Jimi Lawal - the Man of all Seasons

Sept 21, 2021

Otunba Jimi Lawal Birthday



Jimi Lawal - the Man of all Seasons

Happy Birthday Otunba - Born Sept 21, 1959


The exemplary notion of "riding with the current" or “maintaining the status quo”, as is demonstrated by some Nigerian political elite, forsaking Good Governance and one's conscience in exchange for a life of convenience is fast becoming a thing of the past. Consciences are personal moral compasses that help a person tell right from wrong, friends from foes and human progressive development from maintaining the status quo. The man of all seasons portrays such principles of wisdom and thinking outside the box to be loved by the common people and envied by rivals. Such a person is easily recognizable by his relentless good work and service whether in the background or the foreground. He exemplifies fascination and awe-inspiring, that you know such a person in whom you immediately recognize qualities of preparedness and leadership that go beyond the ordinary. Reading through Jimi Adebisi Lawal's autobiography, one recognizes these qualities right away. A British trained, qualified professional banker with over two decades of international merchant banking experience across three continents of Africa, Europe and North America; apart from having held senior management positions in multinational banks, he is also a career entrepreneur, an educator and a Senior Public Servant that has founded several companies including an investment banking firm, a major real estate development company and an approved educational institution. The role of destiny in our lives must meet with faith, preparedness, opportunity, seizing the moment, and the goal of service delivery. His destiny in setting up the Alpha Merchant Bank leading to his career as a Senior Public Servant was not an accident or even a coincidence because he went where there was no path, and despite detractors like Omisade and ohers, he left a trail of greatness, which history has vindicated him, which ultimately will lead to his Greater Destiny – the Governor of Ogun State, God willing. Some have said, "wait a minute, isn't the Governor of Ogun State in his first term"? Yes, although, Prince Adedapo Oluseun Abiodun, the incumbent Governor of Ogun State under APC (defected to APC from PDP after the 2015 general elections), was sworn-in as the fifth elected Governor of the State on 29 May 2019, those that have argued said that Abiodun will still re-contest for the second term in office in 2023. I say to them “look at what transpired in Lagos State during the first tenure of the former Governor Akinwunmi Dapo Ambode. He lost out in the gubernatorial primary election in 2019 as an incumbent Governor to Babajide Olusola Sanwo-Olu, effectively ruling him out of running for a second term in office; and all of them under APC”. The two most important things in one's life are first the the day one is born and the second is recognizing one's purpose in life, his destiny. When that Destiny Calls, no amount of treachery, manipulation or wishful thinking can come in-between, “Jimi Lawal is indeed the Man of Destiny”: Senior Adviser, Counsellor, Otunba Jimi Lawal has the support of Governor of Kaduna State Malam Nasir Ahmad el-Rufai who is also close to President Buhari and most especially the support of the good people of Ogun State. Below is how we see it.


In line with the Yoruba tradition of giving long names to a special child, Jimi Adebisi Lawal was named Shakiru Olabosipo Olajimi Adebisi Lawal born and raised (early childhood) in Ijebu Ode, Ogun State. To an onlooker, it may seem that Jimi Lawal’s journey to getting into the banking career happened just like that but faith had a hand in it. Like how banking finds him when he got his inspiration from his trader-grandmother, the leader of the market women and fishermen in the community, Mama Ode, and how, till tomorrow, his uncle’s wife nicknamed him the Bank Manager. Like when he took his uncle to Barclays Bank in Lagos, for him to write an employment test but he ended up taking the test himself and acing it. This dramatic turn of the event made the British staff Manager, Ron Dietrich to offer him a job, this indeed is the level of his preparedness at the subconscious level and the subsequent career rise was also impressive with regular benefits, promotions, bonuses and salary increases leading to his higher education at the City Banking College and the South West College and eventually taking up a career as a pioneer supervisor of the Union Bank, London Branch, with later to culminate into a Harvard University Graduate School of Business. These were no accidents but acts of providence.


