How Nigeria can win fight against corruption, by EMC3 CEO, Baba-Jallah Epega

Epaga

Epaga

The name of your organisation is quite intriguing; what does EMC3 really stand for?
It is a mathematical formula; I am a great fan of Albert Einstein and his formula; but mine is EMC3: E is for event; M, for Marketing and the three Cs are Communication, Conferencing and Concierge. I came up with that name 15 years ago in London, where I schooled. I am an ex-banker; so, for me, formulas are very pertinent to life. I used to trade interest rate swaps, which is a derivatives market, at the Barclay’s Bank.

Many years ago while working in the financial market, I decided I needed a break. I went on a trip to Hong Kong, Singapore and Bali. In Bali, I met some people who work for Fuji films, and they said they wanted to hold an event in London, asking if I knew anywhere they could find a venue, as it used to be very expensive.

I had been working in London for eight years at that time and I knew a lot of people who own clubs, restaurants and venues. I told the Fuji film guys I would find somewhere, and they wouldn’t have to pay me but a commission. They agreed; it was a 50,000 pounds event, a Copacabana Brazilian meets Buenavista Social Club Cuba event. Because their colours are green, gold and white, it fitted in very much, like our great nation’s flag; fitting in very well with what they had in mind. I found them the venue and the venue paid me a 10 per cent commission— 5,000 pounds.

The backdrop of that was that is when I first realised that I could do events and people would pay me for the service. So I started my company with my business partner, Alistair Graham, who is a Scottish-English gentleman, living in London and another called Daniel Curtis. I thought that the English boys were very good — one was Scottish-English, the other, English-Israeli.

So the business owners are made up of a Nigerian, a Scot and a Jew that worked together – it does sound like a very bad joke, I know. But it is still a winning formula .
I found them in very different companies and I
convinced them to come and work with me. I gave them 49 per cent of the company, and, as the majority shareholder, own 51 per cent.

When did you actually come up with the ‘mathematical name’?
I always liked the trend of  big companies always with small names, like Apple, GE and PWC. But I wanted to go one better so I added numbers. also thought that I wanted a company that has a numeric in it.

Small, a number?

Yes; I liked the fact the name was very small, but scientifically punchy. It is very important, especially as I am a geometric thinker. By that I mean, like a tree, there is one branch can extend out into another and many more; similar to a periodic chart symbols exponentially expanding into ever evolving formulas.

I love this school of thought because I love math; I also love the Euclid’s spacetime continuum theory of multiple dimensions as this means there is no limit to one mind & in turn expansion. I felt this was a good name because everyone in events has names like Promotion events, posh events or Superior events. I thought: ‘no, I want people to come to my company, be engaged or inquisitive about the name, and have to unlock the door to see inside our world to learn more.’ And with my website, which is emc3.com.ng, you can see the sort of events we do.

From there, the people at FUJI Films introduced me to Cartier. From there we started doing events in 2001, 2002 for Formula1 Grand Prix companies like British American Racing. They would fly us to Monaco, Monza in Italy, Silverstone in England where we organized their F1 parties.

So, I started by doing event parties. But through time, we realised that parties were not enough; we wanted to get into the business side, because my background from banking was business. How we get people together to do business in our domain? EMC3 was the platform that opened the door into business and the use of our services.

For instance, in 2013, I did an event in collaboration with the Nigerian Investment Promotion Commission (NIPC) on behalf of former Vice President Sambo in Brazil. It was a bilateral trade agreement event. We did it at the Copacabana Palace in Rio de Janeiro.

The former Vice President was there and brought business people together in the conference environment, and it worked very well. Off the back of that, I got another contract with the Africa Finance Corporation (AFC). AFC is one of my biggest clients here in Nigeria; I did AFC live conference, which went very well in Eko Hotel.

It actually reflected in them getting a rating upgrade because of the marketing I did with my British partners, Bell Pottinger. And that was where EMC3 came from; it took 15 years to build the brand. We do fashion shows in England. We look after the LinkedIn, which is a professional online networking service; we also look after Google, Yahoo, BNP Paribas, and Zenith Bank,some of our biggest clients in Europe.

