By PRINCE EMEKA OBASI
Perhaps it is an irony of fate that Diamond Bank, unarguably the crown jewel of Pascal Dozie’s entrepreneurial repertoire, would fail so spectacularly on the eve of his 80th birthday celebration. Unarguably, because contrary to Mr. Dozie’s offhand remark over a decade ago, coincidentally on the occasion of another birthday anniversary, when presented with two cakes; one from MTN and the other from Diamond Bank: “Which one do I cut now? This one; MTN, gives me more money and less trouble, while the other one; Diamond, gives me less money and more trouble…,” Despite Dozie’s feelings, it was not factually correct that Diamond Bank was the troublesome child of the family. If anything it was the golden goose and many in the know insist that its proceeds had birthed the MTN investment in the first place.
The bank was always the cash cow of the Dozie family business empire. For many in the know, the bank often served as the piggy bank of the multiple family businesses. Now, there was nothing unusual in that because, to begin with, it was privately held for a long stretch of time and only went public in 2005. Dozie and his other interests, formed the majority owners of the institution. And at any rate, the Dozie family practice was not unusual in the opaque tradition of bank ownership and management in Nigeria. Bank promoters often tend to run the institutions like personal and family fiefs. Indeed, there is a consensus of opinion among many finance banking industry analysts, that it is this lack of corporate governance ethos that is largely responsible for the systemic weaknesses that are replete in the industry. Of course, that would explain the very high mortality rate of banks in the country, a record that is almost triple that of any other country on the continent.
Shortly after coming on stream in 1991, alongside such other newly licensed institutions like GT Bank and Zenith Bank, Diamond Bank grew rapidly, weathering early teething challenges and embraced technology to create and deliver innovative products and services. Its Diamond Integrated Banking System, which guaranteed real time online transactions, was innovative and an industry trailblazer. With a commensurate publicity, the product rapidly gave the fledgling lender a marketing edge.
However, what stood out the bank among the crowd of its peers jostling for position in a crowded banking industry was its subtle appeal to a catchment market of predominantly South East traders, businessmen and putative industrialists. Coincidentally, it was from this motley group that Dozie sourced the seed funds for the initial capital base of the bank, drawing in a handful of Aba and Lagos based traders as shareholders.
It was a propitious time in the history of the country. The Babangida administration had introduced the structural Adjustment programme (SAP). It liberalized the economy and created immense opportunities for private enterprises to flourish. Well primed banking institutions leveraged on the booming opportunities to thrive. Like a few other banks, Diamond rode the crest of this wave with young and dynamic professionals; Ken Orji, Philips Oduoza, Nick Oparandudu, Okey Nwosu, Emeka Onwuka, Dan Akujobi, U.K Eke, etc; honing their skills and bristling with vigour and enthusiasm.
But somewhere along the line, the Diamond began to lose its lustre and the early signs of the structural weaknesses which had been a major genetic defect of the bank, became increasingly manifest. The virus, according to many Diamond Bank insiders at the time, was the issue of the Dozie family relationship with the bank and how it impeded professionalism in the organisation.
However, what was corrosive on the morale of the staff was the issue of Uzoma, Pascal Dozie’s first son and his apparently ordained ascension to the leadership of the bank. Many of the ranking professionals in the bank, had naturally expected to ascend to the leadership position. Top of the pecking order was the debonair Ken Orji, a pioneer Diamond Bank staffer who many credit with being largely responsible for doing the heavy lifting in preparation for the take-off of the bank after it was licensed. Indeed, the story of Ken Orji’s experiences has become an industry legend. These people believed, rightly or wrongly, that Mr. Dozie was grooming Uzoma for the top job at their expense. They believed without exception that their career was being deliberately frustrated in order to pave way for Uzoma.
