Remembering Dennis Odife, Capital Market Reformer, One Year After

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Nwachukwu

Monday 3rd October, 2016, marked one year of the departure to the great beyond of Chief Dennis Onyemaechi Odife, MON, KSJ, former Chairman/Managing Director of Centrepoint Bank Plc, a foremost finance and capital market operator. He died in Abuja same date last year at the unripe age of 68 . I first met Odife in 1990 as a young journalist working for TSM magazine.

At that time, his Centrepoint Investments Limited was having running battle with power brokers in the nation’s capital market and he needed a channel to tell the world the truth since other media houses in Lagos appeared to have teamed up with his adversaries to bring his financial institution down. I offered him that platform and two days after the publication of his side of the case, CPI license was restored.

From then on, we became like Siamese twins; inseparable compatriots. I make bold to say that in all his battles in the last 25 years, I was solidly with him, not for monetary gains, but based on my firm believe in his philosophy and vision for Nigeria. During these trying periods, I also paid my price including being barred from covering the Nigerian Stock Exchange by those who labeled me ‘ODIFE BOY’. To them however, they did not know that I was more than a boy to him. I was his son, his brother, his disciple, his adviser and his image manager. I was also one of his ‘constructive critics’ and book reviewers.

One of the things I learnt from Odife was the spirit of resilience- the spirit of never say No. Chief Odife believes there is always an answer to every difficult situation.

He is also a perfectionist with excellent command of English Language even when he read Economics. As a prolific writer, no day passed without him writing or scribbling down something for the records. He was a journalist’s delight. It is unfortunate that his autobiography which has reached advanced stage was not published before his demise.
I must equally add that I was encouraged to go for an MBA (Master in Business Administration degree) by what he said about MBA graduates, himself being one.

Today, I am an author, speech writer and lecturer based on his influence. Before I joined Centrepoint Bank in 1999, I worked closely with him (behind the scene) in various spheres and capacities, with the wife and Secretary, Mrs. Margaret Alabi being the intermediaries. Most time people read articles in the media with my byline, or a pseudo name, but the truth is that the real author of those fine materials was my mentor, the apostle of capital market reform and free trade.

One incident I vividly remember was the one that took place shortly after I joined Centrepoint bank in September 1999. An organization invited Ogbuefi to deliver paper on a capital market issue. He minuted the letter to me as Head of Corporate Affairs and Special Assistant with a note to remind him. Rather than do that, I went to him requesting to do a draft of the speech for his approval. He looked at me and said “Obinna do you want to write speech for me?” I answered in the affirmative. He told me pointedly, “Nobody has ever written speech for me”.

I challenged him to give me a chance, he did, though reluctantly. Later, when I brought the draft of the speech to him, I was amazed that he did little correction on it. And that was how I became his official speech writer. That relationship will last forever and extend to our grand-children.
Suffice it to say that, our relationship flourished throughout his lifetime and extended to his wife, children and entire Odife family.

Based on his contributions to this country, I must say that Chief Odife needs little or no introduction. He was one of the most prominent figures in the Nigerian economy especially the money and capital markets which like a colossus he bestrode for over 30 years, helping various governments across the country formulate policies on monetary activities. He was also immediate Chairman of CentrePoint Bank Plc (merged with Unity Bank) and former Senatorial Candidate for Anambra North in the 2011 General Election. He had the unique campaign slogan of “ Anyi Nwelu Mmadu” (Anambra has people). Indeed, the state has people who have made their marks in various aspects of life in Nigeria and elsewhere, himself being one of them.

Odife was a firm believer in human capital development, industrialization, free market principles and liberal economy. The desire to achieve these ideas led to the establishment in 1979 of the now famous Centrepoint Investments limited and its sister organizations including Muar Industrial park , Ezenwegbu Foundation, Samsen Trust Plc and ICESPAR ( International Centre for Economic, Social & Political Analysis and Research.)

