When the Chairman of Zenith Bank plc, Jim Ovia described the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Godwin Emefiele as the best CBN governor ever, some thought it was an overstatement. But it wasn’t. Ovia is hardly a man given to flippancy and pompous exaggeration. He is a man whose words carry wisdom garnered from several decades of work experience in the financial sector. So when he spoke those powerful words of compliment about Emefiele’s stewardship at the CBN, he knew exactly what he was talking about.
It is difficult to believe that five years have almost raced past since Emefiele took charge as the chief helmsman of the nation’s apex bank.
Against all odds, he has succeeded beyond expectations in steering the ship through the difficult, turbulent waters of recession and dangerous sharp turns, on the way to achieving monetary stability and recovery. Those who called for him to be sacked in the mad euphoria of change in 2016 have been put to shame. It must have been tough for this otherwise amiable man to stay focused on his goal, and refused to be distracted by the mad clamour for his ouster. One must also commend President Muhammadu Buhari for not yielding to the emotional partisan clamour to oust him then. He could have taken advantage of the strident calls. But he didn’t.
Today, we can all see the positive impact Emefiele’s critical decisions at critical moments have had on the economy: from his tight forex control – banning of 43 items, to several revolutionary initiatives, like the Anchor Borrowers’ Programme(ABP) among others. The broad objective of the ABP is to create economic linkage between smallholder farmers and reputable large-scale processors with a view to increasing agricultural output, and significantly improve capacity utilisation of processors. Other objectives include to increase banks’ financing to the agricultural sector, reduce agricultural commodity importation and conserve external reserves, increase capacity utilisation of agricultural firms , create new generation of farmers/entrepreneurs and employment, deepen the cashless policy and financial inclusion, reduce the level of poverty among smallholder farmers, assist rural smallholder farmers to grow from subsistence to commercial production levels.
The result is clear in the increase agricultural produce from this policy. Emefiefle no doubt deserves credit for his massive support to this critical sector.
The Chelsea Fan at the Helm of CBN
This encounter was first published in 2014 in THISDAY, a few days after Emefiele was appointed the CBN governor. It summarises the man Emefiele who has remained himself despite rising to the pinnacle of his banking career
There is something about Godwin Emefiele that appeals to you from a distance. In more ways than one, your first encounter with him is likely to leave a humbling experience in you. His calm and dignified mien resonates long after you may have left him; his very simple nature underscores a man unimpressed by the grandeur and prestige of his office.
Big titles and big talk are hardly a part of him. As you visualise and digest his personality, the picture of a man shaped by time, knowledge and the very ordinary things of life begins to emerge. Many say he is not an overtly ambitious person, they are correct, others say he is a fine gentleman, they are also correct, an even greater number believe he was the right successor to his boss and founder of Zenith bank, Jim Ovia. Well, time will tell. But going by the signals coming from the bank, the man who prefers to operate quietly away from public glare, hasn’t dropped the baton.
There is nothing about his carriage that tells you of his social status, his disarming mien presents a contrasting picture to the high society glamour, paraphernalia and grandeur of his office. Until 2010, very few knew who he was; he adopts the philosophy of bees seen and not heard. When he succeeded his boss in August 2010 to steer the affairs of Zenith Bank, many believed then that a square peg had been found for a square hole. Three and a half years after, that confidence is proving appropriate; the bank is building on the successes recorded by its founder Jim Ovia whose tenure witnessed an unprecedented growth and expansion. From a startup bank to a mega bank providing quality banking services to its customers across the country and beyond.
Emefiele is a man who believes in hard work and loyalty and he minces no words about that when asked what values he looks out for most in his workers. “I value loyalty and hard work. Every worker has to work hard and of course must be loyal to the institution that puts food on his table. It’s a minimum standard of expectation and I don’t think that is asking for too much.
On his philosophy of life. He laughed: “I am a believer in destiny. Every man’s life has been ordained by destiny but you cannot say because your life is ordained by destiny you will not work. Hard work and focus will lead you to achieve your destiny otherwise that which was ordained for you will not materialise.”
Perhaps drawing from the above, Emefiele’s life and career path would have been significantly different today.
For some inexplicable reason, his childhood fascination was to be a doctor, but he switched to Banking and Finance. “I wanted to be a doctor, I wanted to study medicine in school but really can’t remember what happened that made me decide to change to banking and finance. I don’t know why I suddenly made that switch, but I did and even became a lecturer.” Emefiele may not have known that the unseen hand of fate was guiding him on. His path was later to cross with that of Jim Ovia who persuaded him to abandon the classroom for the boardroom. And ever since, he has stayed loyal to his calling, rising to the pinnacle of his career.
Would such a man possibly be nursing a quiet regret for not reading medicine, I managed to ask. His response was quick and direct. “Absolutely not. I have come to love what I do.”
And out of curiosity, one could not resist the temptation to ask how he socialises. He laughed yet again, a little bit unsure of how to answer. Then in a very measured and businesslike manner he stated, “I am an introvert. So, I don’t do much of socialisation. I really don’t have many friends, and more than anything else, I cherish my old-time childhood friends who have been there for me over time, and I have been there for them. I don’t pick friends in my old age,” he smiled reassuringly.
However, like most Nigerians, Emefiele loves to watch football. If you think his favourite football club would be Arsenal, Manchester United, then you need to think again. ‘I am a Chelsea fan; I know a lot of people would expect me to be an Arsenal fan, but I am a big supporter of Chelsea club.
But the surprise does not stop there, he equally loves driving. “I like to drive myself particularly on weekends, I enjoy driving myself.” He comes across as a man with simple needs, spartan, somewhat austere. But you find him a jolly good fellow, surprisingly jovial when the chemistry is right; he comes down to the basics. His pidgin English is eloquent and very Niger Deltan.