By Juliet Umeh
Dr. Aisha Abdurrahman, the first female group executive director, Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC has worked as a lecturer and also headed the admin section of a teaching hospital, worked in the banking sector, and then retired in the oil and gas sector. She is concerned that the reason young women make mistakes in workplaces is because of the cold attitude they get from female bosses.
You got married immediately after your Youth Service in Oyo State, what then followed?
I finished the service and taught briefly in the university but it was boring for me. You leave staff quarters on the campus, from the campus to the staff quarters, so, I decided to go to the teaching hospital as an admin staff.
I headed the admin section of the teaching hospital for a couple of years and then I needed more challenge. I came to Lagos, got a job in a bank, and of course I’m not a banker, so I got bored after some years.
I then worked briefly with the Presidency. They were sharing assets between the states and I was the only woman on the committee.
They shared assets between Ekiti, Rivers, and Bayelsa. When we finished, I applied for an NNPC job. I got there and with a lot of troubles, I refused to give up.
In a nutshell, NNPC was for me, a nursery, secondary, and university put together plus other experiences that nobody teaches you in the classroom.
You have all sorts of experiences and the choice is yours to work hard or not. And so, because of what it took me to get into NNPC, I decided that I will put in my all. I wanted to leave a legacy. I wanted to demonstrate to fellow girls that you don’t have to be anybody’s anything to make it in life.
You have worked in different sectors of the economy like the academia, financial, and oil sectors. Why do you think few women are in top positions in different companies? What advice can you give to young women who are aspiring to be like you?
Determination is the word. Young women have to be focused, always remember that with God, if they do their bit, He will do His bit. Also, remember where you are coming from and all your parents went through to put you through school. If you have a conscience, you won’t mess around.
Importantly, young ladies should disabuse their minds from the concept of ‘I must be close to an Oga.’ I’ve always told the girls I come across that they don’t need any Oga to be successful. I’m not saying be cheeky or rude, no. Just be focused, hardworking, humble and respectful. Don’t be caught where you are not supposed to be and if you are given an assignment, do it. Nothing is impossible, don’t say I am a woman, I can’t do it, you will be short-changing yourself.
In what way can female bosses encourage younger women to close the gender gap in positions of authority?
Female bosses must develop empathy towards fellow women especially younger girls. You find out that in workplaces, the girls warm up more easily to their male bosses whereas the female bosses, for no reason, are timid. And if the girls have a problem, they will rather go to the male boss. Yes, it must have started from somewhere; they didn’t just go to a workplace and choose to be closer to a male boss.
Let me appeal to fellow women, while we are bosses, let us try to be mothers, guardians, friends, and confidants to these young girls. Encourage them to talk to you if they have problems; let them come to you and you will direct them.
Some of them, for lack of knowing what to do, go to male bosses. And if the male boss is a selfish person, he directs them wrongly; what he will not tell his daughter to do, he tells them to do because he will benefit from it.
But, if we make it easy for these young girls to come to us and not cajole them, you make them your friends; tell them what to do, if they are wrong, you put them right but make sure that you are accessible, let them be able to talk to you, don’t block that empathy channel between you and the girl. Let us also make conscious efforts to pull up our girls, let us hold their hands.
Talking about shielding our own, you held various positions of authority in all the sectors especially in NNPC. Can you share with us some of your experiences?
In NNPC for example, when we hold interviews, you find the males on the panel saying that ‘that young man is a promising young man,’ and I say that young girl is a promising young girl and she is a girl that is going to achieve what no man has achieved, let’s give her a chance. We have many girls like that, that will come out today and say if not for this person I won’t be where I am.
What did I do? There was no preferential treatment. It is just pieces of advice I give to them like if you have a problem, this is what and what you need to do. Ensure that you do not entertain the idea of godfatherism.
Relationship with junior colleagues…
There’s no such thing as, if I’m close to my boss I will make it. It is your effort, sleeplessness that will get you there, not the friendship of your boss.
My philosophy in life has always been, I will get there but don’t expect me to come and crawl to the doors at your office and be at your mercy. Do as you wish to me as long as I get what I want, and I never did that.
I know people who, to date, are still praying that something will bring me to them wanting something but God is not like man. God sees your heart and assists you. God has made sure that I never and I’m not indebted to any boss in NNPC.
When you set a trap for me, God will take me through the other route. l know situations where I had been set up. In fact, if I had gone for that interview, I would not have been in NNPC today and from nowhere, a letter came in saying you’ve been appointed MD of a subsidiary.
I was shocked. In fact, at first I didn’t know it was my own Abdurrahman because we were two that bear the name. I went to ask and I was told, are you not Aisha? I said yes, they said it’s you, go, you are the new MD of that place.
Miraculously, I met people in NNPC, I left them there, I was not sent away, I left my track records and those girls that I left there are watching.
When I was leaving, a lot of the girls were in tears.
I didn’t limit myself to my directorate, once you are a lady and you work in NNPC, I’m at your service.
I think this is the attitude that we women should have because our children must excel, we must pray for them to excel and do better than we have done. So also these ones we are meeting in the places of work, they are other people’s children, you must wish for them what you wish for your children.
So you run a nongovernmental organisation, Mata Foundation for Women and Children. What is the idea behind it?
It is a statement of fact that women and children are the biggest casualties in the fight for equity and fairness when it comes to basic human rights.
Unfortunately, societal and cultural beliefs have perpetuated beliefs that regularly and consistently deprive women of rights and opportunities to improve their lives and provide for themselves with dignity, while ensuring a safe shelter to raise and nurture their children, regardless of their marital status.