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.
However, the people that are willing and serious about transforming themselves are seeking that opportunity and taking the advantage and changing their mind power because it is no longer man power but mind power. It’s a knowledge-driven environment. So,
when young people come to this environment, the first question I ask them is what book are you reading? Most of them are not reading any book; do you know EPS? They don’t know. Do you know cosera? They don’t know. All the free website you can get knowledge for free, most of them don’t know. Personally, I didn’t start reading books apart from reading to pass in school, until I left the university. I didn’t start reading
books as a hobby because the education system prepares you in such a way that you just need to
read to pass. So, there will be need to make sure that we make knowledge and learning a culture
in the environment because Nigeria is going to be will be the third largest populated country in the world by 2030. So, if we have an army of youths that their minds are lazy that cannot compete globally, then we’re in trouble.
But if we have that population and we make sure that
primary and basic education are top notch, we don’t even have to worry because the way the world is right now, we can make absolutely anything out of nothing. What we have is what has pervaded the system in the last 30 years.
We’ve missed the first, second and third industrial revolution. But the beautiful thing about the fourth industrial revolution is that it’s
knowledge-driven. So, if we can consciously build our people then we can catch up. That should be our vision and we must work towards achieving it.
What separates great nations from smaller ones is the ability to strategically transform the vision into reality. Again, that’s where project management comes in.
You’re able to solve a problem. You’re able to deliver, planning, costing and analysis. Execution and measuring results are key.
I’ve turned it into a way of life.
Why we have many abandoned projects
Strategy stays in the realm of vision. You must have the strategy and determination to execute conceived projects.
What happens to large countries like Nigeria is that our aspirations are delivered via projects….We want to be among this set of countries by so so time, we want to take 10 million people out of poverty, etc. All those are going to be delivered via projects. So, our inability to deliver these projects from what I have e found out is the poor conceptualization of those projects. There are thinking processes that make a project successful. When you are implementing a project, you think it through from the beginning to the end. When you have not been able to create the vision properly and the strategy that will now be implemented, that is one cause of our problem. Then the capacity to even execute, okay you can’t tell your 10 year-old child to go and drive a car or to take the mother to the market even though you wish that someday the child should be able to
take the mother to the market because you have a car. But that ability to even execute it is what
we have not equipped our people with. The execution part of our strategy.
Challenges of iCentra
Okay, because this business started in Abuja which is a public sector environment and of course you all know the problems we face in the public sector where your competitor is not really your competitor, it can be quite challenging.
In fairness to some organisations or parastatals, we have had some fair competition with them as regards bidding. We’ve had technical presentations and they were very transparent and we edged them out of some competition. So, that makes me proud to note that these big four are not spirit. So, on a fair battle ground some of them, we edged them out
But when the process is not transparent, it’s really a big challenge working in that arrangement.
What we render is professional service and you see those who are not tops in the professional line winning jobs. It gives you some setbacks.
Others are delays in payments, demand for gratification before things are done and all what not.
We’ve also narrowed down our clientele to say if it’s just these few people that respect transparency are what we have to deal with, so be it.
There are some we don’t even bother to participate because they’re just time wasters.
At some point, iCentra said goodbye to public sector works because of the stress involved. You can’t determine what will play out.
Consultants are paid per hour, per day, per month. If you had budgeted that the project will take two months the and it takes two years, some agencies won’t add a naira to your project.
If the project is not well executed, your reputation is at stake.
So, we have devised our own strategy and narrowed down our engagements.
We’ve started doing lots of private sector jobs. We are also supporting SMEs, non-governmental organizations as most of them are based in Abuja.
These are our stretgies to counter the challenges we’ve faced in the last decade.
We are hoping to conquer Africa in the next decade. We already have a contact office in the UK and interestingly, one or two of our colleagues have had to move to the US in the last three years. We are trying create some business opportunities for ourselves in the Americas. For us it is not only about being local but globally as well. The foreign companies, we’re beating them to their own games here.
So, for us, I think the next decade is about winning more markets and expanding on what we have done in the last decade. It’s about consolidating.
Political buy-in in project management
What really inspired us to start ProMaCon 10 years ago was because of our passion to see that the nation capital projects are delivered successfully because like I said earlier, the only difference between developed countries and under-developed countries is how they are able to deliver their projects. Like I said you have a dream and a budget to that dream. Again, you need the ability to deliver those projects using project management methodology. So, when we started in 2009, the first endorsement we got was from the Speaker, I think it was Dimeji Bankole then and late President Musa Yar’adua. They were all at the first ProMaCon and subsequently we started engaging. After the fifth conference, we started doing granular engagement; which is having stakeholder engagement. We have gone to Lagos State, we have gone to Port Harcourt to hold free seminars, sometimes, around project management just to bring awareness. My business is iCentra but out of the love for development to see that there is development or we build capacity in people on how to deliver project that is why we
started out with ProMaCon. Of course, ProMaCon is not money making organisation. We can do
better because it requires a lot of resources to continue to sustain that engagement to get people to understand why they should do proper project plan to study end point assessments and value management. I remember an organization like CBN we were part of their initiative of setting up of their enterprise programming a few years back and I will also have you know I was privileged to have been part of the team for that same organization to review their capital projects.
We’ve been supporting the project management office of FIRS for years. An organization like NIRSAL is also enjoying our support via one of our partners.
More and more organizations are beginning to appreciate why it is very important to be professional in project delivery.
These are pockets of examples of what we have been involved in.
iCentra is a private organization ProMaCon even though registered as social enterprise is being
funded solely by iCentra. We have not gotten sponsorship from anybody. The only time we have
gotten sponsorship for our event, but was our granular secretariat work that we are doing pro bono.
What we are doing is an initiative that we are trying to develop a status which is one of our business
trainings within iCentra. So, there is a limit to what we can do. If we have more partners, we can do more like you know do a seminar forum in National Assembly for example, seminar for different states and do capacity development for local government areas we are in the purpose of doing that.