L-R: Prof Anya O. Anya, chairman of the occasion; Mr. Collins Chikeluba, Entrepreneur of the Year; Sir Marc Wabara, member of Hallmark Advisory Board and Senator Gilbert Nnaji during the award ceremony.

It was yet another night of glitz and glamour on Sunday, November 10 at the Civic Centre, Victoria Island, Lagos when Business Hallmark Newspaper hosted some of the country’s shining stars in various fields on the occasion of its 2019 People of the Year Award.

Business Hallmark People of the Year Award is an annual event organised by the medium to celebrate institutions and individuals who have affected national development in positive ways in the course of the year.

The 2019 edition particularly witnessed conferment of accolades on some of the finest brains in the country’s public and private sectors who have stood out as trailblazers in their respective fields in the course of the year.

The event which was hosted by Nigeria’s former Ambassador to the United States and Chairman, Business Hallmark Advisory Board, Professor George and chaired by former Chief Executive Officer, Nigeria Economic Summit Group (NESG), Professor Anya O. Anya, witnessed colourful displays by the Lagos Cultural Troupe, Nigerian Police Band, among others who thrilled guests with acrobatic dances.

In his opening remarks, Prof Obiozor noted that the award was put together to honour achievers and encourage other Nigerians to aspire to greatness by doing right things.

This, he said, had become more urgent given the dire economic and social situations in the country and the need for expedited efforts to reverse the trend.

“The Hallmark People of the Year Award is an activity we have put together to honour remarkable and outstanding achievers in our country,” Obiozor said.

“Broken into several distinctive categories, the awards are our attempt at acknowledging profound and meritorious service while also endorsing the scrupulously selected awardees as beacons of hope and excellence that other members of the public and society are invited to emulate in the hope that one day in the future, they too would have done enough themselves to equally be celebrated.

“We find this task to be most ennobling particularly at a time like this when our nation is in dire need of heroes and exceptional citizens. We trust that through initiatives like this and the accompanying discourse that comes with it, we would would have contributed our own quota towards the greater Nigeria project.

“Indeed, the task for us, the task of encouraging as many dedicated citizens and compatriots who can contribute their utmost towards the greater Nigeria project could not have come at any time more appropriate than now. We are indeed at a critical point in the life of our nation where every very rigorous re-examination of who we are and where we are going is so manifestly demanded urgently and a compelling necessity.”

Obiozor said the it has become obvious that the country was headed for catastrophe if nothing fundamental is done. He called for restructuring of the federation as according to him, it was the only way out.

“From a cursory look at some of the more obvious indicators, we will see that we are clearly not sitting comfortably as a nation. Revenue and GDP are challenged even as our population has clearly become a factor of very serious demographic concern. Add this to the security, skills and poverty challenges that abound almost all around us, then we would see that there is indeed a lot of work to be done.”

He emphasised however, that the preponderance of Nigerians doing great things within and outside the country was a reason to be hopeful of the future.

“On the positive side, we have within this nation, lots of talented, hardworking and conscientious citizens that are available and capable to do the job. Without any equivocation we are satisfied that the eminent awardees that have lined up today are top of the billing. We therefore are most encouraged that better days would yet come for us as a nation and people.”

The notable winners of awards on the night include Mr. Kennedy Uzoka, GMD/CEO of one of Africa’s leading lenders, the United Bank for Africa (UBA) who took home the Banker of the Year accolade for his giant strides in the bank.

Under Mr. Uzoka’s leadership, UBA’s results have continued to look up, despite the country’s prevailing economic headwind.

In it’s recently released Q3, 2019 result for instance, the bank’s Profit Before Tax grew by 24.2% to N98.2billion, up from N79.1billion in the same period of 2018. Similarly, its after tax net profit also grew significantly by 32.3% from N61.69billion recorded in September last year to N81.63billion in the period under consideration, which put bank’s annualised return on average equity at 20.6%.

Yet, the bank continues to maintain very strong balance sheet with Total Assets of N4.96 trillion, an increase over the N4.87trillion recorded in December 2018. Consumer Deposits also grew to N3.37trillion. The shareholders’ fund remained very strong at N555.53 trillion, rising by 10.5% and reflecting a strong capacity for internal generation.

Anambra State governor, Chief Willie Obiano, the only political figure in the mix, took home the prestigious Man of the Year Award for maintaining stability in the state and turning it into one of the country’s leading investment destinations.

Mrs. Folake Ani-Mumuney, the doyenne of the marketing and corporate communication industry in Nigeria who, since 2010, has been the key driver of the corporate communication locomotive of the big Elephant, First Bank, took home the Professional Excellence Award in Marketing and Corporate Communication.

Similarly, legal icon and human right activist, Chief Mike Ozekhome, SAN, emerged winner of of the Professional Excellence Award in Law and Jurisprudence.

