I read with mixed feelings the piece on Chevron Nigeria and its firm belief and support for local content promotion, notably its many years of patronizing Zinox, an indigenous tech giant.
Mixed feelings because, on one hand, I was delighted and extremely proud of the management of Chevron Nigeria for shining the light, leading from the front and even showing the way to government, other sub-national entities in Nigeria, as well as the hordes of other multinationals operating in Nigeria.
The moving article equally made me proud to be a Nigerian because, most times, Nigeria makes the news for the wrong reasons owing to the actions of a misguided few. But to see a renowned, American-based multinational retaining a strong faith in the capacity of a Nigerian tech company, is something worth celebrating.
But on the other hand, the article also elicited some misgivings within me.
Here we are, hailing Chevron Nigeria, an American-headquartered multinational, for choosing a Nigerian brand ahead of other competing foreign brands, including a few known names from the country where it is based, but we can hardly find Nigerian government establishments and their agencies giving a similar fair chance to local businesses.
This was the biggest contradiction that hit me from that well-written article by a Nigerian US-based academic.
Thankfully, the company in question – Zinox – did not betray the trust reposed in it by Chevron Nigeria. It would have been a missed opportunity if Zinox had failed, maybe when it received the first supply contract from Chevron Nigeria, as I doubt that they would have had a second chance and that door would have been closed forever, even to other local players. Such is the merit-driven and highly competitive nature of the tech sector that it would have been virtually impossible for the management of Chevron Nigeria to consider entrusting its supply contract to Zinox for over 16 years without a strong justification.
We must begin to patronize and promote our best brains, rather than accord unnecessary privileges to foreigners. This is the only way we can employ our youths creatively and reduce security challenges confronting the nation.
I have not met Leo Stan Ekeh, the Chairman of the Zinox Group one-on-one but I have followed his landmark strides in the ICT sector. A huge inspiration, I recall when Haroun Adamu, a former Chairman of the Petroleum Trust Fund (PTF) described him at an event as a miracle child, a genius. He had told the story of how Leo Stan returned to Nigeria against the advice of his tutors in the UK, eventually leading the current wave of digital democracy that ushered the Nigerian printing and publishing industry into the next level by computerizing all the newspapers, magazines and book publishing establishments in the country.
According to him, Mr. Ekeh, who used to wear an afro back then as a young man, was like a pastor, an evangelist moving from city to city across Nigeria with a lot of energy, taking his message of digital evangelism to various parts of the country and transforming the landscape with his introduction of technology into the entire printing ecosystem.
Also, in 2001 or thereabouts, I was privileged to attend an oil servicing conference at Eko Le Meridien and during a short break, I was able to sneak into another event taking place at the same venue. The event, which had a long list of dignitaries, prominent Nigerians and even diplomats in attendance including the-then Vice President, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, the Senate President at the time, Anyim Pius Anyim, many serving Ministers of the Federal Republic and Executive Governors, saw the hall packed full, with many people unable to even get in. That was the launch of Zinox and equally the first time I saw Mr. Ekeh from a distance.
I still recall the emotional gesture he made at that event which left many people in tears. Incidentally, it happened within the short period I spent in the hall. After tracing the history of Nigeria’s disadvantaged status as a country which many in the advanced world believe would not experience technology in the next 30 years, Mr. Ekeh had raised his right hand and declared that he was mentally, physically, financially and spiritually prepared to create an IT identity for Nigeria. That gesture got the hall charged and was a remarkable sight to behold. I left the place highly touched as I had to return to the conference I was attending. But that scene remained with me for a long time.
Same Zinox, a few years later, changed the face of Nigeria and other African countries’ elections by deploying digital democracy tools to aid the process.
Nigerian businessmen are not known to stick to one line of business. The majority are always on the lookout for the next big thing to invest in. However, Leo Stan is one man who has remained consistent in his chosen field of technology and his roadmap.
Therefore, it is hardly surprising that the same man, Leo Stan Ekeh backed by his team, has today achieved all he has in the tech sector.
It is gratifying, a sign of hope and a story that is worth telling, especially with the recent revelation of the long years of patronage from Chevron Nigeria, that this man has achieved so much with little or no support from government, still setting records, creating jobs and a bright future for millions of Nigerian youths.
I recall reading in the same article about Chevron Nigeria how well the administration of former President Olusegun Obasanjo supported local content drive. While I am aware that this was the case, government, at that time, was not really buying a lot of technology products as it was largely analogue in its processes.
There are thousands of Nigerians in the same technology sector who are struggling out there today. Many of them have quietly exited the sector after being unable to keep their heads above water. This brings into sharp relief the commendable efforts of Leo Stan as a shining light who has consistently built new successful businesses, while also expanding the Zinox Group for over 30 years. To see all these happen while not been able to count on the patronage of government is nothing short of a miracle.
Consequently, it was not strange when Zinox made the news early in 2018 with its acquisition of e-commerce brand, Konga. Nevertheless, many had queried the rationale behind Mr. Ekeh’s decision. For some, it was a suicide mission. I also understand that at that juncture, Konga was technically dead, as one of my cousins, who was a merchant trading with the business then, reliably informed me that, before the acquisition, the former managers of Konga had invited them to come and pick up their items warehoused with them. But a new story is being told about that e-commerce giant barely three years down the line. Today, that same Konga was recently reported to have broken a global e-commerce record, becoming the first African e-ecommerce company to turn profitable.
The Chevron Nigeria article represents another eye-opener and I wish to congratulate Zinox and, especially, Leo Stan Ekeh, for what he is building. He has done this for over 30 years without any hint of a scandal which is not an easy feat in a Nigerian business terrain that is prone to blackmail and betrayals. Perhaps, what has saved him from the minefield of subterfuge and the pull-him-down syndrome is the fact that many Nigerians are still analogue and Leo Stan is operating in a sector in which only a few Nigerians really understand.
I would equally like to appreciate the current administration led by President Muhammadu Buhari and the referenced Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr. Ibrahim Pantami, a young man I admire, for their unequivocal commitment to Nigeria. I believe their clear signal is helping domestication in this sector and I advise other Ministers of the Federal Republic to emulate Dr. Pantami to create jobs for our educated youths and reduce security challenges caused by employment. I also urge them to concentrate some of their efforts in pushing our best talents forward.
Certainly, we must support and promote our best so that other emerging ones can be encouraged to outdo their feats, not only in the area of technology, but in other sectors as well. There have been a few surprises in the fintech sub-sector and in agriculture where some young Nigerians are leveraging technology in transforming the space.
However, there is no doubt that Nigeria lacks new model mentors and world class entrepreneurs in the mould of Leo Stan Ekeh.
The government must promote our best names, men and women whose rise to prominence is documented, people we know their background and their history and not fly-by-night entrepreneurs or undeserving foreigners.
It is by so doing that we can assure these patriotic/successful entrepreneurs of government’s support and encourage them to do more, inspire the next wave of budding entrepreneurs and contribute in building the Nigeria of our collective dreams