Armed with the simple idea of self-reliance and hard work, he and his wife Stella, a worthy companion of over 45 years, established Centrepoint from meagre resources, furnished it with an unusual array of talented men and women and set to do business with honesty and sincerity of purpose as their watch word.

The institutions he established and those he co-founded employed people from every ethnic group, race, religion and social status, including foreign nationals. The simple aim was to raise the Total Man/Woman. Before long, Centrpoint was transformed into the biggest private financial institution, whose renowned alumni and alumnae stud the finest places of human accomplishments both at home and abroad, including the immediate past DG of Securities and Exchange Commission, SEC, Ms Arunma Oteh. By this gesture, Odife spoke the common human language of philanthropy and exemplified the global spirit of openness of which our grossly polarized world is in dire need.

As a stockbroker and Issuing House, CPI did a lot of capital issues and so was more of an investment bank than a mere stock-broking firm. As an investment banker it conducted mergers and acquisitions jointly with some of the leading merchant banks in Nigeria at the time, and in each case, played the lead role. Perhaps a less understood role was the role as adviser to governments on capital market activities which was influenced substantially through papers and advisory reports even when not solicited.

Yet another role was international advisory work under which Odife visited the home offices of several multinationals to brief them on the state of affairs in the Nigerian economy and the capital market, especially from the points of view of investors in the UK, in France, in Asia, In Germany, in Belgium and in the United States. He also interacted with some multilateral agencies to the mutual benefit of both parties. Nigerian state governments were not left out. As a result, during the decade from 1980 to 1989, Centre Point Investments Limited was a market leader in all aspects of the Nigerian capital market, invoking considerable antagonism from the competition, some of which only manifested in the subsequent decade.

During that decade, Odife decided that the capital market needed to be restructured and he subsequently engaged the Centre Point Group in that exercise in his writings, in the Economic Summits of the period and in the Vision 2010 Summit. Eventually, when Government decided to take a closer look at the state of the capital market and what needed to be done, the task of carrying out the requisite study fell on a small team under his leadership.

The team was aptly titled “Panel on the Review of the Nigerian Capital Market”. The Panel submitted its report in 1996 and Government deliberated on it for two years before accepting it. The Panel also prepared and submitted a draft of the law to implement its report; the decree to implement the work of the Panel was signed into law by former Head of State, late General Abdulsalam Abubakar in 1999 as perhaps his last act in office.

Unfortunately, Odife’s regret before death was that some government officials with mischief in their hearts amended parts of the Investment and Securities Act to achieve purposes not originally intended by those who commissioned the work.

As a banker, considering that the whole world and not just the country was his market, Odife did a lot of work. As an investment banker, he did not discriminate as he handled projects all over the country. These projects contributed to the improvement in the lives of the people in the specific areas and the country as a whole.

At any point in time his esteemed presence graced the public arena, Chief Odife did not hesitate to disseminate, with unusual candour and simplicity, his invaluable tutorials for money and capital market development, Market reform and exemplary leadership. One of his popular sayings was “Let market forces work.”

As a panacea for positive transformation of self and society, he insisted on the need for well-rounded development that comprises the following: total education, the maximal use of one’s intellectual capabilities and physical endowment, rule of the market, volunteerism, self employment, as well as the cultivation of a personal resolve to solve problems.

He was a realist with prodigious energy even at old age. Until a few years ago when he retired and handed over the running of both the investment company and the bank to others, Odife was the principal administrator of the Centrepoint group. And he carried out these duties with the same commitment and dedication that he managed his role as a husband, father, grand- father, guardian and mentor.

As this native Nkwelle-Ezunaka son takes a sad but glorious exit from material existence, the legacy he so faithfully espoused and lived by ought to be a lesson for many Nigerians of means. Odife’s lesson is this: in the face of corruption and underdevelopment, genuine leadership emerges when one steps out of the anonymity and apathy of one’s closet to advance the cause of his immediate environment through uncommon sacrifice. A sacrifice he will forever be remembered. Adieu my mentor, father, brother, boss.
– Nwachukwu is the Special Adviser, Media & Publicity to Odife Family