Why 100 Days after Succession, and why now?
I think it is very important that we hold the government to account. We live in a society where, for a long time, the wrong people have been getting the right money. People in this country, the entire 180 million
,or so, of us, deserve better. The average Nigerian is a good man and good woman. We want to feed our family; we want to live a good life. We are hardworking.

For me, coming back from Britain, where I see that though they have heritage & history, they don’t have the resources that we have. Coming back to Nigeria, I felt that the time was right auspiciously to bring up a forum of dialogue that will make people talk about what this new president, Muhammadu Buhari, has to give Nigeria. We have just had a confidence boost voting him in.  

I feel that before the elections Nigerians’ confidence level was very low; we had a low self-esteem. But now, Nigerians voted and feel like we are stakeholders because we voted this president in.

So, we have a chance to show that we can change things. If we don’t like the party or the president, we can get rid of them or him; that is democracy. It is a bold statement and it is right for the people to feel empowered. It is very important because now politicians — I am not saying that the chopping won’t still be there — realise that they can be held accountable. That is where the transparency comes from.

I found out that trillions of dollars go to America, to Europe from internationals, even from Nigeria, Australia, Timbuktu, because you can easily look up a company’s profile & filled accounts  in Europe. I am not saying that they are not corrupt, but that their degree of transparency is better. You can look at a company like PWC for example, and check their accounts, and see their company’s financial structure, their Profit and Loss (Balance Sheet). So, you can make a professional decision whether to invest there.

They have services but we have goods and products. Do we not have companies in Nigeria? Because one man owns them or there is a government linked to it, no one knows what they are making, where their profit is or where the bottomline is. So people can’t and won’t invest in them.

But I found out that because of the transparency in the rest of the world, you could invest in companies, even give your money digitally. Nigeria needs our investments. The world is saying Africa is the next big continent. Africa is not a country. Let’s talk piecemeal. Nigeria is a country. Jim O’Neill mentioned MINT, which are Mexico, Indonesia, Nigeria and Turkey so we all know we are the future now.

Nigeria is a powerhouse in Africa, but the only way we are going to have Nigeria progress is to be able to be accountable on a regulatory level, which needs to be led by the government. This is where the incoming government is critical.

Hundred days after Succession is a very important time because we want to give him time to prove that the President’s manifesto is working. We were going to have it in July but we realised that September is a better time, because it gives them 100 days for us to see what they have done.

You feel that 100 days is enough for any meaningful impact to have been made?
How long is a piece
of string? No one knows conceptually, but scientifically one has to start measuring to get an indication. So, I don’t think it is enough, but it will give us an indication of the direction of the government policy.

What really would be your parameter for measuring this success, I mean the achievement of the new administration in 100 days?
I think we
need to have direction through the judicial system; one of our moderators and key panelist for the Forum is Dr. Olisa Agbakoba, SAN. He is helping to drive this whole forum. He is my mentor as well. The forum is a series; it is not a one-off thing. We want to have a white paper that is actionable, so that way, we can measure progress.

The President, after his inauguration, read his manifesto speech, he talked about what he is going to be doing, his groundbreaking plans, whether it is in natural resources or banking and finance. For example the CBN keep telling us we are in the middle of  foreign exchange and petroleum crisis. This can only be dealt with from within.

The Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo, who was an Attorney General, is very much integral to what the president will be doing. We prefer to deal with the private sector, because it is very important that we get them on board. As together we can assess the government’s work. I don’t want to befriend the government; we are here to analyse the government. If they are doing something great, we will be able to track it.

I think Nigerians need to start tracking manifestos, politicians or the president. The Guardian, with the motto, Conscience Nurtured by Truth, is apt for our cause, which is why we are partners in this, because of your standing. We run a British Nigerian company so the Anti-Bribery Act does apply; so even a sniff of bribing people will get us close down. I know some of my fellow Nigerians; they would say this is the way it is, the way it as always been. We should have an aspirational standard marker. If the president can aspire to do one-tenth of what we hope he can do, that will be progression.

I believe we are at that stage now, where the private sector has to take responsibility, not just look to the public sector and say we are paying them to get deals and that is the only way to do things. No, it is not the only way to do things; it is better for Nigeria in the medium to long term, for foreign direct investment and domestic investment, if we are more transparent and fight corruption on all levels. I am not saying it’s going to happen all at once. For example, when water is purified,it purifies slowly all the way through. It doesn’t happen like magic straight away. This is going to be similar to our progress.

