The story of the most dramatic and successful corporate turnarounds in Nigeria’s banking industry will not be complete without a mention of his name. Brilliant, firm, focused, versatile, God-fearing, humane, and deeply perceptive, Ven. Segun Agbetuyi is one of the CEOs that held sway in Corporate Nigeria in the 1990s. Even after retirement, he has continued to offer wise counsel and mentor several executives. On the occasion of his 70th birthday, Ven. Agbetuyi spoke with Ademola Akinbola on his career and offered valuable insights into how Nigeria can be redeemed and its glory restored.
Congratulations on your 70th birthday sir. How do you feel arriving on the 7th floor?
Thank you, my dearest Demola. Congratulations again on the lofty initiative that has birthed The Podium International Magazine. Knowing you, I know and pray that you will take The Podium Magazine to eminent success. May the Lord’s guidance and help be upon you, your household, and your endeavours, amen. At 70, I feel an overwhelming sense of gratitude. GRATITUDE, GRATITUDE, & GRATITUDE. The Yorubas say ” Eni to ba mo inu ro lati mo ope du” literally meaning all who can think must be full of gratitude. Gratitude to God Almighty, my maker and creator for Who & All HE is & has been.
Gratitude to all men & women that it has pleased the Lord to use individually as friends, encouragers, professional seniors, colleagues, and associates (across the world), and even adversaries to encourage, support, motivate and challenge the journey of my life. The Bible is the complete Book of Life. There is nothing in the Bible that will not come to pass, & there is nothing in life that is not defined in the Bible. It is therefore my CREED to which, as I am sure you already know, I refer and defer in all things.
Like Jabez, many of us came out of unworthy wombs. “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and sin did my mother conceive me” (Psalm 51:5). Yet, the Lord created my inmost being and knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully & wonderfully made… Psalm 139:13-16. Fast forward to today at 70. Many, many water has passed under the bridge. The reason that my wonderful wife and children and many of my friends were unable to proceed with the week-long celebration of my 70th birthday, which they had carefully planned for over a year, is that I lost two bosom friends of nearly 50 years. One of them, Henry Olusegun Ewumi, was one of the core planners behind my 70th birthday.
Henry was the quintessential gentleman that we, his friends, fondly called the General Overseer on account of his gracious, prayerful & thoughtful personality. He passed away peacefully but suddenly in Texas, USA on the 27th of May 2023 a few hours after I spoke with him on the telephone as was our practice to speak twice a week. He was neither ill nor under stress. Yet it pleased the Lord Who knows the end from the beginning to quietly take him away, as He has done a multitude of other friends & loved ones whilst keeping us alive these past 70 years. Henry came back from his routine evening walk that faithful day and sat back to relax before his bath & dinner that evening, but he never woke up from his relaxation. Today, Henry, our G.O. is gone, and I, rambunctious, impulsive, and sometimes crude and offensive as ever, ‘am here. So often, I ask to what do I owe this great munificence from God Almighty?
Thank you, sir, for your kind words and prayers for The Podium Magazine. I say amen! Accept my condolences on the demise of Mr Ewumi. May God rest his soul. What has life taught you over the years? What does Clocking 70 mean to you?
I have received far too many lessons and grace in my life. Every moment of every day has been a munificent lesson and a blessing. I cannot possibly distill these in a few interviews. With God’s help, I hope to bring these forth in my memoirs hopefully in a format that will glorify God by encouraging, challenging, and strengthening others in their life’s journeys. Suffice it to say for this interview that God has sent me instructions and lessons of life through four angels, and a fifth that was more of a paradox. They are:
My father, Elijah Agboola Agbetuyi, was a man of God, a teacher, a sportsman, a gifted Organist, and a soldier (WW2 veteran). He lived to be only about 50 years old when he passed on in 1971. He taught me in the most practical, demonstrable, and unforgettable ways that there is no secret in life; that any and everything spoken or done in the closest of secrets must eventually bare itself into the open. He taught me to have full, unrelenting faith in God. He taught me the rudiments of Proverbs 3:5-6; Psalm 32:8; Psalm 23 & Psalm 46:10. It was from him I learned my favourite refrain that “prayer is the slender nerve that moves the mighty hands of God”.
Perhaps the greatest legacy that he left me was his favourite hymn: O God our help in Ages past; our hope for years to come”. I am yet to see any organist play this hymn with dexterity as my father. He would play it with such an overwhelming inspiration & energy of the Holy Spirit that his eyes & nose will fill up with the water of life. Key off on this hymn any time today in my presence and I am entranced in the Holy Spirit. These are the only times that my father visits me since he passed on.
II). My maternal grandmother, Janet Abioye Akosile. She was there before and at my birth and was the one love that truly brought me up as a mother. One of her constant lessons was that there is no journey as far as the hidden, inner thoughts of a human being. From my early days, she taught me that most human beings naturally know that the snake is not their friend. That a dog that wags its tail left and right is a friendly one but once it howls and stiffens its tail, it is ready to attack. She taught me that the human being is the most difficult to understand. That a human sits and eats with you, laughing, and celebrating as a friend whilst he is deep in plans to hurt you or even kill you. She often warned me never to set score with the sweet praises that my friend says to me in secret but with the testimonies that he gives about me in public.
III). My mother-in-law, Mama Mary Oyewamide Oluwadare. She was a most practical lesson in perseverance not only by her accounts and behaviour whilst helping to nurture and train all our children, but also by the accounts and testimonies given by all who knew her. She taught me that only God, not age, appoints an elder and leader. Her favourite phrase in Yoruba: is “a loyun agba sinu, omode nsere nile” literally ” the young one is already on the ground playing whilst the elder is still in embryo”.
