Sitting in the auditorium, sipping from an opened bottle of sparkling water, while waiting for the seminar organised by the Department of African and African American Studies, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, I was doing my best to put a lid on my excitement.
My sitting position gave me a vantage view of the guests in the hall; one could see elation and expectation etched on their faces. This was not surprising because Alhaji (Dr) Muhammadu Indimi OFR, the presenter of the paper for the seminar, is a successful businessman and great philanthropist from Nigeria. Who wouldn’t want to learn from this prominent Nigerian, one who bestrides the business world like a colossus and is truly an embodiment of the dictionary definition of a philanthropist: “a person who seeks to promote the welfare of others, especially by the generous donation of money to good causes.”
Maintaining the objective distance between a journalist and some subjects is usually difficult, albeit it is futile with Dr Indimi. This was obvious as he mounted the rostrum to deliver his paper entitled “Lessons in Business, Leadership and Life”, the warmth of his ebullient personality enveloped the hall.
For more than three centuries, Harvard University alumni have contributed considerably to society whether in business, arts and sciences, national and international affairs. The university has produced US presidents, Pulitzer Prize winners, billionaires, notable scholars, Nobel laureates and many alumni who have achieved success in different spheres of human endeavour. It is quite befitting that a man who has contributed significantly to Nigerian society will be invited to share his incredible journey and the lessons learnt along the way.
When you meet Dr Indimi for the first time, beyond his high intelligence, sagacity and charisma, one character trait that will leave a lasting impression is his humility. This was displayed when he began his presentation with the following statement: “It is an honour and great privilege to be here today. Let me begin by expressing my sincere thanks and appreciation to Professor Jacob K. Olupona. He showed kindness by inviting me to come to this prestigious university to share my experiences in business, leadership and life. I am humbled by the opportunity I have been given, to share the lessons I have learned over time.”
Dr. Indimi’s presentation is a must-read for anyone who wants to be successful. It is a blueprint from someone who has surmounted different obstacles in life; it also brings to the front burner of discourse that success is arguably more than money and power. As he explained in great detail, the lessons he has learnt from his journey as a businessman and life generally, no one in the hall was left in doubt as to why Dr. Indimi is very successful.
One of the key lessons I learned during the presentation is about staying positive, being patient and exhausting all possibilities. I have taken the liberty to reproduce that lesson extensively in his own words: “To be successful in life and business you must give your best consistently. You must believe in your vision. Having a positive attitude has helped me in everything I have done in my life. Never give up even if the odds are against you. In addition, you must be open to the possibility that success will come from an avenue that you could only have dreamt about.”
“In 1991, I was still in the water pump business when I ventured into the oil and gas business. That year the Nigerian Government launched the Indigenous Concession Programme. This was a response to the ongoing oil price slump at that time. It was also the same time that international oil companies were reluctant to invest in offshore oil blocks in Nigeria. These blocks were unattractive at that time. The Nigerian government went ahead and initiated the process to award these offshore oil blocks to Nigerian businessmen and women. It was the first comprehensive effort to encourage indigenous participation in the Nigerian oil and gas sector. The blocks were awarded to successful Nigerian businessmen and women from across the country. I was one of them. The indigenous oil companies’ production is targeting 30% of the about 2million barrels of oil produced daily in Nigeria.
“But let me tell you something – it took over twenty years and many false starts and dead ends for me to get to the point where I could produce and reach first oil in 2011. Those twenty years were very uncertain. It required a lot of determination, perseverance and lots of money.
“Some of the other awardees of these blocks gave up the journey to develop the blocks and produce oil. They were frustrated by lack of success or by lack of understanding of the sector, but I did not give up. I worked with many partners – some good and some not-so-good. We drilled many dry wells before we finally found oil. It was a big relief when we did. The lesson I have learned from this experience here is that you must never give up on your vision – no matter the obstacles. You must exhaust all possibilities to succeed.”
Another lesson I learnt that day, which has become a compass, is that by contributing to the growth and development of society, well-being of others and impacting lives positively, life becomes more meaningful. According to Dr Indimi, it is important to provide for those in need:
“Assistance to the less privileged should be an obligation for all those who can afford it. My assistance to the needy and the socio-economic development of our communities has been formalized by the establishment of the Muhammadu Indimi Foundation. The Foundation has provided ongoing relief and assistance in the form of food, clothing, and money to those individuals whose lives have been disrupted by the insurgency in northeastern Nigeria. The Foundation completed 100 housing units, a school and a medical clinic in Bama, Borno State, for the resettlement of Internally Displaced Persons.”
In the Niger Delta where his company Oriental Energy Resources operates, plans are underway to build a secure housing estate for the company’s host communities in Mbo and Effiat, Akwa Ibom State. About 1500 indigenes of Akwa Ibom state have benefited from the company’s annual scholarship. Oriental Energy has also conducted an annual medical outreach which has impacted more than 15,000 persons.
The company also donated a Science Laboratory Complex to Community Grammar School, Ebughu in Mbo LGA, Akwa Ibom, and has organized capacity building workshops on sustainable community development planning and management for the host communities.
Honestly, the lessons I learnt from Dr Indimi that day in Havard cannot be condensed into 1500 words. His life experiences and inspiring success story should be captured in a biography. Let me end this reminiscence with the conclusion of his presentation – a testament to his character and great personality: “When I was a child growing up in Maiduguri, I didn’t know what was possible. The world was bound by how far I could walk, how many hides and skins I could sell. My dreams would grow with time. None of it came easily, and I often didn’t know the next step until the opportunity presented itself. But when it did, I jumped at the chance, no matter how unfamiliar it looked and how far I would have to travel.
“I think my life can be described as a long and fruitful lesson. I have worked hard, I have been lucky, I have had many teachers, mentors, partners, and I have been patient, and opened my mind to opportunities. Throughout, God has guided me. Sometimes things have not gone the way I wanted or expected. Other times, they have exceeded my wildest dreams. This is the way it was written, my destiny calling, and I am grateful for it all.
“Once again, I would like to express my appreciation to Harvard University, the faculty, and students, as well as other invited guests for listening to me today. I thank the Almighty Allah for giving me the opportunity to stand before you to share my life experiences.”