EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR – RURAL ELECTRIFICATION FUND | THE RURAL ELECTRIFICATION AGENCY: NIGERIA

WHO WERE YOUR ROLE MODELS DURING THE PIVOTAL STAGES OF YOUR LIFE?
Growing up, my father taught me the virtues of hard work, integrity, trust, loyalty, sharing, making right by unpopular decisions, humility and believing that I can be anything I want to become if I work and pray towards it. My mother was a strong role model too especially in terms of not only teaching, but embodying the true meaning of patience, sacrifice and compassion of others irrespective of their status.

Academically, there are many of my friends, senior colleagues and peers, and family that I hold in high regard. It is these people to whom I owe my thanks as they contributed to the person that I am today. In terms of effective administration and governance, especially since I started working
closely with them in my current capacity, Nigeria’s Federal Minister of Power, Works and Housing Babatunde Fashola and the managing director of the Nigerian Rural Electrification Agency, Damilola Ogunbiyi, have taught me a great deal and still are.

Top of the list in terms of integrity, character, exemplary leadership and changing narratives for nations around the world, I have two mentors who inspire me; former US President Barack Obama and Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari.

This article first appeared in The African Power & Energy Elites, 2019. You can read the full digital magazine here, or subscribe here to receive a print copy.

WHAT DO YOU THINK MAKES A SUCCESSFUL LEADER?
To be successful in leadership at every level, I have to agree with authors of The Leadership Challenge, James Kouzes and Barry Posner. A leader has to be able to:
• Model the way,
• Inspire a shared vision,
• Challenge the process,
• Enable others to act, and
• Encourage the heart.

WHAT ARE YOUR GREATEST STRENGTHS?
I would say my flexibility and adaptability to change. I believe I am an effective communicator that can formulate a vision, an end-goal, which I can encourage others to see and work toward.

WHAT ARE YOUR BIGGEST BLIND SPOTS?
I tend to have high expectations of people, especially when it comes to executing tasks, but often get disappointed. The learning curve is that not everyone has the same work ethics and skills required; therefore, I resolved a few years ago to be more patient, engage, communicate more and invest time and capacity building activities in people, and subsequently invest only in those willing to change for the better.

WHAT IS THE ONE THING IN YOUR OPINION THAT PEOPLE COMMONLY MISCONCEIVE ABOUT YOUR CHARACTER?

My upbringing and background are such that naturally have an open-door policy and try to accommodate almost everyone as best as I can. However, some people take advantage of and perceive this as a weakness, which I am very quick to address.

WHAT TIPS DO YOU HAVE FOR KEEPING ATEAM MOTIVATED?

  • Your team needs to know or feel like they are part of something impactful and relevant, and key into a shared vision.
  • They must know the rules and abide by them.
  • They need to be engaged constantly, trained and retrained, rewarded, exposed to industry trends, assigned delegated responsibilities and have a level of autonomy.
  • The Carrot and Stick approach could also be effectively used to motivate a team.

WHAT’S THE BIGGEST RISK YOU’VE EVER TAKEN?
Dropping a seemingly promising business career – which at the time had everything going extremely well – for my passion of academic research and public service.

WHEN CONSIDERING A NEW PARTNERSHIP, WHAT FACTORS ARE DEAL-BREAKERS FOR YOU?
Lack of integrity; lack of capacity; and lousiness.

WHICH OF YOUR LEADERSHIP SKILLS WERE THE MOST DIFFICULT TO DEVELOP?
Patience and diplomacy – I continue to learn and develop these two every day.

WHAT’S THE MOST IMPORTANT LEADERSHIP LESSON YOU’VE LEARNED?
In Nigeria, everyone craves respect and value for what they do or who they are, and want to be carried along in the scheme of things. If you understand this and apply this rationally and effectively, you will most certainly be a successful leader. Anything short of this may create a path you build silent rebellion.

WHAT ARE YOU MOST PROUD OF IN YOUR PROFESSIONAL CAREER?
I am most proud of my modest contributions towards growing the off-grid space in Nigeria, especially in increasing awareness, facilitating enabling environments for growth and investment opportunities, improving government regulations, and the impact all these are translating into in terms of electricity access/economic prosperity in the lives of our rural communities in Africa.

The positive feedback I get every day is also encouraging and is testament to my story and career progression. This has inspired many young people to raise the bar and work hard towards achieving their dreams – as this is possible irrespective of what other people say –and above all, become good citizens/ambassadors of youths and their countries.

HOW DO YOU ACHIEVE BALANCE IN YOUR LIFE?
As a government appointee in a large country such as Nigeria, it almost seems like work-life balance doesn’t exist. However, having grown up under a father who was very busy first with business and later with politics in Nigeria, and having interacted with a lot of busy people and top government functionaries right from a tender age, I realised three things:

  1. Family first – the first job of any spouse and parent is being a parent and a spouse.
  2. No matter how busy you are, you can always make time for things that are important to you, especially friends and sport.
  3. The job never ends, and if you drop dead today, the job continues.

Therefore, I embrace a healthy lifestyle. I am an avid basketball player and still find time to play the game with my friends. I ensure I have breakfast and dinner at home almost every day when I’m in Abuja and also visit friends, extended family and socialise from time to time. I also ensure that I make an impact in my community by engaging in community development activities as I am on the board of a few non-governmental organisations and a foundation – the Sanusi Ohiare Foundation(SOF). Additionally, not letting the job get in between you and your religious faith is critical.

Thus, it is important to set goals in every aspect of your life and strive to meet them in a balanced way.

WHAT’S THE BEST BOOK YOU’VE READ THIS YEAR?
The Leadership Challenge – Sixth Edition by James Kouzes and Barry Posner.

WHAT TREND IN THE GLOBAL ENERGY SPACE DO YOU SEE BECOMING INTRINSIC TO THE OVERALL POWER NETWORK, AND WHAT TREND WILL FADE?
Off-grid electrification through the use of decentralised solutions such as solar mini-grids, solar home systems, small hydro and wind etc.especially for rural communities across Africa has come to stay. This is key to having a robust energy mix for African countries and allows for low-cost electrification, especially given our demography.

This article first appeared in The African Power & Energy Elites, 2019. You can read the full digital magazine here, or subscribe here to receive a print copy.