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Is the Banking Men’s Club Dead? Female Trailblazers in Nigerian Banks



Is the Banking Men’s Club Dead? Female Trailblazers in Nigerian Banks
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“In our current era, some women rely heavily on men for support. A growing number of these women are opting out of pursuing a career and instead prefer to be provided for by a man. They sometimes view certain professions as undesirable and refer to them as “dirty” or “menial.” Instead, they relish the idea of being pampered with shopping trips, dining at restaurants, traveling, and clubbing. Additionally, hookups are becoming more commonplace among like-minded women in today’s society. Some of them leverage social media and YouTube to promote themselves. A portion of them take pride in their casual encounters, believing that as long as they are not committing theft, they are content with their choices.”

The Nigerian banking sector has been plagued by stereotypes that have affected people’s perceptions of it throughout history. Specifically, it was widely believed that only men were capable of assuming leadership positions within the industry. These stereotypes have been detrimental to progress towards diversity and inclusion in the workplace. However, in recent years, the Nigerian banking industry has seen a surge in female leadership, with a significant increase in the number of women in top positions. Out of the 25 banks in Nigeria, 10 are now headed by women, representing 36% of all chief executive officers. Prior to 2019, men had predominantly dominated the industry, with only a few exceptional women making their mark. Cecilia Ibru, for instance, was the first female bank CEO, having assumed the role of MD/CEO of Oceanic Bank in 1997. Nonetheless, she was dismissed in 2009, along with four other bank CEOs. Since then, more female CEOs have emerged as turnaround managers, such as Funke Osibodu and Suzanne Iroche, who both served as CEOs until 2012. Other noteworthy female CEOs include Bola Adesola, who was appointed as the first female CEO of Standard Chartered Bank Limited, Nigeria, in 2011, and Sola David-Borha, who served as chief executive of Stanbic IBTC from 2012 to 2017.

The rising number of female MDs in Nigerian banks is a testament to the recognition of women’s competence and their crucial contribution to the nation’s economic advancement. These trailblazing women occupy key leadership positions, establish new industry benchmarks, and assume pivotal roles in regulatory bodies. They are also serving as mentors to emerging female professionals, providing support and guidance to help them succeed. The achievements of these women hold even greater significance in an industry that is increasingly emphasizing gender diversity. In 2021, Nairametrics celebrated seven bank MDs and CEOs, highlighting the growing recognition of female leaders in the sector. Today, we want to highlight successful women leaders in Nigeria’s banking, insurance, and financial services sectors. These women are managing significant assets during a critical period of the nation’s worsening economy, demonstrating their expertise and resilience in challenging times. What’s more, they are actively engaged in promoting financial literacy, diversity, and economic empowerment, showing their commitment to making a positive impact on society. These remarkable women have an influence that goes beyond boardrooms and financial statements. They are individuals who have overcome obstacles and challenges to reach the top of their field, inspiring others to do the same. Their leadership and achievements are shaping the landscape of Nigeria’s banking and insurance industries in 2024 and beyond, paving the way for a more diverse and inclusive future. It is my pleasure to bring to your attention a group of exceptional women who are making incredible strides in shaping the banking and insurance industries of Nigeria in the year 2024.

Kafilat Araoye – MD Lotus Bank 

Meet Kafilat Araoye, an accomplished Managing Director with over 25 years of experience in the banking industry. She has an impressive educational background, including a History Degree from the University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University) in 1985 and an M.Sc. in Industrial Relations & Personnel Management from the University of Lagos in 1987. Araoye started her career in 1988 at National Oil and Chemicals Marketing Company Plc (now Conoil Nigeria Plc) before moving to Guaranty Trust Bank Plc in 1990 as the pioneer head of Human Resources. Throughout her tenure at GTBank, she played an instrumental role in various critical assignments for the Bank. Notably, she was part of the team that successfully implemented the Bank’s core banking application in Jordan, among other important initiatives. In 2015, she left as General Manager but continued to consult for banks and other sectors through her consulting outfit. In 2018, she was appointed as the MD Designate for LOTUS Bank, then in formation.

