It is no longer news that the rest of Nigeria fought a devastating and debilitating civil war against Ndi-Igbo and the rest of Eastern Nigerians, the territory otherwise called Biafra then. It’s well known that the fratricidal Nigeria-Biafra war which lasted for almost three years between 1967 and 1970, reduced the entire region of Eastern Nigeria to mere rubble.
Besides the colossal damage wrecked on public and private infrastructure and property, the civil war assumed such a catastrophic dimension unknown in our nation’s history, especially in social, economic, financial and educational spheres.
The Federal Government and its armed forces fought the Biafra people and forces from diverse fronts and means. Apart from the use of hard military wares and weapons, there was the deployment of social, economic and financial policies and instruments to annihilate the Biafra people. Some of the extremely harsh and callous war-time policies of the Federal Government of Nigeria against the Biafra people were the full economic and food blockade of their territory; the crass drastic reduction of the entire savings of every Igbo person and Biafran to a paltry sum of twenty pounds (£20) each. What this meant was that no Biafran or Igbo person had access to more than a meagre £20 irrespective of the volume of their monetary savings or accumulations. This way, they lost their wealth and were reduced to mere paupers.
There were other cruel policies adopted by the Nigerian side to further sentence Igbo people to agonizing penury, to subject them to severe financial straits and excruciating hardships. These included the forcible confiscation of their estates, which were described as abandoned properties; the promulgation of the Nigerian Enterprises Promotion Decree (more popularly called the Indigenization Decree), which offered Nigerians the impetus to acquire ownership interests in multi-national corporations operating in the country at that time. Easterners, especially Igbo people were invariably excluded from participation in the acquisition of the shares of those big corporations, as they had earlier been stripped of their financial savings and wealth through the obnoxious policy of handing out only a paltry £20 to each of them.
These odious policies of the Federal Government of Nigeria against a people emerging from the jungle of a most catastrophic civil war were deliberately hatched to impoverish the dynamic, enterprising, industrious and hitherto highly prosperous Igbo people. The idea was to maximally utilize those wicked policies to perpetually cripple and consign them to the abyss of gruelling destitution.
Fortunately, God Almighty had positioned someone in the mould of the Biblical Moses to come to the rescue of Ndi-Igbo, whose businesses and economy had been battered and shattered beyond imagination. That man, who had become a phenomenal figure in Nigeria’s banking industry was no other than the late Chief Collins Kenneth Nnadi Obih. To this eminent Nigerian banker was the recovery and transformation of the economy of Igbo land and the businesses of Igbo people associated with the civil war.
How did Chief Collins Obih achieve this unprecedented feat? Before, during and after the civil war, he was General Manager and Chief Executive Officer of the African Continental Bank (ACB) owned by the then Eastern Region government. After the civil war in 1970, he used his extensive contacts to attract the Federal Government to become a major investor in the indigenous bank.
After that, he initiated a liberal lending policy known as the Third Party Guarantee (TPG). By this innovative policy, the ACB approved and availed credit facilities not exceeding Ten Thousand Pounds (£10,000:00) to customers of the bank who had viable business proposals without having to subject them to the provision of the conventional or mandatory collateral security. All that was required of them was to get another customer of the bank to stand for them as surety. This was very simple in placing scarce but highly needed capital at the disposal of hitherto hopeless and helpless entrepreneurs to rebuild their collapsed businesses.
Literally speaking, this policy worked great wonders. Soon, ACB became the most popular bank in Nigeria amongst business people. Every one of them was directly heading to the bank to enjoy this tremendously uncommon credit liberalization policy. Businesses across Igbo land bounced back. The Eastern economy was booming once again. It did not take long for the debilitating effects of the civil war to vanish from the streets of Eastern Nigeria, particularly in Igbo land.
However, the liberal loan policy of the ACB under Collins Obih was not restricted to Igbo businessmen and women alone. Nigerian businesses with ownership cutting across the country enjoyed the peculiar credit package styled “TPG”. The patronage was so widespread that most notable business moguls and entrepreneurs in the 70s and 80s, owed their feats and successes to the unique credit policy introduced by Chief Collins Obih in the ACB.
The unprecedented level of impact of this great Nigerian banker eventually culminated in the people dubbing him “Ozo-Igbo-Ndu” (meaning Saviour of Igbo people).
Ozo-Igbo-Ndu, also popularly known as Ochiagha-Dikenafai was not just the man known for his transformation of the war-battered economy of Eastern Nigeria. He’s regarded as the Father of Nigerian Banking, having attained extraordinary heights and made unparalleled contributions to the industry in particular and Nigeria’s business sector in general.
Chief Collins Obih had capped his distinguished career with six fellowships. More importantly, he was the first Nigerian, nay West African to be accorded the prestigious fellowship honour of the Institute of Bankers (later renamed Nigerian Institute of Bankers, and presently Chartered Institute of Bankers of Nigeria). Most significantly, he was the first indigenous President of the respected Institute between 1964 and 1966. He was also decorated as the first Nigerian Fellow of the Institute of Bankers of London. He was a Fellow of the American Bankers Association; Fellow of the British Institute of Management; Fellow of the Association of International Accountants and Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Secretaries and Administrators.
In the business world, he impacted more fundamentally by occupying strategic positions in some commercial outfits, both in the ones quoted on the stock exchange and otherwise. He was at various times on the Boards of Universal Insurance Company Limited, Premier Brokers Limited, Biscuit Manufacturing Company (BISCO) of Nigeria Ltd, and METCOME Nig. Ltd, Kema Transport Service Limited, Kema Investment Group Limited, Transglobe Investment and Finance Co. Ltd and Sunlife Investment Ltd. Others include Crushed Rock Industries (Nig) Ltd, Hallmark Assurance Company Ltd, Transhill Ltd, Hic Oil Co. (Nigeria) Ltd, Ideal Flour Mill Limited and Ideal-Eagle Agro-Allied Limited.
In the political arena, he left no less giant strides being one of the founding fathers of the dominant political party of the Second Republic, the National Party of Nigeria (NPN). A National Vice Chairman of the party, he was appointed Presidential Liaison Officer (PLO) to the then President Shehu Shagari. In 1983, he flew the flag of the NPN in the gubernatorial polls in the then Imo State. He lost the contest to the then incumbent Governor Sam Mbakwe. Chief Obih believed that he won the election and challenged the verdict before the election tribunal. The military coup of December 31, 1983, aborted his effort to get a reversal of the declaration of Governor Sam Mbakwe as the winner of the governorship election by the electoral umpire.
Today, exactly thirty-three years ago (on Wednesday, May 9, 1990), Chief Collins Obih, who had left profound imprints in the sands of time went to bed and could not wake up. The foremost Nigerian financial guru and liberal banker par excellence, business tycoon, technocrat, political bigwig, philanthropist and humanitarian extraordinary, joined his ancestors in his sleep.
I join his family and the numerous people he touched in their lives in the most outstanding and profound ways in remembering him today as always and ask God to continue to show him mercy for his frailties and shortcomings.
Joachim Olumba (KSJI) is a retired Comptroller of the Immigration Service and the author of a yet-to-be-published Authoritative and Authorised Biography of Chief Collins Obih
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