The Chief Executive Officer/Executive Secretary, American Business Council, Mrs. Margaret Obiageli Olele, has brought her strength in relationship building and management to bear on her job of promoting trade and investment opportunities between Nigeria and the United States. The value added to Nigeria’s economic output, investment and jobs by about 120 U.S. firms in Nigeria attest to her expertise, purposeful and result-driven stewardship. Assistant Editor CHIKODI OKEREOCHA and AMBROSE NNAJI report.
THE came prepared. With seven years’ cognate experience as Corporate Affairs Director for pharmaceutical giant Pfizer in Nigeria, Ghana, East Africa & Southern African markets, and other key roles in diverse industries, the Chief Executive Officer/Executive Secretary (ES), American Business Council (ABC), Mrs. Margaret Obiageli Olele, came well-equipped for the job.
Prior to her assignment at the Council, Mrs Olele was responsible for Pfizer’s public affairs and communication engagements in about 15 countries. She was in charge of building Pfizer’s reputation in those countries.
This she did through unique in-country Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives, government engagement, strengthening partnerships with pharmacy associations and mobilising and empowering patient associations. She also represented Pfizer on the ABC’s Board of Directors.
So, with her over 25 years’ leadership experience in the food and pharmaceutical industry traversing public affairs, business development, regulatory, communication, and quality management system auditing, Olele was, no doubt, a natural fit for the job of fostering Nigeria-US economic partnership.
This must be why, within three years under her charge, the Council, which is the voice of American business in Nigeria has probably never had its voice this amplified in Nigeria. It couldn’t have been otherwise, considering that the ABC has about 69 members across 11 critical sectors of the economy.
Some of the sectors where the Council’s members are doing business in Nigeria and adding immense value, according to Mrs Olele, include oil and gas, Information and Communication Technology (ICT), Fast-Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG), healthcare, logistics and courier.
She told The Nation over the weekend that over 120 U.S. firms are in Nigeria. “U.S. see Nigeria as natural business partner. You have U.S. companies that have been in existence in Nigeria even before Nigeria’s independence,” she said, adding that the positive impacts of the activities of American companies in Nigeria are glaring.
Indeed, on the strength of the Council’s advocacy under Mrs Olele’s result-driven leadership, trade and investment relation between Nigeria and the U.S. has been blossoming, particularly in the past three years when she came on board.
For instance, a “2017 US Economic Impact Survey” administered by the ABC in Nigeria, in collaboration with Accenture, GE and PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), said U.S. firms in Nigeria generated as much as N1 trillion in 2016.
The survey, which represented responses from 48 American firms in Nigeria, also said over N340 million was spent on training in 2016. In the same year, U.S. firms also swelled Nigeria’s tax revenue by more than N34.4 billion. They also spent N217 million on CSR in 2016
The figures for 2017, based on responses from about 74 U.S. firms in Nigeria who filled the survey, were more heart-warming. For instance, from N1 trillion in 2016, total revenue generated by U.S. firms in Nigeria increased to over N2.6 trillion in 2017. Their tax contributions also stood at N111 billion in 2017.
Similarly, over N1.6 billion was spent on training in 2017, up from N340 million in 2016; N1.5 billion was spent on CSR in 2017, up from N217 million in 2016. The survey also put the estimated Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) by U.S. firms in Nigeria at $1.3 billion in 2017, while direct and indirect jobs stood at over 9, 000 and over 11, 000.
Based on the Council’s last year’s survey, the figures for 2018 were no less exciting. From 9, 000 direct jobs in 2017, U.S. firms in Nigeria provided over 18, 000 jobs in 2018. The number of indirect jobs also increased to over three million, from 11, 000 in 2017. They also generated N1.4 trillion revenue in 2018.
The survey, which was made available to The Nation, also said U.S. firms in Nigeria spent over N2.8 billion investments to expand operation in the last five years, while over N2.8 billion investments are planned in the next three years. They also spent over N1.6 billion on training in 2018, and contributed N1.19 billion in FDI inflow in the same year.
Also, from N1.5 billion spent on CSR in 2017, the figure went up to over N1.9 billion in 2018. Some of the recent CSR projects include electrification of 1.2km road in Ogu Community in Rivers State and construction of a School Library in Ogu Government Technical College; cervical cancer screening programme in Ile-Ife, Osun State.
