Vince Onyejeli – Diaspora Person of the Month

My name is Vince Onyejeli. I am from Ajalli in Orumba North Local Government Area in Anambra State, Nigeria. I am married with two kids.

I would best describe myself as an Engineering and Construction Expert with over 20 years industry experience, which has been acquired through active management of a diverse range of major civil engineering and building construction projects in the UK and latterly, in Nigeria.

My main areas of specialism include: General Management, Project Management, Transaction Advisory, Project Development, Bid Management, SPV Management, Resources Management, Financial Management, Asset management, Safety Management, Design Management, Contract and Risk Management, Highways and Traffic Engineering, Rail Engineering, Operations and Maintenance.


Q. Please take us through your background and how you got to (the country you lived in before coming back home)

A. I was born in the UK, so that explains my ties with Britain. I attended Federal Government College, Enugu in Nigeria and thereafter went on to the Enugu State University of Science and Technology, Nigeria.

I graduated with a B.Eng. in Civil Engineering in 1994, and in 1999/2000 pursued a further degree at the University of Birmingham, UK -graduating with a Masters degree in Highway Management and Engineering. I am a Corporate Member of the Chartered Institution of Highways and Transportation Engineering in the UK since 2001.

Q. So, the big question, why did you move Back to Nigeria for good?

A. Perhaps, I would answer this question by altering the question slightly and ask why Nigeria? I have done so because I have an issue with the phrase ‘move back’. The world is a global place now and certainly you can move around as much as you want and taking into consideration your personal circumstances. At the time, the UK economy was contracting and size of economic activity in the construction market was shrinking. The whole of Europe was in a mess and perhaps, Europe still hasn’t recovered.

The Middle East was an option but it made logical sense to consider Nigeria since it presented the opportunity to be involved in delivering major infrastructure projects.

To put things in context, the government’s National Integrated Infrastructure Master Plan projects that Nigeria requires an estimated $2.9 trillion to close its huge infrastructure gap in the next 30-years. For the first years of the NIIMP (2014-2018), an investment of $125 billion is required to deliver quality infrastructure. If implemented, this will create job opportunities for professionals who will be involved in the design and construction of new roads, power, housing, rails and airports projects.

Q. Are there similarities between the country you moved back from and Nigeria?

A. No. Next question please!

Q. What are the challenges you’ve faced so far since moving back?

A. Hmm… It depends on how you see things in life; Is the glass half empty or half full?

For me, inherent in all challenges are opportunities for success stories. How you respond to challenges has a lot to do with the lens through which you habitually perceive the world. If you tend to see the world through a “gloom and doom” lens, you may react to challenges in Nigeria and indeed anywhere else with feelings of fear, anxiety, or a sense of despair or powerlessness. And even if you tend to view things through the lens of optimism, you may react to the constant barrage of negative media messages with milder feelings of concern and insecurity.

Q. What were your expectations and fears when you decided to move back?

A. I simply did not dwell a lot on the negative side because I always kept open the option of moving again. I wasn’t sure what to expect but I did have way too high expectations of Nigeria at the time. With the benefit of hindsight, it should have been toned down a bit.

Q. When did you move back and what have you been up to since you moved back?

A. I moved to Nigeria some two and a half years ago to champion two major infrastructure projects. I am currently the MD/CEO of a consultancy practice whose business name is WAGA Project Solutions Limited; leading and directing major projects as the Designated Project Executive. WAGA is a UK and Nigeria based Engineering and Construction professional services practice that has extensive experience of developing, managing and monitoring projects for major developers, leading retailers, blue chip corporations and public bodies throughout the UK and overseas, adding value for clients at any phase of the Project Development Cycle.

Q. Coming back to Nigeria, did you ever feel like you needed to readjust to life back in the country?

A. I lived in the UK for some eighteen and a half years. That is quite a number of years outside Nigeria but of course, I come into Nigeria on a regular basis which makes it such that you are not totally detached from the environment. In essence, you have to readjust to cope with your new environment.

Q. How do you deal with issues such as traffic, lack of basic infrastructure and the power situation?

A. It is particularly difficult to adjust to driving in an environment where people do not necessarily obey traffic rules, park illegally and carry out dangerous maneuvers on the highway. So you have to alter slightly (if not significantly) your expectations of how other road users will conduct themselves on a public road. In fact, whilst I believe I have been able to accommodate and allow for the excesses of some undisciplined vehicle drivers, I do not think I have been able to accept the recklessness associated with the tri-cycle drivers otherwise known as ‘Keke Napep’ on public roads. They remain the biggest nuisance to ‘licensed’ vehicle drivers on public roads; committing all sorts of road traffic violations, even in the presence of law enforcement agencies and I really wonder how this menace could be addressed.

On lack of basic infrastructure, it is really challenging but this is Africa. It is a developing country and part of the reasons why I am back in this environment is to contribute my own quota towards the development of Nigeria’s infrastructure by putting my experience and expertise in developing and delivering major infrastructure projects to good use.

The Power situation is particularly upsetting for me; reason being that the Power Sector is part of the Infrastructure development space that I alluded to above. In 2010, President Goodluck Jonathan pledged to privatize the bulk of Nigeria’s electricity sector in an effort to end chronic power shortages that are the biggest brake on growth in Nigeria. The goal was to meet its Vision 20:2020 target of 40,000MW.

It was hoped that 14,000 MW of power generation capacity will be available by December 2013. We are in now 2015 and the generation capacity as at 9th March 2015 stands at 3,571.1MW. Please note that I made reference to ‘generation capacity’ and not ‘installed capacity’ which is at 11,165.40MW.

So, the only way I have been dealing with my reality is through back-up power supply together with the associated high cost of diesel!

Q. If you had to do this all over again what would you do different?

A. I am not sure I would do anything significantly different. However, the only exception could be that whenever ‘fast track’ is associated with a project, I will keep away as far as I can. I say no more!

Q. Finally, what advice would you give people moving back to Nigeria from the Diaspora?

A. For people who would like to relocate to Nigeria because of work, I would say please look for a work opportunity that provides a soft landing for you for a period of 2-3 years. Also, never put your feet up in the belief that you have 2-3 years to adjust to the environment. Begin your adjustment right before you board the plane and on getting to Nigeria, commence an aggressive process of readjusting because things could easily turn sour with your work opportunity.

Also ensure that you have every bit of detail spelt out in the employment or contract agreement; spelling out who is responsible for leasing and paying your home, property taxes, children’s school fees, health insurance, your back-up power, service charge payments, driver, vehicle and associated maintenance costs, stewards etc. Never take any small detail for granted.

Never accept wishy-washy statements like: ‘Oh, we will sort it all out when you get to Nigeria’.

If you don’t have the benefit of a soft landing, then consider your move to Nigeria in phases. That way you will only settle in Nigeria when you are fully satisfied with every other thing.

Another dimension to my advice is that the world is a global place. You mustn’t see your move as a ‘move back’ but as a sojourn. It could well be that there are opportunities which present itself in Nigeria such that you have to be there at this time. When the opportunity disappears, you go to where the next opportunity presents itself.

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