Going down memory lane to how she acquired the oil bloc, Mrs. Alakija said she met a family friend of hers on a plane, and while discussing the friend informed her that she would be needing her help when they returned to Nigeria. She said the friend had told her that she had already reached out to some other persons for the same assistance but that if they do not come forth, she would contact Alakija.
”We got back to Nigeria and she came knocking at my door, gave me some documents. She had some clients that were looking to lift crude oil form Nigeria and she wondered whether I might be able to speak to some of my clients, one of whom is the late Mrs Babangida. I said Okay, I would go and see her and see how she can help.
I got there and she (Mrs Babangida) said Okay, I can book an appointment for you to see the Petroleum Minister. I went to see the Petroleum Minister. What they (my family friend) wanted was to lift crude and the Petroleum Minister said Listen, the current administration at the time really wanted to move away from that and prefer Nigerians to be more involved in that rather than giving that out to foreigners.”
Mrs. Alakija said the Minister at the time told her that if the people she came on their behalf wanted to invest in the sector, they were free to do so. She said she went back to her friend with the Minister’s position and her friend told her they were not interested in investing in the sector.
”So we parted ways. I said to myself, now that I have an inroad to that place, why don’t I find something I can do. All I wanted was a contract to boost my pocket. I still wanted to carry on doing my fashion, I love it.
So I went back. I asked Mrs Babangida to help me book another appointment and I went to see the Minister and I told him that I was interested in finding something to do with the NNPC. I was given all soughts of different options- catering for those offshore, transporting crude from one location to another, stuffs like that.
So, I would sit down, write my letter and take it there. Sometimes I had to wait six months to get the appointment. Sometimes four months. I would go back and he would punch holes in what I had come to offer and I would go back, dejected, and I would go and do some more homework and then I would get Mrs Babangida to book another appointment.”
She said that went on for a while and they were all ”nos”.
”I came back home and I cried my eyes out. My husband comforted me and I called Mrs Babangida and I said this is what I came back with and she said, well, all she knows is that that kind of thing takes years and we left it at that and I carried on licking my wounds.”
Mrs Alakija said one day she woke up and said she was no longer going to accept the no she has so far gotten.
”I decided I was going to go back. So I called Mrs Babangida and I said Please, I would like that you please book me one more appointment and she did. She was kind but that was all that she did concerning this license matter. She kept on getting me those appointments and the rest was what God wanted to do.
So I went back and I said to the Minister that I really wanted to apply for this. He said okay, you go and do your homework because it is Nigerians that the government of the day wants to encourage now. We have had a lot of multinationals over the years. We want to encourage Nigerians. We want our resources and our wealth in our own land rather than have it carted away by foreigners all the time.
I applied for the license three times and that took three years. The Ministers changed hands twice and it was doing the time of the last one that I eventually got it.”
The oil magnate said she was one of the first women to get the license.
”I think I was one of the women to get the license and it is very painful when you listen to what people say that ‘oh it’s because she made blouses for Mrs Babangida’, ‘Oh it’s because she was one of them’.
How about all the others who got all the license and who weren’t in the oil industry at the time that they got the license? So because they are men, they have two heads? Is it fair on womanhood? Why relegate us to the background? Why say we can’t when we can? When all the prerequisites could be ticked, I made all of them available. I had technical partners, I went here and there. I supplied everything. I did my homework. I leant on the job, I went for courses as well, to build me up, to be able to seat in the board room and face others.”
Mrs Alakija said when she got the oil bloc, she discovered no one wanted to work with her as it was too expensive to explore. She said it took her three years to get technical partners to work with her to explore the oil.