HERstory

Olufunke Osibodu

Olufunke Osibodu had always known she wanted to be a banker. She went for her dream and made it big, in the process heading several positions in a number of top-notch banks. But this was not all: she also became very instrumental in the introduction of several banking innovations in Nigeria. She continues to play relevant roles in Nigeria’s financial sector.

Birth, Background and a Balance

I was born on 11 January 1959 in Lagos to a family of diverse origins. My mother, Muriel Marion Johnston, came from two country lineages – Nigeria and Sierra Leone. Her mother was from the Efik ethnic group of Cross Rivers State, Nigeria, while her father was an immigrant from Sierra Leone. My father also had roots from two different countries, namely Nigeria and Brazil. His father’s Nigerian ancestry, the Agbe-Davies family, is traced to both Lagos and Ijebu-Ijesha whilst his mother’s, the Emanuel family, represented the Lagos and Brazilian side. This was the setting prior to my birth.

Despite having a good background, my childhood experiences were with my mother. My late father, Arthur Ademola Davies, the only son of his reasonably wealthy parents, lived a carefree and fun-filled life. He lost his dad quite early and was raised by his mother, Feyisayo (Emanuel) Davies. He later had several children from different women but found it difficult to stay for long with any. Therefore, my siblings and I (seven of us) were raised by our mothers. There were two of us from my mother (Muriel Marion Johnson), my elder sister Omolara Davies and myself. Thirteen years after I was born, I had a baby sister, Edith Lardner (now Edith Atobatele).

Olufunke Osibodu

I can recall that when I was very young my father was with us at Layeni Street, Lagos, with his eldest son (my oldest brother) now Professor Ebun Davies. My father later joined his mother at Glover Street, Lagos where he lived until he died. The responsibilities for our welfare rested mainly on our respective mothers and slightly on our paternal grandmother, Mrs Feyisayo Davies.  She made it compulsory for her grandchildren to visit her during holidays. I enjoyed the visit. Her cooking was never completed without her adding garlic to season meat, chicken, etc. She was a very pretty woman from a well-to-do landed family and often travelled abroad for vacations. At some point in time, she lived somewhere around Fadeyi in Yaba, which probably prompted our calling her ‘Mama Yaba’ before she moved to Lagos Island around Omididun/Oshodi (Glover Street).

In our early days, I can recall that my mother had to keep multiple jobs to take care of us. She worked at Elder Dempster Agencies, a shipping and sea-based company which she complemented with another job to give her children very good education. ‘Mami’ (as we fondly called her during our growing up) was a very hardworking and determined young woman. She never wanted any excuse for failure and was tough on us her children so that we would turn out to be useful to ourselves and to our communities.

Childhood with mother certainly evokes mixed feelings. This is because no one could appreciate her sacrifices. Cooking was, as expected, given prominence and mother ensured we were well grounded in the art. We made meals that were not of Nigerian origin and endured some torrid times grinding pepper on the local stone slabs. On Good Fridays, we made a delicacy called ‘frijon’ made out of over 12 hours boiling of black beans, sifted and boiled with grated coconut milk. Since meat was forbidden on Good Friday, this was eaten with fried fish stew and fried gari. Our favourite food every Saturday was the cassava dough, fufu, with mixed okra or bitter leaves soup. We did eat enough to last a lifetime as I’ve never eaten it after my ‘freedom’ from it!

My mother no doubt had a big impact on my life and I owed much of my early training to her commitment. She helped me attain a balance at those formative years, when father was very rarely available. She was always up and doing and willing to go the extra mile to get the desired result. She was also very fussy about education and schooling, always looking for the best, no matter the cost. She still plays this role for her grandchildren even today. She is indeed a model to women in such a condition today.

Olufunke Osibodu

Growing Up in Post-Independence Lagos

I grew up in Layeni Street, a community close to Tinubu and the now notorious Oluwole Street, which is central to the entire Lagos Island. Lagos, as the capital of the nation then, was expectedly busy and rough but not as terrible as we have it today. The city was very peaceful to the extent that one could leave one’s door unlocked in the night till the next morning without fear of any harm or robbery. In fact, people frequently slept outside and it was considered fun. Life at that time was more communal than it is today and children rarely misbehaved, knowing that any adult, known or unknown, could mete out the punishment even without the consent of the parents.

