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The Guardian’s special focus on Most Impactful and Award-winning CEOs that contributed to Nigeria’s GDP growth in 2021 Part 1

By Guardian Nigeria
09 December 2021   |   3:20 pm
It is no longer news that as a key regional player, Nigeria accounts for about half of West Africa’s population with approximately 202 million people and one of the largest in the world. With an abundance of natural resources, it is Africa’s biggest oil exporter, with the largest natural gas reserves on the continent.

It is no longer news that as a key regional player, Nigeria accounts for about half of West Africa’s population with approximately 202 million people and one of the largest in the world. With an abundance of natural resources, it is Africa’s biggest oil exporter, with the largest natural gas reserves on the continent.

Nevertheless, Nigeria is highly vulnerable to the global economic disruption caused by COVID-19, particularly due to the pronounced decline in oil prices and spikes in risk aversion in global capital markets.

The macroeconomic situation is more challenging now than in 2015-2016, when oil prices fell sharply and Nigeria experienced its first recession in 25 years. In the current situation, the country has fewer buffers and policy instruments to cushion adverse effects. While the Giant of Africa has made some progress in socio-economic terms in recent years, its human capital development remains weak due to under-investment.

However, despite the daunting challenges, some proactive and result-driven Chief Executives have been able to navigate their organizations to optimal operational effectiveness, efficiency, and visibility. These they have made possible through the application of ingenious management practices, prudent management of resources, as well as excellent and innovative solutions and ideas in achieving set goals and objectives.

While they defy the apparent harsh economic environment by piloting the affairs of their companies to profitability, these exceptional men and women deserve recognition for their out-of-the-box innovations and enviable CSR interventions that have earned them awards within the country and beyond. Indeed, they deserve accolade in their efforts and contributions to the stability and growth of the nation’s economy, as well as modelling other upcoming businesses.

In this Special Edition, The Guardian recognizes and celebrates these highly impactful Nigerians of Excellence with infallible records of their contributions to the growth of the nation’s GDP in 2021. They are truly Award-Winning!

Toyin F. Sanni, _Founder/CEO, Emerging Africa Group

TOYIN F. SANNI: Thoroughbred Professional, Catalyst of Impactful Growth and Development, Grooming Future Leaders

Mrs. Toyin F. Sanni is the Founder/CEO at the Emerging Africa Group – a leading African Investment group focused on investing in sectors with catalytic impact on growth and development, cutting across Roads & Power Infrastructure, Investment Banking & Asset Management, Microfinance Banking, Information Communication Technology and Capacity Building.

She sits on multiple boards including serving as Chairman, Emerging Africa Asset Management Limited, Chairman Layer3 and Non-Executive Director, Transcorp Plc.

She is the Founder and Chairperson, Women In Finance Nigeria and WIFNG UK – a platform for advocacy, development, and networking of women in the financial sector and other financial roles in Nigeria. She also serves

as Ambassador for Nigeria of the Africa CEO Forum.

Toyin has over thirty-five years of experience as a prominent Investment Banker, Business Leader, Public Personality and Speaker. She derives satisfaction from grooming future leaders, she leverages networks across

markets and has extensive experience working on leading transactions to achieve growth objectives and proffering capital solutions for financing and investing challenges of African governments, businesses and individuals.

Her prior roles include Group Chief Executive Officer, United Capital Plc; CEO, UBA Trustees & UBA Global Investor Services; CEO, Cornerstone Trustees and AGM; First Trustees (now FBNQuest Trustees), President,

Association of Investment Advisers (CIIA), President, Investment Advisers and Portfolio Managers (IAPM), and President, Association of Corporate Trustees.

She has a Master’s degree in law and holds professional qualifications as a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Stockbrokers, Fellow Chartered Institute of Secretaries and Administrators, and Member, Chartered Institute of Securities and Investments, United Kingdom.

Toyin has also won numerous awards. In 2017, she was declared the All African Businesswoman of the year 2017 by CNBC Africa, & Nigeria’s CEO of the Year by Pearl Awards. In 2020, she was named one of Africa’s Top 3 CEO Influencers on LinkedIn by TechTimes Africa.

Bamidele Onalaja, _GMD/CEO, RevolutionPlus Group

BAMIDELE CHRIS ONALAJA: Driven By The Need To Reduce Nigeria’s Housing Deficit

Bamidele Chris Onalaja, Group Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer of RevolutionPlus Group and current Chairman, Real Estate Developers Association of Nigeria (REDAN) Lagos Chapter (which comprises of over 5,000 Real Estate Developers), is a serial entrepreneur and philanthropist. He is also the President, Rotary Club Maryland, Lagos and Member, Rotary Arch Klumph Society, having donated more than $250,000 to the club.