IV). My calling to the Priesthood is the consolidation and tie-in phase, helping to distill and contextualise lessons learned from the above three Angels and from friends, associates, and colleagues into one wholesale package in the school of life.
And then, the tangential, paradoxical one. Most of us wander, most times into danger (Psalm 23:4a) in our youth. We often refer to this phase of life as childhood exuberance. I had my full share of this from which only God Almighty delivered me but not without the accompanying scars for life. I consorted with a lady from whom the only benefits were spiritual and paradoxical. So many attempts to end my life through food poisoning and ultimately an assassination attempt finally led me to God. The one paradox of this relationship was that it offered me a mirror of the world. Any person warmly loved and embraced by this consort was bound to be my enemy and those hated and rejected by her were my destiny helpers and benefactors. Truly, our God works in mysterious ways.
He uses any medium, good or bad, light or dark, to teach and instruct His children. In that danger-filled phase of life, I was able to contextualise the axiom that a bad woman is a man’s highway to hell. Indeed, the Japanese proverb is true that a bad woman spoils the harvest of a hundred years. None of the two men who married from this family ahead of me survived. Both were cut down at the peak of their lives and significance. I am forever grateful to God for not making a formal marriage possible much as we tried.
Did you at any time have any fear of not making it to 70?
Like most of us, I have walked through the valley of death uncountable times. But the saving power in the death of my Lord Jesus on the cross at Calvary liquidates death into just a shadow. Your shadow can imitate you but it can never hurt you. Today in mature faith, when fear knocks, my faith answers. In the name of Jesus, fear is nothing more than ” False Expectations Appearing Real”. Now at 70, I have claimed the grace given to Job at his restoration to live an additional 140 years in divine health, peace, and prosperity (Job 42:16). May that grace come upon each and all of us as we pray in faith. Amen
Amen. Would you say you are fulfilled and accomplished?
I am grateful to God for His gifts. I do thankfully acknowledge that I am gifted with more than average courage, integrity, intelligence, and perspicacity. All of these have molded a personal brand in me which people may react to or interpret in different ways. I am not a slave to money or wealth; I am gifted to operate at a level far superior to wealth & its vanities. However, with so much poverty amid God-given abundance, so much despondency in a land of grace, and so much failure of leadership in a land blessed with oases of untapped competence, it is very difficult to find all-round fulfillment.
How have you been able to manage the transition from a core professional to a minister in God’s vineyard?
It is in Him that we live and have our being. The jobs that we manifest are an expression of the guiding Spirit in us. The inner spirit defines the man, whether Business Executive, Politician, Engineer, or Professor. For many years as a Bank Executive, I was also a serving Priest and Evangelist. So you could say that balancing & blending was ingrained. Please, allow me to mention that there are many Godly souls out there who do not wear the collar of Priesthood but who bring the fruits of the Spirit to bear upon their jobs, relationships, and routines. Contrarily, we also find some that flaunt big titles and positions in the Church whose lives hardly manifest the calling. For instance, why would any Man of God celebrate or support marriage between two men or between two women or other blatantly unbiblical acts? Why would any live in the stupour of wealth at the expense and extortion of a majority poor?
You had a very successful career, rich with many milestones. What were your success principles?
A) Proverbs 3:5-7: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart; lean not unto your understanding. In all your ways, acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths. Be not wise in your own eyes, fear the Lord & depart from evil”.
B) Ecclesiastes 12: 13-14: ” Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep His commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good or whether it be evil”.
God helping me, I have dissolved these into a behavioural template, an attitude audit of sorts, crystallised as: “What would the Lord Jesus do in this situation?”
What does success mean to you? What is success?
The materiality of success is in its being good and justifiable. My response to the last question above comes back into play. Success derived from greed, avarice, iniquity, and unrighteousness is vanity and sin. Unfortunately, that is the currency of success in our world today. There can be no greater measure of success than the praise of our Saviour saying: “Well done, good & faithful servant”(Matthew 25:23). This is the acid test of success and often the world around us should give that feedback even while we are yet alive.
Looking back, Are there things you wished you did that you haven’t been able to do? Are there things you did that you wish you had not done?
As a young man, there was a courtship that I led myself into that I would regret for life. That was because I was not prayerful at the time so I bear the scar of its punishment as a cross. Our young people must be guided by what the Bible admonishes: “Be not unequally yoked”. In adult life, most of my decisions are prefaced by and predicated upon prayer. Following the maxim “What would the Lord Jesus do (WWJD) in the situation”, I would then predicate a decision based on the material facts available at the time and move on. If the temperature & pressure base of our decisions change over time as it sometimes happens in life, the sanctity of decision is hardly vitiated. As they say, hindsight is always 20/20. But there are by far more things ahead for me to accomplish. I aspire to live the rest of my life as proof to all that I am privileged to meet that God is indeed alive and at work in their situations. In Yoruba, lati ma a fi iwalaye Olorun, ati iwa laaye Re han ninu aiye gbogbo enia (Matthew 25:35-45).
What are the major high and low moments of your life?
A few lows in life, all deriving from taking my life into my hands rather than relying on God for help (Proverbs 3: 5-7) as counselled by my father in his lifetime. Incidentally, the lowest and the highest moments are as coterminous as they are co-significant. I pray that younger ones learn a lesson from my pitfall. (Proverbs 3:5-7; 1 Sam 23:1-13). Starting life with the wrong partner is like building a highway to hell. You rapidly multiply evil within and attract evil from outside. Life becomes an unending war as you struggle with spiritual and existential attacks from forces within who systematically collude with forces outside, especially at work. Only those destined by God can overcome this self-inflicted fatality.
