Move Back to Nigeria is a series on BellaNaija which aims 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, considering the leap, as well as those who have tried it and realized it is not for them.
MoveBacktoNigeria.com’s mission is to showcase stories of Nigerians abroad who have moved back home and are taking giant strides, often against all odds and to serve as inspiration to others. This, however does not preclude us from sharing stories of the people who have moved back and are facing various challenges.
We begin our series for the year with this exciting feature on Vivian Nwakah, American born- Nigerian enterpreneur who recently moved to Nigeria, (having never been previously) to explore the very real opportunities our fatherland has to offer.For more on her interestingly varied professional background and her experiences in Nigeria so far.
Thanks for speaking with us. Could you tell us who you are and what you do?
My name is Vivian Nwakah. I am now the Head of Trend/TV Nollywood Movies which is a subsidiary of The Udemba Group. The Udemba Group is a 25 year old company in Nigeria that includes an engineering, real estate development, and satellite and cable television companies among other business ventures. I am a very curious and adventurous person, who loves learning about new cultures and communities. I was born in Houston US and have pretty much lived my entire life in the United States. Though when I was little, I did live in London for about 3-4years.
Tell us a bit about your educational background.
I had my high school education in a north suburb of Chicago. After which, I went to The University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign for my undergraduate degree where I studied psychology and sociology. I recently completed my MBA through a partnership program between the University of Paris Sorbonne, the Federal University of Rio in Brazil, and Georgia State University in Atlanta.
Travelling around the world studying must have being really interesting…How did your professional life start?
Well, I have had a long and relatively varied career, beginning in banking with Wells Fargo in the United States. I also worked as a political campaign manager in Chicago, campaigning for the first American born Nigerian aspirant to run for political office in Chicago, which contributed, to my interest in current events in Nigeria.
And is this what led to your eventual move to Nigeria?
Indirectly. After the campaign I just decided to travel around Europe and South America to get some global perspective. During this period I met people who were achieving amazing career objectives and their dreams in life. I found this really inspirational. All signs point toward emerging markets, and so I went back home and started planning my move to Nigeria even though this was my first time in the country.
How exactly did you prepare for such a big move, seeing as you had never been to Nigeria?
To be honest, I thought I could go online and get information. Initially I thought I could go on Linkedin and reach out to business owners in my field, to apply for jobs this way and get interviews. I did get a job, but when I got to Nigeria, it wasn’t what I thought or expected. When I got to know of what I would be doing on a daily basis and what the role entailed, I realised it wasn’t for me. So I politely declined the offer and I moved to the family business instead.
How did your family react to your plans to move back?
I think my parents are really proud and happy that I decided to make this move. Nigeria is their country though they have lived in the US since the early 1980’s. They are proud that I am here to learn more about the culture and embrace Nigeria.
What was your first impression of Nigeria?
It was an amazing feeling for me. It was an overwhelming experience of pride when I arrived in Nigeria. Although I had always been surrounded by Nigerians in the United States, living in Nigeria is a great new experience.
Moving on slightly, tell us about the family business in Nigeria you’re involved in.
The company is called The Udemba Group. One project I’m particularly proud of is Trend Media City. It is an infrastructure development project and technological hub that we are building in Lekki. It is similar to Dubai Media City in Dubai. It is all about creating the infrastructure and the space for creative and technological industries to prosper. The whole idea is to attract not only businesses, industries and investors, but also to create a safe landing for diasporian Nigerians to feel comfortable enough to return. This way they can actually start re-investing all their acquired knowledge and work, back into Nigeria instead of investing elsewhere.
My uncle who is the founder of this company, explained that the inspiration for this project is that everywhere in the world he went, he always found Nigerians in high places. We have highly educated Nigerians contributing to the GDP of foreign countries. Meanwhile, here in Nigeria we have so much wealth and capabilities and yet there are so many areas for improvement and advancement. It just takes individuals using their talents towards the development of this country. My uncle happens to be an engineer so this infrastructure development project is his contribution to Nigeria.
What does your day to day role entail in the company?
We have a cable and satellite television company called Trend Corp. I have now been refocused on improving operations for Trend Corp and creating a plan to grow market share and improve ad revenue. We also have a group of Dubai-based companies, which I am overseeing set up into the Nigerian market.
Considering the fact that you are new on the Nigerian professional scene, how have you found it dealing with Nigerians professionally
Nigerians work differently from Americans so I have had to continuously recalibrate my expectations and adapt to the nuances of the office culture.
How have you found and adapted to the Lagos lifestyle?
Lagos is an exciting city, despite things not always working well, so I see it as an adventure. The infrastructural shortcomings don’t quite bother me. I just have adapted. I have family here and I’m meeting amazing people, so any challenges or fun parts of Lagos are enhanced by sharing those experiences with the people I care about.
So do you see yourself in Nigeria for the long term?
Yes, I recently left Nigeria to South Africa and Dubai. While I was happy to get out of Lagos for a bit, I found myself missing Nigeria. As long as I’m able to sustain a great job, family life and comfortable space, then I believe I will stay in Nigeria.
Was it that you did not feel you could achieve this in the US?
Like I said, I am someone who loves challenges and personal development and growth. It’s so exciting to me that the idea of going back to the suburb of Chicago which I grew up in is really unappealing to me. Apart from all that, I am dedicated and committed to the growth and success of Nigeria and I can’t achieve that by sitting in Chicago.
If there is anything you would like to change about Nigeria, what would it be?
Well the biggest thing I would say is that it is not completely the government that is the problem with Nigeria, though the government would be the biggest change I would like to see in Nigeria. It is also the Nigerian mentality that can contribute to the problem with Nigeria. There is a quote that the people get the government they deserve. This is why I say it is the mind-set that needs to change. We need to celebrate being able to do for the people. We need to start focusing on taking care of everybody for Nigeria, not just ‘let me take care of my people’. I would like to see that mentality more in the mindset of the people, though it is a hard system to change.
What would you advise anyone who intends to move back based on your experiences so far?
I would say just do it if you have the following things. Money saved, family that will be helpful, and a positive attitude. I mean you know why? I just did it.
It can be argued that you are a bit more fortunate than most people, because you had a structure you could come to in Nigeria, and not everyone will have such a soft landing…
What I would say is everyone will give you as many excuses in the world why you shouldn’t move back, but at some point you just have to find the point where you have to take that chance. So, either it’s finding a company to work for, or run your own ideas. There will definitely be a thousand reasons why you shouldn’t move and so at some point you just have to do it.
Many thanks for your time and best wishes moving forward.
The primary objective of MoveBackToNigeria.com is to connect Nigerian professionals with various opportunities in Nigeria, ranging from recruitment drives to information & support regarding relocation processes, financial & tax advice and much more. Move Back To Nigeria also features social interest topics such as what’s on, where to live, how-to survival tips and so on. Consistently engaging with and featuring Nigerian professionals in weekly interviews, Move Back To Nigeria regularly publishes social interest articles relevant to the general public. Everyone is welcome to their online discussions & fora and you are invited to air your views & suggestions on the topical and trending matters section. For more information and further inquiries, please contact [email protected]