Halima Buba – CEO/MD Suntrust Bank 

With over 22 years of experience in the banking sector, Halima is currently the Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer of SunTrust Bank Nigeria Limited. Prior to her appointment, she co-founded Taj Consortium, a group of young technocrats and financial advisory experts, where she also served as an Executive Director. Halima is also a Non-Executive Director at Anchoria Asset Management Company Limited and serves as the Chairman of the Board of Directors for NSIA Umuahia Diagnosis Centre (NUDC). Her extensive career includes stints at Allstates Trust Bank, Zenith Bank, Inland Bank Plc, Oceanic Bank Plc, and Ecobank Nigeria Limited. Halima holds a Bachelor of Science (B.Sc.) degree in Business Management from the University of Maiduguri and an MBA from the same university. She is also an Alumnus of the Lagos Business School Senior Management Program.

Yetunde Oni – MD Union Bank

Yetunde B. Oni is a seasoned financial services leader with over 30 years of experience in both international and local banks, specializing in emerging markets. She currently holds the position of Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer at Union Bank, having assumed the role in January 2024 following the Central Bank of Nigeria’s dissolution of the Board and Management of three prominent banks: Union Bank, Keystone Bank, and Polaris Bank. Prior to her appointment at Union Bank, Yetunde served as the pioneer head of commercial clients at Standard Chartered Bank Nigeria Limited in September 2014 and later advanced to become the Managing Director & Country Head of Commercial Banking in West Africa in 2017. Throughout her career, Yetunde has been instrumental in developing and executing comprehensive business growth strategies, managing vital relationships, and ensuring compliance with group credit policy and local underwriting standards.

Bukola Smith – MD/CEO FSDH  

Meet Bukola Smith, the esteemed Managing Director and CEO of First Securities Discount House Limited. With almost three decades of experience in the banking industry, Smith has solidified herself as a strategic leader with a successful history of executing goals. Prior to her current role, Smith held the position of Executive Director of Business Development at First City Monument Bank (FCMB), where she oversaw various departments, including Public Sector, Business Banking, Agriculture, and Transaction Banking. Under her leadership, FCMB’s SME-focused team rose from 5th to 1st position in the industry in just three years. Smith received her MBA from Alliance Manchester Business School, University of Manchester, UK, and a B.Sc. in Economics from the University of Lagos. She is a Fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria (ICAN), an Honorary Member of the Chartered Institute of Bankers, and an Associate Member of the Certified Institute of Pensions (Nigeria).


Tomi Somefun – MD/CEO Unity Bank 

Meet Tomi Somefun, the accomplished Managing Director/CEO of Unity Bank Plc. With 35 years of professional experience in Treasury, Investment Banking, Corporate Banking, Retail, and Commercial Banking Operations, Tomi started her career with two of the leading consulting firms, KPMG and Arthur Andersen. She then went on to lead two significant subsidiaries of UBA as MD/CEO, including a start-up company, UBA Pensions Custodian, where she was the pioneer Managing Director. Before joining Unity Bank, Tomi served as the Executive Director overseeing the Lagos and South-West Business Directorates, the Financial Institution Division, and the Treasury Department of the Bank. She is also a Member of the Board Finance and General-Purpose Committee, Board Risk Management Committee, and Board Credit Committee, amongst others. Tomi graduated with a Second-Class Upper degree from the Obafemi Awolowo University (formerly University of Ife) in 1981 with a Bachelor of Education in English Language.

Ireti Samuel-Ogbu – MD/CEO Citibank Nigeria 

In September 2020, Ireti Samuel-Ogbu took on the role of MD/CEO for Citibank Nigeria Limited, making her the first female CEO in the bank’s history. Samuel-Ogbu has an impressive background with Citibank, having worked across various countries and roles in Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Nigeria, and South Africa. Her academic credentials include a BA Hons in Accounting and Finance from Middlesex University, UK, and an MBA from the University of Bradford, UK. Prior to her current position, Samuel-Ogbu held the role of Europe, Middle East, and Africa (EMEA) Head of Payments and Receivables, Treasury and Trade Solutions (TTS) at Citi’s Institutional Clients Group (ICG) in London, UK. Additionally, she served as a non-executive Director on the Board of Citibank Nigeria Limited for five years. Samuel-Ogbu is a strong advocate for diversity and inclusion, having co-founded mentorship programs like the Sapphire Leadership Program for the Middle East and Africa and the Momentum Program for the UK.

