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Nicholas Okoye: There’s a Burning Desire for Change in Nigeria

26 Jan 2013

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Nicholas Okoye

From being the Chief Strategist of the Nigerian Stock Exchange to being MD/CEO of Transcorp Plc, he moved on to establish Anabel Mobile Ltd. Nicholas Okoye has found a new passion. This time, he has founded the Anabel Leadership Academy where he sits as CEO. The Academy serves to provide a much needed platform for change in the leadership direction of Project Nigeria. It is an institution with the full curriculum of leadership training manual. Okoye recently held the Nigerian Leadership Summit which attracted some renowned speakers and over three thousand delegates for a three day summit at the Oriental Hotels in Lekki, Lagos.

According to him the sheer number of people that attended the conference is an indication of the big yearning for change amongst Nigerians from all hue and clime. He says it is pointer to the fact that Nigerians are tired of the way things are going on and will rally round a genuine clarion call for a new direction. SHAKA MOMODU, engages him on his new article of faith

What is Anabel Leadership Academy all about?

The Anabel Leadership Academy has been a dream. I put it together for one major reason which is that I don’t want to be one of those that always complain about the crisis of leadership in Nigeria. We have complained for too long about the crisis of leadership in Nigeria. We have complained about the deficiency in leadership from the local to the state and to the federal level. We complain about corruption, we complain about misdirection of our leadership. I am not your typical or average activist. I don’t see myself shouting from the street corner or complaining bitterly at every bar or beer parlour. I see myself providing solutions.

I would rather be involved in drafting, designing and implementing a solution than complaining about the problem because I don’t think that is effective. So, I thought deeply about the problem with Nigeria and about the crisis of leadership and I feel that there is one element that is missing completely from our leadership and that element is education. We complain that many of our leaders are not doing things right but some of them do not know what is actually required of them to do in order for things to be put right.

That tells us that there is a major education deficiency in leadership across board and the reason is very simple. If you look at the criteria that has been put together by the drafters of our present constitution or the electoral act, you will see very clearly that the requirements for becoming a legislator or even a governor is just a secondary school certificate. With such a low barrier to entry you are not going to get quality political leadership. You are not going to get sophisticated or visionary political leadership because a lot of them don’t know what to do.

The world has moved on in a 21st century society where nations are competing for the resources and jobs. So, every nation needs its best and most sophisticated and visionary thinkers at the helm of affairs in order to guide their nation forward. But when you have a nation that requires only a secondary school certificate as a qualification for you to become a leader then you are obviously on the wrong path. So, in my respect what I decided to do is to set up the Anabel Leadership Academy not because we want to uproot those in leadership positions today, no. We want to educate them, to help them. They are already in leadership positions so let us help them. We just need to get them to the point they need to be at. So, we are going to outline exactly what is required.

We have a course which is called Nation Building and it deals with what is required to build a nation. Then we have courses in leadership development where we aim to provide the skills necessary to be a good leader. When you merge knowledge of nation building, strategy, community development with the actual skills needed to lead, then you will be graduating as a first class visionary leader and that is what Anabel Leadership Academy is here to achieve.

We have seen a lot of initiatives and ventures like this that have come and gone without any impact, how is this one going to be any different?

The Anabel leadership Academy is designed to be different and the difference comes in the design, our approach and the way we engage Nigerians. If you recall we hosted and convened the Nigerian leadership summit on December 11th and 12th 2012. That is a clear opportunity for us to engage Nigerians. We were able to mobilize 3,000 delegates from all over Nigeria. They answered our call because there was a burning desire for a change in direction of the leadership of this nation. That alone goes to tell you that we did not just stop at putting together the academy and our courses.

We said let us engage Nigerians. Once we engage the Nigerians we would now carry them along in the direction we want to educate their leaders. So, we now have up to 5,000 members of the Anabel leadership Academy. People are registering with us every day because they see clearly that we have a vision and we are going in a certain direction. In addition to that, we want to educate the Nigerian population.

So we have launched a radio program called “Nigeria Manifesto” on 99.3 Info FM every Tuesday at 8:05 am all the way to 9am and we are going to use that platform to continue to educate the Nigerian population on what the requirements are for a fully-fledged and functioning democracy; how they should participate as citizens. The citizens are supposed to learn about the things that they are supposed to do to participate in a democracy because it is not all about the leadership; there is a role that the followers must also play.

