Move Back to Nigeria is a new series on BellaNaija. The aim is to encourage young and not-so-young professionals in the diaspora who are trying to make the decision of whether to move back to Nigeria. In collaboration with the brilliant team at MoveBackToNigeria.com, we hope to bring you a weekly interview with individuals who have successfully made the leap. The idea is to share their successes and their challenges as they made the decision.
A lot of Nigerians in the diaspora have questions about making a change at home in Nigeria. Many suggest really good ideas on how to make things better; others would like to contribute to making a difference back home but are just not sure where to begin. This week, MBTN is looking at the other side of the story. In this chat with a Samson Esemuede, a young finance professional, who says he’s not quite ready to move back to Nigeria. He shares insight on his own experiences and his hopes for Nigeria in the near future. We hope you enjoy his story as it helps to have a balanced view on both sides of the coin.
Tell us about yourself
My name is Samson Esemuede, and I’m a young Nigerian Finance professional living in the UK. Like most Nigerians within my peer group, I came to the UK post my secondary education to pursue my Advanced Level studies.
What happened next?
I had planned to study medicine but for inexplicable reasons, my medical school applications were unsuccessful despite having the requisite grades to undertake the course. Whilst I was very passionate about becoming a doctor, waiting another year to go through the application process again meant that I would run into visa issues. I was then advised to study an advanced science degree making me eligible to apply for the shortened post-graduate medical degree program. I subsequently applied to the University College London (UCL) department of Biochemistry and Molecular biology and was admitted into the Biochemistry Bachelors program.
UCL is a highly rated UK university. What was it like for you to study there?
I regard my time at UCL as the best three years of my life. As you may know, it is one of the most secular universities in the UK dare I say globally, with an extremely diverse student body. I met a lot of very intelligent and interesting people there, many of whom I am still in touch with till date. I couldn’t recommend UCL strongly enough to anyone thinking about studying there.
Great! Your undergraduate degree was in Biochemistry, how then did you end up becoming a Finance Professional?
That was a complete accident as at the time my knowledge of banking was limited to the high street model. I thought banks served primarily as a safe place to hide your money. My interest in investment came from interaction with friends at University. These guys were clearly more switched on than I was in terms of career options and they talked about this career in the city where one can earn starting salaries higher than other career options. I do not think there is a better way to interest a young ambitious Nigerian than to tell him about a career with a high pay potential. I thereafter did some exploratory research and the more I read, the more confused I became, so I decided to apply for an internship. Clearly the fact that it was a handsomely paid internship (at least so I thought at the time) made that decision relatively easy bearing in mind I was still very much interested in becoming a doctor.
I applied to a number of finance institutions directly and also applied to a programme called the Sponsors of Education Opportunities (SEO), a non-profit organisation which helps students from ethnic minorities get into Finance. As part of the selection process, I did a couple of interviews and practical assessments, and was fortunate to be successful, as I had very little finance knowledge or experience. Once I had successfully completed the selection process at SEO, I was offered a place on the coveted internship program at Deutsche Bank.
Congratulations! Deutsche Bank is one of the biggest Investment Banks in Europe. How was your experience on the program?
Brilliant! For my internship, I was placed on the Convertible Bonds Trading Desk and the Special Situations Group. I had limited Finance knowledge, so my priority was to learn as much as possible. I networked extensively and spoke to as many people as possible, to get a rounded experience. My day to day tasks involved assisting the team with transactions such as bond issuances, helping to put together day to day market commentary, grabbing coffees for senior bankers as required (trust me this puts you in their good books), or other general admin tasks. The coffee rounds must have paid off as I was offered a full time position on the graduate programme following the internship, and from then on my medical ambitions started to die a natural death.
Sounds good! What was it like on the Deutsche Bank Graduate Program as opposed to the undergraduate internship?
It was fantastic! It brought the brightest minds from top universities globally into arguably the most comprehensive training program on Wall Street. It was a global scheme, so I got to meet colleagues from different cultures and with varying levels of experience. I built an enormous global network which I think is invaluable and comes in very handy. The graduate program also gave me the opportunity to move across business areas. I moved through 4 different areas during the program and ended up as an institutional salesman on the Emerging Markets team.
Interesting. What does your job as a salesman on the Emerging Markets team entail?
My job function has 3 dimensions. First, I provide an interface between the bank and Portfolio Managers whose mandate it is to invest in Emerging Markets. Second, I work with our Equity Capital Markets team on the distribution of primary issuances into the market (IPO or a Secondary offering) and finally I work closely with research analysts to generate and implement the best ideas to help Portfolio Managers achieve positive risk adjusted returns.
As part of Emerging Markets, are the Nigerian Markets a focus?
Yes. As a matter of fact, a lot of portfolio managers now find the Nigerian markets interesting. Oil prices are high, the banking system has been cleaned up, public debt dynamics looks optically favourable and investors are excited about the demographic dividend given 70% of the population is below the age of 30. In the last 2 years, I have seen a record number of investment funds set up to tap into the opportunity this presents.
So what are your views on the future of the Nigerian Stock Market?
