The joy, the excitement, the thrill of being presented with a brand new book can only be compared with the indescribable emotions that come with the arrival of a new baby. A copy of my friend Aigboje Aig-Imoukhuede’s new baby, the highly anticipated corporate memoir titled LEAVING THE TARMAC: BUYING A BANK IN AFRICA was brought to my house early this Wednesday morning as I was doing my routine daily workouts.
I had seen the book a couple of years ago in its incubation. I saw a draft of it on Aig’s desk while interviewing him on some of the things he must have mentioned in the book. For long, I have been an admirer of the close friendship and smooth partnership between Aig and his bosom friend Herbert Wigwe, a friendship that reminds me of David and Jonathan, a friendship that goes back to Damon and Pythias, the Pythagorean ideal of friendship, a friendship that I can easily resonate with, except that I have lost my own friend and business partner. During the interview, I asked Aig what true friendship means and his answer was profoundly touching. If you want a case study in sustainable friendship, I am sure you will find shades of it in this new book.
In a country where our leaders keep procrastinating, keep postponing writing their memoirs, Aig-Imoukhuede has done well in putting something together for posterity and for the young generation to read and be inspired. I have just started reading the 217-page book. The foreword is written by no other person than our ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo, a man who is no stranger to writing memoirs, autobiographies and scholarly books. A wizened elder statesman with a rich tapestry of leadership experiences. From his life as an author of repute, Obasanjo knows that writing non-fiction is a risky venture akin to sitting on the Sword of Damocles. You cannot avoid “stepping on some toes,” he says. Here is what the old man of letters, author of books like “My Command” and “Not My Will” wrote in his foreword to Aig-Imoukhuede’s compelling story of a young man who bought a bank and grew it big to the glory of God:
When the author Aigboje Aig-Imoukhuede approached me to write the foreword to his book, I asked him if the content is one hundred per cent accurate; he responded in the affirmative. I went on to tell him if so, he must have stepped on some toes, because every true story reveals the good, the bad and the ugly sides of life; it reveals our strength and successes, weaknesses and failures as well as those of other parties we may encounter along the way.
Leaving the Tarmac is a frank account of Access Bank’s rapid rise from a position of insignificance in 2002 to one of national importance and regional leadership ten years later. It is not a coincidence that these successes were achieved during the author’s watch as MD/CEO, supported by his able deputy Herbert Wigwe.
As President of Nigeria, I continuously sought the views and inputs of entrepreneurs and professionals within the private sector to ensure that our reform programme remained on the right track. Aig was an active participant during the interactions, he also stood out as a private sector leader who clearly understood my vision for Nigeria’s economic development.
The book reveals how he strategically positioned his bank to benefit from our National Economic Empowerment and Development Strategy agenda.
Through NEEDS, I was determined to engineer the emergence of at least seven mega-banks who could compare favourably with the leading banks in South and North Africa in terms of relevance, capital, size and reach. Only then would the Nigerian banking sector be able to catalyse the growth of the real sector and finance large infrastructure projects. In 2004, we raised the minimum of capital of banks from N2 billion to N25 billion, compelling them to consolidate. The consolidation strategy was a spectacular success and the industry grew exponentially during my second term (2003-2007). Our capitalization policy also unleashed fierce competition and entrepreneurial activity within the banking sector, with Nigerian banks attracting huge investments and global recognition. Of course in any reform programme there are winners and losers. This book explains why Access Bank emerged as a winner and remains so today.
My general opinion of banks and bankers has not always been positive, particularly when they display short-termism and a narrow focus devoid of national interest. Access Bank, whilst not perfect, has been refreshingly different from the normal run, its commitment to sustainable business practices has seen the bank take the lead on issues of economic development, health, women empowerment, corporate governance and so on.
For this reason, whenever they seek my support in their quest to become the world’s most respected African bank it is forthcoming. It is my fervent hope and prayer that the bank maintains its enviable track record long after Aig’s retirement as CEO.
—CHIEF OLUSEGUN OBASANJO, GCFR