Val Ozigbo: The penultimate week as the hues and cries generated by the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown was going on the Central Bank of Nigeria released to the excitement of expectant Nigerians a comprehensive package of about N3.5 trillion as stimulus package targeted at households, businesses and different sectors of the economy for the purpose of cushioning the debilitating effects of the pandemic lockdown on the economy and also to support a more resilient and self-reliant economy. This was in keeping with the apex bank’s corporate social responsibility and may not foreclose the coming of Federal Government’s package as indicated in the President’s speech extending the COVID-19 lockdown. Out of this package, the CBN has earmarked N50 billion targeted as credit facility for affected households and SMEs.
The CBN’s package is timely and reassuring and will no doubt bring succor to despairing households whose sources of livelihood may have been hampered by the suffocating lockdown. Everybody especially operators of SMEs would need a lifeline after the lockdown to resume again. Therefore, the CBN largesse is an opportunity to be grabbed with both hands.
But, as lofty and as laudable as the package may appear, it has its obvious limitations as always. We are not new to this kind of CBN’s interventionist packages. In the past we have had such programmes targeted at specific sectors of the economy especially Agriculture but they never achieved the purposes for which they were intended. One of the many limitations of programmes of this kind is in the implementation. Most times, the programmes do not get the desired effect because it never trickled down to those it is meant for. Sometimes too, the programmes are high-jacked by the politicians and are diverted to the politically-connected or toadying party-men who have nothing to do with it. Again and most crucially, because of the conditions usually attached to the disbursement of the funds of this nature, those the funds are meant for never get to access them due to inability to meet up with the assessment criteria.
It is in the light of the foregoing that I wish to commend the exemplary conduct of Valentine Ozigbo who has willingly stepped forward to pledge a whooping sum of one hundred million Naira as personal guarantee to enable his people in his home state Anambra access to the CBN’s intervention funds as reported in the news media recently. This is to ensure that his people are not left out in the process as was hitherto the case. In a statement made available to the press through his foundation, Chineto Ozigbo Foundation in Awka on Friday, 17th April, 2020, Valentine Chineto Ozigbo told his people, to apply for the loans through the official website pledging his willingness to make a personal guarantee of up to N100 million to enable those deserving of the loans access to it irrespective of party affiliation provided the businesses are domiciled in Anambra State. And to facilitate the process, he plan to partner with two micro finance banks: Akalabo MFB Amesi in Anambra and VFD MFB in Lagos where the bulk of his state business men are. Again to further encourage his people to apply, he advised those who wished to have their applications reviewed to forward the draft copy to them for review and comments before submission. Indeed, his intervention would create the needed awareness and remove doubts and skepticisms usually associated with applying for government’s grants. Valentine Ozigbo who was the immediate past CEO of the Transnational Group recognized the SMEs as the critical mass and the “live wire of the economy” that must be supported to keep the economy going. Before now at the beginning of the lockdown exercise, he has donated cash, kits and other items worth over twenty million naira in his home state Anambra State.
He knew that while the world is practicing social distancing to avoid contracting the killer virus, it would dangerous to practice “financial distancing”. He believes there is need to practice economic or financial closeness and inclusion to avoid contracting hunger virus and the potential social unrest associated with it. This is really a good way to identify with the people. This is an exemplary way of showing solidarity, not by paying lip-service to the plight of the masses. And observers are not surprised at this gesture of philanthropy. Before now, he has been doing similar programme to build capacity and empower the people around him, a gesture that has earned him positive acclaim from different quarters.
Clearly, it is in an emergency situation like this corona pandemic conundrum that the true qualities, skills and styles of leaders are put to test. What Valentine Ozigbo did is not just an act of philanthropy but a demonstration of true leadership initiative. Leadership skills and styles are tested during periods of emergency like this. Difficult situations produce situational, contingency, authentic and charismatic leadership. He is not the richest man in the nation or in his home state but he did what he did knowing the inherent risk because he cares for the people. This is clearly beyond philanthropy. This is authentic leadership. True leadership can be appraised not based on rhetoric but on individual attributes, competencies (problem-solving skills) and leadership outcome (performance or goal accomplishment). Authentic leadership creates values, builds relationships and inspires and supports others.
An authentic leader knows the distinguishing characters—strength, potentials, weakness and threats or limitations—of his people, team, group inter alia and works to enhance their capabilities to achieve goal congruence. Valentine Ozigbo knows the strength of his people as those with incredible abilities to turn nothing into something. He knew that with little encourage such as this, they will be able to utilize the stimulus package productively to start life again after the lockdown just as the average Igbo man did after the Nigerian Civil War. He also knows the constraint associated with accessing the CBN funds and hence he has to mitigate against it by pledging his own funds as guarantee.
It is clear, that a programme of this magnitude has its inherent risk one of which is the risk of default in the repayment of the loan by the beneficiaries. He knows this being a chartered accountant and a consummate banker. But he also knows that leadership is about sacrifice. A good leader sacrifices his time, talent and treasure for the well-being of his people. A leader that is not willing to make such sacrifice is just a self-seeking opportunist.
No doubt, by this gesture Valentine Ozigbo has demonstrated that he is not just a business mogul or a corporate icon but a leader. Leadership is about the people and anyone who neglects this obvious fact cannot be a leader. And people management skill is about being sensitive to the needs of others, identifying with the people, engaging the people productively, carrying them along, building capacity and empowerment, motivating and supporting them accordingly. It is not about issuing commands or demanding loyalty. It is about service to the people.
Also, ability to identify opportunity and leverage on it is one of the conceptual skills every leader should have. Valentine Ozigbo saw the window of opportunity opened by the CBN stimulus package as an avenue to give his people a new lease of life after the corona pestilence and he latched in on it. Leadership status is earned through trust, performance, vision, reliability and other rare attributes not by ascription. By this gesture Valentine Ozigbo has earned the trust and confidence of his people as a leader who cares.
Thus, I will enjoin other well-meaning Nigerians to follow this noble example set by Valentine Ozigbo. Empowering Nigerians after the lockdown would create wealth, reduce poverty and suffering and by extension remove the looming threat of crime and other sociopathic vices that may come as the after effect of poverty and suffering.
An economist, consultant, public policy analyst and strategist.