The Senatorial candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC) for the forthcoming Lagos East bye-election, Mr Adetokunbo Mukhail Abiru, has stated that he focused on his career in the private sector because he always knew that he would return to public service.
Abiru, the banker turned politician, stated this while recalling his sojourn in the banking sector in the last 32 years where he rose from the lower cadre to the peak and also made mark for himself as an astute professional and seasoned administrator.
The Ikorodu – born Economist and Chartered Accountant, spoke at an interactive session held at his home in Ipakodo, Ikorodu West Local Council Development Area of Ikorodu Division, Lagos, Southwest, Nigeria, on Saturday, September 12, 2020.
Explaining his reason for leaving a lucrative appointment as Commissioner for Finance in Lagos State, which is very uncommon in this clime, to return to the banking sector in 2013, Abiru, who said that he had a work life of about 32 years running from 1980, out of which he spent 29 years working in the banking sector, stated that his target was to achieve his aim of being in the executive leadership of the sector in Nigeria.
“During my time in First Bank, where I reached the peak of my career as an Executive Director, I had the rare privilege of serving the Lagos State Government between 2011 and 2013 as Commissioner for Finance. It was just for two years under Mr Babatunde Fashola, SAN, as the Governor.
“It was meant to be four years but I chose to leave.
“You will agree with me that my appointment as Commissioner is the one of the choicest roles you can think of in government appointment, but again, it depends on the kind of value that you wanted to be associated with”, Abiru stated while explaining his exit from the Lagos State Government .
“For me, it was a good opportunity but again, when I was leaving (First Bank to serve Lagos State), I was already the Deputy General Manager, which again at that time was the peak of banking career but not for the executive leadership.
“You know the aspiration of every young man is to get to the peak of his career and for me, governance is something that you can come back unlike the executive leadership which has a certain time in your life that you can attain it. Once you miss that time, you can’t do it again”, he said.
“In private sector, once you miss an opportunity, you cannot get it back, but in public life, it is a life-long experience.
“To me at that time, I can always come back to public service. But if you believe in yourself and develop yourself more, I think that it goes beyond what you can see; rather, it depends on where you are going.
“For me, I have always known that you can always come back to public service just like I have returned to it today, but you cannot do that in the private sector”, the Senatorial candidate said.
“I left on my own and with the understanding of the party then and the government and it was a very amicable one”.
The boardroom guru, after resigning his appointment as Commissioner, returned to the First Bank, regarded as the largest bank in Nigeria, as an Executive Director.
He added that it was his discipline that worked for him in leaving the political appointment to pursue his career and further developed himself.
“I went back (to the First Bank) and as an Executive Director which of course, is like getting to the peak of your career. I am happy that I was able to take that decision despite being a tough call for a young man like me then to take. You can imagine the mind of a young man at that time, you probably wouldn’t want to quit such a political office.
“It takes a lot of discipline of the mind to know that life is more about the way that you continue to nurture yourself.
Speaking on his journey to salvage the troubled Skye that was revived under a new name and ownership, with him as the team leader, Abiru said that it was a difficult situation at the time but that he achieved the Mandate that was given to him creditably.
“After that, I also had the privilege of being invited by the Central Bank (of Nigeria) to handle the problem of what you all know as the troubled Skye Bank as it were then. It was a major issue.
“ They had a very difficult situation and it was during a time that the country was in recession and there was a new government in the country and globally, the economy was coming down by the virtue of the decline in oil revenue that affected the country (Nigeria) as a matter of fact”.
He explained that the Skye Bank situation was compounded with the country’s and global economy which went into recession, thus, making the Mandate given to him a task that must be achieved to prevent more economic calamity.
“The problem is that you cannot think of the collapse of a bank during a recession. It will worsen the situation. So, going into Skye, I went there with a Mandate to save the situation from what was described as declining potential ratios and also bring it back to the path of profitability because they were making losses then”, he recalled.
“I was opportuned to lead that team as the Group Managing Director in 2016 and by the grace of God and team work and other things that we had at our disposal, in September 2018, we were able to recapitalised Skye Bank and it became Polaris Bank”, he said with a sense of pride and achievements.
Explaining the need for new brand and ownership for the troubled Skye bank after he and his team salvaged the entity, Abiru said:
“It needed to become Polaris Bank because you can’t save a bank that is owned by private individuals with public funds and give it back to private individuals. You will agree with me that that would be unfair.
“That was why Skye Bank had to be liquidated and we now have a new bank, inheriting all the assets and certain liabilities of the former bank. That changed the ownership of the bank with government ownership”.
He added that the new bank has been making profit and performing very well.
“By December 2019, I am also happy to let you know that all problems that were associated with the then Skye Bank were corrected. The declining ratios had turned positive and the profitability of the bank had also turned positive.
“As challenging as this year is because of COVID – 19 and other issues, I can also confirm to you that the bank is still making profit.
“I give glory to Almighty Allah for all these achievements and at the same time, I also realised that I had done what was expected of me as stated in the Mandate given to me when we started in 2016”, a fulfilled former Banker said proudly.
Recalling his early days in the banking sector, Abiru said that he is proud of his time at the Guarantee Trust Bank, popularly known and called ‘GTB’, where he spent 9 years and cut his teeth as a Banker.
“I was one of the early birds of the Guarantee Trust Bank. That is the bank that we are all proud of today in Nigeria. I joined in 1991 and at that time, the bank was just operating in a location under a roof at 6, Adeyemo Alakija Street, Victoria Island. There are just about 42 of us”, he recalled.
“I remain proud of that kind of heritage. I worked in that environment from 1991 to 2000 and practically spent my early years and for those that are quite familiar with that brand, you can see what is made of today and what it will continue to be in the private sector space. It stands for professionalism, quality service and best tradition of banking. That was where I grew up”, he added proudly.
Since it wasn’t all rosy, Abiru, who resigned his position as the Group Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer of the Polaris bank in August to join the Lagos East Senatorial race, said that he had stints with National Bank and First Atlantic but quickly realised that the two institutions cannot accommodate those values he has acquired with GTB and left before they collapsed.
“Between 2000 and 2002, I worked with two other financial institutions. One, National Bank which they wanted to bring back to life but I quickly realised that the setting didn’t fit into certain values that I have set for myself and those that l acquired from the Guaranty Trust Bank. The rest is now history because there is no more National Bank today.
“From there, I went into First Atlantic which later fizzled out but I had left the bank before it collapsed. That is to tell you that at times, I can see the future ahead.
“I spent another ten months there, after which I retraced my steps back to the tradition of conservatism and the best of practice, so, I joined the First Bank of Nigeria PLC, where I was from 2002 to 2016 which is practically 15 years and adding that to my previous years of service, that is about 25 years at that time”, he said.