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Special focus on outstanding women in leadership in Nigeria

Throughout history, the central role played by women has ensured the stability, progress and long-term development of nations. In the 21st century, the issues of gender balance and the need to accord women equal opportunities and allow them achieve their full potentials in the society, have gained more momentum, globally. While some progress has been made…

Throughout history, the central role played by women has ensured the stability, progress and long-term development of nations. In the 21st century, the issues of gender balance and the need to accord women equal opportunities and allow them achieve their full potentials in the society, have gained more momentum, globally.

While some progress has been made to overcome impediments to their chances of contributing to development, a lot still needs to be done in the area of decision-making. According to the United Nations (UN), investing in women and respecting their rights is the surest way to uplifting communities, organizations and countries, as well as achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Most importantly, the global body made its submission to the effect that ‘Balance’ is not a women’s issue, but rather a business issue. The race is on for gender-balanced boardroom, gender-balanced government, gender-balanced media coverage, gender-balanced employment opportunities, gender-balanced wealth creation, gender-balanced sports activities, amongst others.

Thus, the involvement of women in nation-building is an inalienable right, as well as inescapable reality for a holistic and comprehensive political, economic and social advancement in the modern world. Over time, some women who have been entrusted with leading roles to manage human and material resources have more often than not, proved that given adequate backing, they can perform creditably. 

Indeed, the 21st Century has birthed the long-awaited desire of women to be in the corridors of power, to be vocal about their needs, and to execute their dreams by contributing their quota to national development.

In this edition, The Guardian presents some of Nigeria’s most excellent Amazons that are making invaluable contributions to the nation’s economic development and growth. 

The roll call include:  Ms. Oluwaseun (Seun) Abimisola Oni, Group Managing Director/CEO, AG Leventis (Nigeria) Limited, Mrs. Iroghama Obuoforibo, Managing Director/CEO, Starzs Investments Company Limited; Mrs. Victoria Avuru, Managing Director/CEO, Blackbell Resturant Nigeria Limited; Mrs. Abike Oluwatoyin Dabiri-Erewa, Chairman/CEO, Nigerians in Diaspora Commission (NiDCOM); Mrs. Owen Omogiafo, President/Group Chief Executive Officer, Transcorp Group; Miss Jennifer Obayuwana · Executive Director, Polo Limited.

SEUN ONI: Cerebral, Astute World Class Business Leader With Passion for Excellence

Ms. Oluwaseun (Seun) Abimisola Oni, the Group Managing Director/CEO, AG Leventis (Nigeria) Limited, is a business leader, with over 25 years’ professional experience spanning Assurance & Business Advisory and leading financial strategies and processes in multinational organizations. Ms. Oni started her career in 1991 with the firm of PricewaterhouseCoopers and took increasing roles within the firm, including leading multidisciplinary consulting engagements for large scale organizations across various industry segments.

Seun Oni

She moved into operational management in 1999, joining the Coca-Cola Company as the Budget and Planning Manager for Coca-Cola Nigeria Limited and held varied roles of increasing capacities within the Finance function and across geographies. In 2009, Ms. Oni was appointed to the board of Coca-Cola Nigeria in her role as the Country Finance Director. In further recognition of her commitment to leadership development, she was appointed as a representative to the Eurasia Africa Group Women’s Leadership Council of the Coca-Cola Company.

She joined the Nigerian Bottling Company Limited (an anchor bottler of the Coca-Cola Company and subsidiary of the Coca-Cola Hellenic Beverages Company) in 2014 as the Country Chief Finance Officer and amongst the key milestones in the role, she established herself as a transformational leader, leveraging her passion & focus around people and capability development to transform the Finance Function, lead optimization initiatives to drive cost efficiencies that translated to step change improvement in cost margins.

After a career spanning 18 years with the Coca-Cola System (Cola-Cola Nigeria Limited & Nigeria Bottling Company Limited), Ms. Oni transitioned from Nigeria Bottling Company Limited in December 2017 and took on the role of Executive Finance Director of Reckitt Benckiser, West Africa. She is currently the Group Managing Director/CEO of A.G. Leventis (Nigeria) Limited, joining the organization September 2019.

Ms. Oni is a fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria and member of the Institute of Directors. She holds an honours degree in Economics from the University of Lagos and is also an alumna of the management programmes of the Lagos Business School, Wharton Business School Pennsylvania and IMD Business School, Lausanne.

In this brief interview with The Guardian, she talked about her career journey, passion for excellence, the Nigerian economic environment, girl-child education, women leadership question in Nigeria, amongst sundry issues. Excerpts …

What would you describe as the greatest passion that has brought you this far in your career? 

At my core is a very keen interest to drive solutions and create value and linked to this is a passion to bring people into the space of their full potential. I am a firm believer in people and the God-given capacity that lies within us, when we open our minds to increasing range of possibilities. If we can each lean in and operate from the best of our capacity at any point in time, tremendous value will be created.

One of leaders I worked with unlocked this so powerfully for me and always referenced a comment – “Value is created at the intersection of functions”, imagine individuals powered by the drive to create impact, collaborating effectively within the organization, the multiplied benefit to the organization becomes infinite. 