Chief (Dr.) Samuel Maduka Onyishi, CEO of leading transport company, Peace Mass Transit Limited, who in August, displayed rare sense of integrity by returning a whooping sum of N2.2billion wrongly credited to his account by his bank, won the Business Integrity Award.

Nigeria’s and indeed, West Africa’s leading airline, Air Peace, which airlifted more than 500 Nigerians stranded in South Africa in the wake of the xenophobic attacks in the country free of charge, won the company of the year award.

Other notable winners include ace broadcast journalist, host of the longest running TV talk show, the Bisi Olatilo Show and founder of Biscon TV, Chief Bisi Olatilo who won the Professional Excellence Award in Media & Communication; Professor Olufemi Adelowo, Consultant Rheumatologist at LUTH who won the Outstanding Achievement award in Medicine; Sir Ifeanyi Atueyi, Publisher of Pharmanews, winner, Outstanding Achievement in Promotion of Pharmaceutical Industry.

Others include the astute entrepreneur, Mr. Collins Chikeluba, CEO, GMO Group, winner Entrepreneur of the Year Award; Fidelity Bank Plc., co-winner, Special Product of the Year; Sterling Bank H.E.A.R.T Initiative, co-winner, Special Product Award; Mr. Jackson Agbai Abbah, CEO, Dover Hotel, winner of Outstanding Achievement Award in the Promotion of Hotel and Hospitality; Mr. Abubakar Bello, MD NEXIM Bank, winner of Professional Excellence Award in Banking and Financial Services; Dr. Godwin Ehigiamusoe, MD, LAPO Microfinance Bank, winner Outstanding Achievement Award in Micro Financing; Mrs. Abike Dabiri-Erewa, Chairman of Nigerians in Diaspora Commission, winner Public Servant of the Year Award and NIMASA, winner of the Parastatal of the Year Award.

Speaking on behalf of the awardees, Chief Ozekhome thanked the organisers of the event, Business Hallmark for finding them worthy of the honour.

He pointed out that he was particularly impressed by the fact that the recipients were not governors and political appointees as is often the case with awards in the country, but mostly professionals who got honours strictly on merit.

He used the platform to demand accountability in government, stressing that Nigeria had to be restructured to avert its imminent collapse.

“We do not hate or dislike President Muhammadu Buhari. When we criticize him, we do so mindful of the larger success of Nigeria, a country of 180 million people,” he said.

“It was Thomas Jefferson who once said, we know a country governed by the rule of law when the government fears it’s people. But when the people fear their government, then there is trouble; it’s anarchy.

“It therefore behoves on all of us individually and collectively to stand for our rights and hold all governments, not just that of Buhari, including states and local government areas accountable to the people of Nigeria.

“We must remember the words of Thomas Charlton who once told us that the price we have to pay for liberty is eternal vigilance.”

Ozekhome said it was unfortunate that Nigerians have become docile, warning that such docility is the only condition needed for an absolutist government to emerge.

“I used to say that Nigeria has three problems. The first problem, leadership; the second problem, leadership and the third problem, leadership. But I later discovered that you also need to look at the second side of the coin. And that is followership. Where you have docile followership, or a weak civil society, then any government can become absolutist and dictatorial,” he said.

“Any government can become like Louis XIV of France who once stood up in front of parliament, beat his chest imperiously and and declared ‘L’etat c’est moi’ (‘I am the state’).

“It is therefore our duty to hold all governments accountable to the people. It doesn’t matter what political party you belong to. Hunger doesn’t know political party, kidnappers don’t care, when they kidnap you, whether you belong to APC or PDP. So, it is our country, a beautiful country.

“Dolly Parton spoke of coat of many colours. But we need to have absolute fiscal federalism in a restructured federation as we had it before January 15, 1966 so that Nigeria will work again.

“If you think Nigeria is working you are deceiving yourself. It not working. It’s a mere postponement of the evil day. And that was why in 2014, we made over 600 recommendations to re-engineer this weak contraption called Nigeria. But no government has looked at those recommendations. Professor Anya O. Anya was one of the drivers of that conference. As we go home tonight we thank Business Hallmark group for this great honour done to all us.”

Ozekhome singled out the Peace Mass Transit CEO, Onyishi for praise.

“I must not forget to thank Onyishi who found N2.2bn in his account and dared to return it to the bank,” he said. “Others will say, what the hell? After all, the banks are making money. But you see, it was God speaking to you. We thank you for that large heart. God has not yet started with you.”

Meanwhile, Chief Onyishi had while making his remarks after his award, noted that he made the decision to return the said sum because he could not bear to investmoney that doesn’t belong to him in his business.

Recalling how he started life as a bus conductor, bus driver and spare parts dealer, Onyishi said God has blessed him beyond his imagination and he could not therefore fail Him at this point.

“The amount they paid in was ₦3,219,500,000 but my own money there is ₦1,000,000,000, so the balance is not my money”, he said amid applause.

“I said that I cannot invest this money and be gaining from another person’s money and I can’t also keep it. I can’t keep $7million that doesn’t belong to me.”

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