TIMIPRE WOLO, leading honourable initiatives in the Niger-delta, tackling skill crisis in the Nigerian oil and gas industry
Timipre Wolo is the visionary and CEO of TFN Energy Limited, an indigenous new entrant into the Nigerian energy sector at the forefront of providing innovative eLearning solutions to tackle the skills crisis in the Nigerian oil and gas industry.
She is best known nationally and internationally for her commitment to youth development, particularly empowerment of the girl child through education. She is the Founder of the Centre for Gender Equality, Education and Empowerment (CGEEE), a nonprofit she established in 2017 to promote young women representation in leadership and to address the high level of illiteracy, unemployment and poverty, amongst women and girls in rural areas in Nigeria and across sub-Saharan Africa.
Growing up in the oil rich but highly impoverished Niger Delta region of Nigeria, Wolo developed an early interest in finding lasting solutions to the development issues in the region. The loss of her mother at a very tender age did not deter her from pursuing her dream of becoming a lawyer against all odds. Sequel to obtaining a Bachelor’s Degree in Law and graduating from the Nigerian Law School in 2007, she proceeded to the University of Aberdeen, Scotland, United Kingdom where she obtained a Masters’ Degree (LL.M.) in Oil & Gas Law in 2009.
Timipre began her career in private legal practice, before joining the Legal Department of the Petroleum Technology Development Fund (PTDF); Nigeria’s foremost government agency responsible for capacity development in the oil and gas industry and was subsequently appointed Special Assistant to the Executive Secretary. In September 2011, Timipre was assigned pioneer Head of the Fund’s Industry Collaboration Unit, tasked with the responsibility of fostering closer collaborations between the PTDF and relevant stakeholders in the industry, such as the IOCs, the academia and oil producing communities. Thus, becoming the youngest person to ever serve in the PTDF Management.
Driven by her passion and commitment to youth development, she championed several youth empowerment initiatives such as; pioneering PTDF foreign undergraduate scholarship programme, a youth entrepreneurship development scheme, as well as an educational collaboration with the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR), leading to the award of scholarships to about 400 disadvantaged youths from the Niger delta and across Nigeria to study at various institutions overseas including the United States, United Kingdom, Norway and China.
Timipre also championed the first ever helicopter pilot training program for the petroleum industry in Nigeria with the training of young Nigerians as internationally certified commercial helicopter pilots. She also played a key role in facilitating the Fund’s pioneer job-creation partnership with the private sector, culminating in employment of the young pilots into positions hitherto held by expatriates in the industry.
A finalist in the Professional Achievement category of the British Council Award 2017 and listed as one of 90 personalities who inspire Nigeria, by Those Who Inspire, Timipre has been honoured with many prestigious awards for her service to humanity and leadership excellence. She received; a Letter of Recognition from the Commonwealth Youth Council in 2015, the African Woman of Worth Award 2015 from the African Women in Leadership Organisation, Role Model for the Female Child Award 2016, Woman of the Year 2017, and the Woman of Excellence Award from the Coalition of Wives of African Presidents and Vice Presidents for Peace (COWAP) 2018. She was also recognised by Leading Ladies Africa as one of Nigeria’s 100 Most Inspiring Women in 2018.
Ms. Wolo, who was a youth delegate to the United Nations Youth Assembly in 2005, 2006 and 2008 respectively, now dedicates time and resources to creating opportunities for young women and girls, equipping and inspiring them to maximize their potentials and live purposefully. This she achieves through the various platforms she has created, such as, the CGEEE, the Sisters of Faith and Purpose Ministry, the annual ‘Queen Arise’ Conference, Mission Africa and “One Hour with The King”, a non-denominational Christian Fellowship she founded in 2013.
Timipre believes that education is a vital tool for sustainable development and that when quality education is combined with faith and hard work, anything is achievable, irrespective of your status at birth.
I have very fond memories of my childhood. My mother was a very compassionate woman who had a special place in her heart for disadvantaged children, especially those who had lost one or both parents and she would practically bring them in and treat them as one of hers. So we were always surrounded by relatives and none relatives at every point in time.
She was a woman of faith who clearly took life very seriously and started having these very adult conversations with me about the future. She would literally wake me up at odd hours of the night to remind me that I could become whatever I wanted to be in the future if I took my studies seriously and worked hard. She practically thought me how to dream. I recall asking my Mother if I could be the Governor of my state after I was selected to present a bouquet of flowers to the then Governor of Rivers State during an official visit to the local government council where my dad was serving at the time, and she told me it was a dream that was achievable if I took my studies seriously.
So I worked hard to remain at the top of the class and got admitted to secondary school straight from primary 5. The loss of my mom while I was still in junior secondary school was very devastating for my siblings and I, and growing under a stepmom even made matters worse but the values my mum had instilled in me by her words and actions helped me to stay the course against all odds.
