Prince Chidi Ibe
Prince Chidi Ibe is the coordinator for Initiative for Diaspora Knowledge Transfer. The businessman who for long lived in the United Kingdom is among the increasing band of Diaspora Nigerians making a homeward journey to set up business or take up employment. He shares the reason for his optimism with Chineme Okafor
What are you involved in at present?
I am the president of Best Western Premier Port Harcourt Hotel which is a 4-star hotel and one of 4200 hotels owned by Best Western International, the world largest hotel chain. The hotel was commissioned in 2008 when I came back from England where I lived almost all my adult life but decided to come back to Nigeria and setup something for myself. I’m also the global coordinator for an organisation that the new democratic dispensation has helped to build up; as part of my contribution towards transformation of Nigeria, we registered an NGO that will harness knowledge and experience gathered from our various abodes in the Diaspora to bring back to our nation bearing in mind that mostly what we need in our nation is to upgrade our infrastructure and bring ourselves up to date with what is necessary to aid human existence and those things are not in our backyard but far away in the Diaspora. And who are the best people to bring these things home with passion? It’s not the Pakistanis, Lebanese or Ghanaians but Nigerians that live in the Diaspora. Therefore we decided to create this forum that can be termed a funnel where Nigerians that hitherto had problems or challenges in sending their ideas back home will key into to allow for a single formidable presentation of such ideas to the various authorities at home and try to convince them to do things differently from the way we have done them and not made much progress, that is why we set up this Initiative for Diaspora Knowledge Transfer (IDKT).
How has the business terrain been?
Best Western started very poorly in terms of profit margin considering that we completed it with consideration to very high international standard; it was managed by Protea at one point before we later rebranded to Best Western. The capacity of branding that the hotel has achieved can tell any Nigerian that it is not just a regular go-sleep-in hotel but we have had our challenges and it is in its fourth year of existence but yet to break even because first, the militancy came and secondly, there is a huge infrastructural defect in front of the hotel and then the Eleme Junction fly-over was a very huge problem.
But we still hung on there, considering our passion and hoping that good governance will sustain the peace that is brought by the amnesty programme as well as an improvement in infrastructural deficit in Niger Delta so that businesses like this and other well thought out projects will survive. Diaspora Nigerians like me came back home to do this and for me I will not like to see the over 1200 staff employed there lose their jobs.
What about the Initiative for Diaspora Knowledge Transfer?
On the other hand, I have continued to pursue my passion for infrastructural development of Nigeria through IDKT and having been sitting here since December 2011 that this place was commissioned by first lady, Dame Patience Jonathan, we have been able to get series of interest from well meaning Diaspora Nigerians that have modules and experiences that they want to transfer to assist in nation building. We have also engaged in some corporate social responsibilities like the renovation of some primary schools in Enugu state. We are registered with the National Planning Commission (NPC) as a pioneer entity for knowledge transfer and here in our incubation center, we have ground-breaking ideas that could create change in a few months if the government domesticates. We have the Peoples Advice Bureau which is a duplication of the UK Citizen Advice Bureau where we will have advice centers with pre-installed frequently asked questions in our local centers for people to ask knowledgeable questions and seek direction about health, environmental and socio-economic issues of life; it is expected that such information when uploaded in our central information center here in Abuja will get to the government for them to feel the pulse of ordinary Nigerians. The bureau will bring government closer to the citizens and it is currently on the desk of the National Orientation Agency.
We have the Freizol Grazing Grass System where we hope to create grazing reserves across the country for cattle farmers to key into under certain terms and conditions to benefit from such. We have the Turkish Industrial Cluster system that will become an alternative to China for us and not clusters that are always talked about on papers. Our young men and women are graduating from NYSC every day, we need to channel their energies somewhere positive, we have high street malls that will be rolled out soon as soon as the FCDA approves; such will include malls with offices for doctors, lawyers and all sort of professional services. We need to create a good environment for investment because investors do not just think about the profit to repatriate but your ability to take care of them, if they see that you cannot take care of your citizen, they doubt your ability to take care of them.
How has the government received your ideas and proposals?
We have got endorsements from the government, of course the first lady commissioned here but we need the MDAs to key into our vision; we need to interact with them to bring out the best in their responsibilities to Nigerians especially in their procurement of public goods because as government with strong bargaining power, you don’t just buy goods off the shelves, we need them to understand that in this era, you don’t just make your country become a dumping ground from your inability to understand what the system needs, we need to procure public goods according to certain specifications.
Do you sometimes loathe the decision to return?
I actually decided to come home on my own volition and so should have no regret. Although I’ve been through the hurdles but I think our value for labour here is quite poor and we need that to be changed to encourage people to take up vocational skills with certification. We need to add value to artisanship but in all that it goes beyond the challenges but more of passion for the country, we need to do things differently and that is what transformation is all about. But again, governments need to understand its roles as drivers. Let us imitate the Chinese and get everybody involved in building up this nation, government has good intentions but don’t know how to put a shape to it.
Do you find it ironic that Nigerians have not quite taken full advantage of the vast opportunities?
Unfortunately, that will remain that way until Nigerians learn to appreciate their own. You make more money in a poor environment than in a rich one; the western world is built up already but Nigeria is still virgin and waiting to be built and so anybody that takes the risk makes the fortune. We don’t even have a communal life in Nigeria, so how do we learn from each other when we don’t trust ourselves? The government, and indeed Nigerians, can change our way of thinking; we need to engender ingenuity in everything we do to empower Nigerians like the use of clay bricks to build houses and then you will see jobs and clusters of clay burning factories in the hinterland.
What turnaround plans do you have for your hotel?
We will continue to operate and improve our services but government will have to provide some basic infrastructures for us and as well ban the establishment of rental estates by multinational corporations in the country. These companies build rental yards and let out to other companies without remittance of appropriate revenue to the government. There should be some sort of regulation to that because they are taking business from us; we also hope that the peace in the Niger Delta will be sustained; the East-West and Onne road is so bad and it shouldn’t take rocket science for the government to fix that. We should be working day and night to catch up with the rest of the world and not just what we have now.