None of the two men who drank from this evil source ahead of me survived it. Both were cut down at the peak of their lives and significance. I guess this is what David meant in verse 4 of his famous Psalm 23. Those who have the opportunity must watch the movie titled “Baby’s Day Out”. It perfectly chronicles my nightmare. Fortuitously for me, “the divine rod and the staff” precluded a formal marriage, despite many attempts over years of cohabitation.
It was only providence that used these fatalistic experiences to locomote me to the source of real power and salvation, far beyond the realm of surface Christianity. Once immersed in the blood of Jesus (Proverbs 18:10), I needed to grow in the spirit and in proper discipleship for years to begin to contemplate a proper Christian marriage. Becoming equally yoked in matrimony was the beginning of my happiness. It was like rebuilding life’s foundation on solid rock, rather than on quicksands. The only thing that makes these harrowing nightmares of the past worth remembering is the duty to teach younger Christians on the pathway of Godly foundations. If you pick an apple from any tree, there is a chance to pick poison and death. If you let God choose for you, He will give you only the best for life (Matthew 7: 9-11; 18).
Please share a couple of very challenging periods of your career. What made them challenging and how did you overcome them?
Challenges are the growth tonic. They strengthen faith, build inner strength, fortitude, and experience. When President Ibrahim Babangida devalued the Naira in the eighties, I had the direct executive responsibility for business at the Nigerian-American Merchant Bank, the Bank of Boston affiliate in Nigeria. We were making good Naira profits ahead of target, but translated to dollars in the books of the parent bank, we were doing only a fraction of the target. It was like running on a treadmill, expending every energy without leaving the spot. Of course, Americans hire and fire on a good day. Maintaining grades and position became a challenge but the Lord rose to our help. The devaluation and a few other fiscal developments created fee-based Corporate finance opportunities for us in the marketplace.
My key associates, many of who are still alive and well, rose squarely to the new challenges and exceeded expectations. I want to pay special tribute to them, especially to my friend, Joe Billy Ekwunife, now of blessed memory. Joe Billy led a 27-Bank multi credit syndication, the largest in banking history at the time, to facilitate Guinness Nigeria’s acquisition of an extensive grain farm and processing plant in Niger State to replace barley hops placed under a Federal importation ban. Deservedly for him, and proudly for me, Joe Billy proceeded much later to become a Bank CEO in Nigeria.
The Owena to Omegabank transformation in the mid-nineties probably remains the exemplar of a classic corporate turnaround in Nigeria and probably beyond. Executed in three phases categorised as Surgery, Convalescence, and Ascension. This was a most gratifying, divinely enabled blend of Strategy, focus, courage, and determination. It unfolded multi-faceted lessons in corporate turnaround with spin-offs in the financial and capital markets, the regulatory, and even the Judiciary. It revolutionised the concept of customer service within and beyond the banking sector with a new refrain: “The Customer is King”.
There was also the attempted takeover of the bank by an investor (Alaaye Investments). It was a well-intended but badly executed and wrongly advised bid which led to a bitter regulatory scuffle and resulted in a five-year legal battle from the High Court, through the Appeal Court, and ultimately the Supreme Court. Our corporate resistance was a struggle for justice, exposing the danger that beclouds society when individuals become more powerful than the institutions they represent. Sadly, amongst many oddities, the Director General of the Securities & Exchange Commission at the time, a real bull in a China shop if I may opine, had spent 18 years in office against a maximum of 10 years allowed by the constitution of the organisation. Unchallenged & unchained, he was already doing the fourth term of 5 years instead of a maximum of two. The essence is that all of his deeds, actions & malfeasance for 8 years as DG of SEC were illegal and unauthorized.
This man illegally suspended trading in the shares of many publicly quoted companies for years causing huge financial damage to Innocent shareholders & fundamental disruptions to a nascent market. Could anyone imagine the rupture that would have followed if Omegabank took up its legal counsel to sue for damages caused by the SEC’s illegal suspension of trading in the shares of the bank for 3 years? In the event, our Board decided to act in the best interests of the wider public once the Supreme Court had vindicated our position. Thanks to the Supreme Court, our litigation led to a tangible reformation of the Securities & Exchange Commission, the Capital market Regulator which in itself, like our Central Bank and many of our core institutions today, needed not only to be regulated but to be grounded and supervised in routine good governance.
Aside from the victory for the bank and for the sanity of the entire Capital Market, I was to gain deep spiritual insights. This led to a tangible reformation at the Securities & Exchange Commission, the regulator of the Capital Market. Aside from victory for the bank, I was to gain deep spiritual insights and wisdom from Mr. J. F. Familusi, the Principal Investor with whom we were in bitter court battles for five years. This man turned out to be a perfect, well-meaning gentleman who relied on the wrong set of advisors and power brokers. Contrary to the Yoruba axiom that we never return from the Courts to be friends, I returned from a bitter and protracted legal tussle to gain a new Uncle from whom I learned humility, a perfectly clean heart, and a clear conscience. I frequently think of Uncle Familusi as a Bishop of the Heart and he will probably remain one of my most admired elders.
The Bible’s invocation that if a man’s ways please the Lord, He makes even his enemies be at peace with him (Proverbs 16:7) became mutually operative in the relationship between Uncle JF & I). When I was honoured with a Doctorate by a notable Nigerian University in 2001, my wife and I were moved to tears of joy to see Uncle JF as one of the Chief Hosts receiving guests into our residence for the reception. When we needed a Cook and a Domestic Manager, Uncle JF was the man who got Simon for us, our longest-standing Cook of over 10 years. A wonderful blessing right from the throes of battle.
