Fix refineries and remove fuel subsidy, Ogungbangbe tells FG, asks Nigerians to support removal

Thomas Olaleye Ogungbangbe Ph.D is a Nigerian politician, aviation fuel expert and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of CITA Petroleum. In an interview with SODIQ LAWAL, he discusses fuel scarcity, 2023 election and rated the Buhari-led administration average in performance.

Can we meet you sir?

My name is Thomas Olaleye Ogungbangbe, from the royal family of Ajagbusi-Ekun of Iloko-Ijesha. I am the Chief Executive Officer of CITA Aviation Fuelling Company.

Can you briefly share your profile with us?

I was born in Iragbiji Town and I grew up there, I attended primary and secondary schools there, and I also went to University of Ilorin in 1986 where I had my Bachelor Degree and MBA. I thereafter worked with Pfizer Pharmaceutical International.

I moved from there to the banking industry after some six years to seven years in Pfizer Pharmaceutical, I moved to banking industry as Head of Consumer Banking Group. I moved from banking to oil and gas industry in the same commercial capacity and later trained as operations-in-charge, then divisional manager in ConOil.

From there I moved to be the last Aviation Fuel manager of the first ConOil, last Aviation Fuel manager of the Texaco, the first of MRS in West and Central Africa. I also moved to become the pioneer managing executive of Sahara Aviation in Nigeria. Today, I own, found and manage CITA Aviation Fueling Company that is present in 16 airports of Nigeria which is the widest spread in the largest economy in the fueling aircraft in West and Central Africa.

What can you tell us about your parents? Are they influential or rich?

Well, I can tell you that just like an average Ijesa man, once you turned 17/18, you will be given out to do Oshomalo to be able fend for yourself. Way back in 1938, my father moved from Iloko-Ijesha to Ikere Ekiti as an Oshomalo.

And of course, his elder brother Pa Ezekiel Oyetunji Ogungbangbe who passed on to glory got to Iragbiji earlier than my dad, so my dad got to him during the time that’s called scarcity of salt. That was early 1940s. In 1943/4 he moved to Iragbiji to join his brother who invited.

He achieved a lot of success that he become the community treasurer during which they were able to build a Judiciary court, town hall, cooperative society and even a bank. He served up to three Obas during which he was conferred with the title Atunlushe of Iragbiji. You know what it means when the whole community comes together and say “you are Atunlushe”. That says something.
I want to believe that I gained my entrepreneurship prowess from the gene of my dad.

Do you have any childhood memories you can never forget?

Talk about the wall-less environments where you just woke up from your mat and go to meet your friends and you are in other people’s homes, unlike today that we have walls around the houses. That’s number one.

Also in the day there was a game we called Olonkoro. When we coming back from the school we go to the mountains to skid.

Those are the childhood memories I can’t forget. There are some small pikin kind of plays that I can’t forget. And my friends that we used to play together, some of them are still alive.

You had your first degree in Microbiology. You are now a marketer and Aviation Fuel expert.

What happened?

In 1987 when I filled my JAMB form, I chose Medicine, the place where I had to submit the application was in Ikirun, I went to see my dad and he asked, ‘what did you choose?’ I said with all pride that I chose medicine, believing that as one of the fore students in my class I would be allowed to study Medicine.

He just looked at me and said ‘are you talking about the same course your brother Tolulope is reading in Ile-Ife and the one your first cousin Bisi Ogungbangbe is reading in Ibadan?’ I said yes, then he looked at me and said ‘sebi oju aláìsàn ni dókítà tí nìyí (aren’t medical gloried by the sick)?

Why don’t you go and read something else so you can employ doctors rather than reading how to be a doctor? Between employing doctors and being a doctor, which one is better?’ I said ‘employing doctors’. So for me, everything he said was like a balderdash. I have an uncle who in 1986 won the best scientist in Nigeria.

Professor Olu Odeyemi, he was given the scientist. The next thing I asked was ‘what did Uncle studied, I want to be like him’. They said it’s Microbiology and I just filled Microbiology (in JAMB slip).

But because I filled Medicine for University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University) I now changed it because I knew if had read the same thing he read he may want to ask me to come and stay with him in his house, and I didn’t want to be curtailed.

That is how I earned Microbiology from the University of Ilorin. When I finished I also went ahead to do Masters in Microbiology in the University of Lagos in 1993/4. Then I joined Pfizer, the pharmaceutical company.

You are a stakeholder in the Nigerian Petroleum Industry. What is your take on fuel subsidy?

In the first instance, why should there be subsidy on fuel? We need to first understand why there should be subsidy on it. If you talk about the way human being would live – feeding, housing, movement, clothing, what is the next? Those are the needs. Basic psychological needs. Without digress, I support removal of subsidy. An average person on the street may not understand, they may feel that it is going to make life tougher, yes in the immediate but strategically down the line it is better for everybody.

Nigeria is an oil-producing country yet citizens buy it at exorbitant price. Increase in the Aviation Fuel has affected the price of flights, domestic and international. What do you think the government is yet to do?

