With 25% Women CEOs, Nigeria’s Banking Industry Sees Greater Gender Balancing

Guaranty Trust Bank, last week, became the latest to appoint its first female managing director.

In a notice to the Nigerian Exchange Limited on Thurs­day, the board of newly list­ed Guaranty Trust Holding Company Plc (GTCO), the successor of former GTBank Plc announced the appoint­ment of Mrs. Miriam Olu­sanya, a pharmacist turned banker to succeed Olusegun Agbaje, who moved up as Group Chief Executive Offi­cer of GTCO Plc.

Her appointment brings to six of the 24 banks in the country managed by Nigeri­an women, a move seen as a great development in an in­dustry whose leadership was once the exclusive preserve of men. Other banks with women CEOs are First City Monument Bank, Fidelity Bank, Unity Bank, SunTrust Bank, Standard Chartered Bank Africa, and Citigroup Nigeria.

Reacting, Mrs. Bisi Ba­kare, shareholder advocate and National Coordinator, Pragmatic Shareholders Association of Nigeria, told Sunday INDEPENDENT, the development will motivate other women in the sector to aim for the top of their pro­fessional career.

Mrs. Olusanya’s ap­pointment followed sever­al months of speculation about who replaces Agbaje, who completed his ten-year non-renewable term. She joined the bank as an execu­tive trainee in 1998, rising to the position of Group Trea­surer and Head, Wholesale Banking Division of the bank. She became Executive Director on August 10, 2018, and emerged from a pool of five likely successors, and only women.

Recall that last week also, and within hours of Olusan­ya’s appointment, the board of First City Monument Bank (FCMB) Holding Com­pany Plc, confirmed Mrs. Yemisi Edun, a graduate of Chemistry from the Univer­sity of Ife, (now Obafemi Awolowo University), and Chartered Accountant, as substantive MD/CEO.


She had been performing the role in an acting capacity, following the suspension of Nuru Adam, who held the position until January 6, in what the board explained, was to allow for a review of allegations of unethical con­duct against him.

Mrs. Edun began her ca­reer with Akintola Williams Deloitte (member firm of Deloitte Touché Tohmatsu) in 1987 and was involved in the audit of banks and Other Financial Institutions. From there, she joined FCMB in the year 2000 as Divisional Head of Internal Audit and Control and became Chief Financial Officer of the bank.

The year 2021 actually opened for Nigerian women bankers with the resumption of Mrs. Nneka Onyeali-Ikpe as the first female CEO of Fi­delity Bank Plc on January 1, replacing Nnamdi Okonkwo, whose final term lapsed the day before.

Holder of a Bachelor of Laws (LLB) degree from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, she commenced her banking career as a legal offi­cer with the defunct African Continental Bank in 1990, from where she joined the First African Trust Bank as a treasury officer. Her career path crossed Zenith Bank and Standard Chartered Bank, and Enterprise Bank where, in 2011, she was appointed executive director in charge of its Lagos and South-West operations.

She moved from there to Fidelity also as ED in Jan­uary 2015, overseeing the Lagos and southwest direc­torate.

Meanwhile, in that same year, on August 10, 2015, the CBN confirmed the appoint­ment of Mrs. Oluwatomi Somefun, as substantive CEO of Unity Bank Plc, replacing Henry J. Semenitari, who re­signed earlier.

She came to the job with over three decades of cognate experience, 26 years of which were in the banking industry, starting her career with Peat Marwick & Co, and subse­quently Arthur Andersen & Co (now KPMG).

In banking, she criss­crossed Treasury & Institu­tional Banking, Investment Banking, Retail and Com­mercial Banking, working with United Bank for Africa, becoming the maiden CEO of UBA Pensions Custodian. She was there for eight years while supervising the South- West Region of the bank.

A graduate of English Language from the Obafemi Awolowo University, Mrs. Somefun, a Fellow of the Institute of Chartered Ac­countants of Nigeria was Executive Director responsi­ble for Lagos and southwest Regional Operations, and oversight on Treasury and Financial Institutions Divi­sion of Unity Bank, before becoming CEO.


Besides these chief ex­ecutives of publicly quoted banks, there are others qui­etly making waves, leading the executive management of their banks. One of them is Halima Buba, CEO of Sun­trust Bank Limited, replac­ing Ayo Babatunde.

Armed with a Bachelor’s degree in Business Manage­ment and an MBA from the University of Maiduguri, she has been around in the indus­try for over 20 years, within which she traversed Allstates Trust Bank, Zenith Bank, In­land Bank Plc, Oceanic Bank Plc, and Ecobank Nigeria Limited. At Ecobank, she rose to the rank of Deputy General Manager in charge of FCT and the North.

An Honorary Member of the Chartered Institute of Bankers and a Fellow of the Institute of Management Consultants, Buba sits on the boards of the Nigerian Sov­ereign Investment Authority (NSIA) as a Non-Executive Director and Anchoria As­set Management Company Limited.

Another wave-making female CEO in the nation’s banking space is Ireti Sam­uel-Ogbu, the first female country officer of Citigroup, who has in her kitty, vast experience garnered across the group’s international operations such as Europe, the Middle East, and Africa at Citigroup’s London office. She replaced Akin Dawo­du, who took over as head, sub-Saharan Africa of the group.