A holder of first degree in Economics and a Master in Business Administration (Marketing) from the Lagos State University, the RevolutionPlus Group’s helmsman obtained an Advanced Diploma in Project Management from the University of Lagos, which inspired him to become a member of the Project Management Institute (PMI), USA. He is an alumnus of the Lagos Business School (Pan African University’s OMP 25).

Bamidele’s journey into Real Estate started in 2004 when he joined Agbara Estates Limited as the Marketing Manager to pioneer the sale of “Vivas Home Project” which recorded monumental success. Thereafter, he joined Refuge Home Savings and Loan Limited (Mortgage Bankers) as the Head of Projects and Business Development, where he pioneered the department and guided the bank into acquiring several landed properties including the “Beaufort Royale Estate”. Afterwards, he joined Cornerstone Mortgage Bank as the Head, Mortgage Operations before moving Safe Trust Mortgage Bank (Formerly Sterling Homes) as the Ikeja Branch Manager.

In 2014, he resigned from Safe Trust Mortgage Bank to focus on building RevolutionPlus Property Development Company Limited, a game changing Real Estate Development Company in Nigeria with an international office in Dallas, Texas, USA.

Since then, he has broken several milestones which were rewarded through several merit awards such as “Real Estate Entrepreneur of the Year”, “Real Estate Personality of the Year”, “Outstanding Leader Award”, amongst others.

Driven by the need to reduce the housing deficit in Nigeria, the real estate guru believed that “every Nigerian deserves to own a good home and has a right to safe housing at affordable price. As a mortgage banker for over 13 years, I was privy to so much knowledge about the real estate sector that spurred my passion in the sector.

In the industry, all the players possess their own uniqueness but at RevolutionPlus Property, our strategy is to provide affordable housing and affordable luxury, in addition to these, we place so much value on our customers as we cannot achieve anything without them, you could say we are customer centric and we ensure we treat each customer as special being.”

In 2021, Bamidele was recognized as one of the “Top 25 CEOs to look out for in Nigeria” at an award session organized by the Businessday Newspaper, in the same vein RevolutionPlus went home with the “Next Bull Award, in recognition of its Market Leadership & Pacesetting Innovations”. Also, in 2021, he won the “Leadership Award in Real Estate” at the 6th City People Real Estate Award ceremony.

An unabashed philanthropist and founder of the “Chris Bamidele Onalaja Foundation (CBOF)” whose core values are education and scholarship grants, economic and community development, widows’ empowerment, water sanitation, hygiene and disease prevention and control, Bamidele remains one of Nigeria’s foremost catalysts of economic development.

With the support of his wife, Mrs. Tolulope Onalaja, Bamidele built TolDel Nursery and Primary School in Ikorodu, to provide quality free education to less privileged children whose parents cannot afford a private school in the axis. In 2021, plans commenced to build a free secondary school for the graduating pupils of TolDel.

Through his leadership as the Chairman, Lagos State Chapter of REDAN, organized a massive stakeholders’ meeting with the Lagos State Ministry of Physical Planning and Urban Development led by its commissioner Dr. Idris Salako, the Permanent Secretary, Engr. Mrs. Kosegbe, and other agencies under the ministry like LABSCA, LASHPPA, NTDA, etc, where all the issues surrounding the building environment is discovered.

Similarly, REDAN worked closely with LASRERA led by the Special Adviser to the Governor on Housing, Mrs. Toke Benson-Awoyinka, where the issues of the Real Estate development environment were being discussed in making Lagos a safer place for everyone.

Through CBOF, he launched a N10 million initiative to empower over 500 widows, and built a Police station at Ijebu- Ishonyi, drilled boreholes for communities, organized free health screening for several communities and granted free scholarships to mention a few.

A devoted Christian and a Deacon, Bamidele is married the Tolulope Onalaja, the Group Executive Director of RevolutionPlus Group and blessed with children.

Patrick Ajah, Managing Director/CEO, May & Baker PLC

PATRICK AJAH: Value-Driven Professional, Shaping Nigeria’s Healthcare and Economic Landscape With Impactful Leadership

Before becoming the Managing Director/CEO, May & Baker PLC – one of Nigeria’s foremost and prestigious companies, Mr. Patrick Ajah has for over two decades amassed a multitude of progressive experiences and achievements, serving in a variety of business environments; from Pharmaceuticals to FMCG, Telecoms and manufacturing where he offered his extensive experience in business development, Commercial leadership and team building, distributor engagement and contracting, P&L oversight, organizational transformation and managing through crisis across countries and cultures in sub-Saharan Africa and in more than eight reputable international/multinational organizations. He has pioneered several breakthroughs in the sales and marketing field, revenue generation/growth, and managed several organizational transformation initiatives.