I lived in the ‘agbole’ arrangement, which is a compound occupying several family members. We, however, were the only ones living upstairs but had to regularly come down to fetch water, especially at nights. Our compound had its own tap inside its compound in addition to the public tap in the street. Whenever we went to fetch water, my sister and I were usually addressed as ‘Omo Saro’, which in its true adaptation meant, ‘the child from Sierra Leone’, a reference to our mother’s origin. Household chores usually filled our days and one could not give any excuse for not participating. Even when we brought assignments from school, we were only allowed to quickly finish them before resuming our home duties. We ensured that the house was dust-free despite its windows and doors always flung open to allow for ventilation. I do not have pictures of old and new Lagos, but I am sure they are a world apart from each other. Old Lagos had Brazilian architectural designs which made the environment beautiful. The surroundings were clean and devoid of filth. The Marina also had a Love Garden, where many people went to unwind after work. It was such beautiful scenery. There was order and the public system worked, with sanitary inspectors checking virtually every part of the homes. There was discipline in the whole place, despite the high-density nature of the city.

As a child during those early periods of independence, one always savoured the merriment that went along with its annual celebration. All the schools in Lagos staged a march past at the Tafawa Balewa Square, which must have been thoroughly rehearsed long before October 1, Nigeria’s Independence Day. Whilst waiting for the dignitaries coming to grace the occasion, we the children would line up the streets waving the Nigerian flag and singing. This could take several hours. We were usually eager to get a glimpse of the head of state and were not bothered about the weather condition. We were proud to be Nigerians. But the story is different today.

I blame us Nigerians for our lack of discipline and inability to continue with the orderliness left by the British colonialists. However, even if the blame is not given then, out of the excuse that Nigeria was still a young nation grappling with the complex issues that came with being independent, what about now after almost a half century of self-government?

No Excuse for Failure: The Successful School Days

 I began formal schooling at St. Mary Nursery School, Ajele but spent a short time there, before moving to Aunty Ayo Preparatory School in Keffi for both nursery and primary education. Experiences at these schools, especially at Aunty Ayo, remain fresh in my memory, as they were exciting and sometimes amusing. It was fun for many of us to trek from our base in the central part of Lagos Island to Obalende, where our school was located. It was more enjoyable for us, especially when it rained and we had to occasionally hop into moving buses, many times from Tinubu Street. Our parents would of course become concerned at our dripping selves and prepare hot beverages for us.

The proprietor of Aunty Ayo School, Ayo Manuel, was a renowned disciplinarian and she left a huge impression on my young mind. The school was a co-educational one and had its ‘dos and don’ts’ which no pupil dared disobey. Mrs Banigo, the headmistress and a host of caring teachers contributed significantly to our memorable experience. There was a sand-filled field just behind the school’s premises. It was a playground behind St. Gregory’s College, Obalende, and it had an escape route that led to Awolowo Road which many students passed, even with the protective cable around the field. With the proprietor however, the chances of playing truancy was minimal as she had a proper grip on most of the pupils and did not tolerate laxity.

My progress from Aunty Ayo to Holy Child College, Obalende (which was a walking distance from the former) was never an issue to me. I saw it as the next stage for every student. At Holy Child I was a day student, more of an Art than a Science student, and reasonably intelligent. To a large extent, my experience at Holy Child prepared me for a career in the financial sector. It was an all-girls Catholic mission school with the attendant standards such institutions tend to propagate. It once operated the boarding house system, which I never resided in, before it was later scrapped. Close to us was the boys’ school, St. Gregory’s College, which engendered relationship between students of the two schools, but there was limit to the truancies one could play in such a situation as the reverend mothers and fathers were always very watchful. The distinctive feature of our school from the famous Queen’s College was our reputation for working and playing hard. The motto of the school ‘Action not Word’ was very well practised.

