Nigerians make impact wherever they go or reside. Charles Ugo Ekeh is one such Nigerians, who was appointted by the governor of New Jersey, United States, Phil Murphy, into his transitional team, after he won the governorship election. The appointment was in recognition of the fact that Ekeh used his expertise and enterprise to build the second largest Computer Technical Vocational School and ICT consulting company in the state. Ekeh who hails from Umuaga Nguru, in Ngor-Okpala LGA, Imo State, worked assiduously for United States President-Elect, Joe Biden, by mobilising Nigerians and Africans to support his candidacy in the race for the White House, and Biden won in a resounding manner. In this interview, he talks about this and more.
For starters, why did you mobilise Nigerians and African in America to vote for Joe Biden against Donald Trump’s re-election?
President Donald Trump has been restrictive on Africans especially Nigerians. In the United States and around the world, Trump has brought resentment against American both inside and outside. If one examines his “Make America Great Again” properly it simply translates to “Make America White Again.” Donald Trump’s cabinet does not have a single black senior position neither did he appoint a Black as a Federal Judge nor was there one of list of people that could be appointed as judges. Even the area of economic aid which the United States gives to the world, there was a cut. What help has Trump rendered to Africa, especially Nigeria since he became the President? Rather, he called Nigeria ‘shit-hole-country’. Under the watch of Trump, America has stopped to be the world leader in many endeavours and his attitude towards COVID-19 is a typical example. I had no choice but to rise, mobilize and contribute to the election of Joe Biden, Kamala Harris and other Democrats who contested.
Now that he has won, what can Africans expect from the Biden administration, given his antecedents, both as former senator and United States President?
Without going far, all of us will remember that on July 23, 1986, when Senator Joseph Biden held late President Ronald Reagan and Secretary of States George Schulz to the fire during Senate hearing on apartheid and asked them to support the blacks in South Africa. He went further to admonish Reagan’s administration by informing all that the blood of South African blacks was on their hands. Biden has steadily remained Africa-friendly till date. For instance, he chose Senator Kamala Harris, who is the daughter of two immigrants (India and Jamaica), to be his running mate. That choice and the outcome have given hope to all including our children.
The first advantage would be that the bilateral agreements between Nigeria and United States would be fulfilled. Nigeria will be treated as a strategic country in Africa. Other eliminated factors stopped or cut by Donald Trump such as EB-5 Investment Opportunities and protective status will be reviewed. Again, the Executive Orders that affected Africa, travel ban, U.S Lottery Visa, USAID, World Bank projects etc, all would have direct impact on Nigeria and Nigerians. We should not forget that the value of Nigerian oil was drastically reduced.
How have you used your US contacts over the past 20 years to mobilize direct foreign investment (FDI) to Nigeria?
We have tried to do this, but then, the climate in Nigeria is not encouraging. There is no defined channel that will be a conduit for propagation of all the attractions. During an interactive session with late Prof. Ajayi, who was the head of Nigeria Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) during the tenure of former President Olusegun Obasanjo, I suggested that the government should have an office of Diaspora Engagement in every state of Nigeria. The main responsibility should focus on working with Nigerians in the Diaspora, while identifying FDI to Nigeria and at the same time recognizing those involved in attracting the FDI.
In 2004 and as a Country Chairman-Digital Partners, I brought the 3rd Annual Digital Bridge Africa in Abuja where there were discussions and synergies between indigenes and foreign companies. In addition, I am involved with Global University Systems operatives that worked with NOUN in setting up some foundational requirements and collaborations between the two.
Furthermore, the idea of Telemedicine was introduced but people hijacked the vision and ideas which definitely fell short in developing such self-interest, and the initiative became dead on arrival. I also introduced Digital Partners early in 2004 which became an annual event held every July as Global Partnership Conference on ICT and Development.
Did you engage in career-related activities in Nigeria prior to relocating to United States?
I left for the United States as a young school leaver, to study Computer Science which was not available in Nigeria then. Therefore, I left right after High School with approval from the Federal Ministry of Education. It has remained my course of study and practice till this day. My political involvement in the United States was a call from my City in United States to use my knowledge and vision which created the second largest Computer Technical Vocational School and ICT consulting company owned by a non-American. My School was approved by the United States government.
As an active player in the US politics, attempt a comparison between United States and Nigeria.
My involvement on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean has availed me the opportunity to make effective comparison of both countries. Retail politics which is my style of politics, allows me to directly engage the voters, exchange ideas, earn their vote, trust, problem and needs. It is for them to understand my plan and vice versa. In fact, I see it as a seller and buyer game. To the voters it gives them the opportunity to hire the best person for the job without any bribe or financial inducements. In transactional politics, known in local parlance as “stomach infrastructure” it is the politics of the poor. It does not incubate knowledge or accountability on both sides. Nigeria is more of transactional politics and the electorate are the ones that lose. “The idea of what do I get before I can vote for you” has made it easy for those who should never be elected to get elected. The question then is, can money be removed from politics in Nigeria? The answer is yes.
If given such opportunity in Nigeria, what difference would you make to change the tide of things?
The availability of social media has made it easy to reach out to millions instantly. As an Outreach Committee Chairman in an election circle for support, I can bring such experiences to bear and re-engineer the act of campaigning, mobilizing and utilizing social media and physical contacts. There is a way to leverage mobile phone resources during election period.
Where did you study in Nigeria before you proceeded to the US, and which other schools did you attend when you got there?
I attended Ngor Okpala High School, Imo State. I attended was Clarion University of Pennsylvania (CUP) and the New Jersey City University.
What was it like growing in the community How was growing up back in the community then?
My family or rather my parents were not involved in politics. When my pen pal then suggested that I proceed to United States and join her in same university, I asked her to help identify a university degree that I could pursue. She suggested Computer Science but at that time, Computer Science was not offered in Nigerian universities as a stand-alone programme. Some universities like University of Port Harcourt was offering Data Processing. Once I accepted to study Computer Science, he next was to get the necessary requirement such as TOEFL (Test of English as Foreign Language) and I scored very high on first seating; then we started admission process and I was accepted into four universities in the United States including Rice University but I chose CUP because my pen pal was studying in same university.
What fond memories of the village do you hold in your heart?
I miss the boys because I left the country immediately after secondary school in Nigeria, but when I remember all that I achieved while in primary school as a monitor and in high school as senior labour prefect, I feel comfortable that I used my youthful days fruitfully to benefit my immediate communities. I remember when we used hold disco days at the Hot Junction Hotel, Ulakwo, Owerri North Local Government Area, Imo State.
So what opportunities have you created for the younger generation in your family and community to boost their development?
I have created some opportunities like a vocational training school in our LGA. Also I have opened an ICT office in Lagos to help us facilitate H1B Visa but as it is upon merit on the part of the applicant. Now my U.S-based vocational technical school has given opportunities to many people from my community and others. We are continually making opportunities available to all as we have them.