Yemisi Edun – MD FCMB 

Yemisi Edun assumed the position of Managing Director at First City Monument Bank on May 1, 2021, following approval from the CBN. Her career began in 1987 at Akintola Williams Deloitte, a member firm of Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu, where she focused on corporate finance activities and audits of banks and other financial institutions. In 2000, she joined FCMB as Divisional Head of Internal Audit and Control before being appointed Chief Financial Officer. Edun holds a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from the University of Ife, Ile-Ife, and a master’s degree in international accounting and finance from the University of Liverpool, United Kingdom. She is a fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria, a Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA), an Associate Member of the Chartered Institute of Stockbrokers, an Associate Member of the Institute of Taxation of Nigeria, a Member of Information Systems Audit and Control, U.S.A., and a Certified Information Systems Auditor.

Nneka Onyeali-Ikpe – MD Fidelity Bank 

Nneka Onyeali-Ikpe took on the role of Managing Director/CEO at Fidelity Bank on January 1, 2021. She brings with her three decades of experience from prestigious banks such as Standard Chartered Bank Plc and Zenith Bank Plc, where she excelled in various positions, including Legal, Treasury, Investment Banking, and Corporate Banking. Onyeali-Ikpe holds LLB and LLM degrees and has attended executive programs at renowned institutions across the globe. During her time at Fidelity Bank, she played a pivotal role in the bank’s transformation, serving as Executive Director for the Lagos and Southwest region. Under her leadership, the area experienced impressive growth, contributing over 28% to the Bank’s Profit Before Tax (PBT), Deposits, and Loans. Her outstanding contributions have earned her recognition as an Honorary Senior Member of The Chartered Institute of Bankers of Nigeria (CIBN).

Adaora Umeoji – GMD/CEO Zenith Bank 

Adaora Umeji has been named as the new CEO of Zenith Bank, effective from June 1, 2024. Her appointment is subject to approval from the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN). Following Dr. Ebenezer Onyeagwu’s tenure, she became the first female GMD/CEO in the bank’s history. Umeji’s educational background includes a bachelor’s degree in Sociology and Accounting, and she received First-Class honors in Law from Baze University, Abuja. Furthermore, she holds a Master of Laws from the University of Salford, UK, an MBA from the University of Calabar, and a doctorate in business administration from Apollos University, USA. With nearly 30 years of banking experience, including 26 years at Zenith Bank, Umeji attended management programs at Harvard Business School, MIT Sloan School of Management, and Columbia Business School. Her contributions to the industry have earned her recognition, and she was bestowed with the Officer of the Order of the Niger by the Federal Government of Nigeria in 2022. Umeji also serves as a Peace Advocate for the United Nations.

Olusanya Miriam – MD GTBank 

Miriam Olusanya is an accomplished banking professional with over 25 years of experience in the industry. She currently serves as the Managing Director of Guaranty Trust Bank (Nigeria) Limited, a subsidiary of Guaranty Trust Holding Company Plc (GTCO). Miriam began her career at the bank as an Executive Trainee in 1998 and has since held numerous positions in Asset and Liability Management, Financial Markets, Corporate Finance, and more. Along with a Bachelor of Pharmacy degree from the University of Ibadan, she also holds an MBA in Finance and Accounting from the University of Liverpool in the UK. Miriam has participated in executive management and banking programs across the globe. Prior to her current role, she served as an Executive Director, overseeing the bank’s Asset & Liability Management and Financial Markets dealings. Additionally, she is a member of the Financial Markets Sub-Committee of the Bankers’ Committee, a crucial policy platform that includes the CBN and banks.

Bolaji Agbede – CEO Access Holdings   


With over 27 years of experience in Human Resources management, customer relationship management, and banking operