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Nigerian banks lead in gender equality

Clara Nwachukwu

Are there more women out there? Certainly there are many more, and the more they are recognised for their worth, the better the polity and the better the economy and a more prosperous and sustainable world.

All at once there are six sitting female chief executive officers (CEOs) of Nigerian banks, a development that has got many wondering why the banking sector is taking the lead in pushing gender equality and empowerment.

Analysts believe the banking industry is showing more sensitivity and tends to be more compliant to gender equality issues by appointing women into leadership positions across various segments of their operations, which is attributed to the global regulation of the sector and in particular the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN’s) Nigerian Sustainable Banking Principles (NSBP).        

Wednesday’s appointment of Miriam Chidiebele Olusanya as its Managing Director/CEO, Guaranty Trust (GT) Bank, added the bank to the kitty of women leaders.

Olusanya joins the likes of Yemisi Edun as its MD/CEO, First City Monument Bank (FCMB), whose announcement was made earlier in the week, and Nneka Onyeali-Ikpe, who had assumed office as the MD/CEO of Fidelity Bank Plc since January 1st.

Prior to their appointments were Ireti Samuel-Ogbu, who became the first female Country Officer of Citi Group or MD/CEO Citibank Nigeria in August 2020; Halima Buba, MD/CEO Sun Trust Bank, January 2020; and Tomi Somefun MD/CEO Unity Bank, August 2015.

A little about the women

These women cut across different walks of life; they have the qualification, they have the experience and panache and they have made their marks while climbing the ladder to occupy the position, which hitherto had been the preserve for men only.

Olusanya 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 joined the Bank as an Executive Trainee in 1998 and rose through the ranks until her appointment as Executive Director in 2018.

Until her appointment as MD/CEO, she was the Group Treasurer and Head, Wholesale Banking Division, responsible for balance sheet and financial markets activities of GT Bank and its African subsidiaries, Corporate Finance as well as Investor Relations.    

Edun, with a work experience spanning nearly 35 years, holds a Bachelor’s degree in Chemistry from the University of Ife, Ile-Ife, Nigeria, and a Master’s degree in International Accounting and Finance from the University of Liverpool, United Kingdom. She is also a Fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria (ICAN), and a Certified Financial Analyst.

Prior to her appointment, she was the Executive Director/Chief Financial Officer of FCMB and previously served as the acting Managing Director.

On her part, Onyeali-Ikpe, a consummate professional of over 30 years’ experience, was formerly the Executive Director, Lagos and South West, and has been an integral part of the transformation team at Fidelity Bank in the last six years.

She holds Bachelor of Laws (LLB) and Master of Laws (LLM) degrees from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Nigeria, and Kings College, London, respectively. She has attended executive training programmes at Harvard Business School, The Wharton School University of Pennsylvania, INSEAD School of Business, Chicago Booth School of Business, London Business School, and IMD amongst others.

Prior to her appointment, Samuel-Ogbu on the Board of Citibank Nigeria Limited since 2015 as a non-Executive Director, and also served as managing director of payments and receivables, treasury and trade solutions for Europe, Middle East and Africa at the group’s office in London.

With over 32 years’ experience in different facets of the Group’s operations across many countries Samuel-Ogbu holds a BA Hons Accounting and Finance from Middlesex University, and an MBA from the University of Bradford, both in the United Kingdom.

 Buba is a seasoned Banker with over 20 years’ experience, and holds a Bachelor of Science (B.Sc.) degree in Business Management and an MBA from the University of Maiduguri.

She also sits on the Board of several reputable institutions, including the Nigerian Sovereign Investment Authority (NSIA) as a Non-Executive Director, and Anchoria Asset Management Company Limited.

With a career spanning 35 years, over 26 of which were in the banking sector, Somefun has worked in key segments of the industry, including Treasury & amp; Investment Banking, Corporate Banking, Retail, and Commercial Banking Operations.

A graduate of Education in English Language from the Obafemi Awolowo University (formerly University of Ife), she is also an alumnus of the Columbia Business School, USA, and INSEAD, Fontainebleau, France, and holds a Certificate of Management Excellence from Harvard Business School (HBS).

Importance of gender equality

Before now, there have been incidences of one-offs in the appointment of women either into the Boards or Managements of banks. 

While the applause and cheers for these six women resonate, the fact that the banking industry is celebrating about 23% representation out of the 26 banks, five merchant banks and seven micro-finance banks shows it is not yet uhuru or victory for women.    

With over a century of operations in Nigeria led by the First Bank, the attitude of tokenism continues to trail women being appointed into leadership positions not just in the banking sector, but across every segment of the Nigerian society – politics, economy and even the media.

Many have wondered why the continuing dialogue on gender equality, and it is so important that the United Nations (UN), made it the No. 5 priority on the list of its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).  

Indeed, it has been said that gender equality can enable and even accelerate the achievement of all the SDGs. “While gender equality is captured as a stand-alone goal (SDG 5), gender must be integrated across all the SDGs, and gender considerations must be included in all sustainable development work and climate action.”

According to the UN, “Gender equality is not only a fundamental human right, but a necessary foundation for a peaceful, prosperous and sustainable world.”

While admitting that there has been appreciable progress over the last decades since the Beijing Platform for Action 26 years, which was intended to be ground-breaking for gender equality, many countries are still stuck in their old ways.

For instance, pro-women analysts note that for over 61 years of independence, Nigeria is yet to produce a politically-elected female chief executive officer either as the president or a state governor.

Across the globe, women earn less, save less, hold less secure jobs, and are more likely to be employed in the informal sector. They have less access to social protections and are the majority of single-parent households. Their capacity to absorb economic shocks is therefore less than that of men.

According to ElectHer, “We have only 8 Senators of 109, 11 Rep Members of 360, 44 State Assembly reps of 990, 15 States with 0 females in their States Assembly,” even as data reveal that more girls are going to school.

A UN report last year states that “Despite these gains, many challenges remain: discriminatory laws and social norms remain pervasive, women continue to be underrepresented at all levels of political leadership.”

It also expressed concerns that the effects of the pandemic could reverse the limited progress that has been made on gender equality and women’s rights, as “The coronavirus outbreak exacerbates existing inequalities for women and girls across every sphere – from health and the economy, to security and social protection.”

The report reiterates that COVID-19 is deepening pre-existing inequalities, exposing vulnerabilities in social, political and economic systems, which are in turn amplifying the impacts of the pandemic.

It further notes that “Across the globe, women earn less, save less, hold less secure jobs, and are more likely to be employed in the informal sector. They have less access to social protections and are the majority of single-parent households. Their capacity to absorb economic shocks is therefore less than that of men.”

As a result, the UN insists that it is crucial that all national responses place women and girls – their inclusion, representation, rights, social and economic outcomes, equality and protection – at their centre if they are to have the necessary impacts.

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