An Interview with the Chairman of NDDIS – Otunba Bimbo Folayan

While the government is working on strategic policies geared towards ameliorating the hardship occasioned by the removal of fuel subsidy and the rate of unemployment in the country, the organisers of the biggest African Investment Summit in the UK, the Nigerian Diaspora Direct Investment Summit have decided to use the opportunity of the 10th anniversary of the summit in October to mobilise job creation opportunities into Nigeria in order to support the new political dispensation.

In this interview, the founder of the organization, International IT professional, and former chairman, Central Association of Nigerians in the United Kingdom, (CANUK), Otunba Bimbo Robert Folayan said aside from the 30 investment projects the NDDIS have identified, it had already entered into agreement with a UK based organization to provide Directors from top 100 UK listed companies to join boards of Nigerian companies to support their entrance into the international market space. ‘Imagine having a Microsoft or Amazon Director on the board of your company. IFEOMA ONONYE reports.

You were pro-democracy activist community leader who relocated to the UK after the annulment of the June 12, 1993 elections. Tell us more how this summit will assist Nigerians?

The Nigerian Diaspora Investment Summit is the biggest investment summit that is held outside of Nigeria, and we have successfully helped hundreds of UK and international businesses and Diasporans to relocate and set up their offices in Nigeria in the past 10 years but this year we have decided that we will use this opportunity to mobilise job creation opportunities into Nigeria in order to support the new political dispensation. This is because of the withdrawal of fuel subsidy.

The last election was a little bit bitter, the fight for the soul of Nigeria was worrisome and Nigerians in Diaspora are very keen to develop their country, to reduce the tension in the country following the withdrawal of subsidy and also because of the unemployment situation. We have mobilised Nigerians in the Diaspora for the past 10 years so I know what I am talking about.

The huge rate of unemployment in Nigeria at the moment is high and we are doing everything possible to bring in investors from across the world to support the efforts of the government. Already we have identified over 30 major projects that can be replicated across the states in Nigeria. If you are taking just 100 people out of the job market, you are doing a great thing.

Apart from these 30 projects we have also entered into agreement with a UK based organization to provide directors from top 100 listed UK companies to support Nigerian companies as non-executive directors and these projects are due to take off in October.

Towards this programme, the Nigerians in Diaspora have already entered into partnership with Shell and with the Public Service Institute of Nigeria to mobilise director generals of federal government parastatal to also mobilise permanent secretaries and directors of public institutions in Nigeria to meet investors face to face.

We also have a pipeline of business initiatives (technology and business models that can employ 2 to 100s of people) ranging from $5,000 to millions of dollars which people can set up to engage their family members and friends.

Those who have attended our events in the past will testify to the fact that we are not an ordinary talk shop. We have deal rooms during our summits where deals take place and business delegates walk away with deals.

Also, the NDDIS is entering into partnership with a lot of other organisations in Nigeria to mobilise the private sector and one of the private sectors is with the computer village management board.

We are also in talks with the Institute of Directors in Nigeria to ensure that their members attend this event and that they are able to interface with foreign investors as well as Diaspora investors. The 10th anniversary of the investment summit of the Nigerian Diaspora Direct investment summit is scheduled to take place in London on October 11 and 12.

When was this organisation set up and what is the idea behind it?

The Nigerian Diaspora Direct Investment Sum- mit was actually set up in 2013, when Dr. Dalhatu Tafida was the High Commissioner.

I was planning NEGIP (National Economic Growth and Investment Promotion Summit) and was Chairman of the Nigerian community at the time when the high Commissioner convinced me to focus more on the Diaspora being my primary constituency. Since then, the Nigerian high commission has partnered with us and every high commissioner has always supported the NDDIS.

The current High Commissioner, Ambassador Isola Sarafa will as usual be the Chairman at our event this year. We partner with the with British African Business Alliance, Department of International Trade, the Prime Minister’s Trade envoy to Nigeria office and most importantly with NIDCOM, which is the Nigerians in Diaspora Commission. Mrs Abike Dabiri for instance has attended every single NDDIS since we started. We have partnered with NIPC, SMEDAN, NTA, we have also partnered with the Bank of Industries, Lagos, Kaduna, Bayelsa, Oyo, Niger, Ondo and several other states and organisations.

Every year we have organised investment sum- mits to attract investors back into Nigeria. It has been a very successful journey for the past 10 years We have always been in the forefront of mobilizing investments into Nigeria. The Fed- eral government loved the project so much that they also created an exact replica of the same pro- gram through NIDCOM, and this takes place in Aso villa every November. We are partnering together on the summits.

They will attend and mobilise for our summit, and we will also attend and mobilise for their summit in Abuja this year. In fact, we are mobilising a strong medical mis- sion to the NDIS this year after our own summit. It’s all for the development of motherland. As Diasporans it is very good and democratic for us to criticize our country, to put our leaders on their feet all the time but it is more important for us to get our hands dirty.

Every Nigerian who has lived outside of Nigeria should look at how they can bring something back home. That is the only way you can make any meaningful impact. Writing stuff on social media, complaining and talking all the time, does not put food on the table of Nigerians. For a country that you are proud of but which you are not happy about the state of affairs, you should be seen to be adding some value.

So that is what we have done for the past 10 years and I implore every Nigerian that has lived outside of the country to do as much as they can to add value to their country. Let me also add that I know the Diaspora like the back of my hand. No group can be more patriotic than the Nigerian Diaspora. I am sometimes awed by the level of love Nigerians in Diaspora have for their country and the number of projects they line up every year to support their country. The NDDIS gives them the opportunity to actualise their plans.

What is your comment about the rampant traveling especially youths out of the country for greener pasture?

For as long as we have Nigeria, we will always have Nigerians in the Diaspora. We don’t need to panic. The brain drain will soon become brain gain. NIDCOM is working hard and we all should rally round them to mobilise the Diaspora for good. Every country has a lot of its youths traveling to other parts of the world too. Even the civilized countries too. Recently the UK started complaining about UK doctors going to Australia for better pay.

Isn’t that funny? If we get our acts right, we will tap into the talents of those who have traveled outside of the country and see how they can bring value into their country and that is what a good government should be looking at on how they should connect with those who are outside, who have gained other experiences in different things, different technologies, different business models and how they can bring these back into their country.

What is your comment about the last elections?

I am a die-hard pro-democracy activist who relocated to the UK in 1993, because an election was annulled in Nigeria and was part of NADECO abroad and this is why I understand the true value, meaning of democracy. Democracy cannot thrive in an environment where people fight senselessly just because we want our candidates to win at all costs. I was shocked to see the level of intolerance displayed by some people during the last elections.

I blame all sides. We still have a lot of work to do to educate Nigerians about democracy. Every Nigerian citizen regardless of where they come from, regardless of their status in society as long as they are qualified enough should be free to choose who they prefer. We must respect the rights of every Nigerian to live in any part of the country, but we must also respect our host communities and be guided in what we say to ourselves as Nigerians.

Physical or cyber bullying of People who hold different political views should not be allowed in our society. True democracy means that everybody is free to choose. We cannot allow hotheads to derail our dear country. However, let me restate my confidence in Nigerians. We always pull through and we will pull through the current difficulties. Nigerians love one another and we always work together when it matters but We only need to be more wary of the antics of our politicians.

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