Domestic and Foreign Investors Must Collaborate to Fully Harness Nigeria’s Economic Potentials


His career trajectory and accomplishments in Development Banking and Public Service spanning over 28 years speak volume of his resilience, determination and penchant for continuous capacity building. Dr. Waheed Olagunju, who joined the Bank of Industry’s (BOI) precursor institution of the Nigerian Industrial Development Bank (NIDB) in 1990 as senior manager rose to the position of executive director, Business Development in 2012, when he became the first career staff to attain such a height. He was reassigned as executive director, Small and Medium Enterprises (ED,SME) in August 2014. Olagunju scored another first as the only career staff, who acted twice as managing director & chief executive officer of the bank between April and May 2014 as well as between February 2016 and May 2017 in addition to his responsibilities as ED, BD and ED,SME. Under his leadership of the SME Directorate between 2014 and 2018, the bank’s annual lending to SMEs rose phenomenally from the average annual lending of N1.8 billion in previous years to N28.3billion by 2018. In this interview with Raheem Akingbolu on his development banking career journey, Olagunju speaks about the various developments that led to the establishment of BOI in 2001 and in its transformation from a marginal national development finance institution (DFI) into an internationally rated AA organisation.

As he retires at the age of 60 years after 28 years in the development banking environment, where he had considerable domestic and international exposure, he also opens up on his plans in retirement to deploy his vast experience, knowledge and expertise to offer advisory services to national and subnational governments, players in the private sector and civil society organisations across Africa as well as the international development community

How was it like serving the bank for 28 years ?

I have to start by giving gratitude to the Almighty God and the people He used to guide my 28-year career at the 60-year-old bank. When I joined NIDB in 1990, I did not know that I could go this far. Well, here I am retiring after heading five different departments/directorates that included serving as company secretary for 16 years, and concurrently as general manager strategic planning, corporate secretariat and corporate communications for six years and subsequently as executive director for six years during which I acted as MD & CEO twice. Within the 28-year period, I served under six chief executive officers of NIDB/BOI, many board chairmen and directors as well as supervising ministers.

I was actively involved with the reconstruction of NIDB into BOI (2000-2001) and the consolidation of the mandates of NIDB, the Nigerian Bank for Commerce and Industry (NBCI) and the National Economic Reconstruction Fund (NERFUND) into that of the Bank of Industry. I worked with Messrs KPMG, the consultancy firm that was engaged to handle the exercise and the leadership of the Federal Ministry of Industry. In the early years of BOI, I also coordinated the institutional and management study of BOI that was undertaken between 2004 and 2005 by the Swedish Consultants (Messrs Swedish Development Advisers), who were appointed by the African Development Bank. Similarly I played leading roles in the implementation of their recommendations that formed vital input into BOI’s paradigm shift that was launched in 2006. So, with all sense of humility and by the special grace of God, It’s been a great opportunity to have been part of the remarkable teams led by four outstanding CEOs that turned the institution around from a marginal national development finance institution (DFI) into an internationally AA rated organisation.

Specifically under my leadership of the SME Directorate between 2014 and 2018, the bank’s annual lending to SMEs rose phenomenally from the average annual lending of N1.8 billion in previous years to N28.3billion by 2018. When I acted as MD & CEO between 2016 and 2017, the bank recorded remarkable improvements that culminated in BOI’s ratings by international and domestic rating agencies being upgraded and affirmed by 2016. While Moody’s assigned BOI Aa1 in 2016 up from Ba3 of 2015, Agusto’s rating of AA- in 2016 was higher than A+ of 2015. AA+ assigned by Fitch in 2015 was affirmed in 2016.

With all you that you have put into BOI, are you satisfied with the bank’s contribution to Nigeria’s industrial development?

Considering where the bank was in 2001, when the turnaround began under BOI’s pioneer MD & CEO, Dr. Lawrence Osa-Afiana and the meteoric efforts put in by his three successors – Ms Evelyn Oputu, Mr Rasheed Olaoluwa and the incumbent MD, Olukayode Pitan and what the unaudited highly impressive numbers looked like in quarter 4 of 2018 under the present management and board, I would say BOI’s sustained turnaround would go down as one of the most successful in the annals of efforts at transforming state owned enterprises in Africa. Incidentally, my doctorate dissertation was on BOI so I am speaking from an enlightened position and as a participant in the process. The sustained improvements in the key parameters are in thousands of percentage and testimonies abound from thousands of micro, small, medium and large entrepreneurs across the country who have benefited from BOI’s facilities. Many of them have continued to be showcased on the bank’s weekly television programmes. Therefore, I am satisfied with BOI’s contributions to Nigeria’s industrial development and I have no doubt that it would be sustained provided the quality of leadership at all levels are not compromised and insulation from political interference sustained- situations that have been the bane of many state-owned enterprises in Africa, especially publicly owned development finance institutions.

