Lagos Standstill as Ovia’s ‘Africa Rise and Shine’ is Unveiled

  • Calls for economic digitisation to stimulate growth  
  • Buhari, Osinbajo, others hail business mogul

By Obinna Chima

The founder of Zenith Bank Plc, Mr. Jim Ovia, has stressed the need for digitisation of the Nigerian economy in order to stimulate growth.

Ovia made this call Monday during the unveiling of his new book, ‘Africa Rise and Shine – How a Nigerian Entrepreneur from Humble Beginnings Grew a Business to $16 Billion,’ in Lagos.

The event attracted bigwigs which included Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo, Governors of Lagos, Gombe, Delta, Akwa Ibom, Borno, Taraba, Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Governor, Mr. Godwin Emefiele, several traditional and political leaders, chief executives, media entrepreneurs including the Editor-in-Chief and Chairman, THISDAY Newspapers Limited, Mr. Nduka Obaigbena, among others.

In his speech, Ovia said internet had completely changed the face of the world and highlighted the benefits of technology in the growth of nations.

He said: “The internet enables you to do online transactions, online sales, online education and everything. Amazon is now over $1 trillion. This Amazon doesn’t have a factory anywhere.

“They don’t have any oil well at all but has over $1 trillion in market capitalisation and richer than Nigeria and twice the GDP of Nigeria. It is because they embraced technology and the internet. Look at what Google has done.

“Google was just set up as a search engine, but now Google is one of the richest companies in the entire world. Of course, the market capitalisation of Google is larger than Nigeria’s GDP, and I mean larger than all the oil wells we have, all the resources we have and all the agriculture we have. Just one company!

“So, economies driven by technology will always blossom. So, for us to blossom, the Nigerian economy, let’s start to digitise the economy. If we digitise the economy, it will continue to grow.

“If we use technology to drive our manufacturing process, our agriculture and healthcare, we will know what that will do for us.”

He urged fledgling entrepreneurs to always go with their gut and to be determined in their chosen fields.

“You must use your God-given sense and go with your gut. We all have the feeling at certain points in our lives. We will want to do certain things, you are not too sure because you don’t have any data to prove it’s going to be right.

“But your instinct tells you do it, just do it. If you research what is going on in the global world and replicate it in your local world,” he said.

Commenting on the book, Ovia said there was need to change the narrative of Africa, which according to him, had been “so pathetic”.

He explained: “When you Google about Africa then, the first things that come out is that it is a continent of complex, a continent of corruption and of coups. And that was played out very dramatically when The Economist magazine had on their front page that Africa then was a continent of coup and a continent of corruption.

“But after two decades, that narrative started changing. Today, we now know that Africa is truly rising. Between then and now, what you have is GDP per capita of many African countries well above $1,000, whereas about 20 years ago, it was below $500.

“So, for me, Africa is rising. Twenty years ago, only few African countries have mobile phones, but today, all the African countries not only have mobile phones, they also have broadband technology and internet penetration is high. Africa is rising by embracing technology.”

Meanwhile, the audience erupted in laughter when the Lagos State Governor, Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode, was invited to speak immediately after the National Leader of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu, saying: “Who am I to speak after the Jagaban has spoken?”

Ambode eulogised the author and urged Nigerians to emulate his hard work.

President Muhammadu Buhari, in a congratulatory message that was read at the event, hailed Ovia’s passion for success as well as his contribution to the growth of the Nigerian economy.

Vice-President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, also extolled Ovia for his achievements as well as his character, describing him as an exceedingly humble and self-effacing man despite his great achievement.

He said Ovia, who lost his father at the age of five, was able to rise to surmount his challenges and become a successful man through vision and hard work.

He said: “I am not surprised that he used this book to tell the story of an incredibly humble beginning of a man who lost his father at the age of five. And most importantly, is his admission that he did not even prevail because he was a superman or because he was a genius.

“The vast majority of most Nigeria’s most successful entrepreneurs did not begin from families of great wealth or great education or good privilege, most times first generation university degree holders but they have cracked the ceilings imposed by poverty and deprivation.”

In his speech, CBN Governor Emefiele described Ovia as a mentor who played a very instrumental and irreplaceable role in his life, having served under his leadership and tutelage at Zenith Bank for over 24 years.

He said: “For those of us who know him and have worked under him, Mr. Jim Ovia is a stickler for knowledge and is deeply committed to excellence.

“These are important principles that should guide local and foreign investors in their approach to the Nigerian and African market.

“Key success factors for investors would be a clear understanding of the potentials of the market, leveraging technology and innovation in providing superior products and services to a market of about 200 million people, in the case of Nigeria.

“If these principles are followed like Mr. Jim Ovia has done in Nigeria as well as in other parts of the World, you can expect to receive huge rewards for your efforts.

“In my role as Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, these qualities have served as a guiding principle for me and were very useful during the economic downturn that Nigeria faced between 2016 and 2017.

“Under the glaringly distinguished but often unacknowledged leadership of President Muhammadu Buhari, these qualities propelled me and the rest of the economic team to remain focused, to work assiduously, and to reach out to relevant stakeholders in developing solutions that eventually led to Nigeria’s recovery from the recession by the third quarter of 2017.”

Also, the Chairman of the occasion and Nigeria’s former High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, Dr. Christopher Kolade, noted that one of the reasons why Africa received less honour than she should have is of course because our story was usually being told by other people, saying: “Today, Ovia is reminding us that the place Africa is a continent that must rise and shine.”

On his part, Obaigbena, who was among the readers of the new book, said: “Today, we celebrate Jim Ovia and we would continue to applaud him. But, let us also take our time to celebrate Nigeria.”

According to him, “Nigeria made it possible for us all to thrive. Our democracy is in its 19th year and growing. Imperfect as it is, it is coming of age. With our democracy, we must create opportunity.

“Only in Nigeria can a company come in with $402 million and make $8 billion in a few years. It is certainly a land of opportunities. But we must also build a Nigeria of rule of law, free choice and democracy.

“If we do that, our democracy will thrive, and our business and institutions will keep thriving. Jim Ovia is a strategist and I have known him most of my life. He comes from the minority of the minorities, but he is world class.”

Related Articles