One of the public lessons from the illegal takeover bid of Omegabank is that Impunity thrives in a subservient and indolently acquiescent society. When a decade later, a ubiquitous and powerful elected Nigerian President attempted a third term tenure, he was challenged and stopped by a National Legislative Assembly that courageously rose to its duty of service to the Nation. Since the last eight years of General Buhari’s regime, the same national Legislative Assembly would appear to have submitted its constitutionally derived independence and become subservient to the Executive which not only chooses who leads the Legislative Houses but also decides how it functions. This completely invalidates and vitiates our Constitutional democracy.
That’s awesome. I remember this vividly. You are yet to write your memoirs. While we wait for that, may we have a brief insight into the story of Owena Bank as told by you, the major actor
Over the years, I have repeatedly asked myself two questions regarding the Owena to Omegabank transformation. The first question is could it have been done without Divine intervention? My answer has always been NO. The second is could it have been done with God using other people besides us? My answer is YES. There were by far too many times when we, the Turnaround Team, reached the limit of our human intellect and capacity only for God Almighty to show up and take over. Take this for example. The first CBN approval, with a limited budget to open a new branch, was Oshodi. We moved swiftly to identify and remodel a property in Oshodi.
With heavy involvement and supervision of the building contractor by our General Services staff, the branch was ready and commissioned for business in record time. The take-off was impressive as new customers flooded the branch to enjoy our newly inaugurated customer service initiatives. No customer spends more than 10 minutes in the branch to cash a cheque of N1 million and below. If we fail, we pay a penalty promptly to the customer. We dawdle, we pay. Customers moved to the branch in great numbers from the old-generation banks. Then a few months after commissioning, the Oshodi branch came under the hammer of the General Abdulkareem Adisa-led Ministry of Works who had marked almost our entire street and others for demolition being too close to public sewage lines. Then the demolitions started.
Our Faith Fellowship got on the wall to pray, raising several prayer cells across our network of branches. I made an appointment to see the Minister, General Adisa (now of blessed memory). He had a reputation as a no-nonsense Military Officer who refused to entertain any meetings on properties marked for demolition. The first surprise came on Monday that the Minister has agreed to see me on Thursday, provided he returned in time from a trip to Kwara. At our Wednesday Fellowship, a prophetic assurance as in the Bible book of 2 Kings 19:31-33 was given by one of the Fellowship Coordinators. The essence was that the branch will neither be destroyed nor even touched.
Two hours after the Fellowship on Wednesday, the Branch Manager of Oshodi rushed in with great panic to her Executive Director with Polaroid photos of the building next to ours being demolished. Our branch was to be the next. I joined the ED, his Branch Manager, and some members of the Fellowship to pray. The Coordinator repeated his earlier prophecy that the building will not be touched. He kept smiling and muttering this repeatedly to our utter panic. We all went home early around 8 pm because we lost the spirit to concentrate on work.
The Manager of General Services left for Oshodi. Traffic as usual was heavy so he got there after 10.30 pm. The bulldozer was positioned right in front of our branch and they were to start demolition the next morning. Around 8 am on Thursday when they were to start, the bulldozer refused to work. They sent for the engineer who showed up around 10.30 am and finished the repairs around 1.30 pm. I was at the Minister’s office in Marina before 9 am for my 10 am appointment. It was my first time meeting General Adisa in person. I was mesmerised by how pleasant he was. He joked about being a no-nonsense Artilleryman. All of that time our Fellowship Cells and the Muslim Fellowship were on the wall and the mat praying. Around 10.15 am, the Minister’s PA came in with two cups of coffee and biscuits in a tray. I politely declined mine as I was too nervous.
Then General Adisa asked jokingly if I would give him golf lessons. I eagerly agreed. Still joking, he asked if I refused his coffee because his modest government office had no Champagne to entertain visitors as we did in the banks. He said he would only listen to my request if I drank coffee with him. I grabbed the cup in front of me clumsily, spilling a bit of the contents on my shirt. We made some small talk as I pleaded with him about the bank’s precarious situation. Then came the surprise. He walked into his PA’S office and instructed that the demolition squad at Oshodi be told to cancel the demolition of the bank branch. He walked back to his office with outstretched white tissue paper for me to clean my white shirt. I almost fainted in excitement.
This was how General Adisa and I became friends of some sort. Back in the bank, the excitement was tumultuous. When I asked General Adisa months later why he changed his mind, he said the branch was in a marketplace and that he felt sorry about destroying “owo oniru ati owo alata“. It was the perfect demonstration of divine favour, that unseen spiritual chemical that turns tribulations and tempests into testimony. The Lord who controls the hearts of Kings as rivers of flowing water (Proverbs 21:11), took control of the Minister’s heart. Halleluyah.
The following week on Tuesday, another happenstance. Our guarded cash van on specie movement to the same Oshodi and Ikeja branches was attacked by Armed robbers with severe gunshot injuries to our staff and Police Escorts. Luckily no one died. Then the robbers had a disagreement later leading to a shootout. Like a horror movie, most of our looted cash was recovered. These two miracles back to back filled up the front pages of the major newspapers, with public references to ” that praying bank”.
As you mentioned, the full details of the Owena/Omega turnaround will come in one or two books. But just a little teaser, Owena was no 3 on the list of State-owned banks which had come under CBN holding action with FX licenses seized and the banks suspended from Clearing. Regulatory holding action was like an advance warrant of death, stipulating remedial actions that owners and management must quickly procure. All the banks were insolvent with huge non-performing loans and severely impaired capital. The banks had invariably been run as Treasuries and Labour centres of the owner state.
Owena Bank’s Technical Managers, the Middle East Bank had served a notice to withdraw. Then the newly-elected Governor of the owner State, Ondo State, His Excellency, Ambassador Bamidele Olumilua, an urbane and highly experienced Administrator, took it upon himself to save the bank by finding a new Managing Director, Nigerian or Expatriate. One of the handing over literature that I received from the outgoing expatriate MD was a very detailed investigation & management Report compiled by a highly respected firm of Management Consultants. It was a most revealing report that outlined the causes and details of the bank’s hemorrhage.