Schooling was fun because one had high-quality facilities and good teachers. This facilitated one’s success at examinations. Discipline was the watchword and there was no other way, what with such personalities as Mrs Sosan, the school principal. She was a tough woman and enforced order in the school. We all respected her a lot. The tradition was maintained with Mrs Majasan, our former English teacher who became the principal after I had left. Other teachers that made impression on me included Mrs Ogunleti (History), Mrs Ojomo (French) and Mr Obi (Art). I met Mrs Ojomo at a function some time ago and remembered how pretty and stylish she was and still is. Mr Obi, on the other hand, could qualify as one of the best artistic persons I have ever met. There was nothing he could not draw. He was particular about giving attention to details, especially the drawing of a female figure using specific ruler dimension. I kept some of his works even after leaving the school.

With such an array of qualitative tutors, one could not give excuses for failure, and unlike nowadays where the need to retake several examinations is very common. The teachers then, besides being tough, were very thorough with duties and always engaged their students with homework. The implication was that one had a very limited playing time, which proved beneficial to the students. There was no need for extra lesson teachers.

Read Also: Clement Chukwudifu

After I completed my secondary education, the options were to either go for ‘A’ Levels at Queen’s College Yaba, or proceed straight to the university. This resulted into a heated argument between my mother and her younger brother (Uncle Benji), who was living with us at the time. While my uncle insisted that I should take up the preliminary (pre-degree) admission offered by the University of Ife, Mom felt I was rather too young for such a challenge and should do the A’ Levels first. The resolution was when I decided to accept the admission and proceeded straight to the university. My mother was not particularly pleased with the decision as I was still relatively young and had never left home for a long period before. She was later proven right when I had to repeat my first year in the university.

Olufunke Osibodu

University, Obstacles and Springboards

I was barely 16 years old when I first went to University of Ife and was totally a greenhorn. I was immediately fascinated by the environment, which was very much unlike Nigeria! It had most beautiful scenery – good hostels, stylish architectural designs and well-watered plants and manicured lawns. In fact, we used to tease our Vice Chancellor then, Professor Aboyade, for preferring to tend his vegetation first before giving us water. The surroundings were well managed and maintained, everywhere indicated an orderly society. It was a closed community devoid of the problems of the larger society and conducive for scholarship. We all lived within the premises of the institution, and were able to relate well with one another.

At the time I got into the university it was two students per room. This increased to four by the time I was leaving. The senior students, however, still had the privilege of more comfortable accommodation and exclusivity. They were allocated the accommodation on either one or two students per room basis. We were all well catered for and comparatively pampered. I was shocked when I visited the same university years later to see my junior sister. It had become more or less a dormitory with eight or more persons in a room.

It was a big challenge to a teenager having to take up responsibilities for the first time. Many of us saw leaving home for university as ‘freedom’ to live the way we had always imagined. This distorted view of freedom later proved to be the number one barrier in facing our studies for some of us undergraduates. Part of freedom was travelling with friends sometimes from school to other places without the knowledge of our parents. Once, my roommates had to cover up for me when mother paid me an unannounced visit while I was away for a party at Ibadan. She was told that I was somewhere reading and it worked. Now, even though these were part of the growing-up process, I look back and shudder at the risks we took. I have learnt many lessons from this.

Part of growing up as a young lady meant that one would also be exposed to female harassment in various ways. I can recall two early incidences, one just before leaving secondary school by a family friend regarded as an uncle and the second at the end of my first year in the university by the lecturer handling one of my elective subjects. The latter resulted in my repeating my first year in the university. In both circumstances it was obvious that each wanted to use the situation where one needed assistance or was vulnerable to seek sexual or compromising favours. I learnt at this early stage that being just an average or marginal person could make one susceptible to the whims of people who wished to victimise you. One of the keys to success is to be above average and also live by the age-old and tested values of life. It does not matter the circumstances one finds oneself, there is no shortcut to lasting success, and the only route is to be above board.

