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Promoting the role of women in the energy sector is at the heart of the human resources’ team at the Eko Electricity Distribution PLC (EKEDP) in Nigeria. To shed light on this directive, ESI Africa interviewed EKEDP’s chief audit and compliance officer, Sheri Adegbenro, about the importance of organisational policy, gender equity and overcoming the challenges facing the energy sector in the country.

Sheri, what are your current areas of responsibility and objectives at EKEDP?

I am responsible for providing Assurance to both the Management and Board of Directors. Assurance being the key function that reviews, monitors, and assists in designing and implementing cost effective internal control, risk management and compliance systems, which help in fulfilling the requirements of good Corporate Governance.

The role functions as an independent and objective body on matters concerning compliance to company’s policies and processes, standards, Code of Conduct and regulatory, as well as statutory, requirements. This function also works as a final internal resource with which any internal or external parties may communicate after other formal channels have been exhausted.

Part of my responsibility is also to ensure that through planned and periodic internal audits and a well-structured Assurance Programme, potential areas of assurance vulnerability, risks, frauds, ethical breach, etc., are identified. This ensures that corrective and preventive action plans (developed and implemented by other functions/ teams) are put in place.

Furthermore, I am expected to provide an expert’s perspective in helping other functions/teams to progressively establish their own standardisation, policy and process controls, self-assessments and management of business risks within their control. My role also extends to being responsible for periodic revisions to the company’s assurance programme in light of internal and external changes (e.g. law of the land, regulations, customer needs, business challenges, needs of the organisation, etc.).

What have been the challenges and successes that you have experienced during your career?

In my first job (unrelated to the energy sector) after college, I was not only the youngest, but also the person with the least experience amongst my peers. However, within a year of the company opening a new office [the Risk andCompliance Evaluation Team, New York – Hotel Employees, Restaurant Employees International Union, New York], I was promoted to supervisory level. This accomplishment I attribute to my concerted efforts to carve out time to gain knowledge through research in order to prove that I could handle the job.

I recall being reluctant to move into the office designated for the supervisor, which is something women tend to do – putting in the hard work but staying in the shadows. When my manager found out, she gave me a deadline to move into the office. That is when it dawned on me to live in the moment and be proud of my success.

A challenge that my female peers can attest to is that of being, in most cases, the only woman amongst male colleagues working on a project. There are instances where you are faced with being seen as not part of the team, or as not able to meaningfully contribute to the project. Whatever the scenario, whenever I found myself in this type of situation, it motivated me to work extra hard and to use my communication skills to be an active part of the team – it is shocking that women must still do this to prove themselves.

In addition, in leadership positions, I’ve made it a cornerstone of my duties to ensure my subordinates deliver. In order to achieve this, I learnt early on that I had to build the knowledge, skills and expertise for all their roles. It became my habit to coach and encourage all subordinates I worked with, to improve themselves for themselves. With their increased knowledge, skills in a particular area, no one could rob them of it. The Chinese proverb, “Learning is a treasure that will follow its owner everywhere”, has been a motivator with each advancement I have been fortunate to make.

Who were your mentors and how did they inspire you in the choices you made that brought you to where you are today?

One of my mentors, Eng. Tomi Adegbenro, CEO of Hypa Movers (under Nuovo Ventura Ltd), continues to encourage me like no other. I take a good handful of risks, but in most cases, he cheers me on. Another mentor I’m honoured to have is Bar. Wola Joseph-Ojoye, Chief Legal Officer at EKEDP]. She is my guide, inspiring me to see the big picture. This is a skill that is extremely important when you are a workaholic like me, who enjoys being in the midst of events.

The mentor who has propelled me to where I am today is Ian Arufor, partner at PwC. This gentleman, who met me during 2013, believed in me without question, taught me about the power industry and has encouraged me to always be the greatest I can be in all my endeavours. He made me take some of the toughest risks of my life that have paid off and brought me to where I am today.

Each mentor has had a different role to play in my development and I’m grateful for their support.

Are there enough women in the power industry? Should gender matter?

There are definitely not enough women in the power industry. I do believe gender matters within the industry, as each gender brings something different to the table. How women analyse issues/problems is somewhat different from men. No industry can survive with having only one gender in the boardroom, in the ranks and field; it is through equity that new solutions to old problems can beat our challenges.

What do you think was the most important decision/stepping stone for you to enter the energy/ electricity sector?

