Politics

Intrigues As CBN Thwarts Ebenezer Onyeagwu’s Plot to Become Zenith Holdings CEO

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–  Jim Ovia Miffed as Apex Bank Stops His Bid to Reappoint Onyeagwu Through Waiver

– How Cardoso’s Action Asserts CBN’s Commitment to Banking Sector Reform

By Joshua Raji-Abiodun

In the straggling landscape of Nigerian banking, where power and influence often intertwine, one man’s resolute stance has shaken the foundations of entitlement. Governor Yemi Cardoso, the steely-eyed guardian of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), has upset two covetous titans’ apple carts as he stands unwavering amidst the tempest of intense lobbying started by the outgoing Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer (MD/CEO) of Zenith Bank, Ebenezer Onyeagwu would like him to issue a procedural and regulatory waiver that would legitimize Onyeagwu’s bid to emerge the new MD/CEO of Zenith Holdings.

The recent turn of events has sent shockwaves through the banking corridors as Onyeagwu’s aspirations suffered the jolt of an unexpected barricade.

Seeking to extend his dominion to Zenith Holdings, the supervisory entity for Zenith Bank, Onyeagwu embarked on a fervent campaign, beseeching CBN Governor Cardoso, for a waiver to assume the mantle of MD/CEO. However, his entreaties fell upon deaf ears.

Cardoso’s steadfast refusal to grant Onyeagwu’s request was, however, not a mere denial; it was a declaration of principles. With unwavering conviction, Cardoso held fast to the tenets of legality, asserting that such waivers were not only unethical but patently illegal. His refusal echoed with the clarity of a clarion call, resonating far beyond the walls of the CBN, and signaling a seismic shift in Nigeria’s financial landscape.

In a country where backroom deals and cronyism often dictate the course of affairs, Cardoso’s unwavering commitment to upholding the rule of law is a beacon of hope. His decision reverberates as a clarion call for transparency and accountability, heralding a new era where meritocracy reigns supreme over entitlement.

This pivotal moment serves as a testament to the CBN Governor’s tireless campaign to sanitise Nigeria’s banking sector. Through his unyielding resolve and unassailable integrity, he has emerged as a formidable force, challenging the status quo and charting a course towards a brighter, more equitable future.

There is no gainsaying Onyeagwu and his cousin cum godfather, Jim Ovia, Zenith Bank Chairman, were stupefied and severely humbled by Cardoso’s resoluteness in the face of their lobbying. Sources close to the duo revealed that they took things for granted, thinking that the CBN governor would yield to their temptation and do their bidding as was always the case with Cardoso’s predecessor, Godwin Emefiele, who is currently facing prosecution for gross financial misconduct and abuse of office during his tenure.

Emefiele’s loyalty to Ovia knows no bounds; so devoted was he to Ovia that the latter must assent any decision he takes as Governor of CBN. Anyone seeking to do business with CBN must, first, seek a backdoor approach through Ovia to get Emefiele to play ball.

Even after he had initially refused access and the Apex bank’s facilities to anyone, if the latter could manage to secure Ovia’s support, and get him to call him, the business will sail through.

As you read, Emefiele is caught up in the turbulence that results from dabbling too deep in crooked commerce – as a result of humouring the whims and patronage of his friends and godfather in high places.

As the chickens come home to roost, he has been running helter-skelter in search of reprieve, like a sewer rat fleeing the onslaught of an unrelenting charwoman.

Emefiele certainly forgot that those who summon the storm must never cringe from a storm cloud. Yet having beckoned the storm, he cringes from its ravage.

As the waves of change ripple outward, Cardoso stands as a towering figure, a guardian of integrity in a sea of opportunism. His refusal to compromise serves as a rallying cry for all those who dare to envision a Nigeria where justice prevails and merit triumphs. In the crucible of adversity, Cardoso’s unwavering commitment shines as a beacon of hope, illuminating the path towards a more just and prosperous tomorrow.

It would be recalled that Onyeagwu emerged Ovia’s favourite for the most coveted office at Zenith Holdings, in the wake of shareholders’ approval for Zenith Bank’s transition into a holding company structure.

Even though it would be tantamount to an abuse of office and gross violation of banking regulations, Ovia brazenly supported Onyeagwu’s bid to become the supervisory entity’s first MD/CEO.

As lobbying intensified to gift Onyeagwu the post, there were speculations that Zenith Bank could get mired in an intense powerplay between forces loyal to the newly appointed MD/CEO of Zenith Bank, Adaora Umeoji and those loyal to her immediate past predecessor and boss, Onyeagwu.

While the decision to convert Zenith Bank to a holding company structure marks a significant step in the bank’s evolution, there was speculation that it might reorder and recalibrate the bank’s power equation.

The approval bestows enormous powers on the CEO of Zenith Holdings, a position that Onyeagwu has desperately yearning for in line with the usual culture in banking circuits, whereby former bank MDs go on to become CEOs of their banks’ holding companies. It would be recalled Guaranty Trust Bank (GTBank)’s Segun Agbaje and Access Bank’s late CEO, Herbert Wigwe, were vested with the leadership and control of their banks’ holding companies after their tenure as MD. It is equally noteworthy that late Wigwe’s partner and successor, Aig Imoukhuede, assumed control of Access Holdings in the wake of Wigwe’s death.

Cardoso’s refusal to grant Onyeagwu a waiver has, however, put paid to hopes that such transition would be allowed in Zenith Bank. In the realm of boardroom politics, argued pundits, Onyeagwu’s emergence as the CEO of Zenith Holdings could undermine the authority and position of Adaora Umeoji as current MD/CEO of Zenith Bank.

The probability of such boardroom politics erupting in Zenith Bank, has so far been effectively neutered by Cardoso’s denial of a waiver to Onyeagwu.

If he had approved the latter’s request, it would have affected the bank’s internal power dynamics; within the board of Zenith Holdings, there might be factions or alliances formed based on personal or professional relationships. Those who support Adaora Umeoji’s leadership at Zenith Bank might resist Onyeagwu’s elevation to a higher position within the holding company, fearing that he could challenge or overshadow Umeoji’s authority.

Umeoji might also have influential backers within the board or among key shareholders who prefer to maintain the status quo. These backers could use their influence to block Onyeagwu’s advancement, ensuring that Umeoji remains unchallenged in her position.

Raji Abiodun, a Public Analyst and Social Commentator writes from Abuja.

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