I settled down for my academic studies in the Economics Department. Events and people that I met at the Economics Department restored my zeal for learning and hope of a brighter future. The department was eminently staffed by highly qualified personnel such as Dr ‘Mark Fabro’ Fabayo, who later became head of department and a Professor; Dr (later Professor) Ojo, who later left to work in the private sector and later at the Ford Foundation; Professor Popoola, who later served as a commissioner and the dean of the faculty, and the tough Professor Ekundare, who was the then head of the department of economics. We were given the very best quality of education the country could afford at the time and were vast in our field.

The university period also provided the opportunity of starting several friendships, with some apparently lasting for a lifetime. Some of the closest friends were Deola Okin (now Bako) and now based in Kaduna; my roommates Aunty Agbeke , Mrs Sanwo , Bimbo Phillips (now Dada); Ada Gwam; Sola Oduntan (now Showale); Toyin Balogun; Bukola Degun, Mercy Edorho and others.During my various vacations, there were always jobs available in the financial services, oil & gas and accounting sectors of the economy. My first vacation job as an undergraduate was at National Oil & Chemical Marketing Company Ltd but subsequent times were at an accounting firm, Pannel Fitzpatrick.

Olufunke Osibodu

Preparations for a Banking Profession

I was quite ambitious after my university education and wanted to immediately work in a bank.The NYSC posting eventually came and I was to go to the north. I later found myself in Lagos. In Lagos I wanted to work in a bank, but found myself in the classroom as a teacher at Methodist Boys High School. This was pretty tough for me and proved to be one of my defining moments. Although I spent just a little above three months with them, it toughened me for the challenges ahead, and gave me the skills of how to handle unfriendly circumstances. Opposition came in form of ridicule. As one entered the classes, I was frequently greeted by whistles and ‘boo’ from the boys. My case was not helped by the fact of my being skinny.

I, however, weathered the storm and had spent a little above three months at the school before I was re-posted to the corporate finance department of the Nigerian Acceptances Limited (later renamed NAL Merchant Bank Ltd), which was the oldest merchant bank in the country then. It was no doubt a step in the right direction for me even though I still loved teaching. I loved the teaching profession so much that it made me continue at the school even while working at the bank. The school then had the evening adult education classes. Some of the teachers invited me to join, which I did since my home was at Tinubu, not far from the school. It was convenient for me to partake in the programme because it didn’t disturb my work during the day. More so, the fulfilment I derived from it made it such an exhilarating experience. Several times when I walked along the road and I met people – old and young – who introduced themselves as my students, I was flattered to say the least. It is especially gratifying to be part of the process that actualised some people’s dreams of attaining formal education.

The banking experience garnered as a youth ‘corper’ was invaluable as it was my definitive moment as a future banker. I worked with Atedo Peterside (current MD of IBTC Chartered Bank) who was the head of the department. Wale Edun, former commissioner in Lagos State was also there, as well as Olu Odejimi in charge of the subsidiary of the bank (NSL), among others. It was a small department with several corporate finance mandates and I worked like any other staff there, not as a NYSC recruit. The experience I gained working at the bank could surely be more than two years working somewhere else. I hoped to be retained at the bank after the service year but when I got no assurance from its hierarchy, I applied and got an appointment with another finance institution, Chase Merchant Bank, also a merchant bank. My former NAL employers later contacted me with their offer but it was too late as I had already commenced work in Chase. I picked up my appointment with Continental Merchant Bank Limited (then called CHASE) in 1981 at their treasury unit and worked my way up to become its undesignated head within the first year. I felt my NYSC past experiences had groomed me for the challenges of the new job. It was not difficult to adjust. I constantly reminded my new employers that they were lucky to have me as I could return to where I did my NYSC any time. I never wasted an opportunity to contribute my quota during my stay. I surprised several of the bank’s top executives when I presented an impeccable budget during a budget retreat meeting. They were about to skip treasury department budget presentation (because the head of treasury had just left the bank and I was too junior and still learning the ropes), until I told them that I had a presentation. My presentation that day was one of the landmarks of my life and career as a banking professional.

I met my husband, Gbolade Osibodu whilst in CHASE. After four years, I left CHASE with some of my colleagues, including Yemi Cardoso (a former Lagos State Commissioner), who had been trained by the American Citibank to start with a new bank called Nigerian International Bank (NIB) Limited, the bank being majority owned by the Citibank Group.

Life at NIB was a different kettle of fish and shaped my adulthood. It was during this time that I got married, lived in Ikeja, worked in Victoria Island and was also given the full treasury responsibility at my place of work. I rose to the position of a general manager and vice president in charge of treasury division, having spent over 13 years with the bank. During this time, however, one of my major preoccupations was teaching, as I had to impact practical banking knowledge on the upcoming bankers. This sometimes took me out of Nigeria to different parts of the African continent (Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya, etc). NIB was really an innovative bank and I thoroughly enjoyed my stay there as the treasurer.

In 1996, I left NIB as the most senior Nigerian with the request by my employers to go to an international post whenever I was ready for it. I was already married at the time and as a woman had my limitations. I was very much at the top of my job. I was head-hunted by a couple of recruitment agencies for various CEO positions. I subsequently moved to MBC International Bank Limited as their managing director. As managing director in my new employment, I had the great privilege of fulfilling my ambition for the profession by serving in this capacity for six years. I also subsequently became the managing director at Ecobank Nigeria Plc between October 2002 and March 2006, before leaving as the combination director at Ecobank Transnational Inc, the parent banking group, in August 2006. The banking profession, more than any other I know, takes a lot of time out of an individual. One may be well remunerated but hardly has time for oneself. As a female, no matter the advancement in the office, the home must not suffer and I, with the help of my understanding husband, did my best in juggling and balancing these two areas. One just has to make the most of every time at one’s disposal and never indulge in frivolity.

Spearheading Banking Innovations

Prior to the coming of Nigerian International Bank (NIB) (an offshoot of Citibank), the Nigerian banking industry was populated by cashiers and tellers who were non-graduates. It was the period when one had to repeatedly call one’s tally numbers before being attended to. You could spend three hours waiting to cash a cheque. NIB revolutionised the banking system by employing graduates and second-degree holders as tellers. This made the banking process less cumbersome. Although people found it hard to accept the change initially, they were persuaded after seeing the efficiency of the new arrangement. One graduate teller was doing what six people previously did and was faster at it. The bank had a standard of customers cashing cheques in less than five minutes.

As the treasurer at NIB, I was part of the introduction of several new products and innovations brought by the Citibank Group. Most of the new developments in the Nigerian money and foreign exchange market involved us teaming up with other banks to ensure the workability of such innovations.

There was the introduction of the open market operation (OMO) in treasury bills, the two-way dealing in the foreign exchange market; the trading in various money market securities (commercial paper, banker acceptances, treasury bills); and other money & foreign exchange market process innovations. I was also a pioneer member in the development of the NIBSS (Nigeria Inter-Bank Settlement Systems). This was a payment system owned by all banks to handle interbank and clearing settlement in the country. I was one of its first directors. With this new arrangement, transactions could be carried out between different banks on the same day, and sometimes within a short period.

After assuming headship at MBC International Bank Limited as managing director, we commenced the management trainee programme, which was basically for the purpose of integrating fresh employees (young graduates) into the fundamentals of banking. We observed at the time that the quality of education in the country was below average, with many ‘graduates’ unable to defend their certificates. The programme was therefore introduced to serve as a fast-track process of changing the orientation of the new workforce. In addition to training on various aspects of banking, we organised talks and seminars, reading of motivational books to build self-confidence and focus. The programme ran for between six to eight weeks. The same programme was introduced at Ecobank when I joined the bank as CEO.

One of the current innovations in banking today is the use of electronic cards in place of cash. It was not, however, as straightforward for the Nigerian banking environment to relate with the new development as it was in other parts of the world. The early adventurers in the invention included Société Générale Bank and All States Trust Bank, but they really could not take it off. Whilst I was in MBC International Bank Ltd, a Spanish gentleman, Dr Merino (one of the pioneer members of the Lagos Business School, where I was also a faculty member), approached a group of us to jointly look at setting up an electronic purse to be used under one platform by various banks, with ability for the point-of-sale terminal (POS) to accept/acquire transactions by a multiple of banks. This was, however, an era where banks were only interested in competing not co-operating with each other. I thought it wasn interesting and worth trying out, as it would be the first of it kind in the world in terms of multiple POS acquisition.