One Amazon that has been around the top of Nigeria’s financial services industry for quite some time is Mrs. Adebola Adesola, now Se­nior Vice-Chairman, Africa at Standard Chartered Bank, and a former executive at Citibank Nigeria and Tanza­nia for 9 years.

Before then, she was Man­aging Director and Chief Ex­ecutive Officer of the group’s Nigerian and West African arm, after being an Execu­tive Director at the then First Bank of Nigeria Plc until March 2011, prior to which she was Managing Director of Kakawa Discount House.


A graduate of law from the University of Bucking­ham, UK, and an Honorary Fellow of the CIBN called to the Nigerian Bar in 1985 and has about three decades of banking experience.

These are, however, not the first to be atop the cor­porate ladders of Nigerian banks. In the late 1990s and first two decades of this cen­tury, there have been a sprin­kling of female bank CEOs, such as Mrs. Sola David-Bor­ha, former deputy Manag­ing Director and later CEO of Stanbic-IBTC Bank, chief executive of Africa Regions at the Standard Bank Group since January 2017.

Before her, one of the most prominent amazons of the period was Mrs. Cecilia Ibru, who CEO of Oceanic Bank International, now a legacy part of Ecobank Nigeria.

Besides these, Nigerian women, it seemed at the time, had Executive Director of a bank as height, beyond which they could not attain. Indeed, many women bankers were celebrated back then as the first to attain ED positions of their institutions.

Good Omen

Mrs. Bakare also told our correspondent that the ap­pointment of more women into the board, CEO, and se­nior management positions in Nigerian banks, both local and international, is a good omen, development, and, indeed, a vote of confidence for the female folk in the in­dustry.

“We need more, provided that those appointed have the right qualification, skill­set, and ability. I believe that wherever you find women, there is perfection. As a shareholder, investor and woman, I thank God that this is happening in my lifetime, and I believe it will prove that ‘what a man can do, a wom­an can do even better,” she stressed.

Reacting also, National Coordinator Emeritus, Inde­pendent Shareholders Asso­ciation, Sir Sunny Nwosu, told Sunday INDEPENDENT that the onus is on the wom­en CEOs to prove the slogan right by offering better re­turns on investment to share­holders.

He agrees also that the women CEOs must shun discrimination of any kind, just as they must ensure “im­proved corporate governance for the long-term sustainabil­ity of the banks under their care at all times.”

President, Bank Custom­ers Association of Nigeria (BCAN), ‘Uju Ogubunka, is not surprised, given the steady growth in the num­ber of topflight women in the very senior cadre of the Nigerian banking industry.

In a chat with Sunday INDEPENDENT, Ogubunka, a former Registrar/Chief Executive of the CIBN, says no wonder the rich array of women who today sits as board chairs, CEOs, EDs, and General Managers of banks. For this reason, he believes, indeed, that the Nigerian banking sector has come of age, especially with the women “manifesting in good numbers.


“They have been making progress professionally and have become a force to be reckoned with. In a few years from now, they may over-run the men,” he noted.

This is a good development for the industry because women are more conserva­tive and introspective when they get to that (executive) level, he said.

“Women are more duty conscious in terms of ensur­ing that the “Ts” are crossed and “I”s are dotted,” he add­ed.

Wave Makers

Women who today have successfully taken charge of boardrooms packed full of men include Mrs. Mosun­mola Belo-Olusoga, a for­mer GTBank ED, who until recently, was chairman of Access Bank, Mrs. Osaretin Demuren, immediate past chairman of GTBank, and Mrs. Ibukun Awosika, Chair­man of First Bank of Nigeria Ltd until a few months ago, among others.

There have also been wom­en deputy governors and de­partmental directors at the CBN. Mrs. Aishah Ahmad, a former ED of Diamond Bank Plc, is currently a deputy gov­ernor at the CBN. Before her, there was Dr. Sarah Alade, DG (Economic Policy), who acted as CBN governor brief­ly, following the suspension of Mallam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi on February 20, 2014, just months to the end of his first term on the job. She handed over to Godwin Eme­fiele as a substantive helms­man at the CBN. Before her appointment as DG from 26 March 2007 to 2017, she also served as Director, Banking Operations Department at the CBN.


Many, who spoke to our correspondent link the increased attempt at gen­der balancing to the body language of Emefiele, who Sunday INDEPENDENT re­calls appointed in 2019 Mrs. Priscilla Ekwere Eleje as the CBN’s Director of Currency, and the first woman to sign Nigeria’s currency- the Nai­ra, in the 63-year history of the apex bank.

Reacting to the feat at the time, Women In Manage­ment Business and Public Service (WIMBIZ), a Nigeri­an non-profit organization working to elevate the pro­file of professional women, described the appointment as “historic and laudable.”

The group commended Godwin Emefiele, the CBN Governor, for helping to en­sure gender balancing and “giving a woman this honour and breaking the 61-year tra­dition” of having male folks as director of Currency Oper­ations at the apex bank.

Definitely, the number of women that have so far broken the glass ceiling and found their way into board­rooms and executive man­agement of many of the biggest corporations in the country is on the rise. Howev­er, the performance of these six amazons will determine how far up many others in middle and top-level posi­tions will travel in banking and other sectors.

This piece was first published in the Sunday Independent of July 18, 2021.