FeaturesFemale Bankers Breaking Into Male Bastions

Female Bankers Breaking Into Male Bastions


April 1, (THEWILL)- Say what you will about former military President Ibrahim Babangida, history will remember him for appointing women into jobs traditionally held by men. First was Professor Grace Alele-Williams as Vice Chancellor of University of Benin in 1985. Next was Mrs. Maria Sokenu as Managing Director of People’s Bank of Nigeria in 1992. In the intervening years, women have since crashed the glass ceiling in male dominated professions – aviation, engineering, law and, as is now plainly obvious, banking. THEWILL considers female MDs and CEOs of banks in Nigeria today. Michael Jimoh reports…

Bolaji Agbede, Kafilat Araoye, Halima Buba, Yemisi Edun, Nneka Onyeali-Ikpe, Ireti Samuel-Ogbu, Miriam Chidiebele Olusanya, Yetunde Oni, Oluwatomi Ayodele Somefun, Bukola Smith and Adaora Umeoji are all united by a common interest not only as bankers of some renown but also MD and CEO of their respective banks.

Together, they sit on top of some of the most viable banking institutions in Nigeria with a combined asset base in trillions of naira, perhaps more than the annual budget of six or so states for 2023 fiscal year. Two, three or so decades ago, it would have been unthinkable to have half as many on the board of opulent corporations (except as Company Secretary) let alone preside over crucial meetings where men are more in number. But starting from April 2015 when the very first of them Tomi Somefun was appointed MD/ CEO of Unity Bank, and during management meetings every Monday anywhere from Marina to Victoria Island and Ikoyi, heads (mostly male) turn to the women sitting at the head of oval, polished table tops reflecting the men’s cufflinks.

As for Oga Madam presiding, a Byblos pant suit will be just fine, complemented with expensive but not garish earrings and a matching silver or gold necklace. Gone are the days when the closest women could get in the banking hierarchy is the door next to the MD’s office, secretary-glasses firmly in place welcoming visitors to see Oga with that perpetual smile that hurts cheek muscles. As is now common, women have since crashed through the glass ceiling moving on and up to the astonishment of some male chauvinists bemoaning their fate that the female folk are sweeping them aside and taking over jobs traditionally meant for them.

The women themselves are not letting up. Newspaper headlines in the last couple weeks have been awash with high profile female achievers, considering that International Women’s Day is still fresh in the air and so celebrating female achievers is only to be expected.

“Full List: 11 female CEOs of top banks in Nigeria,” one headline screamed recently and proceeded to do just that by naming the women in question. Another catchy title boasted thusly: “Leading Ladies: Meet 10 female CEOs shaping Nigeria’s banking sector,” complete with the alluring photographs of the prime movers and shakers calling the shots in banking halls. “As the world celebrates women across the globe for their contributions in all spheres of life in March,” the same newspaper underscored the importance of IWD, “it is pertinent to recognise some amazing female leaders in Nigeria’s banking sector.”

With a sweet smile of success on their faces, they all boasted formidable CVs, one a Mathematics and Statistics graduate, another with a first degree in Chemistry, another in Pharmacy, some more in Education English, Accounting and Business Admin. Many of them are fellows of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria. Remarkably, all of them have been working assiduously like a computer and quietly like a Hoover.

For instance, aside colleagues in banking, most people probably never heard of Mrs. Bolaji Agbede until relatively recently after erstwhile MD, CEO of Access Bank Herbert Wigwe died in a helicopter crash last month in the U.S., along with his wife, son, friend and crew of two. For those alive and the bank he left behind, life must go on. And so, a replacement for the deceased was announced in the person of Agbede.

You can be sure that ever since her appointment last month, Agbede’s resume will be required reading to most graduate students of Lagos Business School, starting with a degree in Mathematics and Statistics from University of Lagos in 1990, her early years in managerial positions at GTB, notably as vault custodian and relationship manager. Agbede has also had stints with JKG Limited, a business consulting firm. Her move to Access Bank in 2003 where she took charge of the company’s chemical trading portfolio was justly deserved. She was the bank’s most senior founding executive director in charge of business support before her recent promotion to MD/ CEO.

