When we first started Whoot Africa, our main focus was to showcase the best of African brands and inspirational CEO conversations. But, 2015 has been the year of the African politics and an astounding one to say the least; with various political happenings and surprises, from Nigeria’s peaceful elections and the change in leadership, to the crisis in Burundi etc. we cannot help but understand how the power of politics affects everything about our daily lives as Africans, from policies of human welfare to the fate of the business world; choosing to ignore how this affects the way we do and see business in Africa is likened to Sheep’s choosing to bask in the Safari sun while the lion baths in the same spot. Politics and business remains one delicate field of play, as most businesspeople choose to stay away from the political scene for fear of reprimand to their business interest should their candidates never make it to office.
When we met this young achiever and businessman, his zeal and passion towards governance sparked our interest, and after weeks of back and forth emails and calls, we finally got the chance to sit down with Mr Moses Siloko Siasia, CEO of Mosilo Group and the Founder of the Nigerian Young Professionals Forum, and also Governorship aspirant of Bayelsa State Nigeria.
Whoot Africa met up with him in Lagos while he was in town for his consultation meetings with his state citizens and press round ups, and we are more than happy to share his inspirational conversation with our readers.
In this no holds barred business and politics conversation with Whoot Africa’s founder, Olushola Pacheco, Moses Siloko Siasia shares his thoughts on business, politics, and his support for the next generation of businesspeople.
Below are excerpts of his discussion with us.
Can you share with us on Whoot Africa a little about Moses Siloko Siasia, the individual, the businessperson, Mosilo Group as a brand you represent and also your journey into Nigerian politics?
Moses Siloko Siasia is a young enterprising and upward mobile Nigerian entrepreneur. I am from Bayelsa state, a community called Odoni in Sagbama local government area to be precise; I was involved in student activism for a while and was also involved in the struggle of the Niger Delta, where I championed several groups in the area. I schooled in Port-Harcourt, Rivers states. Moses Siasia wasn’t born with a silver spoon, in fact we saw poverty being born into a family of 11 children with two wives (you know what that means), our dad died while we were very young and so things were actually quite difficult for us growing up. We saw poverty first hand, and at that point I resolved in my heart and told myself that I wasn’t going to be subservient to my circumstances, I was going to remain dogged, focused and consistent with what I was doing.
At that time in the Niger Delta, we saw an increase in the militancy movement, I told myself I had a choice to either be a hardworking person or join that activity of crime; I had a choice to do things that were more productive and lawful to society and also to bring about a change to my environment and society at large. I decided to work hard and serve with the little I had, which was one of the reasons I got the chance to learn under our late leader, (Late R Dapabriye) who was the chairman of the South-South People’s Conference, a man who was very concerned with the collective aspiration of the south-south people; I worked and studied under this great man. Afterwards, I became the Chairman of the South-South People’s Forum, becoming their chairman, even though I was the youngest in the forum, for 5years, after which we went on to set up the Niger Delta peace forum, one of the group that advocated for the presidential amnesty to be granted to the ex-militants, through which we worked closely with the Late President Musa Yaradua and tirelessly as a group for the actualisation of that process.
At some point, I decided to go into private business. During my time at the Rivers State University of Science and Technology, I worked all sorts of jobs, from planting flowers to carpet cleaning, it lasted a while and helped me fend for myself and also pay tuition; everything I ever went through drove my passion and aspiration towards achieving my goals in life. At a point in my career, I worked with a company called Century Energy, an oil and gas firm which operated in the upstream sector of the oil and gas sector, this was where I learnt and focused on the service business in the oil and gas industry, I decided to set up my own company, Mosilo Group of Companies where we started out with providing support services and procurement for the oil and gas industry, that was how we started with the Mosilo Group and today Mosilo Group has diversified its interest into other portfolios and employed a critical mass of people. After achieving a lot of the goals I had set out to achieve, 2 years ago I started what is now called the Nigerian Young Professionals Forum (NYPF), I founded the group because, at that time I saw there was a need for us to galvanize the strength and energy of young people who have experience and ideas to add to the growth and development of our great nation, Nigeria. The NYPF is now registered in the US, UK and in the process of its final registration with the United Nations; we have been able to bring together over 7million young professionals both in Nigeria and across 15 nations in the Diaspora. This forum has also accorded me the opportunity to meet with young Nigerian professionals who are doing exceptional things all over the world. The NYPF has also created a lot of impact in terms of projects and programs geared towards changing the moral values of young people.
