In this concluding part of the interview started last week, chairman, board of trustees of the All-Nigeria Community (ANC), Ghana, Dr. Emmanuel Okeson, speaks to MARTIN-LUTHER C. KING in Accra on the negative slant of Ghanaian media in reporting Nigeria and what Nigerians should do to counter the narrative.
Like Diaspora Jewish communities, especially in the United States, which have strategic impact on policies of the Israeli government in Jerusalem, the Nigerian community in Ghana, given its numbers and financial clout, ought to have a major say in Nigeria’s policy towards Ghana. But, does it? And if not, Why not?
I would submit that the Nigeria community in Ghana and Jewish community in USA have no similarity. Historically, Jewish people all over the world descended from the same parents and are bound by same language, culture, tradition, vision and common enemy. Most Jews in USA are influential American citizens. Nigeria is the opposite.
Again, Nigerians in Ghana do not yet have unified overriding national interest in Ghana, apart from good returns on investments and protection against unjust expropriation by Ghanaian authorities. These concerns are adequately addressed in various local policies and regional laws, protocols and conventions.
Conversely, successive Nigerian governments did not recognize or harness the potential of Nigerians in Diaspora. Thankfully, the present administration has finally set up the Nigeria Diaspora Commission, under the leadership of the vibrant Hon. Abike Dabiri-Erewa. I am hopeful that the Nigeria Diaspora Commission will vigorously pursue its mandate. My expectation is that, by 2023, diaspora voting will be achieved and that feat will mark the real beginning of government’s plan to carry Nigerian diasporas along in policy formulation.
Ghana is the headquartres of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA), not Nigeria, which is the largest economy in Africa. How can Nigerian businesses in Ghana fully exploit the opportunities and benefits inherent in the AfCFTA, as it formally comes into operation this July 1?
Nigeria dragged her feet in signing the agreement. In fact, Nigeria appended her signature at the last minute; therefore, it would be unwise for AfCFTA to site the headquarters in Nigeria. I am yet to study the AfCFTA document but, as normally obtains in free trade zones, it is the survival of the smartest. I advise Nigerian businesses to build synergies, reduce operational cost, avoid waste, develop market-oriented products. Nigerian companies that pursue the above suggestions will surely build strong competitive advantage, which is essential for success in a free trade environment.
Against the backdrop of West Africa’s experience with the ECOWAS bloc, including issues with establishment and cross-border trading among ECOWAS citizens, what do you think are the general prospects of the new AfCFTA?
Like I said earlier, I don’t have full details of the AfCFTA deal but there must be a strong political will and transparency on the part of participating countries to ensure success. Otherwise the story will not be different from the ECOWAS experience.
What do you think of Nigeria’s continued closure of its land borders vis-a-vis intra-West African and intra-African trading?
Unilateral closure of land borders by Nigeria is ill-advised and must be condemned by all rational people, regardless of trumpeted gains and benefits attributed to it by the Nigerian government. The continued closure of Nigeria’s land borders, despite many appeals to reopen them, demonstrates government’s insensitivity.
This action by Nigeria could mark the demise of ECOWAS, since the ECOWAS core aim is free movement of persons, goods and services within the sub-region. It is my prayer that Nigeria will strengthen its weak border control systems and reopen the land borders sooner than later.
City Lights, Ghana’s premier lighting company of where you are the executive chairman, recently started an expansion drive to other African countries. Where have you expanded to? And, what is the vision for this new drive?
Citylights is diversifying its business activities to include the following services. One, lighting design: We have built in-house capacity to develop lighting design models for domestic, industrial, commercial and environmental purposes. We design, supply and install quality products and provide maintenance support as well.
Two, energy audit: Citylights now conducts energy assessment and helps clients control their energy consumption levels. We make recommendations on efficient energy mix that ensures maximum cost savings for our customers. Three, new outlets: As the authorised agent for Eglo Lighting of Austria, Europe, we were mandated to set up 10 ultra-modern ‘Eglo Concept’ lighting showrooms in Nigeria and Ghana. These showrooms are located in Accra (Ghana), Lagos (Nigeria) and Abuja (Nigeria).
We have been trying to venture into waste-to-energy business, but there are some hurdles to overcome. Waste-to-energy concept is a new technology that uses solid waste littered all over our cities to generate electricity. Government bureaucracy is the major obstacle to overcome in this endeavor.
Ghana, Togo, Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire and Nigeria have all reported cases of the coronavirus disease. How do you think this will impact on business and the economies of these countries, as well as the larger West African economy? What do you suggest should be the response of the respective governments as well as the ECOWAS Commission to the disease?
The coronavirus pandemic has unleashed disastrous economic and fiscal problems on Nigeria. With oil price hovering around $27 per barrel, Nigeria’s 2020 budget will go haywire. The naira will fall drastically. Many businesses will collapse and poverty level will rise. I pray the pandemic will be eradicated sooner than later, else the economic consequences will be catastrophic. I think respective West African governments responded well but some decisions should have been implemented earlier.
Since the world has become a global village you don’t need to wait till the flood gets to your gate before erecting sand bag barriers.
Who is Dr. Okeson?
Dr. Emmanuel Okeson is a proud Nigerian; born in 1965 in Ukpor town, Nnewi South Local Government Area of Anambra State. After my basic education, I proceeded to Lagos. Thereafter, I moved to Ghana. While in Ghana, I attended the prestigious Ghana Institute of Management and Public Administration, where I obtained a diploma in management and administration; and, later graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration from the same institution. In 2015, I was honored with a doctorate degree in Business Administration by the Commonwealth University. Thereafter, in 2019, I was honoured with the Sir Ahmadu Bello Sardauna Platinum Leadership Award by the Northern Youth Council (NYC). Dr. Okeson is an entrepreneur with business interests in many sectors such as commerce, real estate, hospitality and construction. I am a devout Christian, and love to help people whenever I have the means to do so.
Do you have a final word?
It doesn’t matter how long a person lives but the quality of life and legacy left behind matter most. Work hard and enjoy your life, mindful of the fact that the day of reckoning is at hand, when you will render account of your life to your Creator.
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