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6. Resting At The Right Time

A year after the meeting with his former chairman, the bank’s balance sheet size had grown by almost 50% and merchant banking was showing great potential in the suddenly oil-rich economy.

He had just persuaded the mandarins of the Central Bank of Nigeria to drop the requirement for a technical partner when Nigerians or Nigerian entities applied for banking licenses as long as they had the requisite technical expertise.

He also felt that Nigerians should be encouraged to take up investing through shareholding. This thinking wasn’t altogether as altruistic as it sounded, since his bank’s customer base would become larger the bigger the size of the investing public.

A few years later he actualised his thinking when, unilaterally, he decided to sell a large block of his shares in the bank to eternally grateful members of staff who were willing to invest their money. They appreciated the offer which they knew he did not have to make. This was the beginning of the philosophical journey that led him to propose the indigenisation of foreign-owned banks and ultimately to the general indigenisation programme later embarked upon by the country.

The bank grew from strength to strength, pioneering most of the financial concepts and instruments largely taken for granted today.

In those days, businesses and their managers were largely assessed on the basis of cash generated and accumulated. A company with a cash bloated balance sheet was perceived as a high performer. He personally led the bank’s marketing effort to change mindsets and persuade businesses that idle or surplus cash could and should be put to work to earn additional income. In short order, commercial papers and other short term instruments were introduced, ushering in the Nigerian money markets.

Next, the bank turned its focus on creating a bond market and virtually wrote the rules on the market. The bank actually crafted a template of laws which a state seeking to access the bond market for funds had to adopt, since the laws of the time made no provisions for states to issue bonds. Corporate bonds quickly followed as the nascent capital market developed and prospered.

On a personal level, he was appointed to the country’s financial system review body where he articulated the positions underlying the recommendations to form the country’s premier financial regulatory body, the Securities and Exchange Commission. A couple of years earlier, he had been a member of the national body set up to review the public service apparatus. The subsequent distortion of the body’s recommendations at the implementation phase, with disastrous macroeconomic consequences, was a painful experience to all the members of the body, especially the chairman. The eponymously christened report damaged the reputation & public standing of the chairman greatly, perhaps even fatally.

Almost six years to the day he had his pivotal meeting on Wood Street and approximately ten years after joining the bank as an executive director, he surprised the bank’s board and the financial community in general by announcing his retirement. The bank had grown indisputably far beyond expectations and he felt he had done his work “very well and it was the right time to move on.”

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