Ernest Ebi: Celebrating a Boardroom Guru


Obinna Chima writes on the contributions of the Chairman of Fidelity Bank Plc, Mr. Ernest Ebi, to the bank as well as the industry

The Chairman of Fidelity Bank Plc, Mr. Ernest Ebi, yesterday marked his 70th birthday.
Ebi, a former Deputy Governor, Policy and Corporate Services at Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) for 10 years (1999 to 2009), was appointed the board Chairman in 2016.

Since then, with his solid wealth of corporate experience, he has contributed significant to the success story of Fidelity Bank in the past four years.
His contributions in the second tier bank can be seen in its profit after tax which climbed remarkably by 420 per cent, from the N5.457 billion it recorded at the end of 2016, to N28.425 billion in its financial statement for the year ended December 2019.

Also, the bank’s total asset has risen by 63 per cent from the N1.298 trillion it was in 2016, to N2.114 trillion at the end of 2019.
Similarly, under the leadership of Ebi, the bank’s loans and advances disbursed to its customers climbed by 56 per cent, from N718 billion in 2016, to N1.126 trillion at the end of December 2019, just as its customer deposit rose by 54.5 per cent, up from N793 billion in 2016, to N1.225 trillion at the end of 2019.

Clearly, it is safe to say that Ebi is one of the most respected bankers of this generation. Indeed, when anyone decides to chronicle the accomplishments and struggles of Nigeria’s most influential boardroom leaders, Ebi’s story will prove to be an invaluable manual for building character and competence in leadership.

Since quitting active banking, this consummate professional has become a most sought after business leader, applying his vast wealth of experience in steering the Boards of various companies and organisations, from banking to manufacturing.

Born in June 30, 1950 in Imo State, Ebi attended Howard University, Washington DC, where he graduated with a Bachelor of Business Administration degree in Marketing in 1978. In 1979, he obtained a Master of Business Administration from the same university.

He started his banking career in 1978 at the Community Federal Savings and Loan Association, Washington D.C., U.S.A. where he held the position of Assistant Vice President/Controller.
In November 1981, he returned to Nigeria and joined International Merchant Bank (IMB) Plc, where he served in various capacities including heading the Treasury Department and becoming the Chief Credit Officer of the bank from June 1989 to January 1992.

From January 1992 to June 1993, he was the Head of the Audit and Risk Management Department. In a very distinguished career within the financial services industry, he went on to serve in leadership positions across a number of banks.

Interestingly, Ebi is one of the few people to have seen action in the regulatory side of the financial services industry and as a bank operator. These two unique experiences have put him in good stead to proficiently navigate the country’s complex business environment.

One cannot fail to remember the decent turnaround job that he spearheaded in the now defunct New Nigerian Bank. Several years he spent building capacity as a banker having worked in several departments made his task easier.

His exploits in New Nigerian Bank did not go unnoticed. In fact, his managerial astuteness and capacity to stay unruffled even in the face of a raging storm attracted the attention of the regulators. He was given the opportunity to serve as a Deputy Governor in the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) where he covered the policy and corporate services portfolios over a ten-year period. he took the opportunity with both hands and discharged his duties with honour and candour.

Ebi maintained oversight functions over Nigeria’s External Reserves, International Economic Relations, Trade & Exchange and Research Departments among other responsibilities. He was a notable member of the banking sector reform team, especially during the major consolidation process in 2006 and was chairman of the implementation committee of the Legendary Project EAGLES that transformed the CBN into a leading global reserve bank.

“The bedrock of my position today is the times in the past where I sacrificed a higher pay for competence and knowledge. This is the secret of my staying power and capacity to add value in complex or difficult decision-making scenarios”, said Ebi during a leadership conference.

This profound quote best explains his longevity in the corporate world. Despite his towering achievements, of which his turnaround job at New Nigerian Bank stands out, Ebi has remained modest and unassuming, placing God first in everything he does.

A stickler for sound and strong corporate governance, which for him is of more importance than immediate gratification, Ebi has continued to lay the foundations for management and oversight in all the organisations where he sits on the board. He encourages a strong culture of corporate ethics and adherence to the highest standards of communication and reporting.

Indeed, Fidelity Bank has benefited immensely from his expertise and dedication to professionalism. Under his leadership as Chairman, the board has sets the tone and direction for the bank which has translated into year-on-year growth.

Recognising his sound professional background and unblemished track record of meritorious service, the Federal Government of Nigeria in 2007 awarded him the National Honor of Member of the Order of the Federal Republic (MFR). In the same year, the Chartered Institute of Bankers of Nigeria (CIBN) also awarded him a Fellow of the Institute (FCIB).

Ebi is unquestionably a sage and national treasure, who has contributed over 40 years of sheer hard work and dedication to the growth of Business Corporation and institutions impacting the Nigerian economy. As we commemorate this milestone celebration of his life, we wish him more years of active service and further contribution to the growth and development of this great country.
In his goodwill message to Ebi, the CBN Governor, Mr. Godwin Emefiele, described him as a senior and respected colleague in the banking industry.