The stepping stone for me is very clear. The PwC team wanted to assist in operations within the power industry as the privatisation process was going to be finalised. The senior management team of PwC decided to form a team to work on one of the first projects after the privatisation. I decided to set up a team of consultants operating in Kano, which is over 830km (530 miles) from my home. This took me away from my family (husband and children), whom I only saw once a week or sometimes every two weeks.

It was not my first time in the consulting field, but it was my first time in the power industry. Arufor taught me about the sector in under a week and the following week I was training the team. It was through that decision to set up the team that I was introduced to this energy sector, and from there propelled into various positions within the electricity distribution arm of the industry.

Tell us about the current situation in West Africa’s energy sector and how this has developed over the years.

The current situation in Nigeria’s energy sector, which has undergone many fluctuations in the past, will transition further with considerable improvements in the near future. Inthe past, we have relied heavily on gas turbines in the generation sector. Unfortunately, the recent destruction of pipelines has negatively affected the generation capacity. And in September, the country’s generation output dropped by 1,000MW due to four power plants being down. The current Honourable Minister of Power, Works and Housing is looking to attract other means of generation (e.g. solar and wind).

There is a liquidity issue within the market that cannot be overemphasised. There are shortfalls experienced from the building of the tariff down through to payment of bills by customers. The liquidity issue without a doubt affects the entire value chain. The minister, along with other market operators, is working on this to get it resolved.

What projects are you currently busy with and what will these achieve?

I am currently working on two major projects. The first is the development of a roadmap for the EKEDP to be International Standards Organisation (ISO) compliant in the next 3-5years. We are currently looking at about 2-3 ISO certifications. Through these determinations, we strive to be the best utility company in Africa, which we can achieve by attaining these global certifications.

The second project I am working on is setting up an Enterprise Risk Assessment across the organisation. This will be a full-blown Risk Assessment conducting an analysis of the entire organisation to provide a clear focus on tackling risks. We are still in the planning stages, but we intend to finish this project within the next few months.

What are your top three predictions for the energy market in Nigeria in the next five years?

With the way the market has been stagnant for the past 30-plus months, I do not think five more years will make much difference. Now, if we stated my predictions of the market in the next 10 years then it would be very different; however, in five years we could witness the following:

  • 1 The Commission will have fully understood the methodology for implementing a cost-reflective tariff – the dos and don’ts. This alongside the obligations from government in regard to socioeconomic obligations to less privileged citizens.
  • 2 Another area that will transition is in human resource development where the energy sector’s employee skills set will increase. In addition, I predict more robust skills acquisition centres (certified educational institutions).
  • 3 Lastly, I foresee that, five years in and still not implemented, discussions and a roadmap will be created for generation and distribution companies to have more competitors amongst themselves.

Gas-to-power is touted as a resource that can lead Nigeria’s energy market for decades to come; what are your views on this and what is needed to support this?

As of this year, gas-to-power comprises the majority of what we have been relying on for the past 40 years. Out of all the generation companies that provide power to the discos, three quarters are gas fuelled with the remainder being hydro based. The highest we’ve generated this year is 5,074.7MW.

In all, I think we should have a good mix of generation resources. In Nigeria, we followed the Indian model of privatisation. However, the difference is that currently in India there is a healthy mix of generation resources ranging from coal, gas, diesel, nuclear etc. Nigeria would benefit from following this trend and introducing a mix of generation technologies. Do it gradually to fully understand the advantages and disadvantages.

However, if the transmission lines carrying the power are not maintained and reinforced we’ll be back to square one – not adequately delivering electricity. One cannot fix one part of the energy value chain and not consider the readiness of the other parts.

Recently EKEDP held a ‘bring your daughter to work’ day; how did this come about?

EKEDP’s human resources team identified a gap in the industry’s female representation. Upon investigation, it was felt that this was possibly the case because of the perception that you have to be an engineer to work in the power industry – alongside this the equity balance currently favours male engineers. Based on this the management team sought to make an impact by exposing employees’ daughters to first understanding the working of the distribution industry in order to realise the various career disciplines that needed to come together to make an effective company.

Lastly, what words of encouragement do you have for women wanting to enter the energy sector, and for any women currently in the industry?

For women that want to get into the energy sector I would encourage them to take that leap. For those women already in the energy sector, know that you will never have enough knowledge about the industry, since this industry has so many challenges. Continue to cultivate that hunger to learn and then feed it (of course). Read as much as you can, as you will be amazed how much information is available that is useful to you. Understand that there is a combination of skills needed to excel and move up the chain, including industry expertise along with skills in communication, presentation and networking.