Dr Merino, Dr Joseph Sanusi, who was the MD of First Bank Nigeria Plc (and later became the governor of the Central Bank) and myself commenced this process to push for the introduction of this jointly owned smart cards company by Nigerian banks. The idea was sold to several banks that joined the consortium and it signalled the birth of ValuCard Nigeria Ltd (formerly called SmartCard Company Ltd), which in some way revolutionised the Nigerian banking industry in terms of card utilisation and awareness. Dr Merino became the first chief executive of the company. I became a director of the company and later the chairman of ValuCard. Visa is now a substantial shareholder in this company.

In 2005, Ecobank Nigeria Ltd subsequently became the first bank to commence the issuance of foreign currency credit card in Nigeria and indeed the whole of West and Central Africa. This was the MasterCard credit card which most banks in Nigeria have also now commenced issuing.

Spreading Across the Frontiers

Although I spent the most part of my life with the banking world, I still have other aspects to my life. I have been lucky with several positions that I held. As the foregoing has revealed, I have held top positions in the banking industry since my post-university experience. One secret to this, I could say, has to do with my work ethics and attitude to work. Like my husband, I am someone people sometimes referred to as ‘workaholic’ whilst trying to balance this with other aspects of my life. One important thing I do in whatever capacity I find myself, however, is to observe what people who are two to three steps ahead of me do and put in similar level of work. It may sound unpopular and sometimes unrewarding but it has proven as a good strategy for me. It is no surprise to anybody, therefore, whenever I get my promotion in double-quick time than most people, as I was always working at above my level.

As much as possible, I have tried to use my experiences and exposure in whatever capacity as may be demanded of me by the Nigerian society. To this end, I have served in some occasions outside the banking world. I was a member of the Vision 2010, a committee set up by the Federal Government to direct the process of creating a vision for Nigeria. It proved to be a learning opportunity for me. One had to interact with people – old and young – from different cultural backgrounds and different agendas who were supposed to come together to forge a united front. I was subsequently made a member of Vision Foundation, which was a body developed to continue the Nigerian Vision process.

I am also a founding director in the Nigerian Economic Summit Group (NESG), a major private-sector initiative to create partnership between government and private sector for Nigerian economic development. It is a scheme that has experienced more successes in creating a bridge/ partnership between the private and public sector. I was chairman of the Lagos State Economic Summit in 2001 and treasurer of International Chamber of Commerce & Industry (ICCI), Nigeria, between 2000 and 2002. I was a director of two stock brokering firms at different times: ESL Securities Limited from 2002 to 2006 and MBC Securities Ltd from 1996 to 2002.

I was also a director of two discount houses: First Securities Discount House (FSDH) between 2003 and 2005 and Consolidated Discount House Ltd from 1997 to 2002. I am director at Centre for Law and Business Studies since 2003. I was also chairman of the bankers’ subcommittee on code of conduct, as well as member of other CBN committees set up on various banking-related matters. I have also been involved as a director in a nongovernmental organisation, Enterprises for Development International (EFDI), since 2002, besides being on the board of various other private and family-related companies.

Besides being in position of authority, I have also served in other capacities which include being an honorary member of Money Market Association (MMA) of Nigeria. I still remain a faculty member of Lagos Business School (LBS), where I have delivered a number of lectures. Teaching has always been my second love and I have had the privilege of delivering lectures in such notable places as the Wharton Business School (USA), The Lagos Business School, Citibank in various African countries, Money Market Association, Chartered Institute of Bankers and other financial institutions training centres. I was a council member at Lagos Chamber of Commerce & Industry, trustee at the Anti-Fraud Foundation, Nigeria and member of the board of advisers at AIESEC. I am currently a member of the board of trustees at Holy Child College; a member of the standing committee of the Cathedral Church of Christ, Marina Lagos; a member of the diocesan board of the Lagos Anglican Communion, and a synod delegate.