Understandably, the expatriate MD and his team felt too vulnerable to take any of the major actions to save the bank. NUBIFIE, the labour union representing junior bank workers all over the country was extremely virulent and tempestuous. The National President of NUBIFIE happened to be a Supervisor level staff of Owena Bank who was more powerful than a General Manager. He had declined promotion to Officer grade several times as this would have pushed him out of the junior ranks and out of NUBIFIE. It was he that gave the order for NUBIFIE members to rally and lock up the newly-appointed MD of another bank on a familiarisation tour of branches. The MD innocently entered the vault of his Branch & was promptly locked in until his deputies approved certain demands from the Union. This Supervisor had an official car and driver conscripted to himself as Supervisor of the carpool in the Admin and General Services department.
He had his retinue of protocol staff who played ludo & ayo olopon with him day long during working hours. Of course, the bank was a labour centre for who is who in the Ondo State government. Stories had it that a particularly influential lawyer would storm the MD’s office with CVs of relatives and walk out with letters of offer of employment at grades determined by him. There were instances of whole families (husband, wife, and sometimes a child on holiday or Internship job) working in different departments of the bank. At a time in the early nineties when most officer-level staff in banks were graduates or professionally certified, Area Managers at Owena and other insolvent State-owned banks were holders of the old Teachers’ Grade II certificates.
One Branch Manager possessed only the Modern III school certificate. Loans were given out as bribes or as political patronage from powerful State government officials on the back of their business cards. More than 70% of the Loan book had been non-performing for 3-5 years. Of course, the bank was frequently thrown out of Clearing not being able to stay afloat. This is just a sketch eye view of the bank’s affairs. It was clear that turning it around was not going to be a tea party. Board members and very senior Executives were widely compromised and frequently blackmailed by the virulent NUBIFIE “government”. They had photos of female staff in compromising positions with Directors at the bank’s guest House in Ikoyi.
Our turnaround template was broken into three phases categorised as Surgery, Convalescence, and Ascension/Growth. Both the CBN and the newly started NDIC were very supportive and saw a resolution template that could help solve the growing distress in the banking sector. Mr Victor Odozi, brilliant, roundly-experienced, and very courageous Deputy Governor of Policy at CBN gave outstanding support. When the Surgery phase began, nobody, not even the Board was ready for the storm. We followed the recommendations in the Management Consultant’s report and weeded over 40% of the staff for various clearly labelled impairments. It was a war during which some Directors were implicated in drowning staff that they could not save.
Governor Olomilua came under unbearable pressure to stop what he called the “bloodletting”. I was invited to a meeting at his office in Akure at which I explained that the bank had been gravely sick with cancer for years and would surely die if it kept taking analgesics and pain relief instead of submitting to Surgery. That was the origin of the rumour that the new MD of Owena Bank was a Surgeon rather than a trained Bank Executive. It was on the front page of most newspapers. I recall that Chief Akintunde Asalu, self-styled Chairman of the Nigerian Shareholders Solidarity Association, cheekily wrote to me demanding that I send my CV for his evaluation. I ignored him loudly and he came loaded with supporters to fight me at an Annual General Meeting in Port-Harcourt. We put him in his place with an unforgettable highlight, and he never again came out to fight.
By the way, I never realised that the man was severely asthmatic. He was a mature and advanced version of the NUBIFIE, and they were working together. Through the intervention of the Late Apostle Hayford Alile, the highly respected DG of the Nigerian Stock Exchange, Chief Asalu and I were later to become very friendly. In the aftermath of my meeting with Governor Olumilua, I wrote my undated notice of Resignation to the Board giving 90 days’ notice and asking that at any point that the Board unanimously disagreed with the implementation of the turnaround programme, they should date the letter and notify me. I did this for two reasons: to show that my responsibility was to take care of the best interests of all shareholders, including Ondo State but not excluding others. That I was responsible for a Board which had 2 Directors out of 5 representing Ondo state. At the meeting earlier, I had politely advised against the language in the letter of invitation which stated that the MD was ” instructed” to report for a meeting at the Governor’s office. I politely advised that I was honoring the invitation by my Governor as a diligent citizen of Ondo State. The Governor politely smiled his encouragement and said I was welcome as a citizen of the state who they all were proud of. He was later to call me to acknowledge how I presented at the meeting. Over the years, I had always thought that His Excellency Governor Olomilua was one of the few politicians that had the right background & preparations to run a country like Nigeria. May the Lord rest his soul. Amen. This was the clincher of a deterrent.
The CBN received its copy and wrote to the Board with a copy to the Governor of Ondo State that the departure of the new MD will trigger a default of the agreed CBN intervention with consequences. It was only from this point on that we could face up to the Surgery squarely.
We were confronted with kidnap attempts by NUBIFIE but we fought back and this signalled the end of NUBIFIE as a destructive war machine and its reformation to a responsible labour union. Once the notorious Supervisor and his gang were dismissed from Owena Bank (meaning that no other bank could employ them), they lost the platform and were promptly replaced by NUBIFIE.
The Surgical Phase lasted two very long years followed by a one-year Convalescence and Healing phase during which we hired and trained new competencies, and brought out new customer service initiatives which were applauded country-wide. Our new initiatives became frequent case studies for the new Lagos Business School and some universities including one overseas. As the bank’s reputation soared we rounded up the Convalescence phase with two programmes:
1) An Initial Public Offer (IPO) to raise capital from new investors pan Nigeria to diffuse the majority stake and control of Ondo State. This was reasonably well received by investors from far-flung places such as Borno, Bayelsa, Niger, and other states. This was the beginning of the agitation that the bank’s name, a trademark for most Ondo State investments, be changed from Owena.