The Nigerian Young Professional’s Forum and its upcoming CEO’s Conference and Exhibition? What is its aim and what do you plan to achieve with this move?
Interestingly, I actually sat down with my team and looked at the challenges we are faced with as young people doing business in Nigeria. Doing business in Nigeria at the moment is the most difficult thing and I can tell you that for free because you have a lot of businessmen who have made it in this country through government patronage, but if you look at all of them today, they are pure capitalists e.g The Dangote’s, Jim Ovia’s and the Tony Elumelu’s of this world. If you look at it critically, I don’t know if one is able to really pin point one or two young companies that they have been able to mentor; today many of us are looking up to people elsewhere in terms of mentorship because they have so much interest in young African Leaders. Warren Buffet is one of our mentors, who is mentoring us in terms of business, spiritual guidance, and excellence in what we are doing. We live in a very tough and complex society where a lot of young businesses have challenges in accessing credit to undertake serious projects, a lot of our funds come from foreign investors and the high level of interest rates that we receive in doing business is likened to working for the banks, we also have challenges of very few opportunities for young people and few encouraging policies geared towards supporting young businesses.
In developed countries, and nations that are passionate about growing their young energy and young people, there are certain incentives given to young people who go into business. There are no incentives for young people who are in business in Nigeria, small companies are forced to pay the same tax rates as the Multinationals and bigger companies, there is no clear policy on how to encourage young people in business. Those who have been fortunate to access government loans from the likes of the Bank of Industry are the ones who have been able to break through the financial barriers, while the commercial banks ask for ridiculous collaterals most young companies can’t even afford; these are some of the situations small businesses find themselves in. The upcoming conference will serve as a strategic one stop conference, unlike the “talk and go” norm; we are bringing together young entrepreneurs both locally and internationally, through a strict selection process we plan to select 1000 businesspeople to attend the conference, strategically we will be looking at key sectors of the Nigerian economy i.e agriculture , blue sea economy (Marine) and ICT with focus on how young people can take advantage of the E-Networks and the growing benefits of information technology and the world’s connectivity to their advantage to attract business potentials, as well as the creative economy. I keep telling people and everyone who cares to listen that the creative sector has helped improve the GDP of this economy and how the driving force of that economy are young people, I believe there should be a deliberate effort to harness the input made by these young people. This conference will be about solutions, finding ways to improve the status quo as well as recommendations to the government on youth growth and sustainability, we are also hoping our Commander in Chief, and President, Muhammadu Buhari would be able to participate in this conference with us.
In 2014, the Choiseul Institute for International Politics and Geo-economics listed you as one of 200 Young Economic Leaders in Africa. You were described as “a young man who is reshaping the continent’s economic scene”. How has this recognition impacted your life and journey so far?
The most interesting part of that “attainment” was the fact that I never knew about it; someone called me up from the United Kingdom to tell how he saw me as one of the young African leaders who has been selected by the Choiseul Institute, I had no clue about it and had to go check for myself. But, I see it as something that makes me humble, considering where I’m coming from, my history, my struggles and where I am today are two different worlds. It is a very inspiring award for me, and I give thanks to God for such recognition; I will also continue to thank the people who work with me, because without people there is no leadership. Without coming across as bragging, there are other organisations who have also given me recognition for my work, there’s an organisation that works with the United Nations, i.e The African Leadership Awards, and I received that in Atlanta last year. The accolades are fantastic and encouraging, but I also realize the responsibility that comes with such awards and that keeps me in check and focused on impacting more lives, in as much as we are running a company and doing business, impacting lives is the ultimate goal of it all. Wealth for me is not defined by the amount of money Moses Siasia has in his pocket, his real estate portfolio and the number of luxury cars, but by the number of lives I impact and affect positively, and that to me is why I am involved in social work.