Even with all the above, life continues to be a learning process and acquiring new knowledge and education is a continuous process. In 2002, I took a break from work to attend the Advance Management Program (AMP) in Harvard University. It was an intensive three months’ training which further opened my eyes to new learning.

Managing the Home Front

My husband and I only became seriously interested in each other while I was working at CHASE. He is a brother to one of my university mates and friend (Busola). We knew each other whilst I was in the university based on the same social circle. He, however, repeatedly came looking for me at the bank and, with the connivance of some of my colleagues who were his friends (especially Wale Edun who later became a Commissioner in Lagos State), took me out on dates where our relationship formally commenced. Sometimes in our marriage he makes fun of me for playing ‘hard to get’ for too long. His persistence however paid off when we got married on 29 December 1985, at Christ Church Cathedral in Marina, Lagos.

Marriage has been interesting because I married someone who is a friend and also an encourager. My husband, Victor Gbolade Osibodu, is an Ijebu man from Ilisan Remo. He is a pharmacist by profession, though he only practised the profession for three years before starting his own business. He is the typical example of a workaholic, as I got to know soon after our wedding. He told me of his intention to have our honeymoon both in London and Hong Kong. I was excited about this until I later realised that it was also a working honeymoon! I was happy to know that he was a lot more ambitious than I was.

He is what could be called a model entrepreneur as he is involved in a conglomerate of businesses cutting across different sectors, namely oil and gas, marketing, power, finance, among others. Vigeo Ltd, Citiserve Ltd, and Global Utilities M a n a g e m e n t Company Ltd are some of the successful companies which he started in addition to being a pioneer shareholder and director in Guaranty Trust Bank Ltd. In recognition of his entrepreneurial achievements he was honoured with an MFR (Member of the Federal Republic). There seemed to be a synergy between us and we have remained good friends and lovers ever since.

Our marriage has been blessed with three lovely children: Tobi, Tosin and Tolu (all boys). They are all doing fine and are at advanced stages of their education. Despite his successes in the corporate world and the publicity that this entails, my husband is a firm believer in family life. One of our policies at home is to have dinner together, irrespective of our tight schedule for the day, and he ensures we keep to it. No marriage, however, is a bed of roses and we’ve had our own difficult times, especially when we were still a young couple. No matter our differences at the time, we resolved never to sleep over an unsettled matter and never to involve a third party in our conflict. This really helped our marriage as my husband, whenever he sensed anything amiss, would sit me down and pester me for the cause of the problem, which would then be resolved amicably. It was initially challenging to cope with working in Victoria Island, arriving at our Ikeja home late at night with my husband, and still having to prepare food and finish any office work not yet done. It was even more tasking when Tobi our first son was born.

The deep freezer gift we received on our wedding day from my eldest sister-in-law proved to be the most valuable present in helping me meet the challenges of work and home. With such experiences, I believe no woman who is able to manage her home effectively would find it difficult doing the same at work. Women are probably better managers given the right environment.

One of the major steps we took within the first four years of our marriage was to change accommodation. We were staying in Ikeja; I was working on the Island while my husband was working in Ikeja. Most times I spent a reasonable part of my time, productive time, in the traffic, to and fro. The stress of that type of living was beginning to take its toll on us. My husband suggested we move to the Island, in order to reduce the stress on our daily living. Our mothers thought we were out of our minds. We were still reasonably young struggling workers, and it was expected that we would have been saving to build our own house, rather than deciding to rent a house at an exorbitant price. Moreover, they felt the money we were to use to rent a house on the Island could be judiciously used to buy a land on the mainland. However, my husband and I looked at the issue differently.

