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‘Cash-and-carry economy cannot take Nigeria anywhere’

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Chris Onalo

Prof. Chris Onalo is not your usual Nigerian, who relishes hugging the limelight, but he is definitely a man adept at multi-tasking.

He is one of those very few individuals around who are known to possess more than one business call card, as he is at present the Registrar/CEO of the Institute of Credit Administration (ICA), President/CEO of the Postgraduate School of Credit and Financial Management, which is Nigeria’s frontline credit management higher educational Institution for credit professionals, Managing Director/CEO of Credit Business Services (CBS), Director of Nigerian London Business Forum (NILOBF), and General Overseer of the House of God Fellowship Church (HGF).

Onalo will go down in history books as the man who saw tomorrow and brought credit management to Nigeria just the same way Mr. Akintola Williams introduced accountancy to the country. However, the heights attained today began with small steps.

“Life is a journey from the known to the unknown. The unknown; is what makes it riddled with so many uncertainties,” he said while recounting how his voyage to become the doyen of credit management started.

“You never can tell what is planned ahead. It is only God that knows that.”

On June 28, he will clock 61 and for the first time in his life, he is rolling out the drum to celebrate God’s remarkable favour in his life.

The history of credit management in Nigeria is not complete without mentioning Onalo, who has spared nothing to ensure that Nigeria joined the league of global credit managers. His immense contribution in credit management has given a lift to credit administration in Nigerian economy.

Among activities lined up to commemorate his 61st birthday billed for Westwood Hotel, Ikoyi, Lagos, is the launch of his new book titled, “Everyday Marriage Tonic” which will be used to raise funds for the erection of a church building.

Onalo, Nigeria’s first professor of credit management is already doing a lot to help couples have the best of relationships through his Marital Affairs Academy, a marital training instituted to help educate and teach couples and would-be couples the right approaches to marriage.

This is in a bid to ensure that marriages in the country succeed with little efforts so that the high rate of divorce cases, marital violence and unfaithfulness prevalent in the country is systematically reversed.

Surprising, in a chat with The Guardian, he said he was not privileged to have grown up from a well-to-do family.

“I never came from a family of influence or substance. I grew up like the man on the street, from a poor and wretched background.

The first and last education my parents gave to me was primary school. After then, I had to take my own destiny into my hands.

“Because of the backwardness in education confronting my local government, Elele, Ibeji in Kogi State, I had to move to Lagos.

I was already of age before I even commenced my primary school education. I started my education at a fairly grown up age.

So, when I finished, it was much easier for me to head out and look after myself. I ended up working in Onitsha textile and general cutting mills, Anambra State.

“I got to Lagos and was employed as a site accountant with Dantata at the first phase of the construction of Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA).

From there I saw the opportunity to enroll for credit management and my life brightened up since then.

I left for the United States and then to United Kingdom and all that I knew was credit management.

Unfortunately for me and fortunately too, credit management was not that popular profession in the late 80s.

“I had to embark on self-study. I have never sat in any four corners of any university.

That has helped me greatly, because I now know how to manage men and money to develop myself.

I have a lot of qualifications because I love reading and love paper qualifications to attest to my inner competence.

I am a man of so many parts because I develop interest in several fields.

“Looking at these past years, my joy is overwhelming in the sense that I did not fail myself.

Today, my extended family members see me as a source of encouragement. I am a reference point in my community.

I have cause to thank God for everything so far, for the courage and discipline to maximize the opportunities that came my way.

“Because of not having a strong secondary school leaving certificate, it really affected me to stand before a conventional university to be admitted.

My world had been with largely private universities who could listen to my story and recognize my zeal to move up in life despite my challenges.

This is the first time I am calling for the celebration of my birthday and I want to dedicate it to God who has been there for me, my mentor, tutor and adviser, in the journey of my life.

“This is why I am enjoining my friends and associates to join me in celebrating God by doing something special for God.

I have the mind to raise money from members of my constituent up to N35 million and give that to the last copy for the building of the church,” he said.

Onalo is from Elele, Ibaji in Kogi State, but has gradually grown to become a very respectable world citizen, who has made so much contributions and commitments to the present world’s credit management industry.

