Okeson: Why I Am Establishing Private Varsity In Ghana
Prince Emmanuel Okeson, a Nigerian entrepreneur who sets the pace in the lighting sector in Ghana, is setting up the first ever Nigerian-owned private university in Ghana. He speaks about his life and why he is diversifying into the education sector.
ONE of the shining Nigerian entreprenuers in Ghana, Prince Emmanuel Okeson has always strived to work hard, diligently submitting himself to learning new things every day, while ensuring that he impact society in any way he can. He likes to put smiles on people’s faces, and does his utmost best to keep Nigeria’s flag flying.
He is successful because of his implicit belief in the supremacy of God, the trust in Him and a dogged resolve to relate with his fellow man as he would want others to relate with him.
He has learnt that where one starts in life doesn’t determine where the person will be in future.
“One’s handicap presently must not make his tomorrow gloomy and sullen. Coming from my kind of background in life, I have been humbled by the blessings of the Almighty. This has set me on a duty to impact society in whatever capacity I can. I see the world from a broader perspective, patiently bearing with different personalities I meet every day, striving to understand their challenges and circumstances, while not being judgmental and overbearing,” he philosophied.
In response to the yearnings of majority of Nigerian students and the All Nigerians’ Community Ghana ( of which he is the Chairman of the Board of Trustee), Prince Okeson is setting up the first ever Nigerian-owned private university in Ghana.
“Recent estimates put the figure of Nigerian students studying in various universities across Ghana at well over the 100,000 mark. Most of these students encounter numerous challenges in some of these universities. My diversification into this area is as a direct response to the yearnings of Nigerian students in Ghana and those that would also want to come here to school.
“I decided to set up the university which is currently under construction in the capital city of Ghana, Accra. Upon completion in 2017, the university shall pay special attention to the needs of the Nigerian students. West Coast University College, as it would be known, will provide world class training and education to the teeming youths of our country who would want to come to Ghana in pursuit of tertiary education.”
He said he decided to set up the university to help relieve some of the challenges that Nigerians seeking tertiary education in Ghana are faced with.
“It is estimated that about 45% of the student population of West Coast University College, when fully operational, would be Nigerians. The university would also offer opportunities for other West African nationals to take advantage of the world class standard of the university.”
Okeson added that when it comes fully on stream, the university would be a haven of discipline, educational excellence and a grooming ground for future role models. “We are assembling the best crop of academic and non-academic staff to ensure that our brand positioning strategies are realized and sustainable. It will be a place where parents and guardians would be assured of impartation of not just educational qualities, but also relevant grooming to ensure that their wards come out respectable and outstanding personalities.”
He said that the university, from its formation philosophy, seeks to bring smiles to the faces of the students as well as parents and guardians. “Even though the quality of education would be comparable to the best in the world, it would interest you to know that the cost would be highly competitive. In addition, we have plans to offer scholarships to deserving students, of which will be guided by standard and stipulated procedure.”
Okeson disclosed that it’s been quite an exciting experience. “The fact that I pioneered the lighting industry in Ghana is quite exhilarating as well as arduous as a foreigner. I would say that once you want to do business in a foreign land, you must be ready to abide by the laws that are in force in that country.”
Despite some incidents of discrimination, which may not be peculiar to only Nigerians in Ghana, he admitted that he has been well received by his Ghanaian hosts. “City Lights is a household name in Ghana and that attests to the level of acceptance that I enjoy in Ghana,” Okeson enthused.
Born on the July 1, 1965 in Ukpor, Nnewi Local Council of Anambra State, Nigeria, Okeson attended Umuohama Community School, Ukpor and thereafter went to Government College in Surulere, Lagos.His parents, the late Chief John and late Mrs. Philomena Obi gave him a humble family background.
“My father was a mason and farmer. My mother was a petty trader. I was brought up under a strong Roman Catholic tradition which had a significant influence on my life. It is instructive to state that my religious philosophy was instilled in me through my early Christian upbringing.”
In 1984, Okeson set up his first company in Nigeria called Emmatex Industrial Agency, venturing into the importation and distribution of electrical and industrial components and spare parts.
In 1985, Okeson expanded his business activities and began exporting locally made products such as electric cables, electric bulbs, fixtures, beverages, toiletries, hair and beauty products to neighboring African countries including Ghana.
With a vision to become one of the most successful African entrepreneurs and establishing a strategic presence across the continent, Okeson relocated to Ghana in 1986 to do business. After a stint with some Ghanaian companies, he established his own company named City Lights Limited in 1989. City Lights was the first lighting company in Ghana and still the market leader up till today. Under his prudent and entrepreneurial acumen, City Lights Limited has grown to become a dominant player in lighting business in Africa.
Indeed, Okeson started his business by merely trading in commodities. Today, he has diversified his business interests into other important sectors of the Ghanaian economy such as agriculture, civil construction, real estate, water engineering, micro finance and hospitality and has employed over 300 Ghanaians.
He recalled that Ghana’s economic recovery programmes in the late 80s led to massive reconstruction and structural development in the housing sector.
“This development saw new roads being constructed, new industries springing up, and the infrastructure of the emerging economy received phenomenal boost which also saw a rise in real estate sector. These construction activities created the need for a standardized and specialized lighting niche, which was not in existence at that time. Besides, the upper and emerging middle class who wanted to maintain a certain status opened up the demand for uncommon lighting designs and options which again were obviously not available in Ghana at that time.”
He set up City Lights Limited to fill these important needs by providing products, installation services, maintenance and consultancy services to both the government and private segments of the Ghanaian society. “I therefore was the first person to venture into specialized lighting in Ghana.”
Okeson disclosed that plans are at an advanced stage to establish the City Lights Brand in Nigeria. “In no distant future, we will unveil ultra-modern showrooms in Abuja and Lagos. The City Lights Brand would seek to bring innovation, efficiency, quality and breathtaking ecstatic advancements to Nigerian lighting consumers. With the ongoing power sector privatization policy of the government, it’s obvious that tariffs will still be rising.”
He said that City Lights is committed, as a matter of duty, to providing quality services and savings through education, consultancy, provision of energy-efficient, environmentally-friendly, innovative and novelty products delivery to the Nigerian market. “Apart from the lighting business, I have plans to venture into real estate, construction and borehole drilling in selected parts of Nigeria. In addition, I have plans to establish a palm produce factory in my home town of Ukpor, in Anambra State.”
He urged the government to reduce the cost of doing business by fighting institutionalized corruption. “Create and maintain even playing field for all businesses to compete. Provide and sustain basic infrastructure such as power and energy, roads, water etc. Tackle insecurity and provide platforms to recognize patriotic, hardworking and successful entrepreneurs who make immense contributions to our economic growth.”
He got married in 1989 to Mrs. Agnes Okeson whom he met in Western region of Ghana during a business trip. The marriage is blessed with four children. “My eldest daughter is a medical student in a European university while second born is going to study business administration in a Chinese university.