In a patriarchal society such as ours and given the prevailing harsh economic environment, how can you describe your experience in the last few years as regards running of this company in particular, and industry where you operate, in general? 

Operating in what reflects the famous acronym, VUCA world, I believe does not reflect on gender but a demand on authentic leadership and your ability as a leader to balance resilience and agility to effectively channel the energies of your team and the organization through challenging times. So, I see this as a call for inspirational leadership and I have focused my energy on that assured in my identity as a woman. 

The past few years dovetailing into the most recent two years draws on your leadership reservoir to balance empathy and your emotional quotient, recognizing the real vulnerabilities (yours and the team) that are at stake and at the same time keeping the vision firmly in focus. 

From historical record, Women are known for seeking ways to educate, empower and contribute to society; can you say that womenfolk are performing up to expectation in Nigeria? 

Indra Nooyi, former Chairperson and CEO of PepsiCo, rightly called out the next few decades as the decades of women. The conversations about the value we bring to the table has shifted, the proof points are there across every layer of both public and private sector leadership, extending even into other layers of societal and community impact. 

It was so inspiring reading the recent Board announcements for Ecobank and taking that beyond the clear bold statement on diversity, is the assurance you have of the track records of the female leaders joining that Board. I believe the new narrative now or additional narrative, is how we ensure that the increasing income inequality and deterioration of the educational sector, do not erode the gains we have. 

The focus on the Girl-Child is so important, how we ensure that there is a level playing field for information access to the girl child of the vast possibilities of her capacity and capability. How do the images of the tremendous capacity of her gender get transmitted, to continue to power the dreams of limitless possibilities of what she can be in any field? 

I grew up with more written account of history, now, history is being recorded with visual imagery and we have many powerful images to showcase but access points are being eroded and we must prevent that.

In your own opinion, what other qualities do you think are required or needed for a woman to make it to the top in Nigeria?  

It is important to set the right context, Leadership is not an end point but a continuum. You evolve in your leadership growth, increasing your capacity to impact and the range or sphere of your influence. Holding that concept of leadership regardless of gender is very important to set a leadership mindset and orientation very early in your career journey. This powers you both consciously and unconsciously, but sometimes as women, stereotypes, bias and labels erode this mindset. We must protect against that, individually and as a collective.

It is therefore very important as women to be very intentional and authentic about our leadership voice and DNA. Operate from your well-defined ethos and value compass but be confident and assured in yourself as leader bringing increasing value to the table. 

Other anchors are important such as building your domain strength quickly but always learning (diligence is never outdated in any field), strong softer skills around resilience and emotional connectedness are equally key leadership enablers that effective leaders need to have regardless of gender.

How well can you describe the implementation of the affirmative action in the country and what other limitations can you ascribe to the seemingly slow progress in the ascendancy of a woman as Number One Citizen in the country? 

I believe the conversations and engagement around diversity and inclusion are at the right pace and intensity. But beyond conversations, we are equally seeing women taking the lead, I am so proud, inspired and daily motivated by how we are defining the conversations across different fields, in-country and globally and there are many powerful narratives in each generation such that age is not even a limitation.

Bringing it into the political space, I think it is important to define where we are in our journey as a Nation, I believe there is some consensus around the fact that both in the elected and public sector space, is a gap in visionary leadership. What needs to be clear, is if we have a collective consensus that this is now an imperative or a cliff point for the survival of our nation. 

That collective consensus must cut across region, self interest groups, socio-economic class, and rest on a clear reality that we are at an inflection point. I believe when the general pulse of the nation gets to such a consensus, then the emergence and acceptance of visionary leadership will converge. Do I believe we have the ready pipeline of visionary female leaders and equally male leaders, absolutely we do, but the slow progress is more a reflection of our citizenship readiness rather than the emergence of the transformational leader. We are at point where we must a have pull or demand for that leadership. 

What efforts are you making to create more awareness on the inherent power of success factors in women for the sake of aspiring young Nigerians and what other things can the government do to increase the success rate of women in the Nigerian society? 

I go back to one of my earlier points around refocusing or extending the conversations to the development and orientation of the girl child and equally the boy child. The current state of the education sector juxtaposed with other critical sectors needing attention, really leaves one with deep concerns. 

One of the core pillars of our social footprint through the Leventis foundation and equally as an organization A.G. Leventis, is first education, where we then anchor our interventions around mentoring programs at school level and future proofing these young minds through Technology. We have partnered with agencies and institution that can provide that immediate reach, examples include LEAP AFRICA, British Council, STEM METS and our immediate community Apapa LCDA. 

Can you share with us what you consider as the most trying moment in your journey to success and what advice can you give the up-coming entrepreneurs?  

Resilience is one of the very important attributes needed in any journey of growth and most times you connect the dots backward to take the learnings to strengthen your resilience factor.  Resilience also requires that you have clarity on the destination, your personal vison and that of the organization and be very clear on the connectors. 