Since joining May and Baker Nigeria Plc in January, 2021, Ajah has ensured that the company maintain an optimal operational excellence and ensured that factors such as Strategic Planning, Communication, Financial Management, Sales & Marketing, Human Resource Management and Time Management etc which can otherwise influence operational excellence are geared towards successful performance to sustain the company’s mission and goals.

As a leader, one of Ajah’s goals is to make sure everyone feels valued and encouraged to achieve optimum operational excellence. Hence on resumption of office, he outlined and effected a new improved staff-management welfare/relationships to encourage and raise employee motivation.

Furthermore, Ajah’s impact is also quite visible in the continued development and improvement of the company’s state-of-the-art WHO GMP Certified factory – The Pharma Center, situated in Ota, Ogun State. Under his watch, there has been constant availability of input materials for smooth daily operations. The factory’s Contract Manufacturing of pharmaceutical products for other international and domestic clients has witnessed a positive and significant boost.

Similarly, the new standardized, state of the art Herbal Product Manufacturing Plant to produce MBN PLC’s locally researched and developed (a partnership with Nigeria Institute for Pharmaceutical Research and Development – NIPRD) herbal products Like NICLOVIX and other herbal and nutraceutical products is set to go into full commercial operations in December 2021.

It is therefore not surprising that Mr. Ajah’s strategic leadership, has ensured tremendous financial growth over the last nine months and is predicted to continue this trend. Within this period, the company saw to a 25% growth in total revenue and 29% growth in profit before tax (PBT) from Jan 2021 – September 2021, while the company’s Total Assets witnessed a 15% growth over the same period.

May & Baker Nigeria PLC as a pharmaceutical giant, has and will continue to have a significant economic impact in terms of contribution to the country’s GDP and employment.  The company is always in the fore of rendering improved access to quality and affordable medicines for the benefits of a great majority of Nigerians; a legacy we have upheld for over 77years and will continue to maintain for many more years ahead.

With Patrick Ajah’s multitude of progressive experience, impactful leadership and influence, we have no doubt that MBN PLC will continue to soar to greater heights, helping to shape both the healthcare and economic landscape of our great country.

Tobias Ekechi

How we financed home acquisition at a single digit interest rate by Sir Tobias Ekechi

Whenever mortgage finance is being discussed with regards to the Nigerian business environment, the name of Sir Young-Tobias Ekechi, Managing Director/CEO, First Generation Mortgage Bank, stands out for excellence. The reason is not far-fetched from his disruptive innovation in the Mortgage Industry which has positioned FGMB as a leader and preferred choice among Nigerians who are desirous of home ownership through mortgage financing.

An associate of the Institute of Directors, Ekechi boasts of over 21 years’ diverse work experience in the financial services sector with core competences in project structuring and financing, business process re-engineering, operations and technology, control and compliance, as well as mortgage administration.

Prior to joining FGMB in 2018, he started his banking career with Citibank in 1999, before joining Access Bank in 2007 and later ASO Savings and Loans PLC in 2008. He had a brief spell in the political space as Chairman, Ngor-Okpala Local Government Area, Imo State between August 2011 and July 2012.

According to Ekechi, FGBM is “a forward-thinking and tactical institution with precise strategies aimed at becoming the number one mortgage bank in Nigeria. Our customers, stakeholders and the nation form the core in our strategic thinking and planning. As a stable brand, will always stay afloat as a pacesetter with the Midas touch in mortgage investments and development.”

He added that “With the current housing deficit in Nigeria estimated at over 15 million units, it is important to note that Primary Mortgage Institutions (PMIs) have a major role to play in bridging the demand and supply gap and as a leading mortgage bank in Nigeria, FGMB has left no stone unturned towards reducing the country’s housing deficit through the financing of thousands of affordable homes to Nigerians and those in the Diaspora, at a single digit interest rate of 9.9% which is only bettered by Federal Mortgage Bank of Nigeria (FMBN)’s National Housing Fund (NHF) loan at 6%.”

