Taopheek Babayeju, is an entreprenuer with hands on many businesses. Aside being the Chief Executive of iCentra Consulting Limited, a thriving company established in 2009, he has led several high-impact projects and programmes consulting for public and private institutions such as Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Federal Inland Revenue Services (FIRS), Federal Ministry of Finance, Federal Ministry of Power, Works & Housing, Ogun State, NESG, FSS 2020, NIRSAL, among others.
Babayeju is leading a group of seasoned project managers on the platform of project management conference (ProMaCon); who are beckoning on the Federal Government and other stakeholders in Nigerian to build a strong synergy to help solve the challenge of abandoned projects estimated at N12 trillion according to a 2017 report of the Chartered Institute of Project Management.
He is also involved in entrepreneurship mentoring programmes for thriving and budding small and medium enterprises (SMEs) across the country.
He has volunteered and served in different capacities for several Not-for-profit organisations. He currently serves on the board of the Creative Entrepreneurs Association of Nigeria (CEAN) and Kelly Benedict Child Support Initiative. He also served as the Vice President of the Project Management Institute (PMI) Nigeria.
In this interview, he speaks on why projects fail in Nigeria, and how entrepreneurs can grow, ProMaCon and other issues.
Project management is key to national development. Any nation that succeeded has applied the principles of project management which is the act of proper execution, “idea is cheap implementation is key”. You can have all the strategies in the world without having a proper plan of how to execute them you’d fail. “Failing to plan is planning to fail”. Without that scheme of execution which project management brings to the table, you are definitely going to fail. Any nation that has developed has mastered the act of project management.
So, we felt that the need to have this about ten years ago we started it and we have engagement across every platform. So, our aim was to visualise project management practise and we have done that successfully well today, there are people studying project management in the country ten years ago there was no course called project management expect for trainings in project management there is awareness across the board every government project now has provision for project management.
This was the motivation for convening the first National Project Management Conference (ProMaCon) in 2009 where stakeholders in the project management profession gathered to deliberate on how to institutionalise project management best practice in Nigeria. The objective of the annual gathering has been among other things to address the challenges bedevilling effective project delivery across all sectors in the country. The conference was also aimed at creating awareness for the role of Project Management in national development, promoting Project management best practices, contributing to the establishment of project management as a profession in Nigeria and developing project management specialist network.
There are several organisations that everything they do now is project management. It wasn’t there 10 years ago. We have several bodies that have involved local associations and international associations with affiliation in Nigeria which all they do is project management.
And for what we have done over the past 10 years we feel it is time to again bring the stakeholders together bring project management again back to the front runner and have the conversation around it and also recognise those who have over the years contributed to the growth and practise of project management.
We are celebrating project management as a profession and practice in Nigeria and we are proud of what we have done.
The important role of effective project management in national development across all sectors cannot be over-emphasized especially in the current competitive global economy where developed nations seem locked in a battle of supremacy with daredevil projects that are radically changing lives across the globe. Many third world countries are also taking advantage of technological innovation to embark on projects that are improving the lives of their citizenry and giving them a significant voice in global politics. Numerous abandoned and poorly completed projects across Nigeria amounting to billions of dollars in waste point to the need for re-examining the nation’s general approach to project delivery.
Since the first conference, ProMaCon has evolved into an independent, not for profit organisation that actively promotes the culture of Project Management in private and public sector organisation. ProMaCon Project Management Foundation GTE is focussed on capacity development and stakeholder’s engagement.
Following the success of the first event in 2009, and series of other conferences, seminars and workshops held in various parts of Nigeria over the decade, the ProMaCon team has been committed to, and worked towards the goal of enhancing the development of project management practice in Nigeria. The strong advocacy has led to increased awareness in the inevitable role of Project Management to institutional and national development, hence the establishment of Programme Management Offices in strategic government agencies, increased project management education and stakeholder engagement, engagement of qualified project managers for the implementation of capital projects and the establishment of Project Management bodies.
While there is much to be celebrated in 10 years, there is so much more to be done to improve the practice of project management in Nigeria. ProMaCon seeks to improve on the achievements of the past by continuing the advocacy and engagement till such a time that effective project delivery will become an integral part of our national culture.
I had my primary education in Lagos and secondary at Ondo State now Ekiti State. I studied physics from Lagos State University, I also had the privilege of having some training overseas.
I started my career as a telecom expert and also did a lot of project management training while I was at the network operator in Abuja. So, I did my training in Dubai, UK and the US.
While I was working for Sony Ericsson Nigeria here in Abuja, I was trained on mobile terminals. And at some point my organisation was winding up, I was trying to do something, I didn’t want to be jobless. I tried a business with a friend of mine, within one year, we burned out. They say most businesses pack up within one year. It happened to me. We burned out and went our separate ways.
So, I thought about having an ICT company. At a point, it was survival first because I was working for a service centre where I gained skills to repair any terminal unit just to have an income.
So, at some point I raised enough money to travel abroad. So, when I got back, I realised that what I learned was bigger than my own platform, so I needed to go back into the industry to practicalise what I have learnt to build more capacity. I had the company registered. So, it was while I was at Ntel which was where I served before I even had my first job. There was a new management and I was called up to join them. I was in the implementation department. I looked for training around project management. I needed more knowledge of it. I was part of projects Ntel was rolling out in different parts of the country. I was monitoring and reporting to management. I found it interesting. It was a nee and budding knowledge. With this, I knew it was time for me to set up something on my own.
Within that time, I had to set up a consulting firm. All along, I had a technology firm and a consulting arm of it was necessary. That’s where iCentra Consulting started. It was 10 years ago but the real business started 15 years ago.
So, business started as a means of survival but iCentra started as a way of filling the gap because then, the Philip Consulting, PWc etc were consulting for the company I worked for but they were all based in Lagos. In my head, I said there should be a consulting firm here Abuja to provide services to these people at a lower cost. It cost more bringing the Lagos-based. So, I saw that gap and I keyed into it.
Advice to budding consulting firms
I’ve heard many people say the young people should leave their jobs and become entrepreneurs.
Entrepreneurship isn’t not a fashionable endeavour let me put it that way. It’s just like being a solider.
I 100 per cent respect people that have paid jobs. It doesn’t make them any less and we cannot all be the same. The same way some people will be journalists, some people will be doctors for our lives to be saved, the same way also some people are entrepreneurs to create more opportunities.
Anybody can be an entrepreneur but not everybody can be. The only difference is the mindset to solve problems. It’s not a title you carry as a CEO. It is not about you wanting to be on your own because I hear most people say I want to do things on my own. It’s about you finding a problem that you are providing a solution to or identifying an opportunity that requires a gap in the system; that requires solution; which you now provide that solution to and you create opportunity out of it. But entrepreneurship for just sake of entrepreneurship is zero because it’s either you are impacting lives or you are solving a problem but once you are able to solve a problem money wouldn’t be a challenge.
Except you are not actually solving a problem; when you just have a fashionable business. So, many times I hear many people want to become an entrepreneur. As a matter of fact, I have an initiative called Thepreneur where we try to mentor entrepreneurs, young leaders, to shape their minds to share their challenges and to share their experiences. So, what was very fortunate for me was that both of my parents were entrepreneurs. When I was growing up, everybody’s father was either a director or manager in one bank or in civil service and all that. So, it was weird to see that my father is an entrepreneur. Nobody even believed me because they didn’t even think that anybody could set up something at that time. My mother was a trader so I couldn’t relate with people having perks of office or having government bonuses or whatever.
So, I see entrepreneurship as a mindset, going out there and solving problems; looking for opportunities, providing services etc.
Money should be the last thing in the mind of an enterpreneur even though you are going to make money. It’s given. When you start as someone just wanting to make money you will burn out because the motivation is all about the money. When I started in 2004, I even started 2003 on my own. The first business I landed to was in 2009. The only thing that kept me going was side service center that I opened. Along the line, I realised the need to go and get more experience.
I went into internship for me because as an entrepreneur you need to learn more to earn more. So, having made money, you know I could make without being immodest lin a month then am talking between 2004 and 2007 I could make N300/400,000 naira a month from my business. I mean income. But again my overheads were low. It was a brain work. I wasn’t buying and selling.
Just pay people’s salaried and rent. But I went to take a job I call it my internship at Ntel when I got back from UK for N50,000 because I wanted to learn how to create more value with the knowledge I have gained from UK. So, between that 2004 and 2009 I had my intern, I didn’t get to my major break or deal until 2009. So, that was five years. So, if I was looking for money, I wouldn’t take something that will pay me less from what I was making from my business just to learn. So, If I was looking for money, I won’t also wait until 2009 till I’m able to get one big victory.
So, for an entrepreneur, it is about the vision, something in your mind nobody can see it. Eventually, you’ll make money by solving problems.
If you are sick now and they tell you to bring N1million you will pay if people can solve your problem. I know billionaires that can give all their wealth just to be healthy. So, if we can solve problems, money will come but the first motivation of a business person is not money is about the problem that he is solving and the value that he is creating which in turn attracts money.
Trading knowledge to make wealth
Do we have the population? I will say yes. Do we have young people that are ready? I will say yes but have we created enough environment for them? I will say no. I am not one of those that blames government for everything. What have government done for me for example, I have not accessed any loan in the last 15 years. So, everything I have created, I started off with a computer and N10,000 in my account. The next N10, I borrowed from my sister to add to that initial N10,000 was to assemble a desktop computer. So, entrepreneurs somehow know how to make something from nothing. But the knowledge is out there for any young person that is willing to seek the knowledge. But are people well prepared? I will say no. The educational system that I graduated from almost 20 years ago is still the same thing if not worse. Public schools are in a state of comatose. So, if we can create a system where learning becomes a culture, where students don’t have to pay bribes to pass, where merit is the other of the day, where girls don’t have to be harassed to score high grades and create a level playing field. It’s what we’ve created for the young ones over the years is what we’re seeing them exhibit today.