By Uzor Maxim Uzoatu
Never An After Thought by Afolabi Sokpehi Imoukhuede HCS; Narrative Landscape Press (Prima), Lagos, Nigeria; 220; 357pp
The power of the printed word is the greatest asset of every inspirational leader. Once the works are written down as words, it is then left for History and Father Time to bear testimony. Afolabi Imoukhuede obviously understands the import of documenting records for posterity, and this can be seen from his well-packaged book, Never an Afterthought, which bears the subtitle “Private Sector Pragmatism to Government Idealism & the N-Power Success Story.”
Afolabi Imoukhuede was appointed the Senior Special Assistant (SSA) to President Muhammadu Buhari on Job Creation, and served as the head of the N-Power Job Creation component of President Buhari’s National Social Investment Programme (NSIP) between 2015 and 2019. Imoukhuede is a driven private sector motivator who dared to excel in the public sector. He is an accountant by profession vastly experienced in international development consultancy with sector focus in construction, real estate and small business development.
A certified Project Management and Human Capital consultant with emphasis on the Technical, Vocational Education and Training (TVET), Afolabi Imoukhuede is remarkably trained for the job he eventually got in the Presidency, as he writes: “Ten years before this administration was sworn in for its first tenure, I had attended the Human Capital Institute in Washington D.C. USA and came out of that programme as a certified Human Capital Strategist (HCS). It is this artistic/scientific skill in human management that I am bringing to bear in the service of my fatherland through the N-Power programme.”
With his global fettle on the economies of the diverse continents, Imoukhuede avers that while Africa is the world’s last frontier in the fight against extreme poverty, the continent is also more crucially the next frontier in the world of global economic opportunities.
Dedicated to the author’s late father, Chief Joseph Enaifoghe Imoukhuede (OBE) and his “sweet mother”, Mrs. Olubunmi Olayinka Imoukhuede, nee Olusoga, aka Sisi, Never An Afterthought delves into the proud family heritage that stood Afolabi Imoukhuede in good stead for his lifework.
According to the author, “when I met him in 2015, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo took the risk to appoint me as Senior Special Assistant to the President on Job Creation, with the knowledge that, if I failed, the government might be adversely affected. To understand my life philosophy and why the professor sought approval from his boss for my appointment after meeting me for the first time, you would need to understand my father—the late Chief Joseph Enaifoghe Imoukhuede, OBE. This will help deconstruct my drive and passion and why, for me, the success of the N-Power programme became a do or die affair. My late father was, in more ways than one, a big part of my inspiration in life and in my commitment to excellence. He was also the reason why I am associated with the progressive segment of Nigeria’s political spectrum.”
It was about ten years before the birth of the author that his father became the first Secretary and Head of Civil Service of the Midwestern Regional Government of Nigeria. The father had to weather the storms of the military coup, the invasion of Biafran soldiers and the eventful taking as captives of the Midwest leaders to the leader of Biafra, Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu, in Enugu that curiously led to the imprisonment of the author’s father and the other Midwest leaders in the Biafran enclave for 888 days of the civil war.
Upon his release from Biafran captivity at the end of the war in 1970, the author’s father met and married his mother Sisi, and then retired from serving the state as Head of Service and Secretary to the Government in 1971. When his father died in 1989, the former military and civilian governor of the old Bendel State, General Samuel Ogbemudia, said “he wished medicine and technology had progressed to a stage where it was possible to transplant a person’s brain into another’s for preservation, for the benefit of both Bendel state and Nigeria at large.”
“Today, I bear the Imoukhuede name with pride and dignity—but also with a deep sense of responsibility,” Afolabi Imoukhuede asserts, and he also pays glowing tribute to the pioneer female author Mrs Mabel Dorothy Segun (OFR), of the Imoukhuede stock, who aside from her literary feats, “in her youth, did the unprecedented thing of entering the men’s single in table tennis (as an honourary male) because she was that good.”
The author’s father, Chief Joseph Enaifoghe Imoukhuede, who was decorated with the rank of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, by the Queen of England in 1960, had wanted one of his children to become a medical doctor, MD not just a PhD. When Afolabi could not gain admission to his father’s alma-mater, King’s College, Lagos, his mother had to plead with him to make do with Federal Government College (FGC) Warri.
As destiny would have it, it was at FGC Warri that Afolabi met some of his most important friends in life, notably Funmi Akinwunmi, Adewale Tychus, Peter Agboli, Chizuoke Ogwuda, and his personably intelligent publisher, Dr Eghosa Imasuen.
Afolabi’s father died while he was in the final year of Junior Secondary School. On completing his secondary school education, did get admission to study medicine at the University of Lagos. When a strike action by members of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) brought academic activities to a sudden halt, he reveals, “a mind-set change had taken place and I began to experiment with business ideas.”
He exported gemstones bought in Jos to Cartier in the United Kingdom, and bought and sold local fabric, and other items. He travelled to France in late 1994 “and brought back to Nigeria the first test bottle of the men’s cologne, Jean Paul Gaultier, (JPG).”
In France he moved into a new line of business as an importer of fairly new (used) tyres, and teamed up with a friend to secure a supply contract for tyre tubes with a subsidiary of the NNPC.