2) In recognition of God’s healing mercies on the institution and protection of its staff, we started a Corporate Thanksgiving programme through several Church denominations and mosques. We inaugurated the weekly HYMNS of Praise on Radio channels and the Corporate Christmas Carol on the first Friday of December to usher in the Christmas Season. The Muslim Fellowship also inaugurated equivalent initiatives which became very successful.
The Growth Phase took off on the wings of these successes and I believe this was the origin of attempts to take over the bank. At the beginning of the Ascension or Growth Phase, we accelerated hiring, training, and core competencies development as a prelude to country-wide expansion in Nigeria. We threw open to the public our name change initiative under a Committee chaired by Professor Ralph Akinfeleye, then Dean of Mass Communication Faculty at the University of Lagos. We simply told the Nigerian public to give the bank a new name and the response was overwhelming as it was infectious. The eventual winning entry, OMEGABANK, came from a member of the National Youth Service Corps in Borno State. Omega was the first Nigerian bank to receive Regulatory approval to start an overseas subsidiary operation, Home Access Incorporated, in Atlanta Georgia, USA.
Apart from initiating extensive Customer Service reforms in the industry, we decided to give back to society through notable and infectious social service initiatives. For example, we seized a golden opportunity to publicly celebrate a staff of a Lagos-based major Hotel, who out of rare personal honesty, found a reasonable amount in foreign currency misplaced by a guest, and handed it over to Management who returned this to the customer. The public joined us to serenade this hotel staff, and we subsequently offered him a permanent job in the bank as the human face of our HONESTY PAYS ” Social Responsibility Campaign.
To God be all the glory. This was a very challenging and tumultuous period of your career, congratulations sir. What has life in retirement been like? How have you kept yourself busy?
I retired as the CEO of the bank in December 2005 and was Chairman of the consolidated Bank for about two years thereafter. I took a huge investment to industrialise my home base but failed, ending up with serial debts and losses. It was a catastrophe, but I am grateful for life, and for divine protection. It could have been worse. Most people say that I look healthier and younger today, than I looked nearly two decades ago as CEO. I am grateful to God for good health, for abiding peace, and especially for a wonderful home of a loving, contented, and God-fearing wife and children. Indeed, God knows the end from the beginning. Seventy is the official age of retirement in the Priesthood in the structured, orthodox Churches. But the calling and the Apostolic transmission are for life. Having tapped the anointing of Job for an additional 140 years of life, I may be getting soon into a new phase of Ministry which will fruitfully engage my family and me until my final breadth. Never say ever!
If you had the opportunity to manage the Nigerian economy, what would you do differently, and what would be your priorities?
Nigeria is in a sorry state. Some people have described today’s Nigeria as a crime scene. The most benevolent commentary I can offer is that Nigeria and its economy are in a king-size mess. Management of the economy has trended progressively downwards for decades. The colonial Civil Service and the nascent Military were relatively efficient and well-trained. Not long after the discovery of petroleum, the attitude of the government and its leaders became that of the prodigal son. I recall General Gowon saying, with what some described as reckless abandon, that the problem of Nigeria was not money but how to spend it. If the successive military gangs had better discipline than the civilians, they had little or no preparations in managing an economy constipated with unprecedented dollar inflows.
At the inception of the present run of presidential democracy in 1999, the Military class who had become the owners of Nigeria dominated and dictated the pace so it was a militarised democracy, with the so-called retired ” Generals” emerging as President, Senate President, and their boys as Governors. The inception budget of the Obasanjo Presidency in 1999 was a deja vu budget with autocratic alacrity. What was budgeted to repair the Lagos to Benin Federal Expressway was more than the entire national budget 10 years earlier. It was also in multiples of the original cost of construction. The money all disappeared and what we saw were thousands of vanity personal photos of the President and his Minister of Works lining the road from Lagos to Benin.
Twenty-three years later today, with several succeeding administrations allocating several trillions of Naira, thousands of lives, properties, and man hours lost through the drain pipe, that repair is still not completed. Completion has become a mirage despite many target dates shifting like the sands of the seashore. Nigerians continue to suffer on the road with many dying in accidents, and of aggravated medical conditions. The last Minister, one of the brightest heads in successive governments, must have given no less than a dozen target completion dates, giving lectures to Nigerians as if he was doing Nigerians a favour. That is the type of reckless, unfeeling impunity that has characterised leadership in Nigeria.
Institutions have been stripped naked whilst transient officeholders became tin gods. National wealth is piled up for proxies in the business sector whilst Nigerians are starving. This has led to a severe confidence crisis as to whether the current system of democracy can solve our problems. The outgone Buhari government was the ultimate disaster. There are just no words to describe gross impunity, incompetence, fraud, and demagoguery. Nigerians may not be appeased and their confidence reasonably restored until that government is comprehensively probed and culprits brought to justice as a deterrent to future blatant malfeasance.
For more than half a century, leaders have asked Nigerians to persevere in suffering even as they pile up loot for their unborn generations. We are sitting on a time bomb, and we must recognise this. If the poor man can not feed, the rich may not sleep. Ultimately, power will erupt from a people under siege. So, in terms of economic management, we require a completely new paradigm. Below is a back-of-the-envelope sketch of an economic turnaround template for Nigeria. Of course, it would require to be developed, contextualised, and texturised :
- Nigerians have lost the feel-good psyche. Nobody can do any good if he consistently feels bad. We must return the country to a foundation of happy citizens. The recent spiral in petroleum prices is an invitation to Armageddon, even though subsidy removal is the way to go. The implementation was crude, unfeeling, and dangerous for a new government. Nigerians are overdue for a direct benefit award, undiluted, and unmitigated by government protocol and government rats. I recall the jubilation that greeted the Simeon Adebo awards in the seventies which helped people like me to get to University. It can and should be professionally fiscalised to avoid inflation hype. This is feasible and can be easily conceptualised, developed, and implemented.