Therefore, I like to see trying times in that context, with hindsight I can focus on connecting the dots of those tough moments and hopefully move forward with the daily refreshers that tough moments truly don’t last. In the moment it will be tough but how to find ourselves the space to define what is within the sphere of our control and influence is always a good start. That space of defining what is controllable and what is outside of your control, is where you also need self-awareness to dispassionately assess yourself in the context of that situation, what actions and resources can I leverage and what are the options available. 

Either as an entrepreneur or intrapreneur, I think building resilience is a capability that will ultimately serve you well.

IROGHAMA OBUOFORIBO: Savy, Astute, Resilient, Young Nigerian Amazon With Positive Impact in Nigeria’s Maritime Industry

Iroghama Obuoforibo

From time immemorial, beauty and brain remain one combination that is often rare to come by. Although, many women have been privileged with this to excel, more than ever, other personal qualities have become critical success indices to success in business and other human endeavour.

Mrs. Iroghama Obuoforibo, Managing Director/CEO, Starzs Investments Company Limited is one good example of the essence of how resilience, tenacity and innovation play significant role in a successful career journey.”

In her words, “over the years, as an entrepreneur who has had the privilege to start up a few companies, being able to win against all odds is a treasured quality. It means you have the courage to forge through, the strength to stand, the positive mindset to see the light at the end of the tunnel and the faith to believe that impossible is nothing.”  

According to her, amongst the professionals she looked up to at the early stage of her career, Iroghama said her father, Mr, Greg Ogbeifun who has been a role model from the early years as an entrepreneur. 

She explained that “Everything I know about business he taught me and has held my hand through my journey. Meanwhile, Tara Fela Durotoye is an amazing mentor and coach. Her life is exemplary and in itself a lesson. Similarly, Mrs. Ibikun Awosika helped shape the kind of Leader I hoped to be and the leader that I am today.”

In her assessment, the contributions of the Nigerian professionals in the private sector to economic development of the country have been immeasurable as they have been the major catalyst in the nation’s journey to nationhood. 

Her words “When you look at the contributions of MSMEs to the economic indices of Nigeria, it is obvious that they drive and power the private sector. These MSMEs are made up of professionals who bring their expertise to bear even under unfavorable conditions where the challenges are stacked against you. While we recognize that the growth of the private sector is dependent on the professionals within it, we cannot ignore the need for a better educational system that can produce more qualified candidates to join the workforce. Human resource remains a significant challenge within the private and public sector.”

She added that “more reforms are required, both in development and implementation, which will create an enabling environment for businesses to thrive, thereby enhancing their contribution to the economic development of the country not just in the GDP but job creation metrics. as well. This will help with the brain drain that Nigeria continues to suffer from, which is escalating yearly.”

Regarding the factors responsible for why Starzs Investments’ continuous steady growth and corporate integrity over the years, despite the prevailing challenges in the nation’s business space, the investment expert stressed that the company’s thirty-five years of visionary leadership is a huge advantage. 

“Furthermore, we recognize the value of PEOPLE within the organization and as such, we focus on competency and development. As a company, we know that we cannot grow in isolation. If our industry as a whole is not thriving in terms of effective policies, opportunities and availability of human resources, we will not thrive as well. 

Therefore, we have been at the forefront of driving policy formulation, policy change and policy implementation. We are also actively involved in various industry associations which serve as a platform for driving change. Lastly, our company has designed and implemented a robust cadetship training scheme that provides sea going experience for student sea farers. The availability of qualified and certified seafarers is critical to the longevity of our industry.

Presently, Starzs provides maritime logistics services to the oil and gas industry as top tier indigenous service company. We have carved a niche for ourselves as experienced Tug owners and operators, However, our look ahead vision is to expand our service offering to other industries through the provision of cargo logistics. We intend to grow a fleet of cargo vessels that will trade regionally and internationally. This will enable us participate in the facilitation of the African Continental Free Trade agreement (AfCFTA), as well as contribute to the development of Sea faring trade in Nigeria by providing training berths for our cadets.”

As an entrepreneur with over a decades’ worth of experience in high impact positions across industries, Mrs. Iroghama Obuoforibo holds a first degree in Biology and Psychology from the University of Massachusetts, Boston and a Master of Science degree in Public Health and Health Promotion from Brunel University, London. 

With a certification in Commercial Risk in Shipping from Lloyd’s Maritime Academy; a certification in ABC of Shipping from the Nigerian Chamber of Shipping; a management certification from Harvard Business School and her extensive exposure, she has developed strong financial management, client relationship management, business strategy and change leadership skills. 

Starzs Investments Company Limited, a fully-indigenous ship-owning marine logistics company, provides vessel logistics services and offshore support to international and indigenous oil producing companies in the Nigerian Oil and Gas industry. As the CEO, a position she attained after successfully leading the affairs of the company as its Executive Director and subsequently the Chief Operating Officer, she manages the company’s daily operations. In this position, she draws on her exceptional depth of expertise and skills o lead strategy and policy, oversee business development, represent and promote the company’s interest amongst other roles. She works tomaximize the company’s revenue performance and has recorded landslide achievements.  

Under her management, the company has grown its assets base from 3 ships in 2014 to 12 ships by February 2021. 