Who are your other stakeholders and partners in this project?
The partnership is mainly between Guardian Newspapers. I selected The Guardian because of the great Alex Ibru’s work, ethic and his reputation — God rest his soul.

His philosophy is now instilled in the newspaper, with the editors, staff, and his son, Toke Ibru. I felt that we needed a mouthpiece to make this work. I do events around the world, from London, Milan, Rome, Abu Dhabi, New York, Boston, London, and of course Nigeria so we make an ideal partnership platform. I can do the events but we needed somebody who is in the media, who can work on that part, and there is also a company called Africa Practice. They are marketing and PRspecialists work here in Nigeria and across Africa; they have very strong contacts, very good for events, because obviously, we have to get a sponsor. We are all working in together to make this happen.

Dr. Olisa Agbakoba, SAN, is one of our champions as previously mentioned. Also, there is a gentleman, Dr. Mark Abani, who is a taxation specialist, working specifically in Nigeria and has worked with the government. At Crown Agents he also works with the British government. I think taxation is going to play a major part in Nigerian’s future; we are going to be taxed more. There is the informal tax, which we all pay, whether it is covert or overt, but we need to start paying the formal tax to get this country going.

We are all used to paying taxes in Lagos and with the great work that former Lagos State Governor, Babatunde Fashola, and his team did, Lagosians now have an understanding of infrastructural taxation, but the rest of Nigeria does not yet understand it’s necessity. We understand this fact, and I think this is where I need Dr. Abani, because he is a tax specialist to talk about the background to this.

How sustainable can this project be?
I think it is going to be more than one-off thing. The
Transparency forum is going to be  a series, so we are starting with the overview on transparency, and specifically, we are going to discuss  the topics of government regulation, infrastructure, oil and gas, banking and finance as well as insurance. This is going to run as a series of events in time.

We plan to have annual events. This will be aided by white paper research documents. We would note what the government said they are going to be doing, against what they are doing and have a trickle-down effect where the private companies can take part and benefit from the data.

It is going to be some sort of a leadership programme. We want to be able to teach companies how to work with regulatory bodies. That is why we are working with some very good names like a lady called Solape Adu, a leading specialist in compliance and good government. We would help businesses to understand what they need to do, because compliance is such a big part of so many businesses internationally.

But at the moment in Nigeria, it is just like one puts his finger in one’s mouth, pulls it out to feel which way the winds blows as a scientific indicator on which direction to go. That is not because we are not knowledgeable and very intelligent people, but we don’t have regulatory entities orsocieties. For example in the UK, they have the Royal Society of Psychologists, the British Bankers’ Association, the Royal Statistical Society, and the Royal Economic Society , to name but a few. In Nigeria, we do have enough of such entities so essential data is not available. Data to work with is key to any economy or civilization that wants to develop properly.  TheTransparency forum will help collate the data and be able to create milestones through the years, so that we can look retrospectively so as to plan for a better future.

That is where, I think, the series has a strong think-tank hub opportunity and I want to us to start generating marked think-tanks as a nation. For instance, we have Foster, a UK non-governmental organisation. Are going to play a critical part as they will be providing essential data. We want to inform people, not educate, because the people are already educated. We just want to inform them, so that we can go forward as a nation.

How worried are you about the level of corruption in Nigeria; what are the major drivers of the menace?

As a realist, I am very worried about corruption, which is very much prevalent in
our society. But the positive thing about Nigerian corruption, at this stage, is that we know where it comes from; it trickles down from the top, and if there is any chance that our president can play a part in curbing it, it will help the cause. That, in itself, has a trickle-down effect. For instance, we need salaries to be paid and taxes to be paid; we need stability.

Though the cost of living and earnings may be different to England, someone earning an equivalent of N25,000 or N250,000 a month knows they will be getting paid every month. So, in nine months’ time, when they need to have their child go to school, they know they can save N5000 a month and be able to send that child to school. The numbers are not relevant but the ideas behind it are.

