take my mental and physical health into consideration as well. That’s how I manage work-life balance.

What’s that golden formula that has brought you this far and what advice do you have for aspiring young professionals in the Industry? 

In terms of having a golden formula, I’m sure if I’m going to say what I’m going to say next, some people will roll their eyes and say, “it’s just a cliché”, but I think that’s really the golden formula, which is

You make your own luck; and what I mean by luck is that your opportunity will also meet your preparation.  Start by always being prepared for opportunities, which means that you think about the end you want to achieve for yourself.

At the time I joined SPE, may be 10, 12 years ago, becoming the Regional Director was not something that was even in the realm of possibility for me. I didn’t even see it as something as possible for me, but I did put in a lot of my best efforts into being the best SPE member that I could be, which means that I volunteered for committees, I gave presentations, I wrote papers, I went for conferences, and basically, I stood up to be counted when decisions were being made, I volunteered my services, and was always very active in the things of the association, because SPE is the association that marries my love for technical discipline of petroleum Engineering and sub-surface with the philanthropic part of me. So, even as a member of SPE, there is SPE Cares, that really does a lot of outreaches – carrying out charitable activities for the society and our communities, that was a way that I could exercise my technical skills  and capabilities and also give back to my local community. That was something that really appealed to me and year-on-year, I would volunteer my time and experience, to give training, coaching, and lectures on a range of topics. after volunteering for a long time, you build a reputation for yourself for being someone who is not only technically competent, but also a servant leader, and that comes to bear at a time when they’re looking for folks who have the credibility, the stamina and the foresight to be able to lead. I think the golden formula would be when an opportunity meets your  preparation Onlookers on the outside would call it luck, but it’s not really luck because you’ve really put in a lot of efforts into it and the opportunity becomes available; So that’s what I will advise; that

in anything that you volunteer to do , anything that you want to be part of, do it with excellence and consistency, and just continue to do stuff that you enjoy, where your passion will shine through, and genuinely put yourself out there, to support and help others and eventually, these things will speak for you in any space.

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