London and Lagos
‘Would you be interested in a twelve-month contract in Venezuela with Maraven. It used to be the Shell company in Caracas before it was nationalized?’
That was the question that I was asked by my contact at P-E International. I had just completed a project of more than a year at Shell International in London, through his company, and he knew that I had traveled a lot in South and Central America, and that I was keen to return. I was very excited by the opportunity.
‘We don’t yet have a date for the interviews, but I will find you a short term contract to tide you over until then’.
He was as good as his word, and a few days later I started a small fixed-price development project with Ford in Dagenham. It was a horrible commute from where I lived in Hampstead in north London, but I was able to do a lot of the work at home, and carry out testing in Dagenham in the evenings, when there was less traffic. I worked at least twelve hours a day, seven days a week, and completed the development in just over a month. It proved to be a quite lucrative contract.
But still there was no confirmation of the interview date, so I went on a holiday to the U.S. with the intention of returning once everything was arranged.
About two weeks later I received the notification, returned to London, interviewed and a couple of days later, was informed that I was one of two applicants that had been selected, the other one being a P-E employee. The only problem was that it would take some time for Maraven to obtain 12-month renewable work permits. The wheels of bureaucracy can turn very slowly.
But Shell was keen for the ‘technology transfer’ to take place, so I was provided with a 3-month contract, to make modifications to a Shell drilling system in Nigeria. One week later I was in Lagos.
What followed were three amazing and unforgettable months of my life.
I shared a large four-bedroom apartment on Victoria Island with another P-E employee, and I was given the use of a robust Volkswagen. The work was interesting and I was provided with membership of the Ikoyi Club, with access to its restaurant, bar, squash and tennis courts, outdoor movies etc.
I exercised every day of the week playing rugby, tennis and squash, and running in handicapped races around the perimeter of the Ikoyi Golf Club, two or three times a week. I ended up fitter than I had ever been before.
There were parties every weekend and I will always associate the Bee Gees and Saturday Night Fever with Lagos; that recording was played over and over, with the exclusion of everything else.
There was a rugby match against a visiting team from Monrovia (Liberia), a trip to play Kano in the north and a seven-a-side competition.
And there was the 24-hour hike along the coast from Badagri, near the border with Benin, to Lagos, and the trip to Kainji Lake National Park in north-east Nigeria.
But they are stories for another day.
I left Lagos in early November and a few days later, via London and Los Angeles, I arrived in Caracas.
In 1987, I returned to Nigeria, as the UK Director of P-E (West Africa) Ltd, a Nigerian consulting services company.
And for the next eight years, I traveled regularly to Lagos and Port Harcourt for board meetings, visiting clients and entertaining staff.
When I left P-E International in 1996, my relationship with Nigeria came to an end. But I still retain very many warm memories of the people and the country.