In addition to her role at SIC, L, she also manages Eaglewatch Security Company (ESL), a licensed Private Security Guards company established in 1999 which provides professional security services.   

She is as well an entrepreneur who founded Hair Hairven Limited, a hair care products and services company. She heads strategy and business development for the beauty and hair care brand while also managing the expansion of the Hairven hair bar model salons.  

Iroghama’s commitment to excellence and her exceptional entrepreneurial grit has been repeatedly applauded.  She was a recipient of the Entrepreneur Trail Blazer Award, Quantum Business Project in 2011 and 2013. In 2013, she also received special recognition for CSR Projects at Ikota Slum Community, Lagos. She was a winner of the Next Titan Entrepreneurial Show in 2013 and a nominee, Beauty Category for The Future Awards in 2016. She won two consecutive Eagle awards for Young Entrepreneur of the Year. She is a Member, Institute of Directors (IoD); Associate Member, Women in Management, Business and Public Service; Founding Member of The Women in Energy Network; Board Member, Development & Leadership Institute (DLI); and Chairperson, Finance and Membership Committee of the Ship Owners Association of Nigeria (SOAN). 

She is passionate about mentoring and capacity development.  She voluntarily offersmentorship to young female entrepreneurs in a bid to contribute to advancement of the Nigerian economic ecosystem. 

Iroghama is \an established public speaker. She has spoken at Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency’s stakeholders’ engagement on policy formulation and execution 2019; The National Branding Conference, 2017; Model Woman Conference, 2017; The 2018 British Commonwealth Business Forum, UK; WIMBIZ Roundtable sessions 2019; Nigeria Oil and Gas Conference Exhibition, 2018 and 2019; the NCDMB Practical Nigerian Content Conference from 2016 to 2019 amongst many others.

VICTORIA CHINYERE AVURU: A Woman of Substance, Distinguished By Competence and Integrity

Victoria Avuru

For every career woman in the 21st Century Nigeria, the desires to make an impact in her world, has become paramount. However, only a very few of the womenfolk like Victoria Chinyere Avuru, who are driving their desires with the requisite competence, strong character traits sustained with integrity, and genuine commitment to helping people to be the best they can be, have been able to put their names on the lips of many, who now look up to them as role models.

Driven by her strong will to succeed and the belief that solutions are always possible, Victoria Avuru, is an inspirational woman, who is successfully playing her roles as a caring mother, dutiful and responsible wife and a resourcesful entrepreneur. 

In this special report, the Chief Executive Officer, Blackbell Restaurant Nigeria Limited, granted in response to her recognition as one of the “Most Outstanding Women in Leadership in Nigeria”, she speaks on her career background, impactful journey as a female entrepreneur, the Blackbell Restaurant Nigeria Limited’s success story, among other issues. Excepts …

An Insight into a How it All Started
I grew up in Calabar, Cross River State, the only girl in a family of seven siblings. Although, an indigene of Anambra State, I am now a Deltan by marriage to Austin Avuru and we are blessed with two sets of twins (two boys, two girls).

I am a Geologist with Business Trainings and Certifications from Lagos Business School and Havard Business School, respectively. 

Naturally, as the first daughter l was expected to take care of all my siblings (both older and the younger ones). So, I packed their lunch boxes before the age of 10 and equally made breakfast and lunch for them.

Doing these chores in those day, I never realize it was going to be a big advantage in the future until l got into the boarding school in a different state. Thankfully, that singular act prepared me for so many roles, l woud share in my journey.

As time went on, I became increasingly attached to my father, because generally, it felt like my dad had a lot of empathy towards me. We were extremely close. we were real buddies and I also became his major ‘confidant’.

Fast forward from high school to college, l was also very far from home. During that period, l spent more time with my grandma, who was a food retailer and a great farmer.

In 2006, l met my husband (Austin Avuru) at a Conference for geologists and engineers in Zaria. He was very charming and smooth but I paid his advances no attention at the time, because all I wanted to do then was graduate with as good a result. 

I finalised my Geology degree in college and went on to work for Schlumberger, fresh out of school in 2008.

While with Schlumberger, l worked as a software engineer supporting the subsurface engineers before and during drilling (a far cry from catering hospitality right!).

Interestingly, my hubby was is also an only son with five sisters. Therefore, naturally his family’s expectations were very extremely high.

Thus, at the time we were getting married in 2009, I was pregnant with our first set of twins. This drained me mentally at work. However, to the glory of Almighty God, our first sets of babies arrived June 16 2010. The same year hubby and his partners set up Seplat (which is today listed in both Nigeria and London Stock Exchanges).

While on maternity leave and nursing my babies, I abruptly lost my job with Schlumberger due to what was officially considered as a “conflict of interest” because at that time my husband was the CEO of Seplat and the company was single-sourcing a job to Schlumberger. It had absolutely nothing to do with me, personally.

Out of Schlumberger and still nursing. There and then, I set up a corporate catering company to support offices like Schlumberger, Interswitch, GE, AFREN, African RE and Seplat – all in Lagos and some Rig operators in the Niger Delta Region.