How would you react to those who feel the bank has not done much since the contribution of the manufacturing sector to Nigeria’s GDP has remained single digit for decades?

We need to appreciate that capital is just one of the factors of production. There are a lot of other things that must be in place for a country to become industrialised. While Nigeria’s 200 million population which if well harnessed could be translated into rich human capital and potentially huge market with strong effective demand as well as its globally strategic coastal location, favourable climatic conditions and vast natural resource endowments are factors that could catalyse our country into becoming an industrialised nation where the manufacturing sector would contribute up to 20 per cent of its GDP, these factors are not sufficient for actualising its industrial development potentials. For Nigeria’s environment to be more enabling, there needs to be massive improvements in infrastructure such as electricity, rail and inland water ways as well as road network which gratifyingly are now being addressed.

We also need to re-educate our population from being job seekers towards entrepreneurship as we need millions of entrepreneurs, who can efficiently convert our several comparative advantages in agriculture, mining, petroleum as well as the creative industry into competitive advantage. Boost in indigenous entrepreneurship is crucial for the development of Nigeria’s private sector where increased collaboration is required between Nigerian entrepreneurs and their foreign counterparts, who would only invest in Nigeria if Nigerians are investing in Nigeria. Here is the importance of Alhaji Aliko Dangote’s refinery, petrochemical and fertilizer plant which is the biggest in the world. This would engender more desired foreign direct investments into Nigeria as opposed to the hot money from portfolio investors that could be withdrawn as speedily as they are invested in money and capital markets.

Considering our youthful demography, Information and Communications Technology is another potential growth area. A lot could similarly be achieved through the construction industry driven by significant local inputs. If we are to fully harness our natural resources and add value to them, we would not have enough manpower to operate our economy. This is the basis for my assertion that unemployment in Nigeria is artificial. I am, indeed, an incurable optimist, when it comes to Nigeria’s prosperity prospects. Now all these require huge investments that cannot be undertaken with insufficient domestic financial resources especially considering that the average savings rate is about 15 per cent. According to some schools of thought, Nigeria needs to constantly invest up to 40 per cent of its annual GDP to record double digit growth rate consistently over a period of twenty years to attain industrialised nation status and per capita income of about $15,000 provided our annual population growth rate does not exceed 3 per cent. So, if we need to invest 40 per cent of our annual GDP and the annual rate of savings is 15 per cent, there is a funding gap of 25 per cent that has to be filled by external financiers whose doing so would be predicated on their level of confidence in Nigeria as measured by many factors including the depth of our democracy, adherence to the rule of law, the perceived level of corruption etc. Here in lies the absolute need for BOI’s upward trajectory to be sustained as it is very well placed to mobilise considerable suitable financial resources in support of Nigeria’s industrialisation. All staff of the bank are conscious of this and are irrevocably committed to adhering to global best practices in all its undertakings and maintaining the institution’s high international ratings.

Looking back what would you attribute your successful career in development banking to considering that you were initially a broadcaster ?

First and foremost, the grace of God as I did not plan to go into banking. Secondly in implementing His design God also brought me into contact with some ordained executors of His plans for me. His chosen executors turned out to be my benefactors and very good bosses in NTA, NIDB and BOI from whom I learnt quite a lot about broadcasting, banking and life in general. Thirdly, God crowned my diligent efforts as I actually worked very hard, underwent considerable training on the job, and retraining whilst improving myself educationally. In addition to my Bachelor of Arts and Master of Social Sciences degrees that I bagged from the University of Lagos in 1981 and 1984 respectively as well a professional certificate in Investment Appraisal and Risk Analysis from the Queens University, Canada in 2013 and a Doctorate Degree in Business Administration from the Paris School of Business in 2017, I also obtained a certificate in Executive Development in 2018 from the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, United States of America. Other contributory factors have been humility, perseverance and crowning all these with prayers for divine guidance in absolute submission to God’s best wishes for me.

Talking about my broadcast career, the assignments that I undertook and how I handled them consistently stood me out, as my reports were always research based. Practising broadcast journalism well broadens ones views and also gives one considerable domestic and international exposure. As head of the economy desk, I developed a Communication Support Programme for the Structural Adjustment Programme that met with stiff resistance from most Nigerians in the mid 80s. It was while undertaking these assignments on behalf of the federal government that I met and related with highly knowledgeable and distinguished personalities from various backgrounds in and outside Nigeria who made lasting impact on me in terms of knowledge acquisition and experience sharing as well as value formation that got me prepared for my development banking career at the Nigerian Industrial Development Bank.