The Vice Chancellor, deputy Vice Chancellor and all the egg heads of the university will be there and we will be bringing our own egg heads which are speakers from the entrepreneurial field; established speakers such as Osita Chidoka who is the Corps marshal of the Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC), Dr. Sam Amadi of the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission and Hon Jones Onyereri of the National Assembly and so on. So we are going to bring these folks to engage with the students at the event and we are also allowing young people from all over the South East Zone to participate because that is for the South East Zone. We are going to do similar events across the country in each zone. The idea is that we don’t want young people to keep asking for jobs and waiting in line sending their resumes to companies that have jobs to offer them. We want to empower them with skills with which they can create their own jobs. So they come they learn, they get the information and the motivation on what to do once they leave school.

Lets talk about the curriculum and courses offered by your academy.  are they acredited by the relevant bodies?

We have those courses developed already. We are registered with the Centre for Management Development which means we are legally authorized to provide courses to Nigerian public who want to further their education in management development, leadership development and so on. We already have that authority from the Centre for Management Development which is the federal government arm for registering such institutions.

In addition to that we want to be and expect that we would be a leader in this field in the country and the rest of Africa as far as training leaders is concerned. We have also launched the Anabel Leadership Club for boys and Girls and that is targeted at the next generation. This is exclusively for these young ones. At the leadership summit, we inducted about 127 young children into the club to train them on being the next generation of leaders. We don’t want the crisis of leadership which we are experiencing today to continue. We want to catch them young and start teaching them now what is required of a leader so that some of them who will eventually emerge as the next generation of leaders in Nigeria will not make the mistakes of our present generation of leaders.

Take us through your motivation for this venture because if one recalls, you are better known for your business exploits

Yes, I have been involved extensively in business. I was head of strategy of the Nigerian Stock Exchange. I did help develop the Nigerian Stock Exchange into a modern exchange, also one of the founding directors of Transcorp. I also launched Anabel Mobile which is the first Nigerian mobile phone about 4 years ago. We have to understand that we are operating in Nigeria. Having operated all these business in Nigeria and having been at the helm of affairs of so many businesses in Nigeria, I know where the shoe pinches.

I have run personal businesses where I spent over N400,000 - N500,000 on diesel per month. I know from the people I have hired over the years that some of the Nigerian graduates coming out of Nigerian schools cannot even write a letter. I know the decay in the educational system. I know how difficult it is to get into a car and drive from Lagos to Ibadan or Lagos to Benin because of the deplorable state of our roads. I know how difficult it is to engage with foreign investors to try to convince them to invest in Nigeria. I have seen it all and I know Nigeria is a wobbly bridge. So, what is left for me is either I get off the bridge and relocate because that bridge is going to fall or I help to fix the bridge so that the bridge does not fall and take the lives our people. So I have chosen to fix the bridge. If I continue to focus on the business I know that this nation is going to collapse sooner or later the way we are heading as a nation if we don’t do something about it. All the skirmishes you hear about in the North with the Boko Haram violence, the Jungle justice which was meted out to the Aluu 4 in Port-Harcourt, the extensive kidnapping in the South East and the extensive armed robbery in the South West is the nation rebelling against itself.

The Nigerian people are rebelling but our leaders have not recognized this and it is going to get worse because the people coming out of school do not have any jobs to engage them and when you have people like that coming out of school they are going to get very angry and frustrated and they will move into crime or violence. So we are sitting on a keg of gun powder on borrowed time. If this leadership does not recognize this and do something really quickly this system is going to collapse on all our heads. So I have chosen as my own commitment and my own contribution to rebuilding Nigeria to focus on leadership at all levels. This is now my life’s calling and I will continue to push on leadership until we get the kind of leadership that Nigeria deserves.

With the collapse of values and changing social dynamics the challenges of achieving your objectives are monumental, how are you going to manage?

You are right I think the task is monumental but I will tell you a story. I think it was written by a Jew during the Hitler crisis before Hitler took his country into the Second World War. He said at first they came for the Pols and we did nothing and they grabbed them and put them in concentration camps. Then they came for the Belgians and then finally they came for me and there was no one to speak on our behalf. That tells you something that evil prevails when good men do nothing. We cannot continue sit down and ignore the crisis that we know is staring us in the face. Good people must take a step forward and say, No, we are tired of this! Let us get this things right.

If you listen to the commentary from the children at the leadership summit, a lot of the people in the hall had tears in their eyes because the children were saying don’t kill my dream. The gentlemen in leadership positions are Nigerians too and they must understand that we cannot build a nation the way things are going. It will take efforts of people like me and many others to join the fight. What Professor Dora Akinyuli said at the leadership summit was that this is an intellectual revolution because we don’t want or need a violent revolution. Let the great thinkers come together and say let’s do things differently and let us chart a course to help the people in power. We feel everybody is involved in this because everyone wants progress in Nigeria.