The very first of the women who got elevated to MD/ CEO of a commercial bank in Nigeria was Tomi Somefun back in April 2015. A graduate of Education English from Obafemi Awolowo University Ile Ife, PhD at Redeemers University, alumnus of both Harvard Business School and Columbia Business School, Somefun did not start her career initially in banking. She had a brief spell with a financial service industry Peat Marwick & Co and then Arthur Anderson now KPMG. At Unity Bank, Somefun rose to the post of executive director before her appointment as the overall boss making her a pacesetter of the female bank execs to come after her.

In 2020, two female senior bank workers were given command of the banks they had put in years of active service. The first of them was Kafilat Araoye appointed MD/ CEO of Lotus Bank. A first degree in History would not have been an ideal qualification to work in a banking hall under any circumstance. But then, Araoye went on to study Industrial Relations & Personnel Management from University of Lagos in 1987 and, at different times, Cranfield School of Management U.K., Lagos Business School, Institute of Management Development Switzerland and Ross Business School University of Michigan. All of that smoothed her way through managerial positions, first, at National Oil and Chemicals Marketing Company Plc (Conoil) in 1988 and then pioneer head of Human Resources at GTB in 1990.

Analysts in the industry describe Araoye as an expert “in virtually all areas of core banking, with emphasis on international and domestic operations, Business Development, Risk Management, Human Resources and Strategy, ethical banking and social responsibility,” all of which will aid her in her position as MD/CEO of Lotus Bank.

The second female banker appointed in the same 2020 is Ireti Samuel-Ogbu MD/CEO of CitiBank. She became the first female CEO of the bank in Nigeria. Samuel-Ogbu had served in three continents in various capacities for the international bank in Europe, Middle East and Africa where she was Head, Payments and Receivables, Treasury and Trade Solutions under the bank’s Institutional Clients Group (ICG) London. With degrees in Accounting and Finance and MBA from Middlesex University and University of Bradford respectively, Samuel-Ogbu, according to industry sources, has “vast experience in international banking, bringing a global perspective to the Nigerian market, as she has served the banking needs at local and global level since 1984, focusing her leadership on providing innovative financial solutions and leveraging technology to enhance customer experience.”

2021 couldn’t have started off so pleasantly for Nnena Onyeali-Ikpe who had joined Fidelity Bank six years before. On New Year day, the management of the bank announced her as the new MD/CEO making her the first female to ever head the bank since inception in 1988. With a first degree in Law from University of Nigeria Nsukka and Masters’ in the same discipline from King’s College London, Onyeali-Ikpe was the executive director for Lagos and the entire South-west directorate for years. Overseeing the busiest geopolitical zone with the largest customer base certainly propelled her rise to the top job at Fidelity Bank. Commentators have said the New Year gift for Onyeali-Ikpe is well earned.

Also deserving of her position as MD/CEO is the appointment of Yemi Edun of First City Monument Bank. Like Onyeali-Ikpe, she is the first female to occupy that plum position in the bank’s history. A first degree in Chemistry from Obafemi Awolowo University Ile Ife would have meant a possible career in Food & Beverages companies forever fussing over samples in microscopes and not without her pristine lab coat. But once she furthered her education with a Masters’ in International Accounting and Finance from University of Liverpool, U.K., it was clear she was going to trade her lab coat for snazzier pant suits and nifty stilettos.

Edun began her career with Akintola Williams Deloitte in 1987, focusing on Corporate Finance activities and auditing of banks and other financial institutions.

In July 2021, the Central Bank of Nigeria approved her appointment as FCMB boss. It was not for nothing considering Edun’s intimidating resume: Fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria and a CFA® Charter holder; Associate Member of the Chartered Institute of Stockbrokers as well as Associate Member of the Institute of Taxation of Nigeria.

