Entertainment & SocietyFemale bankers shattering the glass ceiling

Female bankers shattering the glass ceiling


After decades of taking the back seat, Nigeria’s banking sector is witnessing a paradigm shift; women are now taking over the driver’s seat, shattering glass ceilings and steering the multi-billion-naira industry. It was the late Bola Kuforiji-Olubi who paved the way back in 1984 as the chairman of United Bank for Africa. She would later become the first woman to be made the president of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria, ICAN in 1989. A decade before then, she was the first woman to lead a multinational, VYB Nigeria Ltd. Her legacy helped spur a new wave of women leaders in the banking sector. IVORY UKONU shines the spotlight on these female banking gurus.

Hajara Adeola
She is the wife of Fola Adeola, a co-founder of Guaranty Trust Bank and one of two females chairing a bank, Hajara is the Chairman of Lotus Bank. Before transforming into a bank, it was Lotus Capital Limited, a pioneer firm in Shari’ah-compliant asset management, private wealth management advisory services and financial advisory services.

Successful in her own right, she has made remarkable strides in the finance business in Nigeria. With over 20 years’ experience working in top-tier global investment banks in the United Kingdom and Nigeria, Hajara stepped up with the coming of Lotus Bank Limited, the first non-interest bank to commence operations in south-western Nigeria with a focus to serve people of all faiths. Before founding Lotus Capital, Hajara had worked with Arthur Anderson Consulting (now Accenture), UBS Warburg, BNP Paribas, and ARM Investment Managers. With solid academic qualifications, including an MSc in Finance (Durham University); MBA International Management (Exeter University), and BSc in Pharmacology (King’s College, London), Hajara has been instrumental to the development of Islamic finance products in the capital market and the issuance of the Sukuk bond in Nigeria.

Harriet-Ann Omobolanle Adesola
Fondly referred to as Bola Adesola, she is the Chairman of Ecobank. She was previously Senior Vice-Chairman at Standard Chartered Bank Group. Bola has over 33 years of experience in the banking sector. She commenced her banking career with Prime Merchant Bank, where she served as Treasury Officer before moving to Citibank in 1990. While at Citibank she held several Treasury roles, including Country Treasurer for Citibank Tanzania. Her nine years with Citibank included other senior management roles for nine years in Nigeria. In 1999, she was headhunted and appointed Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer of Kakawa Discount House Limited, a securities trading and asset management firm owned by a consortium of the biggest banks in Nigeria at that time.

In 2005, she joined First Bank as the Executive Director, Corporate Banking. Thereafter she became the Executive Director, Lagos Directorate for the bank. She also served as Director on the boards of FBN Capital Limited, and FBN Trustees Limited. In 2011, Standard Chartered Bank Nigeria Limited appointed Bola as the first Nigerian, and first female CEO of the bank. Bola’s portfolio for Standard Chartered Bank was expanded in 2015 to include the Group’s business in West Africa. She also served on the boards of the Standard Chartered Bank in Ghana, Cameroun, Cote D’Ivoire, respectively.

She was Chairman of Standard Chartered Bank, Mauritius. After eight years of firmly embedding sustainable profitability for the bank and championing the growth and development of African talent for the bank, Bola was appointed Senior Vice-Chairman, Africa for Standard Chartered Bank.

In May 2021, Mrs Adesola retired from Standard Chartered Bank after 10 years of impactful service. In July 2021, she was appointed to the board of Ecobank Nigeria Limited as Chairman. She has also been Chairman, Lagos State Employment Trust Fund (LSETF) since July 2020.

As a board member of Imperial Logistics Plc, a shipper listed on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange, Bola also serves on the Board Social, Ethics and Sustainability Committee. She is an alumnus of Harvard Business School and Lagos Business School, as well as the immediate past-President of the Alumni Association. Bola holds a Law degree from the University of Buckingham, UK and is an Associate of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators, UK and Nigeria. She is an Honorary Fellow and former Council Member of the Chartered Institute of Bankers Nigeria, a founding Trustee of Financial Markets Dealers Association and has served on the boards of Nigeria Interbank Settlement Systems Plc and the Financial Institutions Training Centre. Bola is also past Chair of the Bankers’ Committee sub-Committee on Economic Development, Sustainability and Gender (Nigeria). She is also a member of the Institute of Directors and of Women Corporate Directors. She sits on the board of several organisations. In 2015, she was appointed to the United Nations Global Compact (UNGC) Board by the UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki Moon and as Co Vice-Chair of the Board in February 2018.

Kafilat Araoye
She is the MD/CEO of Lotus Bank. Kafilat holds a first degree in History from the University of Ife, now Obafemi Awolowo University, and an M.Sc. in Industrial Relations and Personnel Management from the University of Lagos. With over 30 years in banking, Kafilat’s dedication to ethical banking and social responsibility is evident in her work at Lotus Bank. She champions sustainable financial practices and promotes investment in community development projects.