There is a popular phrase in hip-hop, “first you get the money, then the power and then the respect”. Is your move into politics about the power, considering how you have conquered the business world?
Well, power is relative and it depends on the level and kind of power you are talking about, there is spiritual power, physical powers and emotional powers; so power is relative (he chuckles). If you are talking about the norm, the power norm in Nigeria; that’s not what I am getting into, I am not looking for fame neither am I looking for power. In my own little way doing my business I have got it already, there is no right thinking leadership in Nigeria, with the kind of structure and business atmosphere we have actually set up for ourselves and the capacity that we have, there is no system that will do without us, so it is not all about power for me, it’s not about money for me either because if it was about money, I won’t get into politics. It’s all about service for me and doing things that are extraordinary and different from what others are doing; leadership for me is trust, and that’s what we lack in Nigeria. Moses Siasia sees leadership as a trust by the people and this is the opportunity that we are taking to Bayelsa State. In 2014, we organised a program by the Nigerian Young Professionals Forum on the quest for national integration and purposeful leadership which was attended by Former President, Goodluck Ebele Jonathan in Nigeria and we took this message to all the geo-political zones where we talked about the leadership challenges we had in Nigeria. I think this is one of the surest move that I can make as a leader, to take that lead to bring about the change that we need and desire; I just want to show the world that young people can do it better and because I believe the older politicians who are in play now, have run out of ideas. I have met a few, both on the political platform and in the business world and it is an absolute shame to have professional politicians leading us, this is the time for us to tell ourselves that it is high time for the professionals to get into politics, as I would like to be referred to as a professional in politics and not a professional politician, so that as soon as I finish my term in office/serving my people, I have something to fall back on. The problem we have in Nigeria is that we have a politician who leaves office and has nothing to fall back on professionally and that’s why the urge to cleave to power becomes an issue, we need to change that kind of ideology, we need to change that kind of culture and that perception that we have in our political circle. This is why I am offering myself for service in Bayelsa state
Further research about you shows you speak passionately about Social Change, a concept that has become an old wives tale; we hear a lot about it, with little impact felt. The political dispensation right now is a platform that encourages compromise as a result of corruption, how resolute are you with regards to standing on the side of honourable confidence than tainted wealth?
My late father used to say certain things to me, those that I can remember have kept me on the straight and narrow with running my business today. My father told me; your Siasia name is better than money; so money to me is not the first thing. The first thing for a Moses Siasia is the vision, how I can deliver? How can I do things that are extraordinary? We live in a very bad society, and the oppressed society that we have found ourselves is as a result of a long history of neglect we have been nourished with by generations of broken promises. Our problem as a nation is not corruption, our problem is law and order; corruption is so magnified and dignified in Nigeria, a good example is the UK, if you drive on a one way street, would they see it as a serious offense? If you come to Nigeria and drive the same one way street, most drivers will see it as nothing. Now, the corruption that we are talking about is as a result of the breakdown of law and order; look at the private sector today, especially the banking sector, young beautiful ladies with great dreams and aspirations are pushed down the line of indecency all in the name of meeting ridiculous targets that most bank managers cannot even achieve, asking a young lady to meet millions and millions of funds in target marketing, isn’t that corruption? We magnify corruption in Nigeria while the main issue here is the total collapse of law and order, people are not doing the right things, and leaders are not leading exemplary lives over the people that they lead; these are our problem as a nation. If you look at Nigeria today, people don’t want to work hard, people want free money, I believe in hard work because if I just have money, I will spend it carelessly, but if I work hard to get that money, obviously I will spend it prudently. It is really sad to see young people who are living their tomorrow’s today and spending money they cannot afford in clubs and spending ridiculous amounts