In Nigeria, we can’t plan because governmental bodies or institutions don’t pay people properly and in good time. For instance, the Central Bank is squeezing the banks for good or bad reason; we can’t get mortgages. Britain lives on credit; people don’t have money but they can borrow 100,000 pounds tomorrow because they know that the day after tomorrow they still have their job, theoretically, and you will be paying your mortgage. So you consistently can pay your mortgage, even though you are being charged more than twice of what your mortgage is, but it is for over 20 years. We can’t do that in Nigeria because we don’t have the infrastructure. What corruption does is corrode infrastructural development, stability, and any form of planning, from the micro — family planning — to the macro — governmental planning.

The average man in Nigeria is not inherently corrupt, but our leaders have been, and that is what the problem is. If one cuts off all the heads of the hydra, there can be a start afresh with a less bloody and corrosive society.

I am not saying it is easy. Our people say, “Oh you are talking corruption, it is going to be here in Nigeria forever. You can’t change thingsNo we can! You look at Fidel Castro when he came over to Cuba. They were about 50 in the army. Their numbers swelled with the ideal of liberation and they succeeded. Look at Napoleon Bonaparte, when the French Revolution started in 1789; he was only a soldier but suddenly he got the backing of about 30 key soldiers after the Bastille storm, their numbers swelled behind an idea and he changed France.

In Nigeria, we don’t even need to be bloody; ours is a bloodless revolution. We already had a revolution, even. Our leaders need to articulate it by coming together for the greater cause of saving Nigeria.

My father is Yoruba and Hausa, my mother, was from Okrika/Warri. People ask me, where are you from? I say am Nigerian. And they understand why I say this when I explain my heritage. We should look at our similarities, not our differences; things that connect us, to make us the rightfuture. So, corruption is not something that is really in Nigeria. But I think there is a chance, a little chink of light in the darkness that will turn everything into pureness. I think we have that, but we have to try… it is a state of mind not a state of money.

In terms of specifics, 100 Days after Succession would hold on the September 9; what happens after that?
By July, we are going to have a press conference to discuss the 100 Days after Succession
Event. It would have been about 40 days by the July Press Launch. We are going to be talking about what we are hoping to achieve with the Transparency forum and how we are bringing together international parties, businesses and government to come to the forum. So, the forum is a bridge to building up accountability of the government and helping businesses nurture their leaders, so as to comprise more of a compliance structure for companies.

We are going to document and inform people by bringing up the information up to the forum. After that, we are going to build the milestones with our white papers  so that people can see the target of what we want to achieve against what is being proposed by the government and by companies.

We want to have a continuing dialogue with society and businesses, and to also help our youth, to show them there is life in living upright.

Leading from the front, we have to show the about 67 per cent youth population in Nigeria that it is not just corruption that rules –  we can change. That job is continuous and it doesn’t happen overnight. We are strong enough as intellectuals, technocrats, and businessmen and women, to be able to follow this through. It is going to be a tough fight because corruption is huge. I believe once we start dialoguing about it, things will begin to change. We need action. As aggressively corrupt as they are, we have to be aggressively transparent. It is not a physical fight. We would use our brains. Remember 600 years ago, they said the pen is mightier than the sword, now it is that the computer is mightier than the pen. So, we can do it.  

What agenda will EMC3 set for the new regime, especially in the area of economic reconstruction?
The agenda I would propose would be that we need the infrastructural might of government to play a part in policing the economy. But free economy is very important; the private sector must be allowed to thrive, so as to increase the Gross Domestic Product
(GDP) of this great nation. We don’t need him to browbeat us, saying this is the only way, but we need him to nurture us to grow as a society in business. This is where the Internally Generating Revenue (IGRs) strategy and Public-Private Partnership (PPP) would come into play with distinction in government projects.

There is money in Nigeria but there has to be a zero tolerance on corruption. And that would help the private sector invest in the public sector, which in turn would help Nigeria infrastructure to progress.

Vice President Yemi Osinbajo is an asset to the new regime; how do you see him meeting the expectation of Nigerians in terms of helping to drive effective governance?
I think Osinbajo is
very much a focused winner. He has been propelled, almost biblically, from nowhere to being the Vice President of this country. He has experience as a lawyer and an Attorney General, but he doesn’t have experience as a politician, which we all know is a different thing, even when you are in power.

So, I think what he will bring and add value to the country is a wide prospective of listening. ‘Silent’ and ‘listen’ have the same letters in them; people say he is a very good listener.

So, I think he will bring his experience of, not being the main guy in the room but being able to play an integral part in the room.