- This cash grant to all Nigerians should be the first direct shot in the arm, in a matrix of other fundamental reforms. It is to show Nigerians that we appreciate your sufferings & /forbearances these past decades, and we are determined to serve you better and with higher transparency. It should be followed immediately by an effective turnaround of the existing government refineries within 3- 6 months. The refineries must not be sold or privatized as the government’s track record in this is perilous. Each should be contracted out to competing, competent foreign & local management under strict turnaround objectives. There is nothing fundamentally wrong with these refineries besides the toxicity of government management & the deliberate poisons which vested interests have planted to ensure that the refineries do not function well. The medium-term paradigm should be accelerated social infrastructure in transportation (rail, road & water) for the benefit of the masses.
- Government must reduce the costs of governance across all levels. Ministries and Departments must be strategically restructured through combinations to achieve a target reduction. Under present existential realities, the Federal & State governments should make do with no more than 20-22 for Federal & 16-18 State Ministries. Several organs of government which have existed only to intoxicate corruption and graft should be expunged.
- For the right moral signals to a long-suffering populace, the perks and salaries of the President, Vice President, and the Executive branch, as seemingly insufficient as they may seem, should be pegged for a year or two in the spirit of sacrificial leadership. The outrageous package of benefits for the Legislative Assembly should be knifed. In the medium run, Nigeria should be looking to find its homegrown system of government that requires Federal and State Legislatures to have part-time members rather than full-time politicians. We must stop looking at politics as a business or a profession rather than service to the fatherland. The President should lead from the front by taking the knife to spurious and contagious excesses surrounding Aso Rock. For example, let’s reduce the Presidential Air Fleet to the minimum, and spin-off a national airline from the excesses.
- There are by far too much graft and a lack of productivity in the civil service. The entire civil service needs to be “productivised and professionalised” through “functions mapping” across ministries and departments. Redundant staff should be empowered in Agricultural production and well delineated Small & Medium Scale entrepreneurship. The relevant support and facilitation framework should be well worked out.
- To save the economy, the President and the ruling party must start appointing tested technocrats and professionals into the core earning Ministries and Departments. It would be nice to have at least three nominees compete for slots through presentations on what they can achieve in the context of cost/reward profiles. To be sure that they have the preparations, each nominee should juxtapose his proposed budget versus achievements/results.
- There should be a highly empowered Performance Monitoring Unit in the Office of The President to evaluate performance assessments quarterly with feedback to the Ministers. Two consecutive unacceptable quarterly feedback will be enough notice, and the search for a replacement should crystallise upon a third quarterly fail. The President’s performance management team should also include a social interface function that engages with the citizens and enables them to make patriotic inputs and suggestions. I imagine that on account of the gross failure in the Lagos – Benin expressway alone, many of the Ministers of Works in charge since 1999 would not have lasted a year in office. Ditto for the CBN Governor.
- Tame the absolutes and the excesses. If there was ever a Federal Competition & Consumer Protection Agency in Nigeria, it never worked. Why should over 200 million Nigerians be placed for slaughter by any entrepreneur or group of interests who control 50% or more of any product or service? Worse, many such products are basic, mass-market necessities. Many existing, emerging, or potential competitors have been killed directly or indirectly by government policy or intervention to protect favoured oligarchs. New Consumer Protection laws that limit control in any industry, product, or service to a maximum of 5% by any group or interest should be formulated and strictly enforced. In the same way, no single interest or group should be allowed under any circumstance to hold more than 5% shareholding in any Deposit Money Bank in the interest of the public
- Rather than search for horses after they have escaped, we should learn to keep the stable gates locked. Currently, we give Ministers, civil servants, and contractors every latitude to steal and then we pursue them haphazardly with the Police, ICPC, EFCC, and the Judiciary, exposing the entire system to the corruption virus. Let us now “front-end” due diligence checks and structures on all government contracts and expenditures. The World Bank offers free training & support to governments in this area.
- The Central Bank is far too debased and will need a total overhaul. This is not going to be easy at all. The government must stop appointing politicians at any level in the CBN or other regulatory agencies. The regulators’ mind frame is the exact antithesis of what politicians are. A politician as Head of CBN or SEC is like a head Cowboy presiding as Bishop over the Holy Communion.
- The Nigeria Police are too far gone and may not make it. Let us begin to think of a total top-to-bottom change and restructuring into State Police and Local Government Sheriffs. When the State Governor and his Exco are responsible for hiring and paying their Police, it’s more difficult for the Police to steal or promote criminality in the domain. At the Federal level, the Police should be reformed as a superior Bureau of Investigations combining all of what CID, DSS, EFCC, ICPC, etc are currently doing, along with a Special Branch. These are just the touchstone highlights and will require to be texturised and contextualised by the author.
- The last-minute conversion of the NNPC into a private limited liability company with selected shareholders from a particular ethnic & religious base is at best opaque, probably fraudulent, and tendencious, with criminal intentionality. The NNPC is the single most significant national heritage that must be held in trust for all Nigerians, and their future generations. It is the height of impunity and calumny to have privatized it. This should be immediately reversed with profound apologies to Nigerians on behalf of the outgone government. As with CBN. the management of the NNPC should be disbanded and subjected to forensic “A grade audits” by an international firm of redoubtable character, competence & standing. This will be a golden chance for President Tinubu to show that he wants to serve the best interests of Nigeria and disprove the widely but silently held notion that he is another cowboy who has come to feather his nest and that of his friends and associates.
