By Gambo Dori
Book review by Mahmud Jega
Deposit insurance, which provides a financial safety net for all depositors in Nigerian banks and seeks to protect them from the vicissitudes of the banking and financial industry, is not a widely appreciated field in Nigeria. This, despite its extreme importance in engendering public confidence and stability in the banking sector.
Nigeria Deposit Insurance Corporation [NDIC] was created by decree in 1988 following the liberalization and deregulation of the banking industry under the Structural Adjustment Program [SAP] adopted by the Babangida military government in 1986. Many more banks emerged as a result. The possibility of bank failures also increased, with potentially disastrous consequences in the economy.
This book is about the life and times of Alhaji Umaru Ibrahim, who happened to be one of the pioneer staffers of NDIC, who rose through the ranks in 21 years to become its Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer, and went on to hold this position until 2020, when he retired after serving two terms of five years each as MD/CEO. In many ways therefore, Umaru Ibrahim’s life was a personification of deposit insurance in Nigeria. He knows the sector like the back of his hand and had a front row seat during all the banking industry and deposit insurance ups and downs in Nigeria since the 1980s.
He did not start his working career from deposit insurance, however. He was already a Permanent Secretary in the Kano State Civil Service before he went to NDIC as a Deputy Director upon its establishment. Umaru Ibrahim was born at Gaya, in present day Kano State, into a family of Muslim clerics and jurists in 1950. His father, Alkali Ibrahim Ahmed was then the mufti of the Alkali’s Court in Gaya. His grandfather, Malam Ahmad, was among other things the resident teacher of Mai Babban Daki Mariya, mother of Emir of Kano Abdullahi Bayero, who reigned in 1925-53. After he retired in the 1970s, Umaru’s father was appointed the District Head of Babura.
Umaru Ibrahim started schooling in Wudil and later at Gidan Makama Primary School in Kano city. He then entered Rumfa College in 1964, the same school once attended by Generals Murtala Mohammed and Sani Abacha and Alhaji Yusuf Maitama Sule, among many other prominent sons of Kano. In January 1970, he was a member of the pioneer set of Ahmadu Bello University [ABU], Zaria’s School of Basic Studies. He went on to read Political Science and graduated in 1974.
The story of this phase of Umaru Ibrahim’s life is spiced in the book with larger local and regional context, enriched with the story of his life in the schools and much mention of his classmates and teachers as well as major events of the period, such as the student protests against introduction of National Youth Service Scheme [NYSC] by the Gowon regime in 1973. He then did his NYSC at Port Harcourt in Rivers State where, at that tender age, he was appointed Vice Principal and in fact de facto Principal of Pivotal Teachers Training College.
In August 1975, Umaru Ibrahim started work in the Kano State Civil Service as Administrative Officer in the Cabinet Office. It was a trying period, as was well documented in this book. It was a time of probes of the former administration and of sacks and mass purges. As an officer in the Council Secretariat, Umaru Ibrahim had a front row seat in it all as the Wheeler, Ali Alhakeem and a third panel that probed drought relief appeal funds all turned the state upside down with their enquiries.
Equally well documented in the book is Umaru Ibrahim’s career in the Cabinet Office under civilian Governor Mohammed Abubakar Rimi, a very tumultuous period with a radical governor, deep political schisms and intra-party factions. In 1981 he was sent to the Kano State Water Resources and Engineering Construction Agency [WRECA] as Secretary. This formidable agency was responsible for building and maintaining Kano State’s vaunted dams, boreholes and irrigation schemes since the days of Governor Audu Bako. In 1984, he became a permanent secretary and served in several important posts before he crossed over to NDIC following its creation in 1989. Within the period, there is also a section about how he got married to his wife, Alawiyya Fatima Kuliya Umar. They raised seven children, all of whom became well educated and accomplished in their chosen fields.
Umaru Ibrahim reported at NDIC’s Lagos headquarters in March 1989 and ended up serving it for 31 years, including 11 years as its Acting and then substantive MD/CEO. He served under the pioneer MD, Mr. John Ebhodaghe and then his successor, Alhaji Ganiyu Ogunleye, each of whom served two full terms. It was not a walk in the park. From the challenges of forming a new corporation, in an uncharted territory in Nigeria, through the stormy days in the banking sector, the phenomenal rise in the number of banks in Nigeria occasioned by liberalization in the 1980s and 90s, through the distress and collapse of some banks in the 1990s and the new millennium, some of which had to be taken over by NDIC and Central Bank, Umaru Ibrahim went through it all.
The book about this deposit insurance guru is replete with technical terms evolved by NDIC over a 30 years’ period to try to keep a lid with supervision and monitoring of the rapidly evolving and transforming banking sector. Over the years Umaru Ibrahim headed several different NDIC departments, including Financial and Technical, Personnel, and Administration. In 2007 he succeeded Fatima Balaraba Ibrahim as Executive Director Finance and Administration. And in 2009, he succeeded Alhaji Ganiyu Ogunleye first as Acting and later as substantive MD/CEO.
There is also a rich section about Umaru Ibrahim’s one-year sojourn at the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies [NIPPSS], Kuru in 2001. It was a rich and rewarding experience, and he particularly had warm things to say about NIPSS’ then Director General and former military-era Foreign Minister, the now late Major General Joseph Garba.
His own tenure at the helm of NDIC was very eventful, and saw the corporation always on top of the rapidly evolving financial industry. Variations in deposit insurance coverage, Bridge Banking, Islamic deposit insurance, deposit insurance for mobile banking, electronic Financial Institution Liquidation Management [e-FILMS], electronic Financial Analyses and Surveillance System [e-FASS], Electronic Documents Management System [EDMS], endless training programs for staff, opening of NDIC zonal offices and training centers, rolling out of its social media handles as well as prominent roles played in regional and international deposit insurance associations and fora were also captured in this slim, 104-page book. The book also detailed the introduction of robust processes to enhance NDIC’s operational efficiency. On the whole he built a highly respected, scrupulous and very efficient public institution. At the regional and international levels, he played key roles in the International Association of Deposit Insurers [IADI] and was at one Chairman of IADI’s Africa Region. There is also a short chapter of testimony by some persons who either schooled or worked with Umaru Ibrahim over the decades.
On the whole, this book is very rich and tells the story of the Nigerian public service and, especially, of deposit insurance and its unique challenges through the life of a man who went through it all in a prominent capacity. Bankers, economists, public servants and the general reader will all find it a useful addition to their knowledge and experience about a critical sector of our economic life that is not well known because it prefers to operate quietly. But deposit insurance protects us from the immense distress that is bank illiquidity and collapse!