Ekechi stressed that “as a financially-stable brand with a balance sheet size of over N17Billion, FGMB prides itself as the only PMI that financed the acquisition of homes at a single digit interest rate! Our excellent relationship with FMBN has facilitated NHF disbursement to more than 5,000 subscribers to facilitate their home ownership. Thus, we are consistently bridging the housing deficit in Nigeria through the development and execution of multiple mass housing estates, nationwide.”

Recently, FGMB executed a mortgage re-finance agreement with the Nigeria Mortgage Refinance Company (NMRC) PLC. Following the agreement between both institutions, NMRC have successfully refinanced mortgages from FGMB with a total value of N1.188Billion. While the partnership is targeted at providing FGMB with liquidity to enable it create more mortgages and thereby make home ownership more accessible, it is expected to further give confidence and affirm the reliability and credibility of the Bank to the general public, its customers and shareholders.

With a first degree in Economics, followed by an MBA and M.Sc in Financial Management Sir Young-Tobias Ekechi has over the years proved his worth as a thoroughbred financial expert and boardroom guru who sees every difficult situation as an avenue to birth innovations and set new records. This has earned him the fellowship of a number of professional institutes such as the Institute of Management Consultants, Institute of Credit Administration, Institute of Corporate Administration of Nigeria.

In the past 12 months, he has led FGMB to deliver giant strides which include;

  • Granting mortgage to 343 home owners at a single digit interest rate (9.9%) valued at N2.7Billion between January 2021 and November 2021.
  • Financed home purchase for 100 EFCC staff at a single digit interest rate (9.9%) valued at N1.4Billion between July 2021 and October 2021.
  • NextGen Home Account product launch – A Hybrid Savings Account designed to create and instill a savings culture, financial discipline and early thoughts of homeownership for the younger generation between age 0-21years.
  • Awarded the “Best Indigenous Mortgage Bank of the Year 2020 and 2021” and Award of Excellence (Financial Industry Category) by the National House Fair.
  • National Peace Award as the ‘Most Customer Friendly Bank 2021”.

Commenting on the challenges of mortgage financing in Nigeria, the Award-Winning CEO, explained that the major challenge of finance is prevalent because the provision of housing requires huge financial resources, which most of the medium and low-income earners in Nigeria are unable to afford.


NONSO OKPALA: A Dynamic CEO Redefining Excellence Through The VFD Group

He has successfully demonstrated the ability to lead diverse team of professionals to higher level of success in cutting edge markets and fast paced environment, at this challenging period of in Nigeria. Nonso Okpala, Group Chief Executive Officer, VFD Group PLC, has shown that sustainable success is still achievable when corporate vision is driven with professionalism, hard work and ingenuity.

A quintessential CEO with uncommon achievements, Okpala’s experience, dedication and managerial competence have helped to place VFD Group among the fastest growing organizations in Nigeria whose contributions to national GDP growth within the last 5 years cannot be ignored.

Since 2016, when he became the CEO of the Group, Okpala has led the organization on the path of sustained growth. Prior to coming on board as the CEO, the Marketing graduate of the University of Nigeria, member of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria, and the Chartered Alternative Investment Analysts, has honed his skills and knowledge at Heirs Holdings, where he worked as Chief Finance Officer from 2010 to 2015.

He started his fulfilling career in 2004 as a Senior Auditor at KPMG Professional Services, Lagos, where he gained ample experience in audit, due diligence, and internal control, he later worked in the banking sector where he had a brief stint with United Bank for Africa (UBA) after which he joined BGL PLC, and served as Special Assistant to one of the Executive Directors before joining the corporate finance team of the investment company. Working at BGL gave him the opportunity to work on landmark transactions.

The years 2020 and 2021 were challenging years for the global economy with the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic that questioned every known business principle, and while the growth of many corporate organizations in Nigeria have been negatively affected, VFD Group recorded an enviable growth, successfully launched new products, and expanded its portfolio during this period.

In testament to Okpala’s managerial capability and VFD’s journey of shared prosperity, the Group started with a seed capital of N2.5million about 12 years ago, with shares at N2. However, today, its market worth has grown significantly. The company’s gross earnings grew by 96% to N6.65billion in 2020 from N3.39billion in 2019.

Trading and other non-interest income grew by 47% to N4.66billion from N3.17billion. Profit before tax (PBT) grew by 176% from N1.478billion in 2019 to N4.076billion in 2020, supported by the business’ ability to keep cost growth lower than revenue growth as expenses grew by only 34%.

Profit after tax grew by 170% to N3.3billion, from N1.240billion in 2019. The company also recorded a 14% year-on-year decline in credit losses and impairment. Also, VFD Group ended the year with 85% in total assets growth to N81.67billion, compared with N44.23billion in 2019.