I was virtually embedded in the national economic management team that included Alhaji Abubakar Alhaji, Dr Kalu Idika Kalu, Dr. Chu SP Okongu, Chief Olu Falae and interacted with the international development community. I had to educate myself, read a lot and learnt a lot about other countries implementing structural adjustment programmes in Africa, South America and Asia. It was like undertaking crash programmes in development financing as I attended many international development fora and visited, several times, the world’s leading multilateral development finance institutions and interviewed their chief executives such as Mr Barber Conable of the World Bank, Mr. Mitchell Camdesus of the International Monetary Fund, Sir William Ryre of the International Finance Corporation and the late Mr Babacar Ndiaye of the African Development Bank. I was also at the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA). This exposed me to the workings of these international financial institutions. Another major organisation I interacted with was the European Investment Bank. In fact, I covered the negotiations that led to the fourth Lome Convention in 1989 under the European Economic Community’s partnership with countries in the Africa Caribbean & Pacific regions. I give this background to establish the fact that by the time I joined NIDB in 1990, I had proper understanding of what a national DFI does. I would say that I was also lucky to have served under successive chief executives and boards of NIDB/BOI as well as supervising ministers, who gave me the opportunities. Because it is one thing to have the potentials, undertake self-improvement capacity building programmes and quite another to be given the chance to realise those potentials. In this regard, I remain grateful to Mallam Ibrahim Aliyu through whom I joined the NIDB in 1990 and his successor, Alhaji Saidu Kasumu, the last MD of NIDB. Ms Evelyn Oputu, who became the second MD of BOI in December 2005 added strategic planning to my schedule in January 2007 when I was promoted General Manager in charge of strategic planning, corporate secretariat and corporate communications. She also recommended my appointment as executive director, business development in December 2012. Mr. Rasheed Olaoluwa reassigned me as executive director, small and medium enterprises in 2014.

You are launching your development advisory firm at a strategic period of our economy when stakeholders are yearning for foreign direct investment, is there any roles you can play or advice you can offer in this regard?

Fortunately, my responsibilities in the last 37 years have enhanced my capacity, competence, capability, versatility and exposure that have put me in very good stead to provide solutions to developmental challenges in the public and private sectors as well as the civil society community. They have entailed traveling extensively within Nigeria and internationally, cultivating and nurturing relationships with domestic and foreign development partners and potential investors as well as promoting and advancing Nigeria’s economic agenda. In the course of those missions I attended many development related fora, organized several inward and outward business development sessions and similarly undertook study tours of industrial establishments including free trade and special economic development zones in Africa, Asia, South and North America, Australia and Europe.

In the course of my development banking career, I engaged with relevant Federal Ministries, Departments and Agencies, the Presidency when required, leaderships of the National Assembly and their committees since 1999 as well as organised private sector groups and Nigeria’s international development partners.

In the process, I developed very good working relationships at all tiers of government including many state governors and in some cases local government chairmen and local communities through their traditional institutions and rulers, Nigeria’s international development partners within and outside the country at all levels from their ambassadors and representatives in Nigeria up to their ministers and CEOs in their home countries and at their Headquarters abroad respectively and also sections of the international investment and donor communities. These activities have meant continued cultivation of wide contacts, development of extensive networks and building considerable goodwill domestically and internationally that have been leveraged to make significant contributions to BOI’s remarkable progress and development as well as its commendable development initiatives within and outside Nigeria.

Therefore, going forward, as development advisers, we would be facilitating game changing initiatives in Africa’s development trajectory, playing advisory roles to governments and especially to domestic and foreign entrepreneurs, who are desirous of exploring Nigeria’s vibrant market. Foreign investors who want to navigate the Nigerian and other African markets would find our services quite useful. Many perhaps don’t know that the return on investment in Nigeria is one of the highest in the world. Prior to the recession Nigeria was ranked by United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) as number four in the world with about 35 per cent returns on investment. That was why, also according to UNCTAD, Nigeria attracted the highest inflow of Foreign Direct Investments into Africa in the first half of this decade. Considering my experience at BOI, I will dedicate the rest of my life to seeing how we can replicate the BOI success in other state-owned enterprises in Nigeria and other African countries. I say this because some governments on the continent, that have seen what we did at BOI are seeking guidance on how to help turnaround their DFIs.

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