The opportunity came when he met the then Colonel Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida (IBB) in 1983 at the Union Bank, London. When opportunity happens, it always comes with what we call “sanadi” in Hausa (meaning “way to your destiny, the opportunity”) that Colonel Ibrahim Babangida was the sanadi that would propel his career but he had to earn it, and he did indeed earned it. IBB had walked into the branch to process a draft but was not honoured because the foreign exchange cover had not been received from Nigeria where the transaction originated from. Jimi Lawal intervened and concluded that he (IBB) should be paid. IBB became impressed with his reasoning and requested to see him and offered some money to him, but he (Jimi Lawal) turned it down, that was the crux of the moment, the seizing of the moment. Collecting the money would have been a missed opportunity but then he had the foresight and when IBB offered his card instead with a blanket invitation to call upon him anytime he was in Nigeria he took it. Jimi Lawal seized the moment again a couple of years later in 1985 when IBB became the new military President, he renewed the acquaintance by sending IBB a letter of congratulations; to which he responded promptly with a renewed invitation. On getting to Dodan Barracks, his name was at the security gate and he was ushered in to see the President. The charming President IBB, after pleasantries, asked him about his plans to which he replied “I am interested in getting a banking license”. The President immediately asked him to go and talk to his Finance Minister. The rest is history; the Alpha Merchant Bank was on the horizon because, while President Ibrahim Babangida had given his blanket support for the project, it was clear that some people did not want the idea to come to fruition but the idea was conceived by Jimi Lawal for so long that the nuts and bolts issues were worked out by him despite all odds, even with the conferment of a nickname on him as “eni ti a pa ti o ku”; “the person that we killed but refuse to die” was as clear as crystal for a determined and resilient mind, a master chess game player, coming out on top of the world again at the end of it all with the fully created Alpha Merchant Bank.


Reminiscing further, I still remember the first time I was privileged to meet Jimi Lawal in Toronto, Canada and how in New York, USA, at the NIDO conference in 2002 when His Excellency Malam Nasir Ahmad el-Rufai was the head of BPE he (Jimi Lawal) made powerful remarks at the occasion, which exemplified the mantra of foresightedness and leadership. But what embodied the wisdom of Man of all Seasons was his counsel to President Ibrahim Babangida following the June 12 election despite his closeness to the late Chief MKO Abiola, who was the clear winner of the polls and who promised to make him the Minister of Finance but his (Jimi Lawal) reply to IBB, “Sir, a man, given new information changes his mind. A wise general knows when to retreat, a foolish one fights to finish. I want you alive Sir, and write your history, I don’t want history to be written against you.” This is the kind of wisdom that is very rare even today amongst our leaders.


Following Abacha’s ascension to power, among other scorched earth battles that he fought, he was to wage a vicious war against bank chiefs under the aegis of the Failed Banks Tribunal. The issue of his firm’s loss to Alpha in the bid to buy controlling shares in Afribank was reopened; the whole scenario plunged into a quagmire so leaving Nigeria was the smartest option for Jimi Lawal. He was still in exile for the whole of the Abacha years and even when Abacha’s son Ibrahim had gone over and tried to get Jimi Lawal to sign away the Afribank shares to them for $5m. When that failed, they now proceeded to push harder with the ‘failed banks’ military tribunal processes and had Jimi Lawal tried in absentia. Predictably, the regime secured a kangaroo conviction and proceeded to issue duplicate shares with which they forcibly took over the investment in Afribank.


Most resilient individuals have gone on exile, defied the odds, and returned as statesmen and so was Jimi Lawal and also our amiable Governor el-Rufai, “It always seems impossible until it’s done and in life, greater things come in bits and at first glance, they come as accidents". Following their victory in the courts, Nasir el-Rufai whom he had advised pro-bono when he had served as Director-General of the Bureau for Public Enterprises, BPE was seriously instrumental in bringing the deeper facts of the Alpha/Afribank crisis to President Obasanjo’s attention, which enabled him to take executive action facilitating the reversal of the injustice done to them by Abacha. When Obasanjo got to know the full extent of what Abacha had done, he was so taken aback that he promptly signed off on it for the shares to be sold to the public. Jimi Lawal returned fully to Nigeria and Nasir el-Rufai was the FCT Minister and he worked with him on two conditions: as pro-bono and no formal title, and did wonders that transformed the FCT not seen even today. Most detractors have argued that how can someone who has been exiled come back home and take up a job pro-bono, without pay. It is important to clarify that as well.