These are indeed far-reaching recommendations from a brilliant and experienced mind like you. Can Nigeria regain its lost glory? What do we need to do in addition to what you have highlighted above?
With God, nothing shall be impossible. It is quite feasible but will neither be a day journey nor a hundred-meter dash. Too much elemental and systemic damage has been done, and it is far easier to burn than to build. I would like to offer the following hard-to-swallow suggestions:
1. Nigeria and indeed our entire World must be taken back to the Almighty God. Psalm 24 says” The earth and the fullness of it belong to God”. Moving away from God or refusing to acknowledge HIM does not change the fact of His exclusive pre-eminent ownership. Life harbours no vacuum. If you send God out of your public and private lives, guns will go in. We need a Prophet Elijah to gather us back to God on Mount Camel and slaughter the evil gods that the world worships today. Only then can the famine end and the showers of blessings return. I make bold with a prophecy. Let’s watch America (formerly God’s Own Country/In God We Trust). Let us watch and learn from this very significant World Power. Unless it races back to God and surrenders sovereignty to HIM, America as we all know it will be progressively and extensively hit on all sides until, like Babylon, it disintegrates.
So far our Religious leaders have failed. Rather than taking the light into the world, the darkness in the world has permeated our Churches and Mosques. Today, the worshippers of idols uphold better justice and stand a better chance of making heaven than many of our loud and bigger-than-life General Overseers, Super Bishops, and Imams. The mission fields must reverse according to Matthew 25: 35-45.
2. The Presidential democracy has been overwhelmed by the powerful negative peculiarities of Nigerians. As long as leaders continue to systematically impoverish followers to the point of absolute hunger and surrender, and then buy their votes for peanuts, the cycle of bad leaders and poor acquiescent followers will eventually produce disaster. Unfortunately, we lose on all sides as the leaders who pile up everything surely do not end well (Psalm 37). There is something to study in the homegrown governance systems in China & others for subsequent acculturation and digestion into a new template of governance for Africa. From a backwood nation bedevilled by corruption and other developmental vices, China has surged to World leadership within five short decades.
3. As for Nigeria, we must begin to give serious thought to restructuring. Currently, we are nothing more than a loosely assembled package of different, diverse, and disparate ethnicity. Nigeria came to be as an accident of the commercial opportunism of our colonial masters. Today, we are a loose combination of mutual irritants. Each of the major ethnic nations is congruous and big enough to peacefully transit into independent nation-states. Each of Biafra, Oodua, Hausa North, Middle Belt, Delta, or South-South is bigger in size, economy, and potential than half of the World’s current nation-states. The Yorubas say that if the estate of one’s father multiplies, it should not bring a furore (Nkan baba eni ki i di meji, ko di ija). The owners of Nigeria and their proxies will not like this and will call it attempts to disintegrate; lack of patriotism and every detestable name. Nobody likes to see their empire reduce. It is easier to steal and loot in a king-size mess that belongs to no one in particular. A Yoruba President can loot in a big no man’s land in ubiquitous Nigeria far more easily than he can loot in a close circuit Oodua Nation. Whilst the looters continue to protect their fiefdom, let everyone’s eyes be opened to see and count the daily losses in a ubiquitous fiefdom.
Finally, sir, what would be your advice to today’s crop of bank executives?
I am not sure if I am competent to do this. There has been a total and complete change of paradigm in the profession of banking that groomed and grooved us. I am sure that to the crop of today’s bank executives, many of us old-school bank executives look like native Aborigines. It’s difficult to blame them. The values and the culture have changed too radically. How many of today’s banks can outlay a budget of a few million dollars to train and groom one executive over a planned period?
Most of the banks do not even have that kind of budget to train their entire workforce. And why should they if the bank can spend the money on automation? But in the ultimate run, banking, unlike a brewery, is a professional service that best comes out of people rather than from a soulless machine. So, if the organisation shows more love to the machine than to the long-term development of staff, how can we blame an executive whose patriotism for his employment is purely in the immediate or at best in the short term? The banking of our day is not the same as the banking of today. In our time, we genuinely hungered after skill acquisition and professional expertise to not only take us to the top but to strengthen us permanently as professional originators of thought process capable of expanding the frontiers of knowledge.
Apart from intrinsic, tough training, and exposure regimes, we had great role models in our superiors. Today, it is the here-and-now etiquette, and most models available are rogue models. Loud, showy, flamboyant, as well as being any and everything that we were trained in conservatism not to be or to reflect. So, today’s bank executives, like their colleagues in business and government, tend to climb furiously a ladder of progress well placed against the wrong wall.
Let me end by saying this. Banking is a business of thin spreads. Over ninety percent of capital at risk belongs to the public. The bank makes a small spread by allocating this pool to well-predicated borrowers and businesses. That spread is constantly threatened by the changing risks in the operating environment. That spread certainly does not easily digest the reckless exuberance that we see today in executive perks and corporate jets. We had a professional refrain in those days that a marble headquarters will ultimately kill a bank.
As many banks as we have that engaged in the superfluity and financial recklessness that we see here today, in America, and Europe’s developed banking terrains, went down. Bank of America, Citi Bank, and many others went down a few times and were recapitalised by a system that has limitless government access to funds that they do not work for. America does not labour for or pay interest on the sovereign dollar reserves of other nations. In our context, there is nothing like being too big to fail and our regulatory apparatus must be trained adequately to realise and operationalise that salient reality.
In our own corner of the World, there are no free lunches, nor should there be anything too big to fail in our banking and wider business ecosystems. Our Regulatory and Governance apparatus must be trained and constantly reminded not only to remember but also to consistently operationalise this salient reality.
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