on celebratory champagnes. We have a clear call in where we are going to, we have a mindset in where we are heading and that is to let people start thinking differently. When I offered myself for service, I was told all sorts, some even said “oh Moses! He is bringing his money and we will help him spend it, while some are committed towards the actualization of a young person who is working towards doing things right and differently, we need to deliberately as stakeholders and as a country start doing a lot of value reorientation to our young people and also the older ones because they are not setting good examples to those coming behind, it is absolutely sad and disgusting to watch law makers who are happily throwing punches on the floor of the National Assembly; you can’t be a law maker and at the same time be a law breaker. We must change this selfish culture, I plan to make sure that the mandate of my people shows them that leadership can be different from what they are used to; for instance, there is no leader who has ruled Bayelsa state up till date, who uses social media personally because they have not lived up to the expectations of their people and most have lost touch with their people, I run my social media accounts myself because I understand it is important for me to hear first hand from my people, the power of choice and being able to call out the shortcomings of their leaders should never leave the people. When you look at things critically, the numbers of people who are causing the hardship and pain to the people of the nation are less than 1percent of the population, when you round up the figures of the criminals in this country, I doubt they are even up to a million people. We need young people who are positive minded and futuristic and who want a better life for our people to start coming out, and that’s why I am offering myself for service as I believe someone must take the bull by the horn.
Bayelsa state was founded in 1996 by Late General Sanni Abacha, with a military regime running from 1996-1999; 1999 till date, Bayelsa state has received over 3 Trillion from the federal allocation; this is a state that has the lowest number of local governments in Nigeria and the lowest number in population size in this country, but if you go there, there is little to show for it; the people defecate in water, drink from the same water, no access to good health, education is not attractive to the people and a high level of poverty and unemployment.
We need a total bail out from the situation our people are faced with, and it gives me a lot of concern that today a state that has received that level of allocation of funds cannot boast of one critical investment in terms of an institution that is an employer of labour, everyone looks at the government which is rather shameful and heart-breaking and it is also sad that in the history of Nigeria no state has gotten more political gains than Bayelsa state has attained. Looking at history, the man who brought the political giants such as Sir Obafemi Awolowo, Ahmadu Bello and Nnamdi Azikiwe into politics (Ernest Ikoli) was from Bayelsa state. Bayelsa state has produced a President, 3 petroleum ministers and a national security adviser, and I want to believe there is no state in Nigeria that has achieved such political gains since the history of Nigeria, but if that can’t be translated to real time development for our people it is rather sad. Bayelsa state is impoverished, people are living in desolation and this is why we are going, to change and create a sustainable future for our people.
You talked about your religion and how faith plays a significant role in your life, how hard or easy has it been exploring the business world especially with the teachings of the Christian religion?
It has been tough; especially going into politics, my spiritual faith has been seen to some as a stumbling block to success, but to me it has been a great time of experience, achievements and success for me. You do a job or execute a contract and people want kickbacks hence making it tough, but God always guides and directs his own and I stand on the word of God that says he always directs the path of the righteous and this has helped with directions in my business. I always remember to give honour to God for everything I have achieved thus far. A lot of people still believe faith has no place in business and politics, but I beg to differ, everyone has his or her own beliefs and the power of positivity and confessions makes me to understand just how much I can achieve if I believe I can and work towards it, I can achieve it and become my words. My faith is everything to me and the values it teaches goes a long way into reforming a man.
With your achievements so far, you can lend a voice of encouragement to aspiring young people who are fighting to succeed in their various endeavours. If you had to share with a room full of these people, what are those tried and tested virtues that they need to have in order to succeed in business?
