• Wednesday, June 19, 2024
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Ezra Yakusak: From youth corps member to CEO, Nigerian Export Promotion Council

Nigeria got $2.53bn in non-oil exports proceeds for H1 2023 – NEPC

31-years ago in the year 1990, Ezra Yakusak first walked into the Nigerian Export Promotion Council, for his primary assignment in the compulsory National Youth Service Corps (NYSC).

He was subsequently employed by the organization at the end of his service, and his story is that of the proverbial patient dog that gets to eat the fattest bone. It is the story of a starry-eyed impressionable young man from Kanem in the Kachia local government area in Kaduna state, who rose through the ranks of the council to become its chief executive.

“I have been in the council since my service year,” Yakusak reflects on his long association with the organization, adding for emphasis: “That means, in terms of career, exposure, working experience, everything has been within the Council. I don’t have any other exposure apart from non-oil export and export promotion.”

It is the same with his education. Yakusak obtained all of his academic qualifications, starting with his degree in law (LLB), then a master’s (LLM) and a doctor of philosophy (Ph D) at Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. These attest to the man’s staying power, which has enabled him to withstand odds under different regimes and endeared him to authorities both within and outside the organization to get to the top.

“There is reward in perseverance, hard work and patience. Most times, people want to make it quick, and so they jump from organization to organization,” he reflects. “But when I came here I remained, as a matter of fact I am a lawyer, I could have gone for legal practices. I had other offers but I refused but got stuck here, even to the point that I was writing my Ph.D citation on export promotion.”

Using himself as an example, Yakusak says his appointment brought so much hope and rekindles the fact that if one is hardworking, they would be recognized. “I served the past executives with my heart, I have worked with them, and I have been the legal adviser for over 15 years. I worked with the board members, chairman of the board, and the chief executives. So to the youths out there my advice is be honest, hardworking and one day you will be recognized,” he says.

Olusegun Awolowo, the immediate past CEO of the Council, had huge compliments to pay to his successor recently. When it was noted that NEPC under him had done so much good work, and he was asked what system was in place to ensure that these good works continue, he said: “There is a strategy that is owned by the management. We’ve done our retreats; we have a strategic document we’re working with and it was prepared by the staff themselves. Now, the luck we have in NEPC is that the government has already announced a successor who is a director here.”

To the youths out there my advice is be honest, hardworking and one day you will be recognized

Dr. Yakusak’s announcement as the new CEO of the council broke as Mr. Awolowo sat with the successor to prepare his handover notes. “Suddenly, he was announced as successor,” he recalls. It was thanks to NEPC’s smooth succession plan. “So I just called him, congratulated him and asked him to handover to himself and I will sign it. We worked on the Zero Oil Plan together. And that’s my joy,” Awolowo recalled.

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The new NEPC helmsman has his opinion of why the government sorted out the Council’s leadership situation with speed. “It happened because the government knows the importance of this organization,” he reasons. “It does not need any vacuum for even an hour and they know that this organization is critical to the survival of this country. We cannot afford to leave even a one hour vacuum.”

Was it a coincidence that the previous CEO is a lawyer and his successor, too, is a lawyer? Dr. Yakusak will not say that this will serve as a precedent because, he says, “I am not the appointing authority, but what I will say is that lawyers are better managers and administrators in any organization. Lawyers look at issues from all angles.”

Indeed, Dr. Yakusak is well prepared for the responsibilities entrusted to him. His work with NEPC over three decades has exposed him to various capacity building programmes including;

• The 5th UN Conference to review all Aspects of the set of multilaterally Agreed Equitable Principles and Rules for the Control of Restrictive Business Practices, 14-18 November 2005 in Antalya, Turkey;

• Conference on Good Governance, Transparency and Anti-Corruption organized by the International Law Institute, 21-25 November 2005 in Abuja;

• Workshop on Alternative Dispute Resolution organised by the California State University Sacramento, College of Health and Human Services, Centre for African Peace and Conflict Resolution in Collaboration with the Nigerian Institute of Advance Legal Studies, 4– 5 November 1998 in Abuja;

• Workshop on Export Contract organized by Nigerian Association of Chambers of Commerce, Industry and Agriculture (NACCIMA), 5–7 November 1996 in Lagos; and

• Induction Course on Pension Scheme, Underwriting, Financing and Administration, 17– 21 October 1994 in Lagos.

Until his appointment as head of NEPC, Dr. Yakusak was Director, Policy and Strategy. Previously, he was Director, Trade Information Department, Regional Coordinator (North Central); NEPC SERVICOM Nodal Officer; Head, Corporate Services Department encompassing Human Resources, Administration, ICT, Legal, Pension, Security and Staff Welfare; Secretary, NEPC Governing Board; Pioneer Legal Officer/Legal Adviser; focal point on the implementation of the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act; and Pioneer Pension Schedule Officer.

His contributions to the council include initiating the staff mentorship programme under which staff meets regularly at both headquarters and zonal levels to address issues of export promotion through sharing of ideas. He says the programme focuses on building the capacity of staff to deliver on the Council’s commitment to strengthening the non-oil sector to boost the nation’s economy in the face of dwindling resources from the oil sector.

He was also instrumental to the introduction of the ISO 2015 certification programme, which seeks to enable exporters to get certification on key products in order to get acceptance in the international market. He led the NEPC team, including consultants and in liaison with Standards Organization of Nigeria (SON), through the processes of certification.

Dr. Yakusak also deserves credit for his initiatives to respond to the challenges imposed by the lockdown compelled by the Coronavirus. “Instead of exporters coming physically to collect their certificates, as the head of trade information, I introduced the idea of e-registration of certificates, to minimize the risk of exposure at headquarters,” he recalls. “Indeed, we digitalized a lot of our operations, with exporters staying in the comfort of their houses and registering and getting the certificate.”

Also, as head of the Trade Information unit, he conceived the directory of exporters, which shows the names of exporters, their addresses and the products they export. NEPC is working to expand that program and give it to all embassies. “We must make sure that these companies can be verified, to ensure trust and the genuineness of such companies,” he says.

He recalls his time with the administration and human resources department of the Council with relish. “For the first time in the history of this council, we trained the entire workforce. I set up the legal and pension units as they are today,” he says.

Although he was always a part of the strategies and programmes of NEPC before his appointment as its CEO, he does not rule out new ideas to drive his vision. He expresses a willingness to get the buy-in of the management and staff. However, there is no doubt what the focus will remain on building human capital to drive the country’s export promotion agenda. On his assessment of the present situation of Nigeria, in terms of export trade and how he plans to deal with export rejects, he links the challenges of non-oil export to the overall Nigerian economy and the state of infrastructure. “You cannot say that you set up an industry to export and you are using generators while your competitors are using cheaper sources of power. In addition to infrastructural deficiency, there is also lack of technical know-how on the side of the exporters,” he says.

He also says the certificates now being provided will enable exporters to avoid export rejects.