What is the cost of putting the whole leadership summit together?

It costs a lot of money and we are still tabulating the figures. We have one or too sponsors here and there some of which have not made good their promises yet. But the cost is not the issue but the commitment. I was impressed with work of my team and the turn out we had was mobilized by team right here in this office.

How did you mobilize and achieve such a large turnout of over three thousand delegates?

One of the things you should know is that I am a business man that understands technology and we also have a company called Anabel Technology. So we used technology to a large extent. We set up platforms and we engaged people on all the social media platforms. We got a lot people from different parts of the country and even different parts of the world engaging with us on the web. So I would say 80% of the people that came are the people we mobilized through technology and we did it very effectively.

Technology is a powerful tool if you know how to use it. We actually have a course where we teach politicians on how to use technology and politicians are sticking to the old ways of mobilizing people. Young people don’t respond to those old ways. If you want to engage the Nigerian population you must understand technology because 70% of the Nigerian population is under the age of 35 and all of them have e-mail accounts, all of them have Facebook accounts and twitter accounts. So any politician that does understand how to use technology to mobilize people is at risk because once those people start voting you will no longer be able to depend on the village people to put you into power. The new wave are these young people because they are getting eager, they are energetic with a fire in their belly, they know their rights and they understand technology. At Anabel Leadership Academy we will help them.

How many politicians have shown interest in your academy?

That is a good question but I’d like to say first of all that in my opinion, a title does not make you a leader. The fact that you have a title that says that you are minister of this or commissioner of that does not make you a leader. A leader is someone that people have chosen to follow and nobody wants to follow someone who doesn’t know where he is going. We had over 35 speakers. It is just that they did not have the title of political office. We had Leo Stan Ekeh the chairman of Zinox and also the chairman of the summit. We had people like Donald Duke who is a former Governor and in my opinion one of Nigeria’s greatest leaders.

We had Dora Akunyili again one of Nigeria’s greatest leaders. We had professor Obiozor former Nigerian ambassador the U.S a great leader in his own right and one of Nigeria’s greatest diplomats. We had people like Ben Obi who is presently the President’s special adviser on Inter-Party Affairs, Hon Jones Onyereri Chairman of the Banking and currency Committee, Kingsley Moghalu Deputy governor of the Central Bank, Alex Otti Managing Director of diamond Bank.

Even from the entertainment industry we had the chairman of Silverbird Group Ben Bruce and we had actors and actresses such as Omotola Jalade- Ekeinde. So as you can see, it was across board, Leadership in entertainment, leadership in Technology, leadership in political life and so on. We are not approaching the government and saying they should come and give us credibility. That is the mistake the other groups have made. We want to build our own credibility and those who are in government who want to get educated and make a difference in the lives of people will come to us and we will help them. We are interested in working with any political leader or party that is interested in changing the lives of Nigerians and making it better.

Have you been inspired by the turnout?

I’ve been very inspired. In fact the turnout has motivated me to do even more. The Ibo’s will say that once you are praised for doing one thing you will do it again and again. So what we have decided to do is to make the Nigerian Leadership Summit an annual event. In addition to that, we have the “Empower Nigeria” conference series which is going to be every quarter in different regions of the country. The grandfather of all, coming up in July, is going to be what we call the “jobs for Nigeria Initiative” which will be under the chairmanship of the distinguished Emeka Anyaoku. In that event we are going to engage Nigerian youth on how to create jobs for themselves and also to engage the private sector and public sector on what to do to get millions of Nigerians jobs.

What has been your biggest challenge?

The biggest challenge has been skills, getting people with the right skills. This boils down to the educational sector. We have a very poor educational sector. The rot in the system is quite deep and I believe that there needs to be a national emergency on education. I will advise the President to declare a national emergency on education. Nigerians are spending $10 billion to $12 billion every year educating their children abroad because they do not have confidence in our education system. Ghana alone is getting $1 billion from Nigerian parents. That is the Nigerian middle class spending their money abroad when that money can be put to good use here if we had the right standards. We cannot ignore education because that is the bedrock of every society and that is where we have our greatest challenge.


Tell me about the up coming empower Nigeria road show you are putting together
The Nation’s first national and regional road show on empowerment targeted at Nigeria’s millions of unemployed young people organized and promoted by the Anabel Leadership Academy, is starting on the 31st of January holding at the University of Nigeria Enugu Campus Law School complex. The Empower Nigeria platform is designed to empower the millions of Nigeria’s unemployed people all across the country with the skills and the direction to create a job for themselves and not keep waiting for large companies that are not creating any new jobs.

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