Zenith Bank Chairman Tells His Incredible Lagos Success Story


The Chairman of Zenith Bank Plc, Jim Ovia, in a new video, has recounted fond memories of arriving Lagos as a university graduate and leveraging on the numerous opportunities offered by the Centre of Excellence to establish Zenith bank, which has grown to become one of Africa’s biggest global financial institutions.

Describing his experience in Lagos as “very interesting”, Ovia recounted the story of a city that has provided business and entertainment opportunities in equal measure, enabling upwardly mobile young men and women to pursue their dreams, innovate, transform and achieve beyond their imaginations.

He said, “Lagos has been a very interesting experience for most people who’d come to Lagos over a number of years… people like us – members of my age group and peer group – that had the opportunity to come to Lagos and work, and also transform a number of things.

Ovia added, “As far back as in the early ‘70s, I used to work at Barclays Bank, the good old days of Barclays Bank, which transformed to become Union Bank.

“I used to be a clerical officer at the Ikeja (Oba Akran Avenue) branch and it was very interesting how we used to take the LMTS buses – you remember the LMTS buses of those days. Yes, truly, truly so. We grew up under this kind of situation where things were well-organised and things are still very well-organized today. That was when Lagos used to bubble, but not anywhere near as it is today.”

He recalled that most university graduates in the early ‘70s thought of Lagos as the land where every dream was realisable, and one could have fun while achieving the dream, whatever it was.

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“After university education, we thought Lagos was the only place where you could come and work, and also enjoy social life,” he noted. “So, we continued in the Lagos that we’d known because we called ourselves Lagos boys. (I) did my NYSC at Union Bank at 131 Broad Street. Remember Broad Street is the equivalent of Wall Street of New York. And we all know (what) Wall Street had become over a number of years – all the most multinationals as well as the large financial institutions were at Wall Street at that point in time.

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Then from after the NYSC, I started working for First National Bank of Chicago. We used to call it IMB – International Merchant Bank. And from then on, because Lagos provides very interesting opportunities, we all had opportunities to combine resources and have what we call Zenith Bank, at Ajose Adeogun (Victoria Island).

We built it, maintained it, lit it up and today it is one of the most lit-up streets in Nigeria.

According to him, the urge to beautify and add to the allure of Lagos led the bank to provide, on a yearly basis, one-of-a-kind Christmas decorations and lights around its headquarters in Ajose Adeogun Street for the viewing pleasure of children on vacation.

“We do that every year for the fun of it as a way of saying thank you to Lagos,” he said, “As we could see at the penthouse of the Civic Centre Towers, we can overlook how beautiful Lagos is, overlooking the Falomo Bridge and the beautiful Lagoon, the Number 5 Cowry, and all the beautiful structures above. Of course, the ever busy Lekki Concession Road, which is also the continuation of Ozumba Mbadiwe Street.

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He recounted how every young men and women of the time considered a regular visit to Fela Anikulapo-Kuti’s African Shrine in Ikeja as an essential ingredient of Lagos life.

“We remember in those good old days, Fela Ransome-Kuti, the Afrobeat King. We all used to go to Fela Ransome-Kuti’s and relax. And of course such music as Shakara Oloje was our favourite. Fela was just number one then. We couldn’t go anywhere else then but Fela’s African Shrine. We remember the African Shrine and that was a lot of fun for us.”

According to him, one could never truly claim to live in Lagos without visiting the Bar Beach, on the Lagos Atlantic coastline.

“And of course Bar Beach. We used to go to Bar Beach in those good old days. Going to Bar Beach was like fun. You go there to watch the water, the waves,” he said.

“What else is there to do in Lagos? Quite a number of things, a number of activities: Lagos is always very welcoming, very relaxing.

“Other than the hustle, bustle, business activities and the profit you make, there are many places where you can spend those profits also.”



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