Others include a developmental programme which uses chess to improve strategic and critical thinking amongst secondary school students in Lagos State; planting of over 1,000 trees to reduce erosion; training over 250 farmers on better maize and tomato growing practices; development centre for Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in the Northeast and educational and health facilities in Akwa Ibom State.
Despite these positive impacts of U.S. companies in Nigeria, Mrs Olele is not slowing down. Her dream is to build a vibrant and formidable Council that will be carried along by government when policies are being made.
“I see a Council that will be a good organisation such that any time government thinks about a policy, it will come to discuss with the American Business Council on what should be done, a kind of reservoir of knowledge and policy experts that are able to collaborate with the government. That is what I hope we would get to,” she said.
Mrs Olele also said her desire is to meet the Council members’ business, trade and investment needs in a meaningful and sustainable way, in a way that is engaging and have mutual trust and respect with different entities, the government and the Council.
To make these happen, she said the Council under her leadership has been interfacing with the Federal Government and discussing with the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Governor, Ministry of Communications, and Senate Committees, among others, on issues around the new policies being churned out by government.
Mrs Olele also said the Council was working to raise the awareness of Nigerians on the benefits and opportunities under the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), a U.S. legislation that significantly enhances market access to the US for qualifying Sub-Saharan African (SSA) countries, including Nigeria.
“It’s really a shame that while most West African countries are tapping into the opportunities in AGOA, Nigerians are not benefiting from it. There are so many opportunities out there, but a lot of Nigerians don’t know about them or the people are not willing to share information,” she lamented, calling on the media to help create the awareness of the opportunities that exist for people to tap into.
She said on its part, the Council was already working with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to expand the understanding about the trade hub, the AGOA, and also invite people to the platform.
Shot in women entrepreneurs’ arm
The Council under Mrs Olele’s watch has never hidden its desire to encourage women to take up leadership positions. “The consciousness that we need to incorporate women into leadership positions is something that is of critical interest to us,” she declared.
To underscore this commitment, Mrs Olele said the Council, last year, organised training for members of Women in Management, Business & Public Service (WIMBIZ), a Non-governmental Organisation (NGO) that supports women to achieve their potential.
According to her, this was on the recommendations of the U.S. Mission in Nigeria to do training for WIMBIZ. She, however, said women at the leadership level were a lot more confronted with challenges, especially when they are climbing up the leadership ladder.
Beyond the peculiar challenges women in business face, Mrs Olele said doing business in Nigeria had been challenging. While listing some of them to include multiple taxation, overlapping regulatory policies and function, she said there was the need for harmonisation.
The Council’s ES also lamented that insecurity is hurting business and investment in Nigeria. “For me as a Nigerian, I feel we are losing so much because of insecurity, in terms of how people perceive us even from tourism perspective,” she said.
While insisting that “Nigeria is a beautiful country with immense potential,” Mrs Olele said: “We have not been able to achieve our potential because people say that Nigeria is not safe. Insecurity is something that is of critical importance to corporate entities. They are very security conscious as well.”
Mrs Olele earned a Bachelor of Arts in English and Literature and a Masters in English from the University of Ibadan.
She also obtained a Post Graduate Diploma in Mass Communication from the University of Lagos and a Masters of Science in Mass Communication, specialising in Public Relations and Advertising from the same university.
She worked in Clapperboard Network Television, a pioneer private broadcast media in Nigeria, and over 16 years with West African Seasoning Company, part of Ajinomoto Group, Japan.
She set the pace in this company’s diversification into East Africa and held at various times the position of General Manager for Marketing, Regulatory, New Product Development, Public Relations and Corporate Communication.
Mrs Olele also trained at the British Standard Institute, United Kingdom (UK), as an internal Auditor for Quality Management System ISO 9001.2000, as well as Environmental Management Systems ISO 1800 and was the Management Representative for the Quality Management System at the West African Seasoning Company.
A Certified National Quality Management Auditor of the Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON), she is also a member of the Advertising Practitioners Council of Nigeria (APCON), among other professional bodies.
In her spare time, she is an adjunct Faculty teaching Brand Strategy and Communication at the Graduate School of Media and Communication, Pan Atlantic University. She loves writing and has published articles in national newspapers.
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