By Kemi Yesufu
Running a profitable business in Nigeria can be tough. Operating in the entertainment/tourism business is even tougher. Nightclubs, hotels as well as recreation hot spots come and go especially in the nation’s capital.
But interacting with Chief Obiora Okonkwo, it’s easy to know why he is staying afloat especially in the high turnover in failed projects in Nigerian entertainment industry. Okonkwo who holds a Ph.D in Economics from the Russian Academy of Science is an apostle of economic diversification. He has investments in insurance, construction and recently military technology. Yet, many know him better as the man behind The Dome Entertainment Center Abuja.
But the businessman who chairs the Nigerian-Belgium Business Forum has had to operate The Dome skeletally since 2012 and it remained that way until late 2015. Okonkwo explained why in an earlier interview with Abuja Metro. “Anyone who has passed where The Dome is located must have noticed that there was a lot of construction going on and we did all we can to accommodate the work,” he said.
“Sometimes when we arrived for work, we had to find creative means of gaining entrance into our compound. Other times clients that had paid to use our event centers had to spend hours navigating their way into this place. We never asked for compensation because we believed that whatever inconveniences we suffered were for the greater good of the country. But the contractor never bothered to show understanding. Even when we approached them to speak about how they can do things in a way that it doesn’t affect our business, they weren’t ready to listen.
By the time things became annoying, we decided that rather than expose our clients to the difficulty of using our venues, we slow things down a bit. We also are using this time to re-strategise the business. We also are rebranding as well as developing new products. Technically speaking, everything is put in place so that when we speed things up after the contractors finish, we will redefine entertainment and leisure like we did in the last decade,” he had disclosed in August 2013.
Some would argue that Okonkwo’s detour into politics might have caused a little delay in bringing to fruition his promise to bring what many have called Abuja’s biggest and true entertainment centre to life. Okonkwo contested for the Anambra Central senatorial seat under the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). He is still in court over a pre-election matter. But a recent visit by Abuja Metro to The Dome Entertainment Centre showed that 2016 will be the year that the one-stop leisure destination will come back to life fully.
The Dome which is located beside the World Trade Centre in the Abuja plush Central Business District comprises of the Summit Restaurant, Octagon Lounge, the Wesley Snipes and Eagle VIP Rooms, the Camelot Spa, the Body Trust Gym, the popular Dome Bowling Alley, the Capital Bar, Bridges Garden Bar and a newly introduced boutique hotel. It is therefore, wasn’t much of a surprise when Okonkwo confirmed the talk in town that millions of naira has been invested into repositioning the centre that once hosted major events in Abuja. The Dome boss declined giving a figure, but, Abuja Metro investigations indicates that though work is still in progress, not less than N600m was budgeted for the current facelift of the entertainment centre.
According to sources, this much is being re-invested into a tourism/entertainment business due a SWOT analysis conducted by the management of The Dome and Okonkwo’s long held belief that entertainment/tourism is a sure route to economic diversification. “I believe that by investing heavily in entertainment, I heeded the call by government for people to open up new economic frontiers that will better position the country. I know that we are pioneers in The Dome. Before we came on board nobody had invested huge amounts into all-purpose entertainment and recreation center like we did. I have no regrets that we invested heavily because just like when I started, I believe that Nigeria needs world class recreation centers, like we have in other parts of the world,” Okonkwo once said. He further argued that “For sure, I am not an entertainer, but I saw the future that in a short while people will recognize the power of entertainment. When we opened The Dome, some of the big names in entertainment were also starting out. But now, governors and presidents have involved them during campaigns. These days, you see known brands spending huge sums to get entertainers to endorse their products. It wasn’t like this 10 years ago. So anyone that looks at how things are today should agree that showbiz is to be treated seriously.” Not done, he asked, “Why should anyone not take people in entertainment seriously? Maybe they will, by the time government closes all the loopholes through which people fleece the country through bogus oil deals. When government tackles corruption, maybe people will begin to appreciate hardworking investors not the lazy people who capitalise on the loopholes in the system to acquire wealth.”
Now that the federal government led by President Muhammadu Buhari is closing loopholes and clamping down on those that benefitted from corruption, it also time for investors like Okonkwo to lead the move for economic diversification and reorientation on how to succeed especially in Abuja where government had long been the major source of survival for many.