Interview With Dr. George Manuwuike

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Kata Kata: First of all, congratulations on your recent election in Paris as Chairman of NIDOE (Nigerians in Diaspora Organization Europe). Could you kindly tell our readers a little about NIDOE and yourself?
Dr. Manuwuike: I am Dr George Ahamefula Manuwuike. I am a Medical Doctor, Businessman, investor, Business Consultant and Philanthropist. Apart from my degree in medicine, I also obtained a masters degree (MSc) in international economic relations. I am the newly elected chairman of NIDOE. NIDOE (Nigerians in the Diaspora Organization Europe) is an organisation of all Nigerian Professionals in the Diaspora, formed to work closely with the government in order to bring political, economic and social changes in the lives of Nigerians. It is a non-profit organization.
Kata Kata: You are a medical doctor by profession, but your activities and businesses cover other aspects of life. How did you go into business?
Dr. Manuwuike: I did not practice as a medical doctor after my graduation in 1994. In fact, I had wanted to be a gynecologist. Actually, my romance with business started during a trip to Munich, Germany, where I met a gentleman from the Netherlands. It was the same period in the 90`s when Ukraine was going through an economic metamorphosis and market reforms after declaring independence from the Soviet Union. I was approached by this Dutch gentleman to head a clothing outlet called Snuffel (later: Twinlife) in Ukraine. This clothing business had already its headquarters in the Netherlands. It was a huge challenge for me, especially having in mind that only a very few “Western“companies had established in Ukraine and other former Soviet Union. For me, it was like taking the bull by the horns. I had to start from the scratch to build the said company. Regardless of all the enormous challenges and difficulties, I was – together with my committed staff – able to make the company a household name and establish different branches of the company in other cities in Ukraine and other countries. After the success I never looked back again; I successfully went into other businesses.
Kata Kata: Interesting resume indeed. If I may ask, how did you manage to break through considering you are a Nigerian living in Eastern Europe?
Dr. Manuwuike: It was indeed very tough at the beginning. I mean, we were operating in a market, where there was no Western influence. Later, when other Western countries started rushing to Ukraine and other former Soviet Union, we faced a huge challenge, competing with boutique giants like United Colors of Benetton. It was not easy, but I saw the challenge as a catalyst to success. Today, our company not only survived in Ukraine, it has branches and factories globally, including in Turkey, India, Bangladesh, China to mention a few.
Kata Kata: You contested for the chairmanship of NIDOE, what motivated you?
Dr. Manuwuike: I was motivated by the call of the Federal government of Nigeria to Diaspora Nigerians to contribute their resources towards the improvement and development of Nigeria. More than that, I was elected chairman of NIDOE Ukraine chapter in 2005, during which I worked tirelessly to change the image and profile of my chapter. I was one of the brains behind the launching of the Global Database Nigerians in Diaspora GDND software and the implementation of the first Diaspora solar energy Project in Kampala Village, in Minna, Niger state. Furthermore, the need to enhance the life of an ordinary Nigerian prompted us, during my chairmanship of NIDOE Ukraine chapter, to push for the rehabilitation of the Ajaokuta Steel Plant, Kogi State. This exercise, which has made it possible today for some Nigerian specialists from Ukraine to work in some government and private establishments, has equally created job opportunities in Nigeria. The experience I`ve acquired all these years will be very useful in NIDOE. I know NIDOE has a lot of potentials. Given the opportunity, we can turn brain drain to brain gain in Nigeria. I am not saying foreigners should not work or be employed in Nigeria. All I am saying is that Nigerians have the substance and the capacity to bring changes. They should therefore be given equal opportunity or participation. All in all, it is my wish to contribute my widow`s mite aimed at changing the life of an ordinary citizen as well as towards the development of Nigeria in whatever level I can.
Kata Kata: The recently concluded NIDOE election in Paris was attended by many respectable, high dignities like Ambassador Dr. Tafida of the UK, Ambassador Sulaiman Hakeem of France, Nigeria permanent Delegate to the UNESCO, Ambassador Katagum, to mention a few. What did the presence of these eminent Nigerians say about your organization?