The fast-growing Group reported that its leading digital banking application, which was launched during the year, VBank, had recorded over 150% growth in downloads. Other strategic business expansion includes investment in Piggyvest, Abbey Mortgage Bank, HEREL, ArtSplit, NGX, Atiat Leasing Limited, as well as providing innovative investment solutions through cross-border partnerships to establish a firm foothold in various ecosystems across the world.

Founded on the values of integrity and good governance, and built on the strength of innovation and network, VFD Group is an industry-agnostic proprietary investment company that convert businesses to credible investment opportunities for the everyday Nigerian citizen and entrepreneur.

Over the years, the Group has developed a business model that allows it to operate in every sector which includes financial services, hospitality and real estate, art, technology, power, telecommunication, oil and gas, fintech, cinematography, amongst others. It is also increasing its participation in beyond the continent and positioning its portfolio companies for expansion within their existing markets.

Tolulope Opayinka

“At Letshego MFB, We Drive Growth of MSEs” Tolulope Opayinka

She is an exceptional team leader with excellent problem-solving skills and a firm believer in the concept of goal setting and actualization of same. Tolulope Opayinka is the Chief Executive Officer of Letshego Microfinance Bank, Nigeria, a pan-African inclusive financial services group with footprint across 11 countries in sub-Saharan Africa.

A consummate banker with over 28years of financial services experience spanning across Stockbroking, Asset Management & Investment Banking, as well as Corporate Finance, Opayinka is a Certified Microfinance Banker whose expertise has made significant impact in stabilizing the bank since she joined in March 2018.

As a graduate of Economics from the University of East Anglia, Norwich, England, she is a highly skilled financial professional with a proven track record who enjoys respect in the local banking sector. Prior to joining Letshego MFB, she had a successful career at Capital Bancorp Limited, Asset & Resource Management Company, Sterling Capital and First Bank of Nigeria.

Describing the growth of the bank in Nigeria, Opayinka explained that the Nigerian business environment provides an opportunity for change, growth and impact which have been a driving force for the bank since inception in 2016. Despite the unprecedented global health pandemic occasioned by COVID-19, the bank has continued to innovate with the launch of digital platforms which has made financial transactions seamless for its numerous customers.

She noted that “The challenges brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic had an adverse impact on businesses and resulted in reduced economic growth across most industries. Within this period, we launched our LetsGo Digital Mall, where our customers have a range of retail financial solutions including Digital Lending and Savings solutions, as well as multiple access channels, such as our LetsGo App and LetsGo Nation – a community of African doers, shakers and movers, who focus their energies to get things done and in their own ways help improve lives for all (young entrepreneurs, the creative, blogger, and innovators). Our customers can now complete applications for financial support and engage with us at their convenience, anytime and anywhere”, she informed.

“At the start of the pandemic and during the lockdowns, we encouraged our customers to reach out if they had any specific difficulty in repaying their loans, offering a moratorium to certain groups of our customers. We are constantly in open dialogue with our customers, and this two-way communication ensures we are able to collect in a timely manner, month on month.  I must highlight that, as simple as this sounds, it does take a considerable amount of resources and campaigning to our customers, and we have been deliberate about this, ensuring we are one step ahead, to reach out just before the loans fall due”, she said.

A member of the L&D Network Group (Nigeria) of the ATD, Oyayinka, in emphasising the importance of Micro and Small Entrepreneurs (MSEs) to the growth of every economy stressed that MSEs are truly a credible engine of entrepreneurial growth, employment creation and economic development. In supporting this group of business owners, she said Letshego MFB prides itself as the ideal financial services partner to help drive growth and close the poverty gap not only in Nigeria but across our footprint in Africa.

According to her, “We do this by providing support to Micro and Small Entrepreneurs (MSEs) through simple, appropriate and accessible financial solutions that are tailored to meet their needs when it comes to impactful sectors such as housing, Agri-finance, education and healthcare. We will continue to work towards supporting our customers and improving lives of Micro and Small Entrepreneurs to further have a positive impact on economic development in Nigeria.”

In an effort towards mitigating the risks associated with financing MSEs, the purpose-driven CEO who serves on the mentoring platform of The Chartered Institute of Bankers of Nigeria, she maintained that the bank sticks with its clients throughout the duration of their loans, advising them and helping them tide through difficult times.

With interests centred on philanthropy and financial empowerment, Tolulope Opayinka serves on the board of Haven for the Nigerian Child – a not-for-profit organization focused on improving the lives of children who live on the streets of Lagos.