I don’t know what they need to do but yet to, but as much as I feel the government is doing its best, it also take the understanding of the citizens.

For example, if you look at countries like Iran, or Qatar, or Kuwait, citizens buy fuel at prices equivalent to #40, right? But it because they have refineries. For us, if we have refineries why do we need to subsidize what we have?

It is what we don’t have that we subsidies, so the subsidy means we don’t have it which is the truth. We have have 3-4 refineries and none is working. Tax is taking from you on the product that is gotten for instance at #700. You got the product at #700 from external suppliers and you paid them in dollars, then you sell it at #169, who is deceiving who? Why do you need to subsidies what you have?

You are the CEO of CITA, one of the leading companies in Aviation in West and Central Africa. How did you get into politics?

We are all politicians, same way we are all marketers. In 1989, I was the speaker of Microbiology Students Association of my school and in 1989/90, I become the pioneer president of the Nigerian Students Association of Microbiology in the University of Ilorin.

So it is okay to say I have been a part of public and cooperate governance all my life so it is not like a function of whether you meet the wealth or riches on the way; it is about who you are.

I declared my intention on the 15th of May, 2005 to contest and I was the major sponsor of both Obokun and Oriade local government areas in the entire Federal Constituency since then. From 2005/6 to 2007.

I started from AD (Alliance for Democracy) which metamorphosised to AC (Action Congress), CAN (Action Congress of Nigeria), now APC (All Progressives Congress). The election was conducted and I won square and fair. Between Obokun and Oriade we have 23 wards and we are five contested and I won 11 wards without any controversy. I mean, if you have 5 contestants and one person won 11 out of 23, I became 2nd in 3 wards, that is something. I won some candidates in their own wards, that should be saying something too.

So be as it may, the party and the leadership of the party in their wisdom felt that somebody else should be fielded, so they know the indexes than some of us. So they fielded somebody who they felt could represent the party better than some of us.

Were you in agreement with the party’s leadership? It is on record that one of the aspirants, Ojumu went to the court to challenge the decision but you did not approach the court.

Why? You and I should understand that the party’s decision is supreme over all contestants, if they felt there’s a need to send a particular candidate. Why do I need to go to court again? So, I didn’t found the party so there was no way I could go to the court and say whatever. For me it’s a simple thing, I have asked that I want to represent you and you said that you don’t want me, so what’s the fight in that one. It’s your lose especially if I know what I want to deliver.

How did your followers feel about your decision not to challenge the party’s leadership?

Everybody who is in the country never won an election; I won. But I didn’t go to any court to contest anything because you are actually going there to serve the people, so what do you go to court to do?

You said you wanted to serve and some people said no, the people you want to serve themselves could see that you wanted to but was barred by some elements.

Are you satisfied with the current running of Ijesa North Federal Constituency via-a-vis legislation and representation?

Well, I will like to say that if you look at the representation of Oluwole Oke, comparatively to other federal constituencies in the state he has done very well. I however not saying that is the best we could have. I am merely saying if we compare it to other federal Constituencies he has done well. But of course we have the desire to have more, and that is why some of us come out to build on the infrastructure that he has set in place.

He has done well, and at such he needs to be promoted, he should not by now be aspiring for House of Representatives by now, he should go for senate and governorship.

Were you pressured to dump the party by your followers? 

I am not dumping the party and I can tell you that there have been pressures all over. We all know political issues and pressures from politicians. But if you are playing politics of ideology, then you stick to the idea.

Why did you opt in for House of Representatives? Why not senate or governor or even ministerial appointment? 

Like I mentioned, about 15 years ago was the first time I decided to join partisan politics. And I launched my ambition to contest for the House of Representatives, and you also know there are some unwritten Rule between Ife and Ijesa on the Senate. Then there’s same between Obokun and Oriade. We need to respect the unwritten rule and hold on to what it is.

Even as a private entrepreneur, there’s no meeting that I go for that I have to sit on the same table with the members of House of Representatives, it has always been the members of the Senate. Like it is said, a journey of a thousand mile starts with a step.

How would you access the chances of your party at the polls considering the performance of President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration?

I expect victory for APC. Whatever that is happening to Nigeria at the moment is happening to the whole world. It is not peculiar to us, it is situational occurrence that is happening to the whole world.

As much as we may be witnessing a lot in Nigeria, the country is still strong because an average person in Nigeria can sustain on one or two dollars everyday. That is between #800- #1,500. That doesn’t work in the US. We still may not understand that we have a country we need to make work and that is what is bringing most of us to politics because before the economy, the political direction comes before the economic direction. It is politics that sets tune for the economy.

Do you believe in the candidacy of Bola Ahmed Tinubu or you are supporting him because of party loyalty?

I will tell you categorically that I believe in the candidature of Bola Ahmed Tinubu. I believe he stands head and shoulders about any contestant. I also believe he has what it takes to engage in ideological concern and significance.

