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Covid Hero interview with Greg Mbadiwe

The Covid Hero campaign by The Luxury Network Nigeria, in partnership with Business Day, and Robert Taylor Media aims to applaud outstanding individuals and organisations, whose work is critical to the survival of Nigeria in these unprecedented and challenging times. It’s driven by the company’s ethos of partnership and collaboration for greater impact – especially in the ongoing fight against the coronavirus.

The next Hero under the spotlight is Mr Greg Mbadiwe, the Managing Director of Kings Celia Hotel in Yaba, an area widely referred to as the ‘Silicon Valley’ of Lagos. At the onset of the pandemic, Mr Mbadiwe set out to partner with the Lagos State Government, and put the hotel at the service of Lagos State. The hotel was used to accommodate many of the doctors who were at the forefront of the fight against Covid-19 while Nigeria was in lockdown.

1. Please tell us a bit about yourself.

My name is Greg Mbadiwe and I am the son of late Dr & Mrs Kingsley Ozumba Mbadiwe. I was born in Lagos and started the earliest part of my education at St Saviour’s Primary School in Ebute Metta. From there I did a brief stint in the South East of Nigeria until my second year of Secondary School. I left immediately after the war to England, where I completed my secondary education at St Edmund’s College in Hertfordshire, which happens to be the oldest catholic secondary school in England. From England I went over to America where I studied Economics and Business Administration. I returned back to Nigeria to do my National Youth Service (NYS). Once completed, I left again to England to study Law, which I completed in 1982 and came back to Nigeria to attend Law School. It was there that I met my wife and by the end of Law School we got married.
I started a few businesses with a childhood friend of mine forming the Apian organisation which includes companies that trade in industrial equipment and communications equipment. In addition to business I ventured into politics.

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2. Please share some of your career highlights to-date, to give us a picture about your professional background.

My father’s passing coincided with the completion of my Law studies and because of his exposure to politics I felt there was a need to carry on the work. I started by running for Senate. Although this didn’t work out at the primary level, I went on to become Imo State flag bearer for the National Republic Convention. From there I served as Ambassador for DR Congo for 4 years. During this time I was called back to Nigeria to Head as Director for the Research, Strategy and Publicity Campaign Organisation for Olusegun Obasanjo’s presidential re-election. After completing a successful campaign, I was nominated by the president to represent the youth at the National Constitutional Conference. I was then given a national award as Member of the Federal republic (MFR). After the conference I was then given the position of Chairman of the Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC) which operates as a paramilitary organisation. Shortly after I completed that assignment I was posted to Head the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) that was until PDP loss the election to APC.

3. How have you been affected by the covid-19 crisis?

We were seriously affected by the COVID pandemic especially during the first week when Nigeria had entered the lockdown. It seemed as though the world was coming to an end. However my approach was that ‘we are not going down without a fight’. So I reached out to see how I could help. I spoke to the Lagos State Governor who accepted to partner with us and the Kings Celia Hotel, where I am the MD. We put the hotel at the service of Lagos state as Lagos had been largely affected by the pandemic. The hotel is located in Yaba, which could be described as the ‘Silicon Valley’ of Lagos, which at the time we also discovered that the CDC in Nigeria was also located in Yaba therefore offering 50 rooms to be used to serve the government was a way to help. The hotel was then used to accommodate the doctors that were managing the surge in cases during the entire four months that Nigeria was locked down.

4. What challenges have you faced personally during this pandemic?

The challenges are to make sure the health workers are in top condition to continue to deliver on their mandate which is to the people of Nigeria. Which his Excellency Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu handled extremely well, he was very proactive. Seeing the front-line doctors we could see the tremendous effort that the government put in to contain the surge and we are happy that we followed it through to the end. Four months later when the curve of new cases had been flattened, the governor made a personal recognition of appreciation to the Hotel for the work that we did. So we were delighted to be able to contain the surge in Nigeria.

5. How has the viral outbreak impacted your business/career/work?

On the eve of the pandemic lockdown we lost 50% of our workers, who voluntarily decided to leave the hotel and return after the lockdown. However we continued to operate even though we had less capacity of our full work force.

6. In what ways has your organisation adapted to this season?

The pandemic gave us the opportunity of introspection and to review the structure of the organisation, research what we were doing before and what we would like to do in the future. This enabled us to see areas of improvement that could be implemented after the pandemic.

7. What inspired your covid-19 response?

When the pandemic was first brought to our attention, it was presented as something that could be an Armageddon, therefore no sacrifice was too big to save lives. The fact that we were not sure that we would survive or that anybody would survive, it inspired us to throw in everything that we could.

8. What is your daily motivation and the driving force that keeps you going?

My daily motivation is best described by our intentions for operating a facility like this in the first instance, which is ‘In the happiness of others, we ourselves are happy’. So we strive here on a daily basis to make sure all our clients leave here with a sense of satisfaction.

9. What has the general response been to your project?

The response has been amazing, we didn’t know what to expect but after we partnered with Lagos state and had the health workers stay at the hotel, we thought it may have an adverse effect. However this has not been the case and since then we have regrouped to get back our workers who had left and our current focus is to be able to carry on with our business.

10. What are the positives you will take away from this experience?

The positives we will take away is being at the vanguard of this struggle. We are so happy that we had the opportunity to play a role. And it justifies our normal stand of trying to satisfy our customers and to be a total committed enterprise. So the pandemic enabled us to fulfil this particular desire.

11. What is the end goal for your vision and what would you like your legacy to be?

Having got through this and making the impact that we did, it has inspired me to fulfil the vision I had for the hotel in the first place, which was being a wholly Nigerian owned hotel chain. Therefore it has inspired me to open up more branches of this hotel all over the Federation. We have no regrets in the role that we have played in the pandemic and if given the opportunity again we will still play that role.

13. What advice do you have for the public and/or government with regards to the current crisis and its impact on the citizens of Nigeria?

Nigeria has done a lot to reduce the surge, there are a lot of sacrifices that have been made by many people. A lot of people lost their jobs and means of livelihood. The government has been trying as they know they have a huge role to play in helping citizens overcome the effects. So the palliatives that the government has been making available are appreciated. And I’d say if you can do more, do more as there are so many people that are suffering. Five months out of work, school and most aspects of human endeavour as a result of the effects of the pandemic. So there is so much that the government can do and I am happy for all the programmes that they are using to tackle the pandemic head on, as well as financial assistance from CBN (Central Bank Nigeria). We hope that soon some of these hardships will be lifted from the citizenry.

14. How do you feel about being called a hero?

We did not do this for a particular reward or to be called a hero. The situation was such, it was either you help or everyone perish and I’m happy that we came out to help, and we can now live to tell the story. There is no need for anyone to be a hero out of it, we did what we had to do to be able to help out.

15. What are your hopes for the future of Nigeria post-covid?

I want to believe that like us, as a business trying to work with what we have up until now, although losing 50% of our work staff, my hope is that this country would have learnt important lessons in this experience. It has shown that we need to be proactive. These sort of things can still come around again. We should learn from this experience and all the things that we did not put in place before it, we should now put in place including our medical institutions, ensuring that the right type of facilities are put together to be able to confront these things at real time.

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