Thanks to the good foresight of my husband, our lifestyle was affected positively. Rather than spend two to three hours in traffic every morning and evening, we spent far less time, and were more productive at work. His own office was still in Ikeja, so in the morning and evening he drove against the traffic. For me, within a maximum of 30 minutes I was in the office. It was easier for me to take the children to school, sort things out, and even pop in at home during lunchtime. Yes, the money we spent in renting the house on the Island could be termed ‘crazy’, but it challenged us to work harder so that we could earn sufficient money for us to keep on staying on the Island. This way, we eventually built our house on the Island, and we’ve been living there ever since.

Motherhood and a Word to Fellow Females

My husband and I were particular about the kind of schools we sent our children to. We wanted a secondary school that would teach them other creative things apart from the purely academic stuff. As busy parents, one was not always there with them as one would have wanted to be. We had to send them to secondary schools that had God-fearing environments. We were particular about secondary school education because this is during the formative stage in the life of a child. It is at secondary school that one makes some lifelong friends, and starts to keep permanent company. So, the secondary school a child is sent to matters a lot. It must be able to inculcate in the child what you, the parent, want or desire to see in your child.

We wanted our three children not only to be close to each other and to us, but also to learn to live independently of us. Tobi is in his penultimate year at the university. Tosin is doing his ‘A’ levels exam this year; and Tolu will be doing his GCSE exam next year. Some parents tend to make up for the lack of parental care and attention they did not give their children by spoiling these children with money and material things. But they forget that money cannot buy love or character. It is what you put into children that matters. That is why, right from an early stage, we believed that character-building values must be inculcated into our children. For my husband and I, it was important that we brought our children up to be able to relate to people as themselves, not who their parents are.

Even though they are all boys, we still made them value some chores socially earmarked for girls and women. During the holidays, they have specific chores they see to. This training helped them a lot as boarders during their secondary school days. They were able to cope in taking care of themselves. They did their laundry themselves once in secondary school, and coped with other chores that came their way as well. It is important that parents or guardians recognise each of their child’s or wards’ abilities. For instance, my husband and I had to change our last child’s school. We realised he was very artistic and athletic and the conventional schools could not satisfy this part of him. This affected his interest and performance in the academic study, until we placed him in a secondary school that had structures that could develop his creative interests and sports. Understand your children and what makes them happy, and assist in building that up.

In today’s world, just like in anywhere else, the womenfolk have fewer opportunities at the top level of businesses and professional set-ups. It is therefore important to more than excel in whatever one does in order to be noticed and given a chance. I think it would require a world reorientation to get people into accepting the role of women in society.

I once had a tough boss while working at NIB who would only give me assignments when we were about to close from office and expected it back first thing the next morning. Several of my colleagues took advantage of his absence during office hours to idle away their time. I disliked his style and the work pressure he used to pile on me. It was later that I realised the manager was indirectly training me to be hard working. Many of us today, on the other hand, would prefer to work with those who only commend and not correct us. In the course of seeking admiration, we fall prey to the whims of the moment. When a female develops her inward qualities and abilities, she is not easily influenced into doing what does not befit her. No matter the economic condition, a lady eventually determines whether she wishes to be molested or not.

Ladies, especially, should know how to read between the lines whenever they sense any form of molestation. Essentially though, it is their comportment and carriage that determine how people regard them. I feel challenged whenever I see the efforts of the women during President Obasanjo’s administration and believe it should also challenge every Nigerian woman today. This is not much of a surprise to some of us employers, however, as we’ve found females to do better at interviews than their male counterparts. Whenever the opportunity arises, I have been open-minded in giving fair consideration to my fellow female gender.

Nigeria is a country blessed with a lot of creative people, but much of her potentials and assets are still untapped. One way of harnessing the human resources should be the deliberate and constant mentoring by the past generation. Occasionally, I receive girls and women who probably take me as model and counsel them as much as I can. I have always believed that balancing the four main aspect of our lives ensure a complete person. These four aspects are our family, our religion, our work and our friendship/service to the community. I believe if the mentality and work ethics are right, the sky is the limit for the emotionally intelligent woman.

Funke Osibodu is a veteran management guru and Director at Vigeo Power LTD, one of the leading private sector companies changing the landscape of electricity distribution and infrastructure in Nigeria.

Categories: HERstory

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