Internationally acclaimed Nigerian banker, Jim Ovia, is a man whose life has been decorated with string of personal successes, culminating in his current standing as one of Africa’s richest men, with a net worth of about $775 million.
From his days with IMB, which he joined in 1980 as Financial Analyst, Ovia had always been one for the future — full of promise. He moved to Merchant Bank of Africa (where he stayed three years) as head of its department of Corporate Finance.
Building on his 10-year industry experience, he co-founded Zenith Bank in May 1990, serving as its group managing director and chief executive officer for a twenty-year stint during which the bank grew to become the second largest company in Nigeria, as at his standing down as CEO in 2010.
Highlights of his tenure include the Bank’s AA- rating by Fitch Ratings, renowned credit rating agency in 2004; and its emergence as African Bank of the year in 2007, in an award coordinated by African Investor magazine. Also in 2007, the Nigerian Stock Exchange named it the Quoted Company of the Year while African Investor magazine again adjudged it the Socially Responsible Bank of the Year. Two years earlier, though, it had been named Bank of the Year by The Banker’s magazine of the Financial Times of London, and Most Respected Bank in Nigeria by PricewaterhouseCoopers.
In his out-of-banking endeavours, Ovia has achieved almost an equal measure of success in both private and public sector initiatives.
For example, he has chaired the Nigeria Software Development Initiative (NSDI) as well as National Information Technology Advisory Committee [NITAC]. He also holds membership of the governing councils of the Nigerian Investment Promotion Council (NIPC), the Honorary International Investor Council, and the Lagos State University.
These are in addition to his membership of the Board of Trustees of Redeemer’s University For Nations, Lagos, and proprietorship of the proposed University of Information and Communication Technology, Agbor, Delta State.
Ovia has headed various non-governmental organisations at various times, including being the first president of the Nigeria Internet Group, and being a member of the Tsunami Disaster Relief Committee, and being the coordinator Nigerians United To Save Niger Republic (NUSAN).
He founded and chairs the Mankind United to Support Total Education (MUSTE), a philanthropic organisation that funds the education of indigent students, which has already successfully trained scores of medical doctors, lawyers, engineers and so on. He is equally the founder of the ICT Foundation for Youth Empowerment, focused on improving the socio-economic welfare of Nigerian Youths by motivating them to embrace Information and Communication Technology.
In November 2000, he was conferred with the national award of Member of the Order of the Federal Republic (MFR) by then president, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, having received the Zik Award for professional leadership a year earlier.
All the personal and corporate accolades notwithstanding, Ovia remains motivated for the present and the future, banking on his public initiatives, such as MUST and the ICT university, as “channels” through which he “would be a be able to reach out to people and empower the youth.”
“…so, through these channels, I intend to leave a kind of legacy where I would have touched a lot of people’s lives and made them better than they were,” he says. “It would give me happiness that I have been able to change the lives of people especially the youth. In my lifetime I want to play a role that would touch the lives of Nigerians and humanity generally. That would be the legacy that I would want to leave behind.”
What other value and legacy can one of Africa’s richest men leave for the future?
Nothing ventured, nothing gained….