Where is Austen Oniwon?
When ‘oil expert’, Dr. Gaius Obaseki, was at the head of the Nigerian National Petroleum Company [NNPC], he demanded that all his top brass must play golf. Before this time, another past Group Managing Director of the NNPC, Eng. Austen Oniwon never played golf and he was not planning to do so. But since this had to do with obeying the last order, he grudgingly joined.
Even at the point he joined, Oniwon was always looking at past events where Obaseki in midst of difficult boardroom meetings would excuse himself and head for the golf course. And when he came back from some nine holes game, he would have answers to gritty issues that made him abandon the meeting in the first place. It was here he believed that golf could really level confused heads.
The truth is Oniwon started the game just to obey ‘the last order’. But as months went by, something clicked. It was certain that Oniwon and golf would travel some long paths, and that was what happened. Oniwon got hooked to the game to the point that he never knew when he started building a course on the wastelands of the Eleme Petrochemicals where he was boss at the time. When asked reasons he would want a course on the Petrochemical base he had this to say: “I never knew golf could be so fulfilling. I love the game and it is now part of me. I want to play it every day. It is not an addiction, it’s just what I want to do. But it’s not easy to play in Port Harcourt every day. The traffic is hectic to that point a trip from Eleme to the Port Harcourt course could take hours. So I prefer to build one at Eleme so those of us here could play all the time, even if it’s six holes we can manage”.
From here, Oniwon moved to another level when he turned the NNPC Rosebowl tourney to a truly national event where golf bigwigs across the country gathered in Port Harcourt where they played golf and partied and engaged in such camaraderie that could be so electrifying. This is no longer happening, though.
At a point he became the NNPC GMD, the friendship Oniwon built on golf courses across the nation came to the fore when his friends from across the country decided to honor him as the new GMD of the NNPC with an uncommon kitty at the lush course of the IBB Golf Club in Abuja. The event was a ‘shotgun’ which saw some 350 golfers bombarding the course at the same time. The game was fun. The closing period at the Sheraton Hotel was funnier. When it was all over, Oniwon, accompanied by his wife and son was so amazed he searched for things to say. He did say something after all.