When Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Do not follow where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail,” he probably had in mind the likes of Chief (Sir) Anthony Obi Umeh, Ochikota, Igbo-Ukwu.
The Anambra State-born banker and community leader, today, has joined the octogenarian club.
Born on June 10, 1940, he is one of the five sons and five daughters of Ichie Jonathan Umenwosu Ekwebene, Onyia Oha.
By dint of hard work, determination and unparalleled commitment to details beyond bottom lines, Chief Umeh rose to the pinnacle of the banking world and, as a community leader, he has shown the direction for his people to follow, and the corollary is the attainment of lofty heights by many sons and daughters of Igbo-Ukwu.
His illustrious career in banking began at Barclays Bank DCO (now Union Bank of Nigeria Plc), Garden Avenue branch, Enugu, on April 18, 1961. Barely two weeks at Enugu, he was transferred to Makurdi. While there, he was able to complete the entire London Institute of Bankers’ examination and qualified as a banker (ACIB). In 1967, he was promoted and designated as head office staff but still based in Makurdi.
Chief Umeh left for the United Kingdom in July 1967 for training/attachment with Barclays Bank Ltd and had the opportunity of working in at least four branches during his attachment in the UK.
He continued to rise meritoriously in the industry, and on August 1, 1989, he was appointed a deputy general manager, and etched his name in Nigeria’s book of firsts, as the first Nigerian to be the chief inspector of Union Bank, and also the first Nigerian to be the chairman of the Committee of Chief Inspectors of all banks in Nigeria, which was a sub-committee of the Bankers’ Committee of the Central Bank of Nigeria.
By 1991, he was posted back to the head office as the deputy general manager in charge of all branches of the bank outside Lagos State. On August 18, 1993, he was redeployed as deputy general manager, corporate banking group, where he stayed briefly before he left Union Bank for another national assignment.
A wider door was opened for him. In October 1993, the Nigeria Deposit Insurance Corporation (NDIC), on behalf of the CBN, appointed him the managing director/chief executive, and a member of the interim management board of the CCB.
When the board of the bank was dissolved on March 17, 1995, he was reappointed aa member of the transition supervisory board and the managing director of CCB.
His efforts at reviving the bank were met with many constraints; he resigned his appointment on June 2, 1995, in preparation for his retirement from the banking industry on June 10, 1995, after 55 years.
He was instrumental to setting up the Igbo-Ukwu Microfinance Bank, and also the establishment of a branch of Union Bank at Igbo-Ukwu.
He is the chairman, board of directors, Apex Hospital Group. His case is different, as he is a prophet with honour in his home, following his elevation to the status of a merit chief with the title of Ochikota Igbo-Ukwu in 1990.
Ochikota Igbo-Ukwu got married on August 2, 1969, to formerly Miss Philomena Ngozi Umeh, a beautiful lady. The marriage was ordained in the banking hall, as both were staffers of Union Bank. Last year, they celebrated 50 years of successful marriage that produced six children and grandchildren. By coincidence, his wife had the same surname with him before marriage.
Chief Umeh is a member of several social and religious groups, including Ikoyi Club 38, Peoples Club of Nigeria International, etc. He is also involved in community projects and some philanthropy.
He is a Papal Knight of St. Sylvester.