At a public speaking exercise or event, people say “Ah, that guy owned the room while he was talking.” That is wrong; one shouldn’t own the room, but rather make everyone want to own the room together. I think that is the angle Osinbajo will be coming in; he may be politically naive but a wealth of experience as private sector businessman, lawyer and pastor will be crucial to our success. Humility and fortitude; those are what I think he will bring.
But we all know there seem to be some booby traps for this new regime, so to speak…

First thing is promising more than they can deliver. Underselling to over-deliver is key. Two, people don’t want the President to succeed — powerful people. We know there are factions of businesses that don’t want him to succeed. They have to be aware of, obviously, who they listen to and who they impress. Also, the media cannot be bridled; that is very important. It is a free market. The media is going to be reflecting what society is saying or seeing. No man is a God and God is not a man.

The government has a huge job with the Power issue. We have no reserves. We need to build infrastructure. I think they have promised too much on Power, that is, in terms of megawatts for Nigeria. I think that the Power infrastructure stability will take seven to 20 years to work, even with billions of pounds, dollars or Naira.

In terms of human capital, personnel and skills, how would you rate Nigeria?
We would have to go back to the issue of corruption. Corruption corrodes absolutely and when you have a corrosive acid, it doesn’t fall on this side or that side; it just rolls all the way through. In terms of infrastructure, it is not just power or oil and gas that corruption is corroding; it is also in
our universities and the education system as a whole.

Notwithstanding, Nigeria has very educated people, but relative to the rest of the world, Nigeria’s youth have been sadly let down. This is because they are very intelligent, tech-savvy and are energetic but able to get the training they deserve.

The fundamentals of spelling, writing an email, and articulating English are lacking. Not that English is the only language in the world, but it is the language of trade in our empiric society, of which the USA is the empire, even though China is catching up increasingly.

One needs to speak English and be able to articulate oneself properly. A man or woman can have one kobo in his pocket, but if he or she is educated they can achieve almost anything. There is also the need to be able to manage one’s self. That is what education teaches, how to structure your time, your day. The projections of earnings, finding the right wife or husband are all about discipline and I think that is what is lacking in Nigeria. But seeing that I still believe in it, it would take time. We shall prevail, but now we need more than schooling; it is adult education we really need now.

What do you make of the fact that Nigerian students become stars when they get out of the country; they excel with the skills that they couldn’t express here; do you see anything wrong with the nation’s capacity to tap from its own resources?
Transparency is the counter or antithesis of corruption. Nigeria’s corruption is not what is seen, it is what is unseen. That is the biggest reflection of corruption. We should not celebrate the a person because they have a billion naira; but that they use some of that money or at least time to build clinics and schools. When Nigerians get out of Nigeria like in South Africa, in Europe, in America we do brilliantly because we are a brilliant nation. We are made up individually and collectively of brilliance and we have such intellect here, but because of our lack of infrastructure in Nigeria, there is no platform to flourish
.  Stability in our economy so people can plan is key to our success.

Once we have stability we can nurture a middle class in Nigeria, which is key to macro-economic development. Until corruption is decreased, this country is going to be limping through time with one leg tied down its back and the other leg torn to pieces. You think oil is all our life? We need farming specifically agriculture development. But it takes time so patience is crucial. We have good arable land in Africa, only 14 per cent of our arable land is in use; they say that Nigeria alone can feed Africa as well as the world in parts and proportions.

But back to your question, my succinct answer is that we have had a dearth of infrastructural maintenance or even infrastructural foundation brought about by corruption. And this is what  we, as Transparency advocates, want to help fight against in Nigeria so as to play a small part in helping our great nation progress.

How can Nigeria get foreign investments to keep flowing in?
We need to build from within. Nigeria is like America, we don’t technically need so much foreign direct investment; we have money here. But people can’t see what the businesses
and the government are doing due to opaque corruption barriers. We need time, full disclosure and to work together to progress as a nation.

That, by God’s grace, isn’t going to happen in 30 days; it may take over 30 years. But we must try. Nigeria needs to gradually build on our change agenda. Start at the top, show that the government wants no tolerance of corruption; work on eradication of corruption, give a foundation for businesses and private sector and then see the progression of things to come. This we hope is our President’s plan which we too must support him.

 

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