Chief Donald Etiebet’s bold signature at 75
More often, Chief Don Etiebet’s name is mentioned in the public with reference to his being former Minister of Petroleum. But does it convey the full essence and profile of the personality of the British-trained Petroleum technologist?
Truly, Etiebet was Nigeria’s Minister of Petroleum and Mineral Resources from August 1993 to February, 1995. His often description as former minister of Petroleum may be formalities of Public Relations courtesy, compliment and flattering. In Nigeria, petroleum connotes upper class, power and opulence and, of course, corruption. Leaving that office with no trace of tarring his impeccable tract record and integrity is indeed, a reference point worth reveling on.
However, pigeonholing Etiebet on the only public office he occupied about 25 years ago for 18 months in his life of 75 years, so far, is not only narrowing the personality and versatility of the topnotch businessman and politician but deprives the younger generation the knowledge and motivations embedded in a man who is an exemplar of private entrepreneurship, even in an environment with seeming intractable systematic bottlenecks.
History and its benefits transcend what is obtained in classrooms. In fact, history acquired informally makes a whole lot than the one learnt in classrooms, since the latter is comparatively limited in scope and often academically dished, making it cumbersome for practical digestion.
Whereas, Etiebet made his name, long before becoming a minister ,and a chunk of his resources got drained in political participation. The younger generation with shallow sense of history may misconstrue Etiebet to have been made by the Petroleum Ministry. While the old reminisces their experiences, even with nostalgia, the younger generation can relish on the lessons of the past for inspirational drive from the present to the future. After all, from human history, life has never been a bed of roses, just as fertile lands of opportunities abound even amidst apparent barrenness of limitations and challenges.
In the present day Nigeria, where public offices are seen as life elixirs and Eldorado, where competitions for political positions are fraught with stinking struggles, brawled with human blood, aspired with counterfeit credentials and sustained with sleaze and negation of norms, the likes of Etiebet, who have found a niche in private establishments to the appreciation of the public, should be modeled beyond the narrow prism of public space they once occupied. It enhances proper sampling to the younger generations. In what may be surprising to many, Etiebet does not belong to super elitist club of few Nigerians that own oil blocks.
Etiebet specifically stands out on this score in that he shunned what was commonly sought among his school mates at the famous Imperial College of Science and Technology, London. At the school, most of his British classmates were Shell scholars who were already employees of the British multi-national oil company. Then, Shell was an already-made employer for brighter ones. He was not only among the brightest but his brave mettle for innovation was springing up and drawing irresistible attention.
During his Master’s Degree programme he was also graduate Research Assistant at the Department of Energy, Mines and Resources in Ottawa, Canada. That was when he developed a computerized contouring program in FORTRAN (IV).
But when he returned to Nigeria after obtaining M.Sc. in Applied Geophysics from the University of Western Ontario in Canada he turned down an offer to work in Shell and opted for private entrepreneurship. He floated a company called Earth Sciences Limited, with Shell as one of clients. Imagine having invoice of 250 pounds for services he rendered to Shell in the early 1970s when he was barely 30.
One of the driven forces behind his decision to jettison the job offer in Shell, as he mentioned somewhere, was that “the country (Nigeria) was a barren place yearning for development, yearning for local expertise, yearning for services that were provided by mainly foreigners”. Since then, his private business has developed wings, flying colourfully in many areas of life. One of which is his pioneering initiative in Information Communication Technology, 1CT.
When he took up a job, very briefly, as Associate Lecturer at the then newly established Institute of Technology, University of Ibadan, his joy was less in having got a paid job but more on making a bold statement about his scholastic pedigree. The reason was that his “Calabar” kinsmen had held him with derision upon his decision to go into business than got employed at Shell. His educational qualification was doubted.
With myopic mind that business is all about buying and selling, his fellow Cross Riverians then, were wondering why a supposedly educated person of that caliber would opt to be a businessman. Since certificates are not made to be tags, the idea of dangling his credentials for the doubting-Thomases to see was not contemplated.
Etiebet’s entrepreneurial exploit has touched scores of lives from all parts of Nigeria, with major beneficiaries coming from his native Akwa Ibom. Unassumingly, he remains a poster-boy among Nigeria’s Southern minority in changing the stereotypical narrative of an average Akwa Ibom person being a houseboy in Lagos.
Quite significantly, with rare bravado most times, he substantially contributed to formation of regulatory institutions and professional organisations. They include the Nigeria Communication Commission, NCC, Nigeria Computer Society, NCS, Computer Professional Registration Council of Nigeria, NPCN, Nigeria Information and Technology Development Authority, NITDA, among others.
In the area of politics, he failed to become Nigeria’s president, which he once said he wanted to be “Computer President” in order to use ICT to fight corruption, which he identifies as the greatest bane to Nigeria’s development; yet the history of Nigeria’s contemporary political development cannot be said to have been completed without the mentioning of his name.
In the knowledge of this writer, Etiebet’s record as the biggest employer of labour from Akwa Ibom is yet to be rivaled, even so successive governments in the state have never deemed fit to recognize him, let alone, synergize in a bid to move the socio-economic life of the state from being almost totally dependent on government finances.
Certainly, his tower building called Etiebets Place, which he completed in 1992, a year before becoming a minister, remains a signpost of Etiebet’s ingenuity and resourcefulness. But his bold signature, which will never be erased nor forged, are a number of persons he provides platforms that lift people from planet of penury to paradise of prosperity – a number of whom have state-of-art houses from Ikeja to Lekki, from Abuja to Akwa Ibom, etcetra.
Good enough, at 75, Etiebet remains energetic. That is why he must not relent in making Data Sciences to keep flying its flag as the flagship of the ICT industry in Nigeria.
*Ekanem, a journalist, sent this piece from Lagos through [email protected]