By Shola Oshunkeye
The former Group Managing Director, GMD, of the ASCON Oil Company Limited, Grace Olowofoyeku, has named the factors that compelled the board of directors to approve that the company be sold.
She said the clarification became expedient in order to dispel the rumour roiling in the social media that the family of her late husband, and founder/Chairman of the company, Barrister George Enenmoh, was at war with her over the decision to sell the company to its investors.
Until it ran into turbulent waters in 2019, ASCON Oil 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 of ASCON Oil 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, a lawyer, named inconsistent government economic policies, brazen corruption in the downstream sector of the economy, erratic power supply, “strangulating” estimated billings by EKO DISCO, as some of the factors that militated against ASCON Oil, and 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.”
Olowofoyeku underscored the damage that estimated billing did to the company in the few years leading to its divestment, citing the example of the company’s mega filling station at the Admiralty area of Lekki in Lagos, which guzzled N2 million per month in estimated electricity billing.
“What were 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, paradoxically, by 2019, the business terrain had become so difficult that the company could hardly do any profitable business again.
“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 per cent 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.”