Specific values she instilled in you and how has it helped to influence where you are today?
Firstly, the value of education. Despite losing her, I remained at the top of the class. I recall winning an inter schools essay writing competition on behalf of my school and was made deputy senior prefect. I even sat for my SSCE while I was in SS2. So again, I skipped SS3.
Secondly, the value of hard work. I got my first job at the age of 15 shortly after my SSCE as a receptionist but had to resign when my boss, a Lebanese, started harassing me. I eventually got another job as a receptionist again but this time, in one of the biggest private clinics in Port Harcourt where I used to work from 8pm to 8am in the morning and still go to school. I was attending the Rivers State College of Arts and Science then. Even when I went to study for my Masters Degree in the UK without any scholarship, I did a little bit of catering to help pay my bills as a student.
Thirdly, the value of sacrifice and giving back to humanity. Just like her name, she was indeed a source of comfort to everyone she encountered throughout her life time.
Lastly, she showed me what it actually means to be a virtuous woman who loves and honours God genuinely.
Today, I see a lot of my mother in me and those values are the foundation upon which I have built on over the years but sometimes, I still wonder if I can ever be half the woman that she was in terms of the impact she made during her life time.
When and why did you set up TFN Energy Limited? Progress report so far?
I set up TFN Energy Limited in January 2017, exactly 4 months after I resigned from the PTDF.
There are 2 major reasons why I established the Company. The first one stems from my passion to make a difference in the Niger Delta and beyond. I believe that as a daughter of the soil, I could lead the change by adopting best practices and creating real value for the people from any operations of my company in the region.
The second reason stems from my desire to be in a position to personally fund my passion through the platform of the Nonprofit I established upon my resignation.
The journey has been quite interesting but it is not for the chickenhearted because the industry is a male dominated one and there are very few people who are willing to support or mentor new entrants like myself. Unlike other countries like South Africa where there are conscious efforts to put in place specific policies to support women owned businesses in the sector, we haven’t seen practical steps being taken to ensure that women have access to funding and all those other issues that inhibits women from growing in the sector. However, like my father in the Lord would always say, “It takes a lion heart to take your lion share” and God has been very faithful, confirming his word to me at the very beginning; that He would send me strange help.
In what ways are you committed to youth development? How are you promoting young women representation in leadership and addressing the high level of illiteracy, unemployment and poverty, amongst women and girls in rural areas in Nigeria and across sub-Saharan Africa?
Through the various platforms I am privileged to have created such as the CCGEE, Sisters of Faith and Purpose, Queen Arise Conference and Mission Africa for Christ. Some of the things I do in pursuit of the aforementioned vision include:
Fully funded educational scholarships that includes welfare. Currently, we have a number of girls under the CGEEE Scholarship initiative in Nigeria and Mozambique.
Job creation. I go the extra mile to collaborate with private companies to create employment for young women or support them in their quest to set up a small business. Others include Trainings, mentorship and advocacy
Being Special Assistant to the Executive Secretary, PTDF
I was appointed from the Legal Department to serve as Special Assistant to the then Executive Secretary who was from Katsina, but even after I was assigned the responsibility of pioneering the Industry Collaboration Unit, I was still retained as SA to 3 other Executive Secretaries till 2016/
Being pioneer Head of the Fund’s Industry Collaboration Unit and the youngest person to ever serve in the PTDF Management. Share your challenges and triumphs
The challenges were quite enormous for a number of reasons. Aside the fact that I was the youngest by at least 10 years, it was also a male dominated management. At a point, I became the only staff from the entire Niger Delta region in the PTDF Management which was quite unfortunate considering the fact that at that time, both the President and the supervising Minister were both from the same region. There was a frantic effort to have me removed from the Management, especially when they saw the effort I was making to ensure that youths from the region benefit maximally from all the scholarship opportunities available at the time, in addition to facilitating employment for a number of youths from oil producing communities as well.
One of the challenges I encountered was obtaining approvals during management meetings, since everything I championed were all germane. This was not out of place because I was practically offsetting norms by introducing disruptive initiatives outside the comfort zone of the fund which had practically been focused on simply awarding masters and PhD scholarships from inception.
For me, the major triumph was being able to eventually push through the initiatives and seeing the outcome a few years after. Nothing can be as fulfilling as taking people from the lowest level and seeing them completely transform before your very eyes. It made everything I went through and the battles I had to fight totally worth it and I would remain eternally grateful to God and to the PTDF for the opportunity to serve as a vessel and leave a mark in the sands of time.
