Former Group Managing Director of the ASCON Oil Company Limited, Grace Olowofoyeku, has debunked reports in the social media that the family of her late husband, also the founder and Chairman of the company, was at war with her over the recent sale of the company to new investors.
ASCON Oil, until it ran into turbulent waters in 2019, was one of the leading players in the downstream sector of the economy.
Olowofoyeku, who took over the company in 2005 when her husband and founder, George Enenmoh, died in a Bellview Airlines crash, said any suggestion of discontent over the divestment “is a lie from the pit of hell.”
“The whole family knew about it,” she declared. “The whole process was done in the open. My children, who were directors in ASCON, as well as other stakeholders, reached a consensus that the best option was to divest. And that’s precisely what we did.
“In fact, my children initiated the move to sell the company. My children saw that the boat was sinking and they said we should bail out. And the family of my late husband, Engineer George Enenmoh, was in full support.
Everybody agreed that it was the best thing to do in the circumstance. That’s why we did it and everybody is happy.”
Olowofoyeku named inconsistent government economic policies, brazen corruption in the downstream sector of the economy, erratic power supply, “strangulating” estimated billings by the DISCOs, as some of the factors that militated against ASCON Oil, and they eventually led to its sale.
“Apart from unfavourable government policies,” the Sabongida Ora, Edo State former GMD continued, “there were other major problems, like the various toll gates created by people from the regulatory agencies down the line. It was impossible for you to transact any business without settling those people. You need to settle heavily before you can do business. There is also the nagging issue of erratic power supply which keeps you running all your stations on diesel at astronomical costs. This is not to mention the crazy estimated bills that the DISCOs slam on ASCON every month.”
To underscore the damage that estimated billing did to the company in the few years leading to its divestment, Olowofoyeku cited the example of the company’s mega filling station, the Admiralty filling station in Lekki, Lagos, which was guzzling N2 million per month in estimated electricity billing.
Whatwere we selling?” she asked angrily. “We were paying N600, 000 per month at our head office (in Victoria Island). Is this place (the headquarters) a manufacturing company? What machines do we operate here to attract N600, 000 per month? None.
“As far as I am concerned, that is oppressive. What business were we doing to generate the income that would enable us pay N2 million for power in just one station, in a month? What were we making in our Admiralty station to be paying N2 million every month for electricity? If you do the maths, you can guess how much we were spending on energy alone. This is not talk about other operational costs, overheads, and so on.”
After taking ASCON Oil to unprecedented heights after her husband’s demise, expanding its retail outlets first from 11 to 39, then, to 57, Olowofoyeku said that by 2019, the business terrain had become so difficult the company could hardly do any profitable business.
“Business became so bad that, in the last four years, we had been gradually laying-off staff,” she revealed. “I laid off a lot of staff because we couldn’t pay salaries. By 2019, we had asked 80 percent of the staff to go home. With that, coupled with the underlying factors which remained unchanged, we had to divest 80 percent. Later, we were left we no other choice but to divest the remaining 20 percent. ASCON Oil is now completely in the hands of its new owners.”
Olowofoyeku added up all those experiences, especially the trauma caused by estimated billing, and declared: “Estimated billing is criminal. It is killing. It is corruption. Because if you want to get pre-paid meter, they won’t give you. If this is not corruption, what is corruption? Refusal to give pre-paid meters is corruption, and government, through the EFCC, should treat it as such.”
The former ASCON Oil boss posted an advice to President Muhammadu Buhari on the estimated billing phenomenon, declaring that “if this government truly wants businesses to grow, if this government really wants businesses to help take 100 million Nigerians out of poverty in 10 years, as the President promised, then, it must formulate policies that will help businesses grow. It is the business that grows that employs.”
After the storm comes the calm. Olowofoyeku hinted on the direction she is heading next. She said that like a Phoenix, a new business will soon rise with such impact that would shame her antagonists. But she would not disclose what the new baby is.
“By God’s grace, people will soon see our new business and they will glorify our Father who is in Heaven,” she enthused. “They will know that it is not a plague, and certainly not a curse to sell a business.”