By the early 2000’s the fortunes of Diamond Bank were in steep decline. An institution which had started off on such bright promise and achieved steady growth was now in dire straits as it labored to maintain a positive balance sheet. By 2004 some concerned stakeholders reached out to the earlier version of this Newspaper, to take a look at the bank. Accordingly, we conducted an indepth research titled, “What Happened to Diamond Bank?” The story ran into three parts and revealed some very unpleasant happenings in the institution. Besides the issue of the heavy footprints of the Dozie family and businesses in the bank, which as we discovered, was not unique, the core problem in the bank was the widespread resentment which the prospects of Uzoma Dozie’s anticipated ascension to the leadership had created among the senior cadre. No one, among the staff, management and board who spoke to us, mostly off record, had any good word for Uzoma, or even supported the idea of his one day becoming the GMD/CEO of the bank.
As we found out, the problem was not that he is the son of the founding chairman. Rather, it was that many of the senior members of staff did not believe that he had the mettle to assume the role. There was a consensus of opinion that, “the day Uzoma becomes the GMD/CEO of Diamond Bank will mark the beginning of the end of it,” as a member of the board put it.
Incidentally, one of the pioneer shareholders recently told me that there was an initial agreement by the board that no son of any director would work in the bank. If it is true, it would explain why no son of any director of the bank, except Uzoma, has ever worked in it, at least, to the best of my knowledge.
Our story generated a great deal of interest, especially among Diamond Bank’s catchment market in the Igbo country. It touched a raw nerve among its core market, many of who had developed a deep emotional attachment to it. That market segment was deeply upset with the shenanigans of the bank and expressed their displeasure in various ways. Coincidentally, it ran during the banking consolidation exercise and in Diamond Bank legend, it is held responsible for the poor performance of its private placement offer in that season. Many of the people it approached to subscribe to shares cited the facts contained in our story as evidence of the non-viability of the investment. The offer consequently failed. Mr. Dozie was deeply offended and became an official enemy of Hallmark Newspaper and this reporter.
By the mid 2000s, I was still a swash buckling young man with a devil may care disposition. All I cared about, perhaps, understandably, was journalism and my fidelity to the sanctity and sacrosanctity of truth and also a reporter’s abiding loyalty to what the former FBI director, James Comey called, “A Higher Loyalty.” My duty, as I said it then,was to do the work of journalism and report the truth. Sadly, for me, I did not realise that often the truth hurts and more importantly, that few people can handle the scorching heat of it! As the mercurial Jack Nicholson queried in the iconic movie, “A few good men,” “Truth, can you handle it?”
In 2004, Mr. Dozie couldn’t handle the ugly truth our expose’ on Diamond bank had revealed. So he resorted to blazing, raw anger and bitterness. It took me about a decade and the intervention of well-meaning individuals to mollify him or to try to mollify him. I have since realized that I never really succeeded as he just could not bring himself to get over that story as much as he tried to. It took the intervention of such well-meaning individuals like Prof Anya. O. Anya, pioneer shareholder and director of Diamond bank, late Chief Emma Nwokoro, Dr. A.B.C Orjiakor, the business heavy weights of Orange Drugs, Tony Ezenna and Vin Mgbemena, Chief Martins Agbaso, the quiet diplomacy of Emeka Onwuka and U.K Eke and the counselling of my mentor, Alhaji Abdulazeez Ude etc, to restore some normalcy to our personal and corporate interests. It also took a public apology I made to Mr. Dozie which completely fazed him.
It was during the evocative send forth rites of the late Chief Emeka Odimegwu Ojukwu which was held at the Tafawa Balewa Square in Lagos. The organisers, led by Ochiudo Martin Agbaso, had tapped me to compere the ceremony. It featured a powerful gathering of political and business heavy weights including all living former governors of Lagos state and Governor Fashola. Leading Igbo potentates were also in the audience. I took the microphone on sighting Mr. Dozie and said to the hearing of the mammoth crowd “I apologise to you sir, in the name of the sage we are celebrating today, Chief Emeka Odimegwu Ojukwu, for the story my Newspaper wrote about Diamond bank seven years ago”. A former Diamond Bank staffer, who had a meeting with Mr. Dozie in respect of a project I was handling for the bank in 2015, told me that Mr. Dozie recalled the incident to him and vowed that on the strength of that gesture, he had totally forgiven me.!
Subsequently, I discovered that the respected elder had apparently forgotten nothing and obviously forgiven nothing! …