Emefiele explained: “Like you know, he spent over 20 years in the banking industry, beginning from International Merchant Bank, and retired at Diamond Bank as an Executive Director. He moved on to the Central Bank of Nigeria as Executive Director and spent 10 years, where he conducted himself as a professional banker and he earns the highest respect and regards of the CBN as a retired Deputy Governor.
“While he was a Deputy Governor, he played his role actively, not only in the Corporate Services Directorate, but also in the Economic Policy Directorate. His contributions are very visible in whatever the CBN has become today.

“As he celebrates his 70th birthday, we are wishing Ernest all the best of luck in his future life. He is 70 years now and when I am 70 I will like to be resting. So, he should enjoy his retirement with his children and grandchildren and have all the fun. We pray that the Lord would bestow on him good health all the time.”

To the Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer, Fidelity Bank Plc, Mr. Nnamdi Okonkwo, Ebi is a seasoned banker as well as a seasoned regulator who sits on many boards and has left his marks on many organisations.

Okonkwo said: “For me, having to work with him on the board of Fidelity Bank as my Chairman was an invaluable gift. And that is because over the period I worked with him as my Chairman, I could see the value he brought to the board. In fact, upon resumption, he said he was going to focus on three pillars as Chairman of the board.

“These were: Governance, risk management and capital. His work ethics is simply outstanding. For a Chairman of a Board, sometimes you give him up to 20 documents and his maximum turnaround time is the next day and he when you receive the document back, on a 20-page document, I guarantee you that he would make comments on a minimum of 15 of those documents, which would show you that he read everything.
“So, for me, that is professional discipline at its peak. A CEO that has that kind of chairman knows that he too has to be on his toes because the person you are working with knows what you know and beyond. So, for me, he has brought tremendous value to Fidelity Bank’s board.

“So, we thank him so much for his service to the bank and we are very grateful that he accepted to serve on the board of the bank. Coincidentally, his birthday was yesterday so I wish him more strength, God’s blessings and guidance in all endeavors.”
Also, the Chairman and Founder of the Zinox Group, Leo Stan Ekeh, described the Chairman of Fidelity Bank as a decent man.

“When I call him a decent man, I mean every definition of that word. He is a man of integrity, a man of God and a very good Christian. He is also a humble man. The biggest asset you have in 21st century is humility. Ernest has excess of it, despite all he has achieved in life.
“He is an extremely humble man and that is very rare, from where he comes from. He is naturally humble and he is not pretentious about it. So, that is the Ernest you know and you can trust every word out of his mouth. He is a man who is not chasing wealth. He respects himself and he respects people around him. His love is genuine.

“So, when you have a good man around, as he gets older, you feel a little bit pained because there are very few good men around. I am praying that God will keep him and his family, because a man without a quality family is not a complete man. Ernest is a definition of a complete man. He is at peace with his family. We pray that God should keep such people as living legends.

“So, on his 70th birthday, I can only wish that Ernest should make it to 100 years and from 100 years, what he wants to do with himself is his decision. So, I wish him a worthy birthday celebration as well as God’s grace and wisdom to continue to mentor all those that look up to him,” Ekeh said about Ebi.
In his goodwill message, Engr. Joseph Makoju, a former Special Adviser to President Goodluck Jonathan and former Group Managing Director/ CEO of Dangote Cement Plc, wrote about Ebi: “ I have the privilege of having had a long close friendship and business relationship with Ernest spanning over the last 30 years. Simply put and as they come, Ernest is just a fine gentleman and a naturally people-centred person. He is urbane, erudite, highly cerebral and humble.

“His scholarship and deep knowledge in his areas of specialisation prepared and qualified him for service to this nation in various critical positions early in his career. As a recognised guru in the nation’s financial sector he has today become a reference point when it comes to analysis and commentary on our nation’s economic direction. In such discourse he brings to bear his excellent knowledge and understanding of the workings of the global economy. “In any such debate or discourse in which he participates he can be counted on to frankly speak his mind on any issue based on facts and sound analysis without any fear or favour. Not surprisingly he has held and still holds leadership positions in many reputable organisations both public and private where his rich experience and knowledge of the businesses combined with his excellent human relations skills has consistently propelled such organisations to deliver record breaking performance during his tenure.

“In my view, Ernest Ebi will make an excellent subject for a Case Study on a Model Boardroom player in any world class Business School today. Outside the boardrooms and in spite of his hectic business schedules Ernest is known to find time to maintain links with his home communities and to actively quietly support many causes that empower and bring succour to the less privileged in society.

“I have no doubt that hundreds of grateful beneficiaries will be joining his family, business friends and colleagues to celebrate Ernest at 70 and to wish him many more years of long life in good health to continue to serve the nation and to continue to positively touch the lives of so many.”