In the short term, I think the equities investment landscape is challenging because the banking sector (which has been the main driver of performance in the market) is close to peak profitability. I believe the ability to continue to grow profits is hindered by structural issues. By that I mean lack of trust infrastructure, regulatory hurdles (i.e uncertainty surrounding the petroleum industry bill) and political uncertainty such as the presidential elections in 2015. In my view, unless these uncertainties are removed or reduced, the ability of the banking system to increase credit penetration which will be the primary driver of earnings for that sector is limited. Another sector that has been of interest to investors and which is a large part of the index, is the consumer sector, especially the subsidiaries of western brands such as Unilever and Nestle. These are obviously very successful companies, however due to high investor demand, shares in these companies are not cheap anymore and I do not think the growth outlook justifies the multiples investors are currently willing to pay. In the long term however, there is potential in the Nigerian equity markets if economic growth rates remain robust and the price of oil stays high. Although I believe investors may be getting too excited too quickly.
Thanks for the detailed information. You have worked in the UK for about 5 years, do you have any plans to move back to Nigeria sometime soon?
I have had a fantastic career at Deutsche Bank so far and I am very happy here. Over the last 5 years I have been promoted at every possible opportunity and I’m currently a Vice President. However, anytime I arrive at MM Airport Lagos, I cannot help but feel at home as something awakens in me when I set my foot on the motherland. Therefore in the medium to long term, moving back home might be something for me to think about, but definitely not now.
Why not now?
From what I have observed, a lot of people have moved back not necessarily by choice. For instance, with the new visa rules in the UK, many students who would have liked to remain here to gain work experience have had to move back because they were unable to find companies to sponsor their work visas. There are also others who began their careers here and had to move back because they lost their jobs, e.g. in a redundancy situation. In my case, I haven’t been put in such a position just yet, even though at the back of my mind, I feel there is a good chance that I will not be retiring in the UK.
I also strongly believe that it’s easier to move up the corporate ladder in the West than in Nigeria. As previously stated, 5 years ago I started at the bottom of the food chain as an analyst and today I am Vice President within the emerging markets team. I stand to be corrected but I struggle to think I will be able to enjoy the same level of vertical progression had I begun my career in Nigeria. I also do not think I will have the same level of responsibility I currently have today if I had moved back 5 years ago. So you see, these are a few of the reasons delaying a decision to go back and perhaps explains why only a few people voluntarily do so.
Fair enough. Moving on, would you like to share your thoughts on the current state of affairs in Nigeria particularly compared to say, a decade ago?
Whilst I believe Nigeria is in a better place today than it was 10 years ago, there are a lot of structural issues to be resolved. The Nigerian economy in the last 10 years has been helped by sustained increase in the price of oil which has helped mask some structural issues. Not wanting to go into obvious details, the long and short of it is that Nigeria has weak institutions. The public sector is plagued with chronic inefficiency amongst other issues. Whilst there are some bright spots within private institutions, they are still too insignificant to single handedly power the country’s economic growth. Besides, you need strong public institutions to create an enabling environment for private sector activity so it is a symbiotic relationship really. The negative effect of such weak institutions is that it prevents the country from reaching its full potential. I have no doubt that Nigeria can produce the next Bill Gates, Albert Einstein or Mark Zuckerberg, however the type of institutions we have limits this sort of success stories.
You clearly have strong opinions in this regard. We also hear a lot of Nigerians in the diaspora talk about the issues facing the country, but surely, foreign based Nigerians have a stake in fixing these issues?
In theory yes. However, in reality it is difficult to contribute to the solution without physically being on the ground. Many foreign based Nigerians do not live abroad just because they love their host country more than the motherland; many simply believe they get better opportunities there. At the end of the day, humans respond to incentives and if there are no incentives to attract Nigerians back home, then it will never happen. While many diasporans are patriotic and want to go back, I do not think people decide to move back out of sheer patriotism. They need to see opportunities that provide them with gains e.g. financial, developmental, growth etc. If the country wants to see more of its brains come back, they need to create some sort of enabling environment. May I state that whilst I don’t think these institutions can be fixed overnight, we just need to see the willingness of policymakers and stakeholders to make a change. There has been some progress, but in my opinion too slow.
In terms of progress, what are your thoughts on the proposed Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB)?
This is not an area of expertise for me but I will offer my 2 cents as an observer. Is the PIB a perfect document? No. Although, how ever ill-designed it may be, it will not be as bad as the very unfavourable legal framework that governs the industry today. So I think they should go ahead pass the bill into law and remove the uncertainty that is currently plaguing the industry. At the very least we will see increase in local content which I think is very desperately needed and new capital deployment following the removal of regulatory overhang. At the end of the day the outlook for Nigeria’s fiscal spending, at least in the short to medium term, is heavily dependent on the ability of the nation to grow production, especially if the now widely held view that we have seen the best of oil price appreciation is correct.
What about the President? Do you think he is doing an effective job in trying to make the country more attractive to Nigerians in the diaspora?
I think you can judge the character of a person by the quality of people they are surrounded by. Looking at the quality of ministers in the cabinet today, it is fair to think positively about his intentions. However I am not sure to what extent his future political ambition is affecting the speed of his reform agenda.
On a final note, what will it take for you to move back home in the near future?
Nigerians in diaspora are part of a highly skilled global workforce which means they have access to opportunities in a lot of countries. I believe each opportunity will be evaluated based on its unique challenges and rewards. Nigeria of course presents its own challenges but that also presents with enormous opportunities. I wouldn’t say I would move back tomorrow but I do believe any opportunity that comes my way will be evaluated within this risk and reward framework. What wouldn’t happen however, is that I move back in the hope that the world of opportunities will be open to me on arrival.
Thanks for your time and best wishes moving forward.
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