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JIM OVIA: Astute banker’s affordable excellence and student loan challenge

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  THOMAS IMONIKHE

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No one familiar with the wholesome antecedents of aforemost banker, business tycoon, educationist, philanthropist and founder of Zenith Bank Plc, Mr. Jim Ovia, CFR, will fault his recent appointment as Chairman of the Board, Nigerian Education Loan Fund (NELFUND) by President Bola Tinubu.

Again, it portends good omen for the appointee and author of ‘Africa Rise and Shine’, who before now played no major role piloting any government establishments including ministries, departments and agencies, MDAs, to have accepted to serve the people and contribute his quota in a pivotal intervention that seeks to guarantee sustainable higher education and functional skill development for all Nigerian students and youths irrespective of their background.

In other words, the banker, who heads the NELFUND, the implementing agency of this initiative, in the view of stakeholders, is a perfect pick for the job which requires excellence and Nigerians of the finest professional ilk to guide and manage properly in order not to defeat its mandate.

Recall that decades ago, through the Jim Ovia Foundation, the new chairman established the James Hope College, JHC, in his hometown of Agbor, Delta State; a co-educational boarding school that provides scholarships for over 50% of its  pupils, considering the lacuna in high quality secondary education in the country. Its resounding success apparently, paved the way for the setting up of another JHC at Lekki, Lagos.

Both according to the records,  are private residential co-educational secondary schools which offer a combination of British and Nigerian curricula centered on providing a world-class education at a subsidized fee supported by a substantial endowment fund. The founder’s rationale for starting the colleges is based on ‘affordable excellence’, a phrase that means that no one should be denied qualitative education on account of his or her financial background.

Therefore, it’s not surprising that the President picked Ovia from the numerous professionals recommended for the  national assignment to deploy his immense wealth of experience and professional stature to his new role to “advance the all-important vision of ensuring that no Nigerian student suffers a capricious end to their pursuit of higher education over a lack of funds”.

According to a statement by Presidential spokesman, Chief Ajuri Ngelale, the initiative “will also ensure that Nigerian youths, irrespective of who they are, have access to higher education and skills that will make them productive members of society and core contributors to the knowledge-based global economy of this century.’’

Tinubu, on Wednesday, April 3, signed into law, the Student Loans (Access to Higher Education) (Repeal and Re-enactment) Bill, 2024 described by experts as of  historic proportions as it seeks to guarantee sustainable higher education and functional skill development for all Nigerian students and youths.

For instance, highlights of the Act include: establishment of the “Nigeria Education Loan Fund (NELFUND) as a body corporate that can sue and be sued in its name and has the power to acquire, hold, and dispose movable and immovable property for the purpose of its functions; empowers the Fund to provide loans to qualified Nigerians for tuition, fees, charges, and upkeep during their studies in approved tertiary academic institutions and vocational and skills acquisition institutions in Nigeria”.

Others are: “separates the governance functions from the management operations of the Fund by establishing a board of directors with a chairman and a secretary as well as board’s members drawn from relevant ministries, regulatory bodies, and participating agencies”.

A management team led by a managing director, including executive directors will be responsible for the day-to-day management and operations of the Fund.

The  law also, properly defines the resource structure of the Fund by, among other things, establishing the General Reserve Fund into which shall be paid 1 percent of all taxes, levies, and duties collected by the Federal Inland Revenue Service, FIRS, and accruing to the benefit of the Federal Government, and from which the Fund shall pay amounts payable as loans to qualified applicants for tuition, fees, charges, and upkeep, as well as the Fund’s operational expenses and such expenditures necessary to attaining the its objectives and functions.

The founder and chairman of Zenith Bank Plc, one of Africa’s largest banks with over $21.4 billion in assets and shareholders’ funds of over US$2.4 billion as at December 2023 has become not only a role model to all who genuinely want to make any significant impact in the often challenging world of business but Nigeria’s corporate icon of inestimable value in the global community.

Besides, he is the Founder and Chancellor of the newly established James Hope University, Lekki, Lagos which was recently approved by the National Universities Commission (NUC) to offer postgraduate degrees in business courses. The University commenced activities in September 2023, while the chairman through his philanthropy – the Jim Ovia Foundation, has shown the tremendous importance he attaches to qualitative and affordable education.

Specifically, in support of the Nigerian youth, Jim Ovia Foundation offers scholarships to indigent students through the Mankind United to Support Total Education (MUSTE) initiative with most of the beneficiaries  becoming accountants, business administrators, lawyers, engineers and doctors among others.

An  alumnus of the Harvard Business School (OPM), University of Louisiana (MBA), and Southern University, Louisiana, (B.Sc. Business Administration), Jim  is a member of the World Economic Forum (WEF) Community of Chairpersons, and a champion of the Forum’s EDISON Alliance.

A man of many firsts, it was in recognition of his invaluable contributions to the social and economic development of Nigeria, that in 2022, the Federal Government of Nigeria honoured him with Commander of the Federal Republic, CFR and also conferred with the National Productivity Order of Merit (NPOM) Award  the same year.

Before then, the philanthropist par excellence had been conferred with many national recognitions including Member of the Order of the Federal Republic, MFR, and Commander of the Order of the Niger, CON, in 2000 and 2011, respectively, as a testament to his hard work, integrity and visionary leadership and contributions to Nigeria’s financial services sector.

Described as Godfather of Banking in the country by Forbes Africa, Ovia’s time-tested virtues and admonitions such as, “Do the right thing always, and place value on integrity and honesty in yourself, your employees and your customers” as well as “if we have fire in our belly, we’ll achieve the results we want” contained in his book, ‘Africa Rise and Shine’, are expected to be among the unwritten principles and values that will drive the NELFUND’s board and management in implementing the innovative’s mandate to guarantee successful tenure since its chairman has an unblemished record of selfless service to fatherland.

 

For a better society

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