Kafilat also holds Islamic Finance certifications issued by Ethica Institute of Islamic Finance, the Chartered Institute for Securities and Investment/Bahrain Institute of Banking and Finance, as well as the Islamic Research and Training Institute.

She has attended various executive management courses at the Cranfield School of Management (UK), Lagos Business School, Institute of Management Development (Switzerland) and INSEAD (France), Ross business School, University of Michigan (USA). She is certified in specialised banking courses, conferences and seminars, among them are the Structured Trade Finance Course by Euromoney U.K, Payments, Clearing and Settlement Conference by National Association of Clearing Houses, USA2006, 2007, 2008, International Banker’s Seminar, USA, South Africa and Swift regional conference.

She started her career in 1988 at National Oil and Chemicals Marketing Company Plc (now Conoil Nigeria Plc), and moved in 1990 to Guaranty Trust Bank Plc, as the pioneer head of Human Resources. She left with accolades in 2015 as General Manager but continued to consult for banks and other sectors through her consulting outfit until 2018 when she was appointed as the MD Designate for LOTUS Bank.

Kafilat has served, and currently serves as Member of the Governing Board of many institutions amongst them are Fountain University Osogbo; Crescent Schools; Victoria Island and City of Knowledge academy; Elder’s Council; Al Muhtudeen Islamic Foundation.

Nneka Onyeali-Ikpe OON
She has been the MD/CEO of Fidelity Bank for three years, but in that time, she took over from Nnamdi Okonkwo, her leadership role has seen the bank grow exponentially based on her track record of outstanding performances. Before she became the first female CEO of the bank, she had been an integral part of the transformation of the bank in the last six years as an executive director, Lagos and South-West. Vastly experienced, Onyeali-Ikpe spent over 30 years working across various banks, including Standard Chartered Bank Plc, Zenith Bank Plc and Citizens International Bank/Enterprise Bank, where she held several management positions in Legal, Treasury, Investment Banking, Retail/Commercial Banking and Corporate Banking. The 59-year-old holds a Bachelor of Law from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, and a Master of Law from Kings College, London. She has attended executive training programmes at various institutions including Harvard Business School, The Wharton School University of Pennsylvania, London Business School, Said Business School, Oxford University, UK.

Miriam Chidiebele Olusanya
She is also the first female MD/CEO of Guaranty Trust Bank. She joined the bank as an executive trainee in 1998 and rose through the ranks and garnered experiences across Transaction Services, Asset and Liability Management, Financial Markets, Investment Banking and Investor Relations. She is known for her strong leadership, strategic vision, and commitment to financial inclusion. Miriam holds a Bachelor of Pharmacy (B. Pharm) degree from the University of Ibadan, Nigeria and a Master of Business Administration (Finance and Accounting) from the University of Liverpool, United Kingdom. She has also attended several executive management and banking specific developmental programs in leading educational institutions around the world.

Prior to mounting the saddle as driver of the bank, Miriam served as a Non-Executive Director on the Board of Guaranty Trust Bank (Gambia) Limited. She was also the Group Treasurer and Head, Wholesale Banking Division, responsible for balance sheet and financial markets activities of the Bank and its African subsidiaries, Corporate Finance as well as Investor Relations.

Yemisi Edun
She is the first female MD/CEO of First City Monument Bank, FCMB. She holds a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from the University of Ife, Ile-Ife, and a master’s degree in international accounting and finance from the University of Liverpool. Yemisi, who recently clocked 60 boasts an impressive track record in risk management and corporate governance. Under her leadership, FCMB has witnessed significant growth and diversification, solidifying its position as a leading player in the Nigerian banking sector. She began her career with Akintola Williams Deloitte (member firm of Deloitte Touché Tohmatsu) in 1987, with main focus in Corporate Finance activities. She was also involved in audits of Banks and other Financial Institutions.

Tomi Somefun
Like Yemisi Edun, Miriam Olusanya and Nneka Onyeali-Ikpe, Tomi Somefun is also the first MD/CEO of Unity Bank. A graduate of English Language from the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife in Osun state, Tomi is an alumnus of Harvard Business school and University of Columbia Business School, New York. She began her professional career with Peat Marwick and Co. and later moved to Arthur Andersen (now KPMG) from where she moved to UBA Group where she led two major subsidiaries of UBA including a startup company, UBA Pensions Custodian and became its pioneer MD/CEO. The 61 year old would later join Unity Bank plc as an executive director overseeing Lagos and southwest business directorates and the treasury department before assuming the role of MD/CEO in 2015.

