I returned home for my PhD because I wanted to experience the practice of sustainable development in an emerging economy context- Igazeuma Okoroba

She is passionate about civil society volunteering. Her PhD was on corporate social responsibility and community development. Abito Citta spoke with her on the 2nd anniversary of her achievement of PhD earlier in the year. She was recently appointed as the Head/General Manager, Sustainability, Dangote Group.   Here are the excerpts.  

AC: Congratulations on your one-year anniversary of bagging a PhD. Could you please tell us about yourself?

IO: I am the passionate second daughter of a Lecturer (late) and retired Teacher who managed to raise their seven thriving professionals despite their humble family background in Rivers state, Nigeria. I developed a keen interest in civil society volunteerism while schooling in Federal Girls’ Government College, Sagamu where I was the President of the Nigeria Redcross Society. Since then, I have been an active citizen in every space and career I have ventured into. I am now a mother of four who works full time and participates in other creative ventures. Whether it be media, civil society, academics or industry, my values will always be empathy, authenticity, and resilience.

AC: A look at your profile reveals that you had your first and doctorate degrees in Nigeria while your Master’s degree was earned in the UK. What informed that decision considering the fact that many would have loved to have preferred to stay back abroad for a PhD?

IO: I considered living and continuing PhD studies in the UK because I had a post-study work visa at the time. However, I returned home with my family because I wanted to experience the practise of sustainable development in an emerging economy context. The Niger delta where I come from is often a reference for poor environment management, and I thought I might be able to situate the problem better if I returned home to work in the sector most affected. Combining work with having children also meant that I could not return to studies immediately, so I took a break and commenced studies in Nigeria just after having my fourth child.

AC: What was the focus of your PhD research and what were the insights from the study?

IO: My PhD study was on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and Sustainable Community Development aimed to examine the empirical evidence of SPDC GMOU as a CSR model used in the company’s Host Communities. The study revealed that despite corporation’s investment in providing benefit for its stakeholders, the bottom line of business prevailed over the less dominant stakeholder_ communities. In Nigeria, like many countries with weak institutional structures, it is unfortunate that corporations’ investments fail to deliver value because stakeholders perceived benefits often do not match their needs.

The study provided empirical evidence which supports concerns raised by researchers on the Shell Petroleum Development Company’s GMOU policy as a paternalistic approach to community development despite its advertised goals. Another insight revealed in the study was that although oil bearing communities are now responsible for driving the GMoU process, they remain disenfranchised in the decision making and control of the GMoU funds which chiefly determines the extent of development that is achieved in their communities. In the case of the SPDC GMoU my research helps us to learn that community stakeholders must be empowered with information and skills to define what benefits they seek in stakeholder relations, else the assignment of other benefits by the more powerful stakeholder will not produce outcomes that are sustainable.

AC: Looking back at your experience as a PhD candidate, what one thing would you want changed about PhD study in Nigeria?

IO: There is a lot I would like to change honestly. My PhD was a protracted one not because I was not a committed student but there were issues, I had to contend with. If I had the chance to change just one of these issues it would be the discipline and commitment of faculty. There was a saying I was introduced to upon starting my PhD which I believed I would rise against having studied abroad but alas I was caught up in it! It is said that P meant to ‘pray’ the small ‘h’ stands for hardwork and the big ‘D’ stands for dobale. In the Yoruba parlance dobale implies loyalty but for a student it was much more than that. Some of us experienced extortion and sexual harassment to get through a certain level we deserved to have passed. Failure to give in to the blackmail could cost you a year or more of just watching other students present papers and defend them while you wait endlessly to have your seminar. The politicization of the academic rigour which should have been enriching for both student and faculty is greatly undermined when personal interests outweigh the goal of the study. Nigerian universities need to enforce disciplinary measures against faculty members erring in this regard. By ensuring there is no retaliation when student report ethical issues, the school will learn more about misconduct among its academic staff.

AC: It is a year now that you have achieved a PhD. What has changed in your engagement in the industry and the academics? Where do you intend to focus now – industry or the academia?

IO: Having a PhD in industry is rare and valuable to the employer. My work in industry has been more about adapting theories and insights from research to my work. Integrating academic knowledge made my deliverables stand out in ways that it was difficult not to notice that I was not your regular employee. I will not trade this for anything. However, applying my knowledge and experience in non-oil sectors is something I am currently focused on to gain more experience in integrating Environment Social and Governance (ESG) to improve social investment performance in the telecommunications sector where I presently work. In time to come I hope to transfer my wealth of experience to academia. This transition will not be a challenge because I continue to engage in research and publishing. I believe I am better equipped to create impact in academics because of my vast industry experience.

AC: Thank you for your time.

IO: My pleasure.

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