Growing up in an Igbo community in Houston, Nnadubem Gabriel (Gabe) Muoneke dreamed that he would one day live and work in Nigeria, where his roots were strongest and where he felt he could make the biggest difference. After an extraordinary student experience at UT Austin, which included four years of rigorous engineering courses and perhaps even more rigorous practices as a member of the Texas Men’s Basketball team, he never lost sight of that dream.
Muoneke always knew he wanted to build things. At age 10, he was already repairing the plumbing and drywall in his family home, and, by the time he turned 14, he was installing car stereos and fixing his friends’ radios almost as easily as he dominated the local basketball courts.
After choosing to attend The University of Texas at Austin on an athletic scholarship, Muoneke decided to focus his academics in an area he thought would best prepare him to make an impact and have success in Nigeria.
“I realized that I had all these accumulated skills with no real direction, but I knew one thing very clearly—I eventually wanted to end up in Nigeria,” Muoneke says. “So, I thought, which field could I pursue and which skills could I nurture that would be applicable to living in and adding value to Nigerian society?”
The answer was energy, and specifically, petroleum engineering. Given Texas Engineering’s world-renowned distinction in this area, Muoneke knew it was the perfect degree program for him.
Many student athletes would think twice before adding a challenging engineering course load to their plates, but Muoneke was dedicated to pursuing his two passions and believed that one could potentially help him realize his dream of pursuing the other.
Realizing the Dream
As a four-year starter who still ranks among UT Austin’s top 15 all-time scorers and rebounders, Muoneke had a college basketball career that most sports fans and student athletes would envy. But he recognized that athletic ability does not last forever, and he began planning his second career before his first had even begun.
“From day one, I knew I was using basketball to set up a career in engineering,” Muoneke said. “I once saw an article from my freshman year, in which I was asked what I wanted to do in 20 years. Not knowing much about the terminology of oil and gas at the time, I said I wanted to start an oil ‘excavation’ company in Nigeria. So, I guess you could say I knew what I wanted to do very early.”
But his energy-industry career would have to wait. After college, Muoneke toured the world for nine years as a professional basketball player, playing in various countries, introducing himself to interesting people and cultivating relationships with key influencers who might one day help him develop a company in Nigeria. Today, some of his biggest financiers are based in Spain, where he won his first professional basketball championship.
When the time came to hang up his sneakers for good, Muoneke’s outreach efforts began paying huge dividends.
He retired from basketball in 2009 to join Afren, a U.K.-based oil exploration and production company, where he learned the ins and outs of the industry and advanced quickly. He marveled at the company’s efficiency and appreciated the fact that employees in every phase of the operation performed their tasks effectively and understood each other’s work.
“The experience at Afren was invaluable,” Muoneke said. “In addition to teaching me how to raise money and debt financing, Afren taught me patience and gave me a lot more responsibility and trust than I even realized at the time.”
Equipped with the knowledge and training he received at Afren, Muoneke founded MTX, an energy company based, unsurprisingly, in Nigeria.
Though it had been his lifelong dream, having achieved it so quickly took even Muoneke by surprise.
“While attempting to broker a partnership between a friend’s company and a would-be investor in Nigeria, the investor asked if I wanted to just start my own company and partner with them myself,” he said. “By that time, I knew a lot about the operations, landscape, regulations and overall climate of Nigerian energy, and having that knowledge led me to move quickly on building the company.”
Muoneke hit the ground running. He traveled frequently to meet potential partners, financiers and investors—in fact, he can recall a whirlwind 24-hour-period during which he flew to Singapore for a presentation and then got right back on a plane the same night to return to work the following day.
When people ask him how he managed it, the only word he can summon is “supernaturally.” But, if he accomplishes the goals he has set for MTX, then these considerable efforts will certainly have been worthwhile.
Investing in Africa
Muoneke founded MTX as a mission-driven company focused on bringing sustainable and economically viable energy projects to Africa. “We know we have to make money,” Muoneke says, “but I’ve learned that, if money is your driving factor, you won’t make it.”
Muoneke sees an African market with deficits in many areas—deficits that he believes can only be addressed by African stakeholders who are willing to invest time, effort and resources. Only then, Muoneke feels, will Africa bring its energy projects to fruition. For this reason, MTX is made up of the very stakeholders whom Muoneke has in mind.
“We cannot just talk about ‘Africa rising’ or the proverbial ‘potential of Africa,’” Muoneke says. “We must embody it, and we do. We love working for Africa, and we love the people of Africa. We aren’t going anywhere. We do not invest elsewhere. Because we are true stakeholders, we act accordingly and invest in Africa. Our ultimate goal is to address all energy deficits on the continent, starting with Nigeria, in a sustainable manner.”
For Muoneke, his company’s focus on sustainable energy is the highest priority. When he drives through the streets of Nigeria and sees buildings filled with stacks of decommissioned diesel-fueled generators that are perpetually being replaced with new ones, he is reminded that change in the region is long overdue.
But, he knows that there must first be a shared desire to invest in new solutions. “It’s a shame that the only thing standing in the way of sustainable energy in Africa is investment,” he said. “We believe there is an energy solution in every region of Africa. The issue is just to find that solution. If that requires investing in research, so be it. We are willing to do it.”
Above all, Muoneke wants to set an example for his colleagues in the region and help change the global image that sometimes presents Africa as a charity case in need of assistance.
“My hope is that MTX can help to quell the sensationalism that contributes to this image, not by directly addressing it but simply through the results of our work,” he said. “I want MTX to do the job of an honest son of the soil, and the results will follow.”
Muoneke and his wife, Lenea, have two daughters, Bianna and Ari, and two sons, Dubem and Nnazi. Muoneke speaks seven languages and is a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu brown belt. He is currently completing a master’s degree in oil and gas project management from the University of Liverpool.