Miriam Chidiebele Olusanya was also appointed to head GTB in the same month and year as her colleague at FCMB. She graduated with a degree in Pharmacy from University of Ibadan and then proceeded to University of Liverpool where she had a Master of Business Administration. Olusanya joined GTB in 1998 as an executive trainee and was an executive director before her appointment to the top job in the bank.

Of all the female bank bosses, none possibly has the wealth of experience across different banks in the country as Halima Buba appointed MD/CEO of Sun Trust Bank. She obtained a first degree in Business Management from University of Maiduguri and an MBA from the same institution. For 22 years, Buba worked in various capacities at Allstates Trust Bank, Ecobank, Inland Bank, Oceanic and Zenith banks, gathering experience along the way. The boss of Sun Trust is an alumnus of Lagos Business School, a member of the board of several financial institutions such as Nigeria Sovereign Investment Authority.

Also in 2021, Bukola Smith became MD of FSDH Merchant Bank. A first degree in Economics from University of Lagos and an MBA from Alliance Manchester Business School University of Manchester apparently prepared her for her future métier. Smith has been credited with establishing over 200 branches of the bank nationwide with 28 years of experience focusing on public sector, business banking, agriculture and transaction banking divisions.

Industry watchers insist that under Smith, “the bank’s SME-focused team in three years moved from 5th position in the industry to 1st position in 2019 (KPMG Customer Service Report 2020)…she established the FCMB Women in Business Desk (branded SheVentures) which supports female entrepreneurs and set up FCMB Trustees and FCMB Custody.”

Though Yetunde Oni had been MD/ CEO of Standard Chartered Bank in Sierra Leone, this is the first time she will rise to the top of a bank in her own country with her appointment as MD/CEO of Union Bank of Nigeria.

Described as “a seasoned professional with over 25 years in the banking sector known for her dynamic leadership and expertise in client solutions and team management,” Oni had a first degree in Economics from University of Ibadan and an MBA from Bangor University Wales. She began her career at Prime Merchant Bank Treasury & Money Markets Group, then as Relationship Manager with Ecobank for 11 years. In 2005, Oni joined Standard Chartered Bank Nigeria rising through several managerial positions and then Managing Director & Country Head of Commercial Banking in West Africa.

The last of the female Amazons in banking in Nigeria is by no means the least. Adaora Umeoji is certainly bracing up for a job she will step into on June 1 as GMD/CEO of Zenith Bank to replace Ebenezer Onyeagwu the current top man. His tenure will elapse on May 31.

Umeoji is a Sociology graduate from University of Jos, another degree in Accounting and a First-Class honours Law graduate from Baze University Abuja. The newly appointed MD/CEO has a sheaf of impressive degrees from institutions of higher learning within and outside Nigeria: Master of Law from University of Salford, MBA from University of Calabar, Doctoral degree in Business Administration from Appollos University Great Falls Montana United States.

With these number of female bankers stepping into the boss’s shoes in nearly a dozen banks across Nigeria, it is something to be cheerful about, especially for the women folk forever griping about lack of equal opportunities for them. According to a recent report on executive job placement for women, the stats are encouraging.

For instance, a subsidiary of Agusto & Co, Agusto Consulting, which is a pan-African credit rating agency, states that “the share of women on boards surged to an all-time high in 2022. It showed that the share of female board members has risen steadily in the past five years, hitting 25 percent from 18 percent in 2018. That compares with 36 percent in South Africa, 41 percent in the United Kingdom and 35 percent in the United States.”

Translation? More women in Nigeria are expected to be calling the shots from top positions in banks as the years roll by.

About the Author

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Michael Jimoh is a Nigerian journalist with many years experience in print media. He is currently a Special Correspondent with THEWILL.

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Michael Jimoh, THEWILLhttps://thewillnews.com
Michael Jimoh is a Nigerian journalist with many years experience in print media. He is currently a Special Correspondent with THEWILL.

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