Initially, it was a fantastic business. However, over time, the receivables (long term debt by corporate clients) grew to an excruciating point and liquidity almost dried up.

This was the single biggest factor that led to my setting up of my first ever restaurant. Not long afterward, l lost interest in corporate catering, altogether.

Between 2016 till date, we have grown our restaurant business to five outlets in Lagos with a healthy turnover. Outlet Six and Seven are work in progress and should open early 2022.

Role Models As a Youngster
My Late Father, Grandma, and my Husband played significant roles at different stages of my life.

Quite early as a child, I was fond of joining my father in his office, where he would buy used vehicles/Trucks remodel/upgrade them and sell at premium margins. His confidence in achieving success in business rubbed off early on me.

Similarly, my grandma ran a relatively small catering and food supply business. Her positive attitude and her belief that anything can be achieved with good health, time and the gift of life, left a lasting impression on me. 

My husband who is much older than l am, is a test and highly respected business owner and an astute manager of men and materials. I cannot downplay the different roles hubby has played as a friend and mentor. He is a man of vision and wisdom.

Almost every moment l spent with him thought me something about ‘best in class’ business practice, discipline and value for integrity. Looking back now, these three had the combined influence on me that probably molded me into all l am today.

Patriarchal Society, Prevailing Harsh Economic Environment and the Experience of running a company in Nigeria
I have always been amused when most people, that noticed our growth at a glance in the past years simply write it off as the handy work of my husband, who is perceived to be well-connected and wealthy. Of course, it is difficult in our patriarchal society to give due credit to the achievements of a humble but hardworking team lead by a woman.

Nonetheless, I enjoy the perception because it gives me a shield under my husband and keeps me away from the preying eyes. Especially, because I know how much Austin appreciates the work we do here and what we have been able to achieve.

The Decision To Set Up Blackbell Restaurant Limited
The biggest problem I had with the corporate catering were receivables (long-term debts) owed by corporate customers. I remember having a chat during an accounting session break-out with an accounts’ facilitator at the LBS. He clearly said I had so much value on paper but with zero value as a business!

The only and inevitable solution was to change our business model to that which generates cash instantly on services delivery. With more clarity on the health of our books, I had to swallow a hard pill by switching from corporate catering to Quick Service Restaurants (QSR). 

I took this very difficult decision one bright Saturday morning to walk away from my biggest contract at the time while leaving in excess of $1.8M of unpaid invoices!

I started all over. Clearly, my love for the catering and Hospitality Industry was the only thing that kept me going at the time. 

My driver then and now, one of my reliable procurement crew member (John) and l, decided to sell our products real time on the streets. Same, menu and chef/cooks (who are all still in the system five years after). They were the resources and manpower that supported the set-up of what we all call Blackbell, today.

Success Factors
Despite the challenges that are involved in running businesses in Nigeria, Blackbell Restaurants have been able to maintain a steady growth and corporate integrity. 

Yes, this is true. Nigeria and in particular Lagos remains a very large market. If you are able to address the critical needs of customers/consumers, there’s a huge business land scape out there.

As I said earlier, you must remain disciplined and pay attention to every single detail to be able to satisfy the needs of your customers. For instance, after the first and second outlets in Lekki Phase 1 and Victoria Island, respectively, I realized the need to add a drive-thru in the Lekki second outlet.

During the pandemic, this singular innovation was a turning point for this outlet and indeed the entire business.

In this instance, paying attention to distribution channels makes so much difference.

Government’s Policy, Women Empowerment and Nation Building 
The Government should walk the talk. When they speak about enabling businesses, they should be seen to provide the enabling environment for businesses to thrive. From multiple taxation, poor to Zero Access to credit and harsh social factors, doing Business in Nigeria and succeeding is only for the daring.

From experience, the average Nigerian woman is a businesswoman and a people manager. The government and indeed our financial institutions need to do more towards women venturing into business. Some financial institutions have already started with a few initiatives (as we must give credit) but we still have a long way to go. This would really help in keeping our younger females out of trouble too.

Inspirational Women in Leadership: Advise to Young Girls/Ladies

Leading by examples, adhering to your core values. Mine are principles of passion, hardwork, discipline and attention to detail.

With more than 250 crew members, I still run various shifts with all departments. I have days working all day in the kitchen, bakery, Dry and Cold storage areas, fast casual and bistro front of house areas (serving customers), customers service section, as well as procurement field days where I physically shop at the open market for price trends. I also take supplier visit to see/understand their challenges with regards to supporting our operations.

With the above connections while working side-by-side with these crew members and vendors, crew members and vendors at various levels are extremely motivated without knowing. Some of their interpersonal skills are more easily identified with these connections (rather than just measuring KPIs).

Every leader must impulsively lead by example and I mean consistently. As a leader in a business, the impact from this will build Resource that can consolidate your growth at different phases of the business.

ABIKE DABIRI-EREWA: Providing Impactful Leadership at NiDCOM, Performing Beyond Expectations

Abike Dabiri-Erewa

The sure measure of government’s impact on public life is via the level of its involvement in service delivery to the people. With the complexities of the Social Contract and administration of democratic dividends, the desire to meet exigencies, specific life changing needs, emergencies, regulations of due process mechanism, and quality control to make Government more responsible to the citizenry, are all the main tasks of the interventionist agencies.