When ASUU called off its strike, Afolabi went back to school to finish his pre-med at Akoka, Lagos, and then went for his second leg of medical studies at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH). Another strike action by ASUU in 1996 put paid to Afolabi Imoukhuede’s drive to fulfil his father’s wish of him becoming a medical doctor.
Afolabi’s impetus shifted to travelling to the United States but he had not secured admission in an American university. He simply placed his hope in God as he made the journey to the US in December 1997.
With the guidance of his brother Yemi who knew the American education system well enough he was able to get admitted into Essex County College, a 2-year community college; the plan being for him “to get an associate degree and later transfer to a university for a full degree.”
He was brilliant enough to make the Dean’s List. He picked up an internship offer with PricewaterhouseCoopers from January 2000 that lasted until March before getting a final employment offer from KPMG to resume in September 2000, after his graduation in May. It was at KPMG that he experienced the reality of the old saying: “Knowledge is power!”
Afolabi puts the grace of God at the heart of his accomplishments. When he joined the Foursquare Gospel Church, he earned a rewarding friendship with Obinna Iwuchukwu in the church’s mentor-mentee programme. At the University of Lagos, he had come under the influence of the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG).
When democracy returned to Nigeria in 1999, President Olusegun Obasanjo’s message of “reform” caught the attention of Afolabi.
In the words of Afolabi Imoukhuede, “My stay in the United States was for roughly eight years (1997 – 2005), which can be divided into two 4-year periods. The first period (1998 – 2001) was spent getting my degree and then working with KPMG. The second period (2002 – 2005) represented my staggered return to Nigeria when I crisscrossed between two continents until I decided to stay in one place and relocated to Nigeria.”
The author writes further on in Never An Afterthought, “Any time a government manages to keep politics aside, the result is often a success. This was the case with Professor Dora Akunyili, who represents one of the best appointments of former President Olusegun Obasanjo. National Agency for Drugs Administration and Control, NAFDAC was just a parastatal, but it became so well-known some Nigerians would have been forgiven if they thought that Dora Akunyili was a cabinet minister and not just the director-general of the agency…”
It’s against this background that the recommendation of Afolabi Imoukhuede to the newly elected vice-president-elect, Professor Yemi Osinbajo was spot-on.
Afolabi states that his relationship with the Lagos State Technical and Vocational Education Board (LASTVEB) played a crucial role in giving life to the SkillUp intervention.
Then the N-Power graduate programme became “the first opportunity for some of its beneficiaries to own computer tablets—all pre-loaded with instructional material and other content relevant for their training, development, motivation, and self-management. The devices were also internet ready, with a one-year data bundle.”
Afolabi’s charge was to deal with one leg of the multi-pronged National Social Investment Programme (NSIP), which was the N-Power component. The other components of the NSIP are the National Home-Grown School Feeding, the Government Economic Empowerment Programme (GEEP) which comprises the TraderMoni, MarketMoni & FarmerMoni and the direct Conditional Cash Transfers (CCT) to the “poorest families”.
N-Power was birthed with 350,000 applicants, of which 200,000 were selected after online tests. Afolabi gives the minutiae of the testing, physical verification, deployment, and enrolment in the N-Teach, N-Agro, and N-Health.
It’s crucial to note that Rivers State, a state controlled by the opposition PDP, came out on top in the first enrolment with about 13,000 volunteers. According to Afolabi Imoukhuede, “We would later use this fact to our advantage during the 2019 re-election campaigns when we shut down opposition politicians’ arguments by showing the people how much the APC government implemented development programmes for all Nigerians irrespective of their political affiliation, religion, or tribe.”
Afolabi’s formula is P-I-E-R, which translates thusly: Passion, Integrity, Empathy, Reliability and Resilience
For him, the heroes of N-Power are the beneficiaries for whom the programme was designed. He cites the example of Orioye Benedict Gbayisemore who graduated with a BSc in Physics Education from Adeyemi College of Education, but, for over five years, could not secure a job and perforce had to return to his village in Ilaje local government area of Ondo state to join local fishermen to fish. After joining N-Power, Benedict established a business which he funded with his monthly stipend, and he is now engaged in what he describes as “value addition crayfish business.” The erstwhile jobless and disillusioned graduate is now an employer of labour and was able to register his business with the Corporate Affairs Commission.
In Never An Afterthought Afolabi submits that N-Power is indeed relevant to the vision of President Buhari to take 100 million Nigerians out of poverty within the next ten years, stressing: “With regards to this audacious vision, N-Power and its parent, the National Social Investment Programme, do not only need to remain but need to achieve full conveyor-belt status. N-Power needs to expand into several other sectors, increase its capacity, and indeed be properly institutionalised as a legislated agency of the Federal Government under the direct watch of Mr. President.”
Afolabi Sokpehi Imoukhuede HCS is a believer in the truest sense of the word. In his book Never An Afterthought, with a foreword by Babatunde Raji Fashola, SAN, he has used elegant language, photographs, tables, charts and graphs to prove that a new Nigeria is possible with the requisite commitment. Nigeria and Nigerians will definitely hear and see more of him in the great future.