To the young people reading this, this is my message to them – there are challenges everywhere, so no one should use his challenge to undermine his possibilities; I also face challenges in my business, I hear and see a lot of my colleagues who have fallen by the path and fallen out of the business line, complaining about everything that could possibly go wrong about this country, from basic amenities to lack of funding and everything else that is capable of getting you to quit; but I remind them that the same problems they face are common norm to almost everyone in business, me inclusive. What makes me a success than those who have failed or given up? Looking at the opportunities even in the midst of those daunting challenges, as young people we must remain consistent in our endeavours, we must have goals, we must remain focused, objective in driving our goals and passionate towards our vision and message. As a young person, there are enough attractions to get you carried away and living the false lives for impressions sake will keep you living above your means. You must work at your level with modesty while being extravagant with your dreams, you are allowed to dream big, just make sure that your big dreams are not tearing apart your life and sanity while ensuring to always ask yourself, will this level of spending be sustainable? Will it affect my tomorrow negatively? Will I be able to keep this up? Creativity is also key, believe you me, there are countless opportunities even in the midst of the chaos we battle and fight through every day, what separates the winners from the losers is your ability to be creative in spotting opportunities, creativity will put food on your table. Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates and the Google founders of this world weren’t given immediate chances; they fought for it and proved the world wrong by putting in their best, you must give yourself that chance to achieve success. Innovation, creativity and doggedness will have you standing before kings, queens and presidents, put the work in and watch your talent take you places.
Despite Nigeria’s current economic climate, you speak passionately about its potential, if you had to share with foreign investors looking to invest in Nigeria, what are those things you need them to know about doing business in Nigeria?
Doing business in Nigeria is not for the fainthearted and it is very tough convincing foreign investors to invest here, based on a few of the challenges we are facing now; you have to be able to convince them of their security, an issue that the government needs to make top priority, and also that enabling environment for businesses to thrive. I am afraid to say that our society does not have an enabling environment for businesses to grow, but I believe and hope we will get there someday; Nigeria is changing and what is constant is change, but in as much as we have all these issues, there is great potential in this country in terms of natural resources that we have not been able to tap at maximum capacity and this is as a result of bad leadership, we have rulers who have little concern for the people, there are a few of them I have met who are objective, but that’s a challenge that we have as a nation. Investors want to come where there are returns on their investments, it is really sad to see investors who are all about making our money with little concern for leaving an impact and making the society better, look at the oil and gas sectors and their host communities, if the government clamps down on abuser investors, things will change and this comes down to the issue of this same bad leadership, you tell a visitor how to treat your home by how you treat your home as the owner; we must learn how to domesticate wealth for our people, we have the resources i.e the human resources and that’s what countries like China are utilizing. It is sad and unfortunate that Nigeria has a lot in terms of skills and human resources, but we have not been able to utilize as much as 10percent, we have a lot of Nigerians in the Diaspora doing great things; president Barack Obama once said, if the Nigerians in the US health sector pull out the system itself would collapse, I feel saddened that a nation of people who are the backbone of an industry in another country lack the same confidence to support their own local industry, our leaders are travelling out for medical check-ups et.al. Last month, on my way to the UK, I ran into one of our political leaders on a British Airways flight and during our chat, I concluded this politician was on his way to the UK to get a check-up after suspecting he had malaria, according to him he was feeling “somehow”, that made me sad for my country just thinking about the revenue lost to foreign establishments. How do we get foreign investors to come help develop our critical sectors if we are so calm about our spoilt and rotting systems?
Part of your business portfolio includes Real Estate, and as we all know owning a house in this generation is not Child’s play; how do you plan or solving the problem of housing in Bayelsa from the standpoint of a businessperson?
Bayelsa state has a huge housing challenge, it is a very small state and poor too and the cost of housing is very high. I plan to encourage low income housing as an investment by creating low housing schemes where it would be a public-private partnership program and also talk to the civil servants about using a part of their salaries to invest in housing, if we can get the civil servants on board, more people will buy into it from the low income families, this is one of our strategies that we plan to use to turn the problems into windows of opportunities for our people where at the end of the day and service, people can retire into their own homes. I believe it is very possible for every Bayelsan to own a home, we will use our wealth, our resources and our people to create mass housing opportunities as well as get our young people employed through these building processes.
