Queen appoints Nigerian-born engineer as new serjeant at arms
A NIGERIAN-BORN chartered engineer on a mission to make parliament carbon-neutral by 2050 has been named as the new serjeant at arms.
Ugbana Oyet, 43, takes over the top job later this month, following the retirement of Mohammed Kamal El-Hajji in the summer.
Oyet told The Voice that when he was informed that he had been appointed to take up the role, he was “shaking with excitement”.
“I was actually shaking with excitement but civil servants don’t get excited, they should be calm and collected,” Oyet said laughing.
“I will do my best to enhance morale and improve the excellent service already provided by the serjeant’s office”
“It is an exciting role…To have the honour and the privilege to be able to serve and support in this really modern environment with internet, with Twitter, with extension rebellion but also with the dignity and the traditions that come with this place,” he added.
As serjeant at arms, Oyet will be responsible for ensuring order in the Commons. The Speaker can call on the serjeant at arms to escort people out of the chamber.
The ceremonial part of Oyet’s new position will make him even more visible as the carrier of the House of Commons mace during the Speaker’s procession, and into the House of Lords during the State Opening of Parliament.
In the context of the current political climate and the looming Brexit deadline, the Serjeant at Arms will face unprecedented challenges. But Oyet is confident that he and his team can handle them.
“I’m a real people person and love working closely with MPs, staff and members of the public, so I will do my best to enhance morale and improve the excellent service already provided by the serjeant’s office,” he said.
He added: “At the prorogation it was very unusual, unprecedented scenes in the house. I guess as the serjeant at arms, part of my thinking, part of approach is to be proactive about those things.”
“He is softly spoken but steely, bright, personable, used to making big decisions and leading on often complex projects”
John Bercow, speaker of the House of Commons
Oyet said that one of the ways he would work to ensure members adhere to the conventions of the House would be to send gentle – or firm when necessary – reminders of expected behaviour via letters or meetings.
Already well known to many members of the House through his role as parliament’s principal electrical engineer and programme director for the estate-wide engineering infrastructure and resilience (EWEIR) programme, which aims to make the parliamentary estate carbon neutral by 2050, Oyet also has the full support of the man he will be working closely with.
John Bercow, speaker of the House of Commons, told The Voice: “He’s a brilliant man. I’ve known him for years. He is softly spoken but steely, bright, personable, used to making big decisions and leading on often complex projects. He’s got a terrifically diverse skill set and I happen also to know that he’s very popular in the House. So my strong sense is that as well as being the right appointment, it will be a popular appointment.”
Bercow, who announced he will be stepping down as speaker and as an MP on October 31, the day Britain is set to leave the European Union, said he has always been impressed by Oyet’s ability, attitude and approach to others.
Oyet said: “It is a great honour to serve in such a historic role, which combines the needs and challenges of the modern era, while also maintaining the dignity and essential traditions that have helped parliament endure.
In addition to his ceremonial role, Oyet will run a team of 70 staff, covering the serjeant’s office, the access team, the doorkeepers and business resilience.
As programme director for EWEIR, Oyet’s main role has been to make the parliamentary estate more energy efficient and carbon neutral by 2050.
In 2018 he reduced the cost of providing emergency electrical power to the estate from £1m to £275,000 a year.
A chartered engineer and fellow of the Institute of Engineering and Technology, Oyet has a strong track record of delivering multi-billion pound projects, from a £1.8bn village complex and gated community in Abu Dhabi – in time for the first Grand Prix in there in 2009 – to a new city in Saudi Arabia including a power station and desalination plant worth tens of billions of pounds.
Born in Nigeria, Oyet moved to the UK with his family in 1991 and was at school in Chichester when he met Claire, his childhood sweetheart who later became his wife. The couple have four children – three sons and a daughter aged between 14 and 23.