By Jackson Gaius-Obaseki, CON
How old do you think I am? Chief F. R. A. Marinho asked
I came in contact with Chief F. R. A. Marinho in the early 70s, in 1972 to be precise, when he was a Director in the Ministry of Mines and Power and I was a young geologist/engineer in the Nigerian National Oil Corporation (NNOC), the precursor of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC). Until his demise early this year, we maintained a dignified relationship.
On this score, therefore, I join other Nigerians and petroleum industry players in saying he was the Father of the Petroleum Industry. I equally join them echoing that he was an industry man and builder par excellence.
Understandably, in 1970, OPEC decided that member countries should get involved in the exploration, exploitation and management of their respective petroleum resources. Fortunately, Nigeria had the likes of Chief Phillip Asiodu, Chief M. O. Feyide (of blessed memory) and Chief F. R. A. Marinho among others to chart a dynamic path for a successful entry into the petroleum industry. Their efforts resulted in the reforms which gave birth to the NNOC and the first joint venture partnership in the E&P (Exploration and Production) activities in the industry. These were committed and patriotic Nigerians.
We, a team of young engineers and geologists, were the pioneer staff of the NNOC, the vehicle for Nigeria’s entry into E & P in the country. Continuous reform efforts were intensified until the merger of NNOC and the Inspectorate Division to form the NNPC in 1977 via a decree and with Chief F. R. A. Marinho was the first Group Managing Director (GMD).
He was a true Nigerian whose death has worsened the drought of “True Nigerians” in the country. He was a truly detribalized Nigerian and little wonders why the composition of the pioneer staff of the oil corporation reflected a true Nigerian spread of professionals.
Determined to make Nigeria’s entry into the petroleum industry a success, he gave the opportunity for all Nigerians to finally compete for positions while insisting on hard work and integrity. He was always very happy to reward hard work and sanction untoward behaviours. The industry grew in leaps and bounds and the legacies are there for all to see. Unfortunately, his insistence on quality leadership, hard work and transparency got him into conflict with the political leadership who eased him out of the system unceremoniously. This lack of continuity therefrom, generated problems that got the industry stunted. He was recalled temporarily when there was a change in leadership which never lasted.
In 1999, knowledge of the industry and the lessons learnt therefrom, the NNPC management then invited him (back) as a non-executive director to help reconstruct the corporation. This effort resulted in, among others, the recruitment of a true Nigerian young team devoid of political and regional affiliations but based on true Nigerianism that was quality driven.
Again, the stay was short-lived.
As a leader, he was exceptional. As a Christian, he was inspirational and demonstrated his strength in faith and belief in our Lord. I cannot forget my experience with him on the day of 911 in the United States of America. We were with him as board members on a flight to Bermuda for the Liquefied Nigerian Gas Company meeting when the 911 attackers struck in the US. We had to return to base in London where we took off since we could not enter the US airspace and, therefore, unable to continue our journey to Bermuda. On arrival at the Heathrow Airport and to the amazement of all Christians and Moslems, the Chief went down on his knees at the airport thanking God for His mercies, protection and our safe landing. The question he left us with was, “Do we really thank God enough for His mercies?”
Our last meeting
On my last visit to him a month before his demise, I had a strong urge to see him and I flew to Lagos. We were very close and had a father/son relationship. We shared aspirations and beliefs in faith. On my arrival at his house, I was ushered into the house and asked to meet the Chief upstairs. That was the first time since I started visiting him in his house that l was advised to see him upstairs. I wondered if his health was failing and so could not come downstairs. Nevertheless, I was led upstairs and on arrival, he received me warmly as usual. I was very happy and reassured, seeing him so well. As usual, we were relaxed, went into reminiscences of the past, discussed the present state of the country and the industry and tried to find some optimism in the future. We shared experiences and our health progression. He congratulated me on my 75th birthday and entry into the 76th year of my life. He promised that on my 80th birthday, even on a wheel chair, if unable to walk then, he would be there to celebrate with me. We both shared a resounding Amen! Looking at him, I thought it would really come to be. He was looking robust, strong and articulate. I hoped he would come to Benin when I clock 80 years. He then delved into discussing his detailed private life.
Surprisingly, he looked straight into my eyes and said: “I am telling you all these things in case of unexpected. If some people should say what they do not know about me, you must say NO and say that I told you.” I replied: “Sir, nothing would happen, you would still be with us for long. You are well and strong Sir.” He then asked me, “How old do you think I am?” I said to him that I thought he was about 85 years since we all celebrated his 80th birthday together. He replied, saying; “In exactly three weeks, I would be 86 years and all to the Glory of God”. I replied saying that I was inspired to see him that well, strong and well looked after at 86 years. He then asked that his wife be woken up from sleep, knowing that she would not like to hear that I came while she was asleep. She came, hugged me and after a while asked to be excused to continue her rest.
I never knew that I was seeing him for the last time but I give God the glory for I cannot imagine how I would have felt if I did not answer to the urge to see him. I know it is tough for us, especially those who maintained closeness to the end. Let us all thank God for the reasons among so many that he did not suffer before death. His dignity was not compromised.
Let us pray for the repose of his soul in the bosom of God. Let us pray for his wife, “mama” and the family.
May his soul rest in peace.
*Dr. Jackson Gaius-Obaseki, CON, JP, is a former Group Managing Director, NNPC.