Nobody is complaining, comparatively we believe Lagos is the best in Nigeria, that he can do that one-third why won’t we believe that he can do?
I actually believe that Bola Ahmed Tinubu is the best candidate that can take Nigeria to the next level.

How would you rate the Muhammadu Buhari’s administration?

It is not about being rich, affluence or anything, people who are at the top were also affected. But like I mentioned to you, Buhari is not a Saint and if you have brought someone else to Buhari’s place at the time he did, maybe we would have worse results. So if I will rate him on 10 I will give him 5 over 10.

If Tinubu were to be presidential candidate of another party, would you support him regardless?

Yes.

Do you have any philanthropic act within or outside Iloko-Ijesa?

Yes, we have a lot. It is limitless, even on this street I did all the electrification. So, if you go to Iloko Model School we have about 16 students who are on scholarship as day and boarders. We have some who have crossed to secondary schools.

We got a lot, if you go outside Iloko-Ijesha, to Ilesa we have given a thousand sanitary to female inmates in Ilesa Prison. We also built sanctuary. The seventh of which will be handed over to the church on Saturday. It is a 2000-capacity auditorium which is built on the height of Iragbiji.

As we are doing in C and S on Saturday, we have done the same at CAC in Kobo Ń Gbogbo Ẹ area of Osogbo. We have done in Celestial. We also have done in some other denominations.

As we are building churches we have also built mosques in Badagri, in Agbara and of course we are still doing more. If you go to Iragbiji Primary School we have just finished the renovation of two classrooms which happened to be where I had my primary one and two classes. It would be handed over to the school.

Do you foresee fuel scarcity in the coming months in the Aviation industry?

Actually, I’m the outgoing Chairman of the All Aviation Fuel Marketers Association of Nigeria and you cannot claim to have what you don’t have. If I am to answer your question, I will yes, there will be fuel scarcity because we don’t produce. We have the raw materials but we don’t produce so we should expect fuel scarcity from time to time.

Many attribute Aviation Fuel scarcity to sharp increase in price, what is your reaction to the claims? And if they are true, how do you think they can be addressed?

The issue of availability of Aviation Fuel, even any product, it’s law of demand and supply. We don’t produce, if we want anything we have to open letter of credit and pay, we pay in dollars and dollars are not available, it’s exchange for #800. For us to forestore or ensure that we don’t have scarcity means that government that is involved, has to take hands off it.

Maybe leave it in the hands of private sector.
This product was deregulated by President Olusegun Obasanjo and until 2017, this government dipped hands into it we never had fuel scarcity. Fuel scarcity didn’t come until government started participating in it.

For example, I source for my own dollar from the market at N800 and the government says their own is N400, how do you expect me to import and government import when they like, then I will go and sell mine at 700 when government is selling at half price. So they are the one spoiling the market.

Do you have any plans to contest in the future?
No, I don’t.

You are dumping politics for politicians?

No, I’m still in politics but I’m not contesting.

Will you support APC House of Reps Candidate, Ijesa North in the coming election?

Supporting how? I’m supporting him already.

Financial contributions?

I will attend his rallies and solicit for him through my followers but I am not making any financial contributions.

But are you making financial contributions for Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu?

Yes, I have.

Why would you contribute financially to the candidacy of Bola Ahmed Tinubu and not to Seun Odofin?

You need to see how things are constituted. Myself and Odofin and other contestants were locked on the same road when we were asked by the leadership if we have funds to process this election. I could recall vividly that Odofin said he had N1bn. Let us finish the amount first because we can talk of financial contributions.

Being a politician and Aviation expert, we know time poses a serious challenge to you. How do you strike a balance between politics, profession and family?

My family members are based outside the country. My boys are schooling there too. Between  Europe and America, so I travel from time to time to unwind, and I am in Nigeria to work. That’s why my passport is always at the airport so if anything happens it is just to find my way to the airport.

What do you consider as best practices you have instilled in your children?

Well, just like what I took from my father, I have passed to my own children to the best of my knowledge. He was a man of impregnable integrity and transparent honesty. What I try to do is to be extremely very transparent and also put my cards on the table in the most transparent way.

If you did not come from a family like Ogungbangbe, would you have attained such heights in career or life?

Nothing has to do with the Ogungbamigbe. There’s no family connection and I am sure there’s no member or connection that he is responsible for enthroning the king or NULGE president or taking it to the height.

What are you most grateful for?

I am grateful for life. I am still alive to appreciate him, that’s the name CITA – Christ Is The Answer.

Any advice for young minds?

My takeaway message is do not have a target you can meet for yourself. Don’t set a target you can meet, ṣet one you cannot meet. That’s why it’s called target because you keep looking at it in the front. The moment you meet it, it becomes….

What is the future of Nigeria Aviation Industry in the nearest future?

Aviation business is an elitist business. It’s for elites. It’s not for common. So it’s not for everyone to be able to, there are other means of transportation that people can afford. You can go by the road, so it is not meant for everyone to go by air it is based on affordability.
The future is very bright. Less than 10% of the population. The market is still elastic, and the opportunity is still there.