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Many Nigerians are walking the streets who are in the class of Mark Zuckerberg

Dr. Yele Okeremi, MD/CEO of Precise Financial Systems [PFS]

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Dr. Yele Okeremi, MD/CEO of Precise Financial Systems [PFS]

Dr. Okeremi in this exclusive interview explained the fundamental role of software development to nation building and why Nigeria has not encouraged software developed in Nigeria. Excerpt:

Why did you venture into software and why financial your area of competence?

Everybody in life needs to choose his area of strength. If you look at people, everybody decides what would raise him up. And that’s exactly what we did. We looked at which area we can make a difference.  I followed my background and my colleague, who is a Chartered Accountant. I am a software analyst and we both spent our lives in the banking industry. What happened was that while we were in the bank, we noticed gaps.

Everybody, while I was the chief information officer in the bank, I wanted to build software for India and America. India was not even in the equation at that time. And when they brought the software, you would want to look at it and see what they were selling. What we discovered was that we could do better. And that was what started this whole thing. Listen, how would a man come with a briefcase from America or Europe, and developed software that we can do better and walk away with a million dollars? So, that was the genesis of the yearning. And after a while, I couldn’t sleep at night any more.

What I was busy thinking was that Nigeria is losing a lot of money. So, I said why can’t we challenge this people? And that’s how the business started. The business started because we wanted to prove that we are black but not stupid; that we actually can do better than what they think we can do. That is the whole essence of how the business started. I understand banking and finance and again my deputy is an accountant and we joined our expertise. We believed we could do great things and make this country and indeed the black race very proud.

Are PFS solutions really simple solutions?

That’s the hallmark of PFS. Let me tell you what we talk about in this company. We say: If you buy a car and you have to put a mechanic in the car before you go out confidently, then, you don’t have a car. A good car is built for the pleasure of drivers and so is good software. Good software is built on the pleasure of the users, not the technicians. So, if you implement good software, its hallmark is to put the software down and walk away from it. And even a technology novice should be able to get the software and use the software and that is the thing with every solution that comes out of the stable of PFS.

It must be intuitive to the user. It must be friendly and not just only that as user-friendly Ness in interface, but we also talk about user orientation. The software is built for the user. Yes, we would do the training; yes, we would do the hand-holding; yes we would do the assimilation but the truth of the matter is that it has nothing that the user would need to go to Harvard before being able to do the surfing. If you understand your business, then you should be able to use any software that gives you the best. Now that is what happens for all PFS software.

How many people do you have in PFS?

We are eighty. We have partners in 37 countries. If we are building software that needs so many people, probably we would have up to 3,000 people to do that. We are already in 37 countries and we are still counting, with 80 people. The software must be such that would be easy and convenient for the users to operate. I don’t keep my engineers. When we finish the implementation, we handover and walk away. But when there are challenges, you call us and then we can easily sort it out.

PFS is a member of presidential initiative for developing the software industry in Nigeria. How has the software industry in Nigeria fared?

That is depending on how you want to see it. It can impress you and excite you, depending on who you are. If you want to look at it in terms of potential, what we have achieved is extremely sad. In my opinion, we haven’t shown commitment to development in terms of our potential in that industry as a country; our quality level as a people as well. Let us even take the government out of it for a while because the government has a whole lot to deal with. Let’s come to the industry.

When we come to the industry and you as a Nigerian software house, create software and present to the industry then say, okay guys, I have developed this software. Your own people would look down on you, and badmouth you. Nigerians prefer foreign applications. That is really sad. So, until we understand the mantra in that we have to consume what we produce and produce what we consume, it is very sure that we as a country are going nowhere. Let’s assume that the people don’t want to do it. Then, it becomes the real job for the government. The job of the government is to stimulate.

The job of the government is to put in place principles and value systems. But I haven’t seen sufficient commitment. Yes, we have NOTAP. Yes, we have NITDA. But there are deep fundamental things that the government doesn’t seem to understand.  Let me tell you something. Look, the amount of money that the government spends on technology every year is sufficient to develop this industry.  But you know what the problem is? Maybe because of the kind of people we are, people are looking for finished products. And I can tell you this with all confidence. Anybody that is looking for a finished product is a mirage. It doesn’t exist.

So, let us look at it with this analogy. A child comes out of school seeks employment and you are asking him for 12 years working experience. That means if you don’t allow that child to start work today, even in 10 years’ time, the child would not have 10 years’ experience. And that’s exactly what happens. We have not come to have a mindset of development. They would come and say, Oh, we are looking for application that is 10 years old. Yes, that is our approach but it would be better if that is not our approach. A lot of time you will even know as a country that you are going to need a solution like this in three years’ time. But we don’t. So, why don’t you now begin to look for people that have the skills?

Yes, you know it is not perfect but I know it a course of development. The course for development for the first time is probably not a perfect solution. You are probably going to buy a solution that have the risk of failure. But are there no risks of failure even for the ones you are bringing from America? Look at so many failed projects. The software you are buying from America, Europe and India were not developed for you. They didn’t have you in mind. They build solutions first for themselves to solve their own problems. Then you went to import the software.

They didn’t build it for you and actually, there is no assurance for that it would work for you. But you have chosen to explain yourself to them. And that is the kind of things that make me extremely sad as a person because our potentials are enormous. And again, I feel extremely sad because we still haven’t got leaders who are thinking and who are looking from a fundamentalist, sound scholastic people.

So, if you are still telling me that you want to export yam to the USA, I can tell you, if that is the way you want to have this economy developed, you’ve got to have another thing coming. Every nation today that wants to develop understands a very simple thing that the wealth of the nation is in the mind of the people. We want to think the wealth is in the ground. We drill oil and the yam too comes out of the soil. They say Nigeria is agriculture. In fact, with no due respect to anybody, this is foolish. Everywhere, if you want to talk about agriculture you must have industrialization.

But look at the developed countries. Which of them is in agriculture? Which of them is in oil? Take a look at them. Where are they coming from? They are all in intellectual property. When Mark Zuckerberg came to Nigeria, it became very huge news. The President wanted to have photo opps. I have no objection to that.

There are very many Nigerians walking on the streets of Lagos that are in the class of Zuckerberg. What have we done to develop them? We have a system that kills its own prophets. As long as we don’t appreciate some of these things, then the nation is going nowhere and that’s suppressing. But on the other hand, it is also exciting because there is will for development and the day the streak turns on and we as a nation choose to go and do the right things, then we have come to power. And my own conviction as an individual is that before I die, I would see a great Nigeria.


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