Jim Ovia rewrites Africa’s story

Those who see Africa as the dark continent got a fit and proper reply yesterday.

They are wrong, going by the story of a foremost banker, philanthropist and business icon, Jim Ovia, whose autobiography was presented in Lagos.

Ovia rose from a humble background to become chairman and founder of Zenith Bank Plc, one of the few giants in the industry..

The expansive Eko Hotel Convention Centre on Lagos Island was throbbing with dignitaries who listened attentively as Dr Christopher Kolade, who chaired the colourful ceremony, spoke.

He said: “The Africa story was always being told by those who didn’t have the right perspective and knowledge of the continent.”

Listening were Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, All Progressives Congress (APC) stalwart Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, doyen of Accountancy Pa Akintola Williams and former Commonwealth Secretary General Chief Emeka Anyaoku.

There were also bankers, industrialists, diplomats, politicians, including senators, governors, House of Reps members, senior military personnel and traditional rulers. Ovia said he wrote the book to correct the erroneous impressions that Africa represented anything but good. He said the foreigners’ opinion of Africa was based on limited information about the continent, adding that Africa has come of age and that the book’s title, Africa, rise and shine reflects the strides attained in the continent over the last 30years.

The Special Guest of Honour, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo said: I’m impressed, not surprised about Jim’s success. The book has captured the Nigerian dream, especially where he said: ‘If I can do it, you can do it’. We need to rebrand Africa. Economies driven by technology will always blossom. The book is a civic tax that Jim has paid to better the society.”

Dr. Kolade, former Nigerian High Commissioner to Britain, who chaired the occasion, said Ovia had influenced many in corporate Nigeria, adding that it was a privilege to chair the event. He said he was happy to witness Africa as a shining continent, as the story is now being told by someone who is knowledgeable and a shining example of the rising and shining African.

Kolade said: “I accepted not only to read the book, but to do a write-up on the book.”

Lagos State Governor Akinwunmi Ambode said: if you are a professional accountant, you will have reason to come across Jim.”

To him, the book is inspiring and good for everyone who wants to be successful. “

Tinubu described the book as “a remarkable one”. He said: “Jim wrote the book himself and there are no fictions or embellishments. It is worth reading and studying by youths. Jim was never afraid to try. He believes in Africa and Nigeria where everyone has the opportunity to do well in banking, healthcare, technology, among other sectors. He is an example that it is possible for the continent to grow. Jim has demonstrated that hard work is important for us to create the future we dream of.”

Several other personalities, including Mrs. Folorunso Alakija, Tony Elumelu, Chairman of United Bank for Africa and HEIRS Holdings, spoke glowingly of Ovia’s attributes and immense contributions to banking.

Ovia is the godfather of banking in our time. He is a philanthropist who has worked hard to get to where he is today. He has also established the Jim Ovia Foundation to better the lives of people, Mrs. Alakija said.

Ovia, who mounted the podium shortly after Osinbajo said: “You must use your God-given sense and go with your guts. 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.”

Ovia, who is reputed for his love for IT, said the internet enables one to do online transactions, online sales, online education and everything. He said Amazon is now over $1 trillion, pointing out that it doesn’t have a factory anywhere.

He said: “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, 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.

“The narrative of Africa has been something so pathetic. 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.”

He went on: “Between then and now, what you have is that GDP per capita of many African countries is 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 had 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.  Today, no single Africa country that

Central Bank Governor Godwin Emefiele, a former CEO of Zenith Bank, described Ovia as “a true giant of our time, obviously not in size, but in all else!

“In Africa Rise and Shine, Ovia shares very important words of wisdom, drawn from his more than 38-year experience as an undeniable trail blazer in Nigeria’s banking sector, as well as his experience in the telecommunications and insurance sectors. The book conveys an inspirational message on universal principles that are applicable in every country, which can serve as a guide to millions of young Nigerians on how to succeed, especially not only because of the opportunities around you, but also despite the challenges in your environment,” Emefiele said.

He listed some of the attributes as devotion to knowledge,  commitment to excellence, and courage to dare where many fear. “As you will find in the book, these factors were instrumental in enabling him to build a US$16 billion conglomerate from barely N20 million at start-up of this empire. 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,” Emefiele said.

“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 – 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 3rd Quarter of 2017.”

Other dignitaries at the event included APC National Chairman Adams Oshiomhole, Governors Emmanuel Udom (Akwa Ibom) Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa (Delta), Kashim Shetima (Borno), Ibrahim Dankwanbo (Gombe), Darius Ishaku (Taraba), Chief Oluwarotimi Akeredolu (Ondo) and the Sultan of Sokoto Abubakar Sa’ad’s representative Umar Sanusi.

Chief Wole Olanipekun, SAN, Aliko Dangote represented by his daughter Halima Prof. Pat Utomi, Oba of Lagos, Rilwan Akinolu, Ooni of Ife, Adeyeye Enitan Ogunwusi Ojaja 111, Dein of Agbor, Benjamin Ikenchukwu Keagborekuzi, Pastor Sam Adeyemi, Oba Otudeko, Mrs. Kay Ovia, Mr. Bode Augusto, representative of the Chief of Army Staff, Maj. Gen M.S. Yusuf (GOC 81), THIS DAY& ARISE TV Chairman/Publisher Nduka Obaigbena, Channels TV Chairman John Momoh, Chief Segun Osoba and Zenith Bank CEO Peter Amangbo among others.

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