Nothing betrayed the animosity between them. It was a perfect act.
The tension between All Progressives Congress National Leader Asiwaju Ahmed Tinubu and Lagos State Governor Akinwunmi Ambode over who steers the state in 2019 was absent when both men met yesterday at the launch of Africa Rise And Shine, written by Mr. Jim Ovia, chairman of Zenith Bank Plc.
Following a week of bold media headlines on their rift, guests at the event watched anxiously how the two leaders would break the ice, if ever they manage.
Ambode was already seated when midway into the occasion Tinubu sauntered in. The atmosphere suddenly became electrified.
The Lion of Bourdillon took to the podium and delivered his remarks. The organisers might have read the minds of the audience.
For no sooner had Tinubu ‘roared’ than they invited the governor to the podium.
The silence that slouched behind the initial applause was palpable. Everyone, even the microphone waited in anticipation.
Then Ambode began. First, an acknowledgement of the dignitaries with nods and a smile, then a moment’s hesitation, and finally the words: “Actually, I didn’t prepare to come and say anything here. And who am I to speak after the Jagaban has spoken?”
It was a textbook example of how to diffuse tension; it sent the audience and the governor himself laughing, and social media buzzing with the newest catchphrase.
Ambode thereafter gave kudos to the political prowess of Tinubu, fondly referred to as ‘The Jagaban’ and went on to speak about Ovia.
“Obviously, the truth is, there is no person that has actually gone through the profession of accountancy that would not have had something to do with Uncle Jim. That is the truth,” he said.
As the event in Lagos, drew to an end, the master of ceremony invited state governors present and other dignitaries to the podium to take pictures. Tinubu was at the left corner of the stage while Ambode stood at the far right.
But as the photographer readied for the click, Ambode suddenly moved away from his position and planted himself right beside the national leader.
The symbolism, of course, was not lost on the audience, and the hall erupted in laughter.
Rather than back the governor for a second term, Tinubu is widely believed to have thrown his weight behind a former Lagos State Commissioner for Establishments, Training and Pension, Mr. Jide Sanwo-Olu, who has since picked the APC’s nomination form and made a formal declaration of his bid.
In a speech laden with hope for Nigeria and the continent, Ovia noted: “The narrative of Africa has been something so pathetic.
When you Google about Africa then, the first thing that came out was that it is a continent of corruption and coups. But after two decades, that narrative started changing.
Today, we now know that Africa is truly rising. Between then and now, what you have is GDP per capita of many African countries well above $1,000, whereas about 20 years ago, it was below $500.
So, for me, Africa is rising. Twenty years ago, only few African countries had mobile phones.
But today, all the African countries not only have mobile phones, they also have broadband technology, and the Internet penetration is high. Africa is rising by embracing technology.”
Vice President Yemi Osinbajo extolled the virtues of Ovia, who rose “from nowhere to become the owner of a N6 trillion worth of investment.”
In his keynote address, Osinbajo said Ovia, through the book, has told a story of his humble beginning and has fulfilled his civic obligation as a successful man, having written about his life experience to admonish and inspire the present and future generation.
“The third task is the civic task; the obligation of the successful to write their stories, to share their experiences and the histories of the phenomena that they have gone through, in order to admonish and inspire the present and the future,” he said.
Using Zenith Bank to illustrate his climb to success, Ovia noted that no other economy in the world could have offered such an opportunity of so much rise in assets as the bank had despite prevailing harsh conditions, compounded by the lack of infrastructure including technology and data.
“We will want to do certain things; you are not too sure because you don’t have any data to prove it’s going to be right. But your instinct tells you, just do it,” he said.
He explained: “The Internet enables you to do online transactions, online sales, online education and everything.
Amazon is now over $1 trillion. This Amazon doesn’t have a factory anywhere.
They don’t have any oil well at all, but have over $1 trillion in market capitalisation - richer than Nigeria with twice the GDP of Nigeria.
It is because they embraced technology and the Internet. “Look at what Google has done. Google was just set up as a search engine.
But now, Google is one of the richest companies in the entire world. Of course, the market capitalisation of Google is larger than Nigeria’s GDP.
And I mean larger than all the oil wells we have, all the resources we have, and all the agriculture we have. Just one company!
“Economies driven by technology will always blossom.
For us to blossom in the Nigerian economy, let’s start to digitise the economy. If we digitise the economy, it will continue to grow.
If we use technology to drive our manufacturing process, our agriculture and healthcare, we will know what that will do for us.”
The Governor of the Central Bank Governor (CBN), Mr Godwin Emefiele, who described Ovia as a “true giant of our time, obviously not in size,” said: “The book conveys an inspirational message on universal principles that are applicable in every country, which can serve as a guide to millions of young Nigerians on how to succeed, especially not only because of the opportunities around you, but also despite the challenges in your environment.”
He added that the author equally shared “very important words of wisdom, drawn from his more than 38-year experience as an undeniable trail blazer in Nigeria’s banking sector, as well as his experience in the telecommunications and insurance sectors.”
The launch turned out to be a gathering of gladiators across sectors like banking and finance and government and politics. There were also captains of industries, the media, telecommunications and entertainment.
Elder statesman and accounting guru, Chief Akintola Williams, said he accepted not only to read the book but also to write a review, which he shared with the audience.
Describing the book as a “happy read”, he urged all present to make the most of it. He encouraged the author to write more books and share more of his experiences, despite being loaded with responsibilities in the office and at home.
The chairman of the occasion, Dr Christopher Kolade, expressed joy that he lived to see the narrative on Africa changing, as “earlier stories had been told by those who did not know much about the continent.”
He insisted the message of the book is very important, especially the can-do spirit that would birth many more Ovias for Africa to keep rising and shining.
President of the Dangote Group, Mr. Aliko Dangote, represented by his daughter, Halima, described Ovia as “the most gifted and innovative banker in the Nigerian space.”
Agreeing, the chairman of the UBA Group, Mr. Tony Elumelu, who called him “Big Brother”, also described the author as “a pacesetter in the financial services landscape, not only in Nigeria but also far beyond.”
Other speakers who poured encomiums on Ovia and eulogised his achievements included: former Vice Chancellor, University of Lagos, Prof. Ibidapo Obe, who remembered the author for his generous donation of a cyber centre at the institution’s School of Business Administration, and a promise of an automatic employment for its first-class graduates.
Tinubu, who fondly described Ovia as “the Godfather of the Nigerian banking sector,” said: “What he has accomplished is not an end, but a beginning for those who will succeed him.”
Ambode added: “Nobody will read the book without being inspired,” while Africa’s richest woman, Mrs. Folorunsho Alakija, noted that “no success is easy as you have to work hard for it,” like Ovia did.
The author’s wife, Kate, while harping on the inspirational nature of the book, said it was not all work and no play for her husband, as his narrative showed he equally made out time to unwind by visiting clubs, beaches, and spending time with the family.
The reviewer, Prof. Fabian Ejiogu, said the author has shown that it is not only the success a man builds that makes him, but also the legacies he leaves behind in terms of wealth creation, job creation and value addition.