In Nigeria, one of such institutions of government that have made an appreciable impact within a very little time, is the Nigerians in Diaspora Commission (NiDCOM).

Established by an Act of Parliament in June 2017, and took off in May 2019 with the appointment and confirmation of Hon. Abike Dabiri-Erewa as the first Chairman/CEO of NIDCOM by the Senate, NiDCOM was envisioned to provide for the engagement of Nigerians in diaspora in the policies, projects and participation in the Nigeria project. Thus, the Commission is charged with the responsibility of coordinating and providing an organized system of collaborations of Nigerians in diaspora for their contributions by identifying, preserving and mobilizing the human, capital and material resources and expertise to the general development of the country.

Led by an ebullient, astute and seasoned media professional, Hon Abike Dabiri-Erewa, the pioneer Chairman/Chief Executive Officer, this over two-year old humanitarian and interventionist agency has gotten accolades from home and abroad.

Not backing down due to daunting challenges starring at it in the face, the Commission has been able to live up and even beyond expectations in less than three years of its existence, implementing the National Diaspora Policy, the first of its kind in Nigeria.

Under an able leadership, the Commission has continued to justify the need for its establishment among which is the reduction in the massive exodus of Nigerian professionals abroad in search of greener pasture thus creating a ‘brain drain’ in the system and efforts by the Commission in stemming the tide and change the narrative to brain-gain through a constructive engagement with the Diasporans and tapping their potentials for national development.

Having recognised that the Nigerian Diaspora as part and parcel of the population and the real catalyst and asset to bring about accelerated economic growth using their resources, intellect and global exposure, NiDCOM has embarked on advocacy to states across the country to key into the larger Diaspora movement with the inauguration of Diaspora Focal Point Offices and Officers in 33 out of the 36 states of the Federation including the FCT.

In May 2021, the Focal Point Officers coordinated by NiDCOM had a successful three-day Summit in Abuja, the third in the series since 2019.

NIDCOM also ensured the consolidation of the Federal Government’s declaration of July 25 every year as `National Diaspora Day’ – a date set aside to recognise and appraise Nigerians in the Diaspora on their contributions to national development. This is to ensure networking, dialogue and constructive interface between Nigerian professionals and experts in the Diaspora and Nigerians at home on development challenges and opportunities. The third in the series was held on July 25, 2021 via hybrid of physical and webinar.

Similarly, by Nov. 2021, the Commission will be organising the third Nigeria Diaspora Investment Summit (NDIS) in Abuja with other stakeholders from across the globe via webinar thus lubricating the Diasporans interest and participation in investing back home in any sector of their choice.

Interestingly, a follow-up to the Summit, on 18th and 19th December, 2019, two young Nigerians, resident in Saudi Arabia, the al-Yaro Group, put together the first Saudi Arabia/Nigeria Investment Forum, an offshoot of the Nigerian Diaspora Investment Summit in Abuja. It was a great success.

Furthermore, as part of the Commission’s collaborative efforts with other stakeholders, some 19,085 Nigerians were evacuated and brought back home from various countries due to reasons of deportation, human abuses and trafficking, voluntary returnees and effects of COVID-19 pandemic from June 2020 to March 2021.

In response to the pandemic, with the disruption of travel and physical meetings, NIDCOM organised, among others, webinar meetings with international agencies like the International Centre for Migration Policy Development (ICMPD), the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the World Bank and the AU at various levels.

Of course, with Nigerians in Diaspora contributing so much to the Nigerian economy – estimated at over $25 billion US dollars in 2019 alone – it is widely believed that they deserve to vote. Therefore, the Commission is already working with the National Assembly and other stakeholders like National Diaspora Voting Council, to hopefully makes this a reality in Nigeria through amendment to the country’s Electoral Act and the 1999 Constitution.

The Commission has participated in many activities within and outside the country geared towards advancing the course of Nigerians in the Diaspora. A good example is the 25th anniversary of Association of Nigerian Physicians in the Americas (ANPA) which exposed the quality of Nigerians doctors as the best brains in the Americas!

In line with President Muhammadu Buhari’s desire that the welfare and well-being of Nigerians anywhere in the world is top priority, NiDCOM paid swift intervention visits to many High Commissioners and Embassies in Abuja to put a stop to the indiscriminate xenophobic related killings of Nigerians, discrimination, inhuman treatment, illegal detention among others, insisting that it is highly reprehensible, condemnable and unacceptable.

As part of its indelible record of interventions, NiDCOM brought the matter of Zainab Aliyu (who was placed on death row by the Saudi Arabian government for alleged drug related offences) to Mr. President and he immediately directed the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) to intervene. So, with that collaboration with AGF and Saudi Mission, she was freed. 

Similarly, the release of Ibrahim Ibrahim and other positive intervention in rescuing other Nigerians in such dilemma in Malaysia, Oman, U.A.E., China, Brazil, Morocco, Singapore, Libya, India, Kenya, Lebanon, Qatar and Ethiopia.