Leading the award of scholarships to about 400 disadvantaged youths from the Niger delta and across Nigeria
As at when I joined the PTDF, they were only focused on awarding Masters and PhD scholarships under the PTDF Overseas Scheme and this meant cutting off a whole category of people who may never have the opportunity of getting a first degree in the first place. I believed that in order to make a real difference, you must take people from the lowest level as well and give them access to education. It was tough convincing management at first, but eventually, by God’s special grace, the undergraduate programe and others were eventually approved under the PTDF Special training and educational scheme. A couple of years after, a number of the beneficiaries eventually graduated with 2nd and 1st class degrees and made Nigeria really proud. The last batch just graduated in the United States during the Lockdown.
Championing the first ever helicopter pilot training program for the petroleum industry in Nigeria
I didn’t like the idea of training people for the sake of training without any trajectory in place. So, I was looking at technical areas in the industry were indigenous capacity was still lacking at the time so they can fill in existing gaps being occupied by expatriates, especially since the Nigerian Content law had finally been established. So, when I discovered that most of the helicopter pilots working with the oil companies at that time were still foreigners, I presented a memo to Management to train young Nigerians to fill up those opportunities. At first, it was turned down but subsequently, they saw the merit of the proposal and granted the requisite approval. I led the team who handled the initiative up until the point of facilitating their employment upon completion of their training. One of them from Kwara State broke the record as Nigeria’s Youngest Helicopter Pilot, obtaining his Commercial Pilot License (CPL) before his 18th birthday, while one of the girls became the first female helicopter pilot from Katsina State. Today, they are all flying with some of the leading IOCs.
What are the unexpected doors that have opened to you and you remain grateful for
So many unexpected doors have opened to me over the years, especially in the last couple of years since stepping out of my comfort to pursue other important goals.
Aside from being recognised by various organisations both within and outside Nigeria for my contributions towards nation building, I have been privileged to serve as keynote speaker and panelist at major conferences and events across the United States, the United Kingdom, Norway, China, Malaysia, the Bahamas, South Africa, Mozambique and Nigeria.
In 2018, barely one year after establishing TFN Energy, I was miraculously sought after and offered strategic partnership with an industry-leading international Well Engineering and Project Management Firm in the United Kingdom, to provide innovative eLearning solutions to tackle the skills crisis in the Nigerian oil and gas industry.
That same year, I had the privilege of organising the very first ‘Queen Arise’ conference with a view to inspiring women to push boundaries and unlock possibilities. This was followed by an initiative to create jobs for young women, through effective collaborations with reputable companies in Nigeria.
In 2019, I was privileged to proceed on a Missionary assignment to Mozambique in partnership with the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN) Africa. In addition to soul winning, part of the objective of the mission was to inspire young women to discover, pursue and fulfill purpose.
Also in November 2019, I had the privilege of hosting the ‘Queen Arise’ Conference and a Youth Empowerment Summit with Theme: Unleash Your Potential in partnership with the largest University in Mozambique (Eduardo Mondalane University) and the Nigerian High Commission in Mozambique. This conference was also hosted in Nigeria in partnership with the Nigerian Christian Corpers Fellowship.
In addition to creating new income streams, some of the unexpected doors that have opened to me during this pandemic include the following:
An invitation to deliver a speech at the Convocation Ceremony of the University of Aberdeen, Scotland United Kingdom.
A nomination for the position of Pro Chancellor by a leading University in Nigeria
An invitation to speak at a TEDx event in England in March 2021.
Recognition as Niger Delta Most Outstanding Humanitarian Personality of the Year, 2020.
What is the latest recognition you are getting soon that truly makes you feel grateful to God and why is this specially dear to your heart?
The Ggbaramatuvoice Niger Delta awards which I would be receiving alongside 3 Niger Delta Governors and other illustrious sons and daughters of the Niger Delta, on the 29th of this month. I am being recognised as Niger Delta Most Outstanding Humanitarian Personality of the Year.
I think one reason why this particular recognition is dear to my heart is because it’s coming from my very own people and perhaps also because of all the many battles and sacrifices I’ve made along the way in my quest to make meaningful impact in the lives of young men and women from across the region.
How do you weather your storms and stay on top of your ‘game’ despite daunting challenges?
By staying focused on the goal or the big picture and keeping my eyes fixed on my source, being fully persuaded that all things are working together for my good, even when it doesn’t seem like it.
Encourage every young lady out there
Firstly, I would like to encourage every young woman out there to take their education very seriously. Women must be educated.
Secondly, don’t be afraid to dream and pursue that dream with all tenacity because dreams do come through.
Thirdly, self-discovery is everything. You must know who you are and have a vision for your life. You might not know all the details yet but it will become clearer with time.
Take action towards your goals, even if its baby steps. Do not despise your days of small beginnings.
Have faith and trust God in the process because He has a plan to give you the future that you hope for.