Dr. Manuwuike: Going back to the history of NIDOE, since 2001, the federal government has been supportive of the organization. Through Nigerian embassies abroad, the government has collaborated with NIDOE immensely. That said, the presence of the Nigerian high dignities during the NIDOE elections in Paris confirmed the seriousness the government has attached to NIDOE. It goes a long way, in confirming the wish of the Nigerian government to see NIDOE succeed. The presence of our NIDOE father ““ figures, like Ambassador Dr. Tafida of the UK, Nigerian ambassador to France, Ambassador Sukaiman Hakeen, Ambassador to Belguim, representatives of the Nigerian organs, including that of the Nigerian Ambassador to Spain, and others, is very important and symbolic. It says much about the importance and credibility of the elections in Paris. These and other Nigerian embassies abroad have worked tirelessly towards NIDOE development and welfare. I was deeply moved by the efforts made by all the dignities, some of them coming from far to Paris for the historic elections. I was positively shocked that Ambassador Sulaiman Hakeem of France decided to stay till the whole elections took place and even waited till the occasion ended almost around 23.00 hrs. Honestly speaking, it was the first time I witnessed such a degree of sacrifice from a Nigerian high dignity. I strongly believe that if we could put our differences behind us and work as a family within NIDOE, the sky will be the limit.
Kata Kata: Interestingly, or some would say, unusually, like you mentioned, some dignities like Ambassador Hakeem not only witnessed the historic election, but even went to the extent of staying behind till the final votes were counted ““ a rare but indeed unique deed for a typical prominent Nigerian. Why the interest?
Dr. Manuwuike: Clearly, Ambassador Hakeem and others made those sacrifices because they believe in a serious NIDOE. They wanted to validate the election. Ambassador Hakeem stayed till the end because he probably wanted to see how the process was organized; what caliber of people were elected as BOT members; was there a sportsmanship in the race? Like he said, the election victory is for all of NIDOE members ““ not just for the elected BOT officials alone. With this type of attitude, we can achieve much in NIDOE.
Kata Kata: Many delegates considered the NIDOE elections very orderly, peaceful and transparent, what would you attribute to that?
Dr. Manuwuike: They are right; it was indeed orderly, peaceful and transparent. The electoral committee did a marvelous job. They were committed and professional. Anyone who knows Lola (former chairperson of the NIDOE Election Committee) well will tell you she is hard working, professional and dedicated in anything she does. The election was highly free and fair; the manner it was conducted was impressive and credible. The presence of the Nigerian ambassadors to UK, France, Belgium and other dignitaries confirms the credibility.
Kata Kata: Soon, Nigeria will be going to cast their electoral votes. Some have applauded the former chairperson of the NIDOE Election Committee, Ms. Lola Visser ““ Mabogunje for the professional manner she and her crew conducted the NIDOE election in Paris. Do you think the NEC of Nigeria will have to borrow a leaf from their dedication and professionalism in order to get the upcoming elections in Nigeria right?
Dr. Manuwuike: like I said, Lola is ever competent and professional in whatever she does. When she was nominated last November during the meeting in Rotterdam to head the election committee, people who know her knew immediately that the elections would be built on a good foundation. You and I witnessed the way the elections were conducted meticulously and professionally. We all must give her and her crew kudos for the job well done.
Kata Kata: Now that you have been elected chairman of NIDOE, what relevant experience do you have for this job?
Dr. Manuwuike: I came with a bag of experience. I try not to blow my trumpet, but my credentials speak for me. Like I said, when I was elected in 2005 chairman of NIDOE Ukraine chapter, we initiated a lot of projects, amongst them the Ajaokuta Steel Plant and Kampala Village projects. Apart from my masters degree (MSc) in international economic relations, I am a tested manager who has built many businesses from the scratch and made them successful. I employ a lot of people and my managerial skills have helped me to be elected in the boards of many reputable companies. Again, you could have all the experience, but you need the support of the board and people to deliver. Happily, the elected BOT members are not only professionals, they are highly accomplished Nigerians. I believe we have all it takes to bring the kind of changes everyone is agitating for in NIDOE.
Kata Kata: What are your priorities and goals and how do you intend to achieve them?
Dr. Manuwuike: We, the elected BOT members have had some meetings. We have both short and long term plans. Presently, I don`t want to let the cat out of the bag. Definitely, we are committed to making sure the promises we made in our manifestos are honoured. Our success or failure depends on that.
Kata Kata: Some people believe that NIDOE is “sick“ and that it needs a “doctor.“ Now that you, Dr. Manuwuike, a medical doctor have been elected chairman of the organization, how do you intend to cure this “sickness?“
Dr. Manuwuike: Is NIDOE really sick? I don`t think so. Just like in any other organization, we had differences, but despite any differences we might still have, I strongly believe everyone is putting the differences aside and doing their best to give NIDOE a sense of direction. We started the healing process and reconciliation. If we can reconcile, there is no limit to what we can achieve together as an organization.