One other reason why Nasir el-Rufai and the National Council on Privatization were interested in the resolution of the crisis was that they also wanted to bring closure to the Afribank ownership crisis so that they could go on with the government’s plan to fully divest its holdings in the bank. Along with this line, el-Rufai met with the various interested parties that had been contesting the ownership of the disputed 375 million shares representing 33.96 percent of the paid-up capital of Afribank Nigeria Plc. This was to ascertain the true owners of the shares before they could be put up for sale under the privatization programme of the Federal Government. Nasir el-Rufai and his team met with a few of the officers on this matter, including in the course of a visit to Paris, France,  meetings with the liquidator of the original owner of the shares, Banque International pour l’Afrique occidental (BIAO), and a lawyer representing Lord Chief Ifegwu. In the end, the ownership got back about $33.5 million from their initial $16 million invested. It came to a 105 percent return, thus the money was more than doubled! Alpha Merchant Bank also got back about $10.1 million, in return for investing just over $5 million; Lord Chief Ifegwu got back the most, Jimi Lawal got back just over three million dollars. They paid off the Barclays loan and he was like a baby, free and content with real cash in the bank. When Jimi Lawal's share (over three million dollars) of the money hit his account, he didn’t touch the money for the first ninety days or so, he was just waking up praying and thanking God for this blessing. Bank Managers kept calling him asking, “How can you leave this kind of money in your current account? Let’s invest it for you”. Jimi Lawal was rich and with investment acumen, he made more money from investing his share of the money and therefore, he could afford to work pro-bono, without pay and with no formal title to serve the people.


In Kaduna today, Jimi Lawal, together with the Governor, Excellency Malam Nasir Ahmad el-Rufai, who has been his friend for more than 30 years, has achieved so much with less, in making Kaduna State great again, with the infrastructural and human capital development despite the fragile economy in the country, the incessant security challenges, and the Covid-19 pandemic. The Governor and Olabosipo Olajimi Lawal or my favourite Champion Bosi or Professor, have shown the vision and godliness to find a solution where none seems to exist and the courage to take common people there through empowerment, citizen engagement, infrastructure development and urban renewal. The least people could do is to thank them and do what they could to further contribute to the already successful story.  


One good turn, they say deserves another

As MD of the Alpha Bank, Jimi Lawal started building a five-star hotel in Victoria Island called Alpha Sofitel Hotel and also working on building a befitting head office for the bank so they recruited a legal adviser, a young man called Aminu Dikko who was brought to the bank as a deputy manager and every year he got promoted. Dikko came to Jimi Lawal in 1989 and said, “Sir, this head office we are trying to build, I know a firm of quantity surveyors – el-Rufai and Partners. My brother’s friend and partner is the managing partner and he is a young man called Nasir Ahmad el-Rufai, you will like him. Please give them a chance to bid for the job.” One good turn, they say deserves another and as Jimi Lawal said “no problem, bring them. Get el-Rufai and Partners to apply” he had opened up a long-term strategic channel of friendship and credo of leadership that transcends ethnicity, culture and any other barriers with profound impacts on reputation, legacy, and perhaps the ultimate goal of becoming the best Executive Governor of Ogun State and more.


President Obasanjo and el-Rufai

Before Jimi Lawal returned fully to Nigeria, Nasir el-Rufai had now been offered the position of FCT Minister. He came to him in London and said, ‘I know that you can now go to Barbados and lie over on the beach for the rest of your life but I can’t do this FCT job successfully without you. I need your brain, I need your support,’ He continued:


Obasanjo gave me this job because two Ministers had failed him, we can’t afford to fail. “I can advise you from here,” but he would not agree. “No, you cannot advise me from here this time around, it’s not possible. You could advise me from here on BPE but on this one, I am running the federal capital Abuja not selling parastatals. I am running a ‘State.’ "Everybody sees Abuja, everybody comes to Abuja, and I need you there".


