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 regular interviews with individuals who have successfully made the leap, so you can learn from their experiences and make a success of your move back.
The Move Back To Nigeria series will now be a monthly feature on BellaNaija.
Kicking off this year, we’re sharing Diran Otegbade’s story. He moved back from Toronto, Canada.
Please introduce yourself…
I consider myself an employer of labour. I am constantly looking to invest in and develop communities and talents I come across and this translates into both my professional and social life. I run an investment company that invests primarily in real estate, and high value businesses. In addition, I founded a non-profit; ‘ICANAfrica’ that focuses on consolidating resources to ensure social developmental organizations/NGOs are more effective with the work they do.
A lot my efforts of recent have been focused on ‘ICANAfrica’ – which has a mandate to bolster the efforts of social developmental organizations/NGOs and to improve the ratio of people’s donations; to ensure over 90% goes directly to their intended beneficiaries.
That’s really awesome! So, when did you first leave Nigeria?
I left Nigeria in 2005 when I went to Canada for my first degree. Having looked forward to the day I could live outside of my parents’ rules and/or the strictures of boarding school; I was most excited by the prospect.
However, getting acquainted with a new culture, environment and weather was initially daunting for the barely sixteen-year old boy I was at the time. Fortunately, Toronto is the most multi-cultural city in North America, so it was certainly great and easy to meet many different people from different parts of the world – especially from other African countries, Iran, India, Taiwan, Hong Kong & China.
I remain friends with many of these people, and at the very least; I’d have a place to crash if I visited any of those countries. (Laughs)
Great! Kindly walk us through your educational and professional background.
I grew up in Lagos, Nigeria and attended Trinity International School, Ofada for my secondary education. I went to University at ‘the University of Toronto’, where I studied Electrical/Computer Engineering.
Prior to setting up my investment firm, I spent nearly four years at IBM where I developed software and worked in project management on both their development and technology services teams.
Since leaving IBM, I set out to run my investment business full-time – deploying personal capital, helping clients find viable real estate investments & optimizing the value of their assets.
When did you start thinking about moving back to Nigeria and how did you know the time was right?
Ha! Moving back home was a very long consideration. I toyed with the idea as far back as 2009 – prior to completing my degree. However, I knew the Nigerian reality required that I make adequate plans first, to ensure I could hit the ground running once I got there.
Part of the planning involved taking annual trips back, to keep in touch with the ground realities.
In fact, I took notes on each trip – so each time during the year when I updated my plans, I was factoring those in. For instance, I took notes about how long I would get stuck in traffic from one location to the next. And on the frustration I experienced when I had fully charged my battery the night before, but had no back up if I went out for a meeting and couldn’t get back till later at night when the phone was dead. I took notes on the cost of having a driver or domestic help.
Taking all those notes and reviewing them helped to adjust my mind-frame and plan for it. For instance, I had calculated it would cost about N2 million for a car (all upfront) and between N4 – N5 million to get setup with an accommodation option that would be similar to what I’m used to in Toronto. This gave me a bit of time to begin planning in advance.
I had an inclination that it was time to move back when I got frustrated with the cold and came to Lagos in November 2014 for a 6-week period. My mind wasn’t even made up then, but something gave – and by the first quarter of 2015; it was time to come home.
How have you been able to cope with the challenges associated with living in Nigeria? (Poor power supply, bad roads and the likes)
Thankfully, I had the good fortune of having a family support system in place. However, I’ve had to systematically plan, to alleviate some of the challenges associated with living in Nigeria. For instance, it was with no small measure of pain, that I spent hundreds of thousands of naira to obtain an inverter and batteries, to ensure I have power supply when there’s no electricity or generator. I had to limit the number of places I frequented, and drive mostly during off-peak hours to avoid getting stuck in traffic.
How do you see yourself contributing to the growth of our nation?
I’m constantly excited about the work I do everyday – with each initiative or activity I involve myself in, I’m excited because I know there is so much more to come!
By God’s grace, I anticipate business growth, which would further my aim of creating value. This will go towards reducing unemployment and building wealth for individuals.
But even that is still on a personal-professional level. A bit more about ‘ICANAfrica’
ICANAfrica or ICANA is an initiative that came about; in the hopes of providing solutions to some of the key problems we face in Africa – through the provision of funding to help with education bursaries and scholarships, healthcare, economic empowerment and poverty alleviation in communities where there’s no incentive for governments or private institutions to fund. Since we started in 2015, we’ve raised and disbursed over $8,500 which has benefited 112 people and gone to the areas of our focus in African communities. Over 50% of that amount has benefited communities in Nigeria.
This year, we raised Two Hundred Thousand Naira (N200,000), for the Sickle Cell Aid Foundation to enable them conduct a Genotype Awareness Campaign for about 400 people in the outskirts of the Abuja area. Subsequently, we partnered with OrphansCorp towards empowering and educating 100 OVCYs (Orphans, Vulnerable Children, and Youth).
We would be working with a few more organizations this year, to add to what we’ve been able to do so far. We are growing our volunteer base, and would be interested in getting to know people looking to get involved.
Would you say the move back to Nigeria has been worth it so far?
Speaking honestly; moving back has been well worth it. It really hasn’t been a significant shift for me, but I’ve certainly been far more productive being here.
What do you do for fun and where do you go to relax?
I read (non-fiction), and prefer to hang out with like-minded people. I watch TV shows/movies. Recently got into House of Cards and Designated Survivor. I also enjoy travelling and listening to energetic music. As to where to relax; I can’t really speak to that – as said, I tend to limit the places I frequent for non-work related activities. However, I’ve heard Miliki, Thomas & Ray, Vanilla, Escape and House 43 are good places to unwind.
What is your favorite Nigerian food and city?
Pounded yam and Egusi – any time or day. There are still a number of places to visit, but I really do like the simplicity of Abuja.
Do you have any advice for prospective returnees?
If you are considering moving back, plan. Start planning for it like you are moving back tomorrow. That way, you’re forced to think of what and how and who you need, to ensure the move back is smooth.
Ask questions – of friends, of family, of strangers; they’ll be invaluable resources. Visit MBTN website and attend MBTN events (they help with connecting you with the needed networks).
Lastly – use my company for your accommodation relocation services, as well as your real estate or other proprietary investment.
Thanks for your time and good luck!