When you win the gubernatorial race in Bayelsa state, you will be the youngest Governor Nigeria has ever produced, what are those things you plan to do differently that hasn’t been promised by your predecessors?
If I say it to you here, they will take our plans and turn it into theirs (laughs). I plan to make a difference, a supernatural difference; we have done it with Mosilo Group and we plan to do it again.
Nigerian youths are very wary of people who have sob stories to tell about their difficult past and rise to the top, they feel they have been disappointed in the past, speaking directly to a Bayelsa Youth whose vote you are canvassing for; how will Moses Siloko Siasia’s term in office be different and what promises and guarantees do you want them to hold you to in a few years from now? How do you also plan to diversify the interest of the state to other areas besides its dependence on Oil and gas revenue?
I did mention agriculture earlier. I have a two point agenda; we have 85percent of unemployment in Bayelsa and 65 to 70percent of youth illiteracy, we will create jobs for our people, and how do we create jobs? One, we will diversify the economy of Bayelsa to agriculture, we plan to do a large scale rice farming and mill, large scale plantain farming for plantain flour and chips for local consumption and export as we already have the market; we also plan to expand our fishery industry, encourage our women and youth to go into large scale fish farming and production, no one will come here to sell fish to the Bayelsa people, we will produce our own and sell to the outside world.
There are also plans to expand our eco-tourism potentials, like the Oloibiri where oil was first discovered, we plan to build an entire city in Oloibiri, we already have potential investors who have spoken to us in confidence and as soon as we get the mandate of the people, they will come in to start investment works and make Oloibiri a one stop hub for economic activities in Nigeria. In Akasa, we had a lot of the slavery issues during the colonial era, we will create a tourism site in Akasa, we will also build a deep sea port and a resort of international standard where people can come to spend time and vacations. Doing all these will create jobs and an industrial revolution, in one year we can attract at least 5 fortune 500 companies to the state; obviously we know what that means for us, these are companies that can absorb up to a thousand people into their workforces because the manufacturing and processing industries require manpower to function and also the service industry. The gulf of Guinea has a lot of the coastline linked hence bringing a partnership between Guinea and Bayelsa State, we already have an existing relation which we hope to do more with. If we succeed with putting all of these together, we will boost the IGR of the state; today the IGR of Bayelsa state is 50million, when all works out, we can boost the IGR to 500million to a billion, it has never happened before, but we are capable of making it happen. Bayelsa citizens deserve more and that is what we plan to offer them, our young people are hardworking and not just militants the way the press paints us. Our economy will change and so will our fortunes and we will also work towards adding 20,000 jobs annually.
We will also create education opportunities by setting up an education intervention fund through the private sector, revamp our educational system and reward high achieving students with opportunities for growth and development, first class graduates will be awarded scholarships to any of the top 25 universities in the world to further their education and come back to work for and improve Bayelsa state. A program will also be set up for top 3 gifted children per community, they will get to attend top schools in the state, as well as a teachers training exchange program to help equip our teachers, an educated population means an enlightened one that will help spread the message of hope and development to others, I also hope that soon, our state will be the envy of others and worthy of emulation.
Lastly, 30 years from now, what are those things you’d like to be remembered for when the name Moses Siloko Siasia is mentioned around the world?
I would love to see a situation where my name will always be mentioned; that, this is a man who did things differently to change the dynamics of politics in Nigeria; here is a man that brought the dividends of democracy to his people, and I also want my children to be proud of their father anywhere they go to. I want to be that role model, which I want my kids to be.
I want to do things that are enduring and to have an enduring legacy for my people.
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Interview Edit Credit – Simi Olusola