Although crude oil was first discovered in Nigeria in the 1950s, it took about four decades for Nigerians to start setting up shops in the oil and gas industry. That’s because most of the space was initially dominated by foreign companies with backing from their home countries and financial institutions.
One of the few Nigerians who dared to establish their own oil companies at this time, albeit without any support, is Dr Ernest Azudialu Obiejesi. He is the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Nestoil Limited.
Interestingly, Azudialu-Obiejesi is one of the many prominent Nigerians who recently received national recognition and honours for their contribution to different sectors of the nation’s development. The Okija-born entrepreneur was honoured with the Officer Of The Order Of The Federal Republic (OFR). Let’s get to know more about him.
Birth and education
The now-famous Ernest Azudialu-Obiejesi was born on April 17, 1960, in Okija, Anambra state and this was where he spent his early years. He was still getting his primary education at St. Johns School, Fegge Onitsha when the Civil War struck in 1967 and kept him out of the classroom for the next three years. When the war ended, he completed his primary education at New Bethel Primary School in Onitsha.
In 1973, he proceeded to the Dennis Memorial Grammar School, Onitsha (DMGS) for his five years of secondary education, after which he attended Government College Owerri, Imo State, and obtained his Higher School Certificate. After obtaining his HSC, he went to learn a trade. But his love for education would later return him to the classroom, even as he obtained a bachelor’s degree in accountancy and a master’s degree in Business Administration from the University of Benin.
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The youngster makes his debut in the business
Straight after his HSC programme, the young Ernest went to work with his father at the family trading business, DA Ifeanyi & Brothers Trading Company. It was his first real exposure to the world of business. By participating in trading activities, he learned the rudiments of trading fast. Within a couple of years, he had already gotten a hang of things and knew the ins and outs of trading. Coupled with his sharp thinking and big dreams, it was only a matter of time before he would start a business of his own.
In 1983, Azudialu-Obiejesi founded his first business – Obijackson West Africa Limited. It was a trading business that engaged in direct procurement from overseas suppliers and manufacturers of household goods and consumables, engineering and carpentry tools, cosmetics, and beauty products, across the West Coast of Africa and beyond. The company had offices set up in Lagos (head office), Onitsha, Aba, Maiduguri, and Cotonou.
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As the business grew, he decided to expand his interests into manufacturing, haulage, and real estate development.
His entry into the oil and gas industry
At the turn of the 1990s, Azudialu-Obiejesi decided it was time to test new waters. Even though the trading business was a huge success for him, he sought bigger challenges that would stretch him. And so in 1991, he founded Nestoil.
Speaking about it during a brand relaunch in 2019, Azudialu-Obiejesi noted that the business was born “not so much out of necessity but more as a grand vision that saw the need for Africans and indeed Nigerians to play a leading role in the oil and gas ecosystem. So while a lot of others saw this as a tall vision and a pipedream, we saw an Africa arising from years of dependence on Europe, America, and lately Asia for Engineering and Technology solutions, to one that can harness and prudently manage her God-given resources using proprietary solutions made by Africans for the world.”
Nestoil has grown from its initial staff strength of 10 to over 3000 staff. From a single-room office on Idumagbo Avenue in Lagos Island, the company has grown into a conglomerate with services spanning oil and gas pipeline construction, pressure vessel manufacturing, civil construction works, dredging, horizontal directional drilling, major steel fabrication, aviation, exploration & production, drilling, engineering, and dry-docking services.
Nestoil is about the biggest Nigerian company involved in exploration and production, engineering procurement construction and commissioning (EPCC), and another of Azudialu-Obiejesi’s companies Century Power Generation developed a 1500MW gas-fired power plant in Okija, Anambra State.
Nestoil Limited and its sister companies, B&Q and Impac recently received the latest certification for Quality Management Systems, ISO 9001:2015. The certification which is issued by Germany-based DQS, a leading certification body officially confirms that Nestoil and its sister companies have put people, processes, and systems in place to ensure quality delivery of products and services to respective customers at all times.
Dr Azudialu-Obiejesi has attended numerous local and international seminars in business management and project implementation, and other structural training programs in Oil & Gas service in Africa, the United Kingdom, and the United States of America. All of these coupled with his vast business experience make him the genius he is.
In August 2012, Ernest was awarded an All Africa Business Leaders Award (AABLA) by Forbes, CNBC, and ABN for West African Entrepreneur of the Year. Some awards he has earned over the years include; the Nigerians in Diaspora Organization Business Person of the Year Award (2012); Oil and Gas Man of the Year at the Nigeria Advancement Awards (2013); Zik Prize for Outstanding Business Leadership (2014); Sun Newspapers Businessman of the Year award (2014); and the Petroleum Technology Association of Nigeria (PETAN) Industry Achievement of the Year Award (2014).
He was also a finalist at the Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year Finalist (Master Category) in 2012. In 2016, the Faculty of Management Sciences University of Benin gave him an Award of Excellence for his extraordinary contribution to the Nigerian Oil and Gas Industry. In the same year, he also received the African Wealth Report AWR Honorary Award for Visionary Leadership.
In 2017, Azudialu got the Pipeline Professionals Association of Nigeria Partnership with Energy & Corporate Africa for distinguished Excellence and Contribution to the Indigenous Development of Nigeria’s Oil & Gas Industry. The University of Nigeria Nsukka honoured Ernest Azudialu-Obiejesi with a Doctorate Degree in Business Administration.
Under his leadership, Nestoil companies were nominated in 2017 and 2018 by the London Stock Exchange Group as ones to Inspire Africa, being companies that generated vital employment opportunities, contributed to sustainable economic growth, and are the bastions of best practices and good corporate governance practices.
Other points of service
Azudialu-Obiejesi is also heavily involved in giving back to society, through the Obijackson Foundation. To the foundations’ credit, we have the Obijackson Women and Children’s Hospital in Okija, a foremost Women & Paediatric healthcare institution in Eastern Nigeria. Besides providing jobs for people in the community, the hospital saves hundreds of lives through its humanitarian work of treating even patients who cannot fund their treatment.
Dr Azudialu-Obiejesi sits on the board of Directors of several companies including Julius Berger Nigeria PLC and is the Chairman of the Board of Neconde Energy as well as Smile Communications.