A highly principled man with strong Christian orientation, Onalo will be remembered for his articulation in credit management, by solely spearheading contributions to the formation of critical infrastructures needed for the growth, development and professionalization of credit management nationally and internationally.

Such institutions include the Institute of Credit Administration (ICA), which is Nigeria’s national body for the regulation and setting standards for people in credit management; and the Postgraduate School of Credit and Financial Management (PSCFM), the only specialist institution in Africa offering higher professional learning programmes in the field of credit management.

He is currently designated African director of the prestigious London Postgraduate Credit Management College (LPCMC) UK, the first African to be appointed “professor of credit management” by the LPCMC.

He is the first to establish in Nigeria a company that provides credit and business information on company (Credit Business Services Global Ltd –CBS Credit); the first to publish monthly magazine on credit management (The CreditManager, Creditnews and CreditMarket); and the first to run ‘This Week Credit Business’ live programme on Nigerian Television Authority (NTA).

All of these endeavours has strengthened and maintained Onalo’s strong advocacy voice in Nigeria’s credit economy, industry and market for best practices and policy reforms aimed at creating awareness, enhancing and promoting credit management profession not only in Nigeria but the world over.

Onalo has safely predicted that the future of credit management in Nigeria is extremely bright because no economy can survive without credit system.

“Government policies may be very slow or not encouraging but there is a continual economy that factor in the truism that people must eat and engage in credit system to survive.

“A cash and carry economy cannot take Nigeria anywhere in terms of human and capital development index.

The future is massive and the starting point is to build that foundation of credit line availability and access. It is not enough to have a cashless economy but it must be supported by a credit system,” he said.

However, the conviction to trudge along in the unknown path was triggered by a dream he had many years ago. “Whether you like it or not, human existence embodies body, spirit and soul.

I recall vividly one of those dreams I had, I was on a journey and suddenly I came across two directional roads – the proverbial broad and narrow way.

“I came to that fix and paused for a while, then I heard a tiny, slim voice saying ‘keep going and take your right,’ which is the narrow way.

Immediately I heeded the voice, I entered a ditch of thorns, and the more I was going, the narrower the pathway became.

At a point I encountered a door opening to a seaside, I was a bit afraid of what lay in store beyond the door.

I became fearful, but I had an uncommon courage to go on despite being alone except for the voice that kept nudging me to keep going.

“I kept going. When I woke up, I knew I was in a tough terrain in Nigeria and that what I was doing to bring the culture of credit management was going to be a tough one.

I had this dream during the period of then President Shehu Shagari’s austerity measure and the government propaganda then was this: ‘Andrew, don’t check out, stay in your country and let’s salvage it together.’”

Obviously, like the fabled Andrew at the time, Onalo was tempted to return to the United States of America, where he got his training in credit management.

To enforce his conviction, he subsequently had other dreams, which instructed him to stay and help transform Nigeria from cash to credit system.

“I knew I had to tighten my belt to face up to the task. I didn’t know where it came from, but I suddenly had the power of creativity, resilience, patience and adaptability and all these kept me going when it was tough. Several people were discouraging me and advising that I should change course since our economy will always be cash driven and it will never change in the next 50 years.

“Besides, credit management is not in the educational curriculum nor in the knowledge skills of Nigerian professionals then, you will never read it in any university.

It was tough for me. I received rejections from CEOs, executive directors and people who were not thinking beyond their present circumstance.

I battled this frustration between 1983 to the early 90s.”

All these sacrifices came at a huge personal cost to ‘Mr. Credit’; one of which was that for most part of his adult life till date, Onalo has found it extremely difficult to keep any savings.

“I couldn’t have any savings because I was running a graduate school of credit administration, which name was later changed to Postgraduate School of Credit and Financial Management.

I also introduced the first magazine on credit management in Nigeria because it was strange to the media at the time; yet I needed a mass media platform.

“It has taken a lot from me. The struggle is no longer to put food on the table, but rather to institutionalize the virtues of giving, taking, managing and facilitating credit management in our private, public and national life.

As a result of these, I have lived most of my adult life without savings. It was a tug of war to build my house and presently, I have no house in my village.

If my mother of about 128 years drops dead today, I have no personal house in my village to keep my guests (he laughs).


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