One of the objectives of the Commission is to have adequate data of Nigerians living abroad for effective planning purposes and the flag off was done in partnership with National Identity Management Commission (NIMC), where the enrolment took the Commission to some parts of West Africa, Europe, Asia and Americas. This is a continuous exercise under the Commission’s Diaspora Mapping Policy.

At various times, the Commission interacts with critical stakeholders such as International Organization for Migration (IOM), National Youth Service Corps (NYSC), Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Ministry of Finance, International Centre for Migration Policy Development (ICMPD), International Labour Organization (ILO), Association of Bureau De Change Operators of Nigeria, among several others, to see how collaboration with the Commission will enhance better opportunities for Nigerians abroad. Equally, the Commission has inaugurated NIDO Chapters in different countries across the globe.

Meanwhile, securing a Nigeria passport abroad has been a recurring headache to many Nigerians in the Diaspora. To ease the process, NiDCOM interfaced with the Minister of Interior and the Comptroller General of Immigration Service. These efforts paid off as backlog of the passports issuance occasioned by the COVID-19 lockdown in many countries have eased out. 

Besides NiDCOM’s monthly Diaspora Newsletter and the new online radio station, the Commission issued various statements and interfaced with the media especially on issues as it affects the welfare of Nigerians in the Diaspora. Also, it has a 30-minute weekly package on NTA International and other TV Channels called the Diaspora wherein the programmes and activities of the Commission are being showcased.

In the same vein, NIDCOM boss in entourage of Mr. President on state visits do organise town hall meetings for Nigerians living abroad to meet and interact with Mr. President and discuss issues affecting their welfare while using the opportunity to also brief Nigerians in Diaspora on efforts being made by the administration to revamp the economy, tackle insecurity and fight corruption to a standstill in the country.

On daily basis, NIDCOM treats petitions of Nigerians in the Diaspora received in its known mail addresses: ssa@diaspora.gov.ng and admin@nidcom.gov.ng, as it affects their welfare and get it resolved as soon as possible.

Due to the efforts of the helmsman at the Commission, some individuals and groups from the diaspora embarked on various medical missions to Nigeria while others donated both medical equipment and services worth millions of naira towards ameliorating the impacts of COVID–19 pandemic in the country as a way of giving back to their fatherland.

Thus, it is noteworthy that these feats being achieved by one of Nigeria’s leading humanitarian and interventionist agencies, the Nigerians in Diaspora Commission, cannot be disconnected from the purpose-driven, result-oriented, resilient and impactful leadership of Hon. Kafayat Abike Oluwatoyin Dabiri-Erewa, the pioneer Chairman/CEO, who has initiated a number of laudable policies in line with the mandate of the Commission.

Abike Dabiri-Erewa, an alumnus of the University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University, OAU), where she obtained a Bachelor’s degree in English, as well as the University of Lagos (UNILAG), Akoka, with a Master’s degree in Mass Communication, also studied at the Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, United States of America. She is one CEO who dwells more on efficiency and impactful service delivery.

With respect to the operational efficiency of NiDCOM, she has spearheaded many initiatives to drive improvement, promote agility, cut costs, and improve the quality of services. Despite obvious challenges, Mrs. Dabiri-Erewa has recorded a number of unprecedented achievements for the Commission’s organisational growth, registered its value proposition in the minds of all stakeholders and secured government support for better value
delivery.

Apart from internal training, some of the staff across NiDCOM departments and units were sent on capacity training both within and outside the country to enhance their performance amidst other welfare packages by the management.

It is gratifying to note that owing to some of these remarkable achievements, a lot of accolades, awards and recognition were bestowed on the Chairman/CEO and the Commission by various groups such as Business Day Award and Guardian Distinguished Award amongst several others in recognition of the contributions of NIDCOM to Diaspora affairs in the country.

Also in May 2021, NIDCOM was listed among the 20 Most Outstanding Ministries, Departments and Agencies of government adjudged as performing in 2021.

Undoubtedly, it is a statement of fact that within short period of the NiDCOM’s existence, it has really lived up to expectations and even surpassed it, though not yet uhuru, as Nigerians in the Diaspora is assured that their interest and welfare will continue to be adequately taken care of.

In addition to the sustainability of the above achievements and in a bid to galvanise a wholistic and realistic data of Nigerians in the Diaspora, NiDCOM has launched its Data Mapping and Registry Portal in Abuja. This is geared towards having a data of Nigerians living abroad, enhance Diaspora participation in demographic and national planning as well as budgeting purposes at all levels of governance.

More importantly, the Commission intends to re-launch DIASPORA BONDS in collaboration with Debt Management Office just as the $300 million Diaspora bonds was successfully launched in 2017.

In the years ahead, the Commission intends to have a regular DIASPORA CHAMPIONS and AWARDS to deserving Nigerians in the Diaspora as a way of encouraging them to be good ambassadors of the country.

Equally, the Commission will work with National Assembly relevant committees to ensure DIASPORA VOTING for Nigerians living abroad through amendments to some electoral laws.

Talks are on with relevant government agencies like Federal Housing Authority to have a befitting Diaspora City in Abuja with over 17,000 housing units.