Jimi Lawal gave in but said it would be on two conditions. “I won’t take any penny and no formal title. I will just do any special assignment you want me to do”. He consented. So, Jimi Lawal moved back to Nigeria in late 2003, after he had made some more investments in the UK. He joined Minister el-Rufai in the FCT and they did wonderful things for the Capital. Olusegun Obasanjo, the former President, extols the virtues of Nasir el-Rufai saying he performed excellently as a Minister in charge of the Federal Capital Territory and has contributed immensely to the success of his government's privatization programme. “When I became the Minister, I was determined to change the status quo and modus operandi of our public service institutions. Of course, my vision for revolutionizing the way public service was run was met with stiff opposition from corrupt influences.” But despite the stiff opposition, Nasir el-Rufai and Jimi Lawal initiated a couple of major projects that won’t be forgotten. For example, they re-organized the administrative machinery of the Territory giving it a global standard. This reorganization led to many of the FCT government activities being computerized. They also put sanity into the acquisition of lands and development of Houses in the FCT and also created the Abuja Investment and Property Development Company (AIPDC). Also, what is now known as the Abuja Technology Village (ATV – a vision for an entire district based on Green City Technology), including the African University of Science and Technology (AUST), was started by them. Jimi Lawal wrote the business plan, Malam took it to the cabinet and when it was approved by the Federal Executive Council (FEC), they started the ATV. Secondly, Jimi Lawal chaired the sale of federal government houses in Abuja, where about 32,000 housing units were sold and got back about N32 billion to the Government. The sale was successful largely because they got the Federal Mortgage Bank to issue the first mortgage-backed bonds of N100 billion to provide loans at a single-digit interest rate for the buyers. Another major of their achievement was in social development. They meticulously pursued the management of Abuja roads, markets and streets in such a way as to enable easy movement of traffic, decent and easy access to goods and services as well as adding aesthetics to the streets. Beggars, poor people with disabilities who had thronged the roads in Abuja to solicit for alms were relocated to places where the government catered for them and placed them in skill acquisition programs. Similarly, street traders were banned from Abuja streets with some of them relocated to a central place of operations. They essentially cleaned and sanitized the Capital from hawkers and empowered them under the FCT Administration's Market Reform Agenda. Residents of Abuja enjoyed the sanity, air and perfection being experienced in the city, the master plan, green areas, recreation areas were re-established with clusters only meant for institutions, workplaces and residential areas to the Kenzo Tange’s design of FCT Abuja (Kenzo Tange is the Japanese architect who designed the city of Abuja) by demolishing illegal structures belonging to the high, mighty and religious groups without looking backwards. They cancelled the decade-long unfinished works by Arab Contractors at Berger Junction, Jabi District and re-awarded the same to Julius Berger and sanitized the FCDA and AMACs, AEPB, AIPDB of corrupt officials. Together, they made Abuja FCT the befitting Capital of Nigeria.


Meanwhile, NDIC had since declared and paid two interim dividends totalling N7 for each 50 kobo share in Alpha Merchant Bank. Beneficiaries have since expressed gratitude to Jimi Lawal for ensuring the safe return of their investments, even though some had prematurely condemned him when the bank was put in liquidation. And one final point. There were so many pressures on Jimi Lawal by some shareholders to write a petition and get the bank’s license back, but he was not interested. He was done and only thanks God for His blessings. "There are many of them like that, and it was because of them that I refused to sell out". Jimi Lawal is truly - the Man of all Seasons, Happy Birthday.


To you I offer my gratitude, allegiance, loyalty, and support; and May God continues His blessing, guidance and gives us strength to fulfill the needs of our people.

Dr. Baba J Adamu



Copyright © 2019 - to date: AREWA Center for Regional Economic Development (ACRED) - www.arewaonline-ng.com

All rights reserved Powered by iNetworksCanada