Halima Buba
She is the MD/CEO of SunTrust Bank. A seasoned banker with over 22 years of cognate experience that spans the defunct All States Trust Bank, Zenith bank, Inland Bank, Oceanic bank, Eco Bank as a deputy general manager before climbing the saddle of SunTrust Bank as its pioneer MD/CEO. Halima holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Management from the University of Maiduguri, as well as an MBA from the same university. She is an alumnus of the Lagos Business School and honorary member of the Chartered Institute of Bankers and a Fellow of the Institute of Management Consultants. She sits on the board of Taj Consortium, an organization made up of young dynamic technocrats and financial advisory experts; Anchoria Asset Management Company Ltd; Nigerian Sovereign Investment Authority, NSIA and Adamawa Savings and Homes Ltd.

Bukola Smith
She is the MD/CEO of FSDH Merchant Bank Limited. Smith holds an MBA from Alliance Manchester Business School, University of Manchester, United Kingdom, and a B.Sc in Economics from the University of Lagos. She is a Fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria (ICAN), an Honorary Member of the Chartered Institute of Bankers, and an Associate Member, Certified Institute of Pensions (Nigeria). Smith has over 30 years of progressive experience in the industry with a track record of strategic execution and leadership. Smith was an executive director-business development at First City Monument Bank (FCMB) and held several other leadership positions in FCMB. She was responsible for the bank’s 200 branches across the country, as well as the public sector, business banking, agriculture, and transaction banking divisions. Under her leadership, the bank’s SME-focused team moved from 5th position in the industry to first position in 2019 (KPMG Customer Service Report 2020) within three years. She also set up FCMB Trustees and FCMB Custody, both of which broke even in the first year of operations and are building traction in the asset management field. Little wonder she was tapped to replicate her magic at FSDH.

Ireti Samuel Ogbu
Ireti Samuel-Ogbu was appointed MD/CEO of CitiBank in September 2020, the first female CEO of the bank in Nigeria, after 36 years of operating in Africa’s largest economy. Ireti holds a Bachelor of Arts in Accounting and Finance from Middlesex University, United Kingdom, and an MBA from the University of Bradford, United Kingdom. With extensive experience in international banking, Ireti brings a global perspective to the Nigerian market. Under her leadership, Citibank is focusing on providing innovative financial solutions and leveraging technology to enhance customer experience.

Before her appointment, she was the head of payments and receivables, treasury and trade solutions for Europe, Middle East and Africa at Citi’s institutional clients group based in the United Kingdom. Ireti took over Citigroup’s Nigerian office at a time when the West Africa nation’s banking industry was struggling with the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic, a slump in oil prices and a dollar scarcity that is choking the economy and hampering businesses.

Yetunde Oni
She is the second female MD/CEO of Union Bank after Funke Osibodu in the over 100-year-old bank. She assumed that position on January 10, 2024, following the dissolution of the Board and Management of Union Bank, Keystone Bank, and Polaris Bank. The appointment marked a significant development in Union Bank’s leadership, with Yetunde’s extensive experience expected to play a crucial role in the bank’s strategic direction. Prior to her appointment, she was the first female managing director and CEO at Standard Chartered Bank in Sierra Leone. Yetunde holds a degree in Economics from the University of Ibadan, Executive Training at Oxford University, and an MBA in Business Administration from Bangor University. She started her banking career at Prime Merchant Bank Treasury & Money Markets Group in 1991 and then joined Ecobank Nigeria as a Relationship manager. In January 2005, Oni joined Standard Chartered Bank Nigeria as a Senior Account Relationship Manager where she rose to become the head of local corporates in 2010 and in 2014 was appointed as the Managing Director & Country Head of their Commercial Banking unit in West Africa. She is a honorary member of the Chartered Institute of Bankers of Nigeria and Nigerian British Chamber of Commerce (NBCC).

Adaora Umeoji OON
She is the first female MD/CEO of Zenith Bank Plc and she will be using her over 30 years of banking experience to steer the tier one bank to its next levels. Prior to her appointment, she was the Deputy Managing Director of the bank. Adora holds a Bachelor’s degree in Sociology from the University of Jos, a Bachelor’s degree in accounting, and a First-Class Honours in Law from Baze University, Abuja. Her educational achievements also include a Master of Law from the University of Salford, UK, and a Master’s in Business administration (MBA) from the University of Calabar.

Adaora’s academic pursuits extend to a Doctorate in Business Administration from Apollos University, USA, and a Certificate in Economics for Business from MIT Sloan School of Management, USA. She has completed executive programmes in Strategic Management at Harvard Business School and attended the Global Banking Programme at Columbia Business School, USA.

Additionally, she participated in management programmes at various renowned universities worldwide, including Wharton Business School, USA, and has a certificate in Leading Global Business from Harvard Business School. She is the founder of the Catholic Bankers Association of Nigeria (CBAN), known for promoting ethical banking and humanitarian service.

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