Kata Kata: Many Nigerians have lost confidence in Nigerian politicians and leaders; as chairman of this important organization (NIDOE) how exactly can you sensitize the views of your organization and an average Nigerian to the Federal government?
Dr. Manuwuike: I think what is happening in Nigeria is hardly different from what we have in many developing countries. It is unfortunate. However, if we can take a position devoid of politics, religion or any other form of impediment to the progress of the country, we can achieve more. I believe NIDOE should be independent of religion, ethnicity, politics, etc. in its attempt to bring structural changes in Nigeria. Of course, governments have their successes and shortcomings. See what is happening in Ukraine, as well. Some people would tell you that our problems in Nigeria lie in our diversity, but I think our diversity should be our strength as well. We have potentials in Nigeria. However, we still have a lot to do in terms of democracy. Gradually, Nigeria is taking her place economically and politically. The economy is growing. If we get our policies right, we can do great. We must encourage the government, albeit also criticize it equally when the government is not doing the right thing. Government should not be aloof of the citizens. It must spend wisely. Perhaps our present Federal system is more expensive than a maybe parliamentary system of government. Maybe, the latter could bring people closer to the government. Regardless, we use what we have to build the government; not to criticize the government always.
Kata Kata: Why should NIDOE members see you as a different leader ““ not just like other Nigerian leaders?
Dr. Manuwuike: Simple. I am someone who tries to criticize himself first. If I cannot criticize myself, then I have a problem. I am a unifier, who wants to bring people together. I want to be a leader, who is committed. Leadership must come from the heart; you lead people because they want you to lead them. Once you have established that rapport, then you carry them along.
Kata Kata: The proposed National Conference is coming up soon and we heard that the Federal Government of Nigeria has allocated two delegates to NIDOE, as NIDOE chairman, what kind of message will those two delegates deliver on behalf of NIDOE?
Dr. Manuwuike: Yes, two delegates have been chosen by the BOT members and submitted to the Federal government for approval. However, we are waiting for the approval from the government before we make the names public. If approved, those representatives will be our mouthpiece during the conference. We will form a continental Committee that feeds the representatives on the stands of NIDOE on various issues during the conference. Like I said, we are still waiting for the final approval from Abuja.
Kata Kata: Presumably, as NIDOE chairman, you will be attending this National Conference. Who will be accompanying you to the conference?
Dr. Manuwuike: I will not be attending the conference myself. I believe there are other capable NIDOE members who can. More so, I don`t want a situation where some people might have a misconception that going to the National Conference was my reason for vying for the chairmanship post. I have a huge work here (NIDOE), which I want to concentrate on. I am not saying that the conference in Abuja is not important. It is very important. But we have other capable NIDOE members who can represent us there effectively.
Kata Kata: Your acceptance speech demonstrates a huge dedication and a lot of challenges. Do you still maintain your promises?
Dr. Manuwuike: Definitely!! As long as I don`t get distracted, I am fully committed towards fulfilling those promises.
Kata Kata: So Akwa Ibom is for real?
Dr. Manuwuike: Sure! Akwa Ibom is on the table. We are discussing with the governor, His Excellency Dr. Godswill Akpabio, and we will be making an announcement soon. Definitely, Akwa Ibom is on the table.
Kata Kata: What kind of legacy would you like to leave behind after your office tenure?
Dr. Manuwuike: I want people to remember me as a leader who kept his promises; as someone who delivered. I want my legacy to be used as a yardstick to measure other future leaders of NIDOE.
Kata Kata: Do you have any more words for our readers and those NIDOE members who voted for you?
Dr. Manuwuike: I cannot stop thanking you all for the trust and confidence you have in me. You demonstrated your immense support by leaving all your various engagements and travelling all the way to Paris to elect me. I can only tell you that I will not disappoint you. You have shown a huge confidence in me by electing me; I will do everything within my power to serve you humbly without fear or favour. I keep my words and I ask you honestly to judge my work in the coming months. You made the right choice and I promise, if we join hands and work together, we will take NIDOE to another level. Thank you.
Kata Kata: Thank you so much for your time. We wish you all the best in the years to come. Thank you, doctor.
Dr. Manuwuike: My pleasure. Thank you and your Kata kata crew too for the NIDOE coverage.