On Monday September 13, 2021, Hon. Abike Dabiri-Erewa led some NIDCOM Management to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to present a compedium of a book entitled: “+600 Diaspora Icons @ 60 to the Minister of State, Foreign Affairs, Amb. Zubairu Dada as part of the Commission’s efforts in celebrating success stories of Nigerians in the Diaspora and to mark the country’s 60 years independence which began in 2020.

With NiDCOM’s investment in high-tech mechanisms such as AI systems and advanced data analytic systems in order to recognise and bring Nigerian Diaspora together, stakeholders have described the launch of the data mapping platform as a historical moment for the Commission, the Nigerian Diaspora and the country. As at the day of launching the data portal, several Nigerians who joined virtually logged in instantly.

In her words, Hon. Abike Dabiri-Erewa stressed that with the establishment of the Commission, which has been a veritable link in many areas of human endeavours to ease the task of Nigerians in Diaspora in engaging with the Nigerian economy, it is expected that all Nigerians in the Diaspora will reciprocate the gesture by continuing to be good Ambassadors and project the good name of the country wherever they may find themselves.

OWEM OMOGIAFO: Dynamic Professional With Patriotic Vision 

Owen Omogiafo

Owen Omogiafo is a dynamic woman with uncommon achievements whose contributions to the nation’s economic development cannot be ignored. Driven by her strong belief in excellence, integrity, hard work, resilience, diligence and effective execution, the President/Group Chief Executive Officer, Transcorp Group, is an excellent manager whose competence and ingenuity have laid credence to the capacity of the Nigerian woman to achieve success when given the necessary education and challenged with the developmental assignments.

The certified Change Manager and member of the Institute of Directors and he Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, UK, is equipped with degrees acquired few of the best Universities in the world which include the Lagos Business School, the London School of Economics and Political Science and the IESE Business School, Spain. 

Her over two decades of corporate experience in organizational development, human capital management, banking, hospitality and energy includes working at the United Bank for Africa as HR Advisor to the Group CEO, and at Accenture as an Organization and Human Performance Consultant, specializing in change management.

Passionate about human capital and economic development, she assessed the contributions of Nigerian professionals to nation building thus: “Nigerian professionals have achieved quite a lot, with room to do more, way more, with the right partnership, support, and engagement with the Government. 

Using the Power Sector as an example, she said “one can highlight Nigerian professionals’ contribution to the country’s development. In 2012, the privatization of the Power Sector commenced in Nigeria. At the point of Transcorp’s acquisition of the erstwhile Ughelli Power plant in November 2013, it had an operating capacity of 160MW and within only three years of our takeover, we surpassed the minimum performance target of 670MW! This feat makes us one of the two power plants in the country to achieve a 5-year target set by BPE for the successor generation companies.”

Owen added that “Applying the same private sector rigor, we have commenced the recovery of generation capacity in our recently acquired Afam Genco, moving it from about 40MW available capacity in March when we took over to 120 MW by the end of April.” 

With the Government’s plan to concession the Transmission Company of Nigeria, which was expected to improve the grid infrastructure, as well as liquidity in the sector, investors will be encouraged to do even more in the Power Sector. This would, in turn, catalyse other growth sectors in the country/.

In her words “I would say we have achieved quite a lot, but truth be told, there is room to do more, way more. we could do more. Following the principles of Africapitalism, as espoused a term coined by our group Chairman, Mr., Tony Elumelu, CON, which speaks to the economic philosophy that the African private sector has the power to transform the continent through long-term invest, creating both economic prosperity and social wealth.

The government has a role to play, to create an enabling environment which is strategic for contributions of the private sector to economic development of the country. Nigeria has continued to make appreciable progress in this regard, as seen in improvements of our ranking in the Ease of Doing Business Index by World Bank, “

A patriotic professional providing the Transcorp Group’s diversed team of professionals with efficient leadership, her positive impact is making it easier for the Corporation to raise the bar of excellence in Nigeria, Owem maintained that the Group has the capacity to do more and build a future of shared prosperity with Nigerians.

According to her: “Transcorp will continue to pursue our purpose of improving lives and transforming Nigeria through expanding into new sectors of high socio-economic impact, as well as deepen our play in our current sectors. 

For expansion, we are looking at investments in sectors that will have maximum impact, both in terms of generating local revenue, creating jobs, and creating exports where we have excess as well. We also look to create programs that can benefit Nigerians directly through a more strategic and deliberate CSR focus. Overall, Nigerians should look forward to an institution that is highly well-governed and will last from generation to generation.”

A member of the Board of Trustees of the Association of Power Generating Companies in Nigeria, her professional contributions have not gone unnoticed. She was named in the YNaija Power List for Corporate Nigeria in 2018.

Owem has also been recognized as one of the “Top 100 Female CEOs in Africa”, listed among 100 Most Influential African Women. Apart from these, the visionary CEO was recognized by the Guardian Newspapers as one of Nigeria’s Most Inspirational Women and as one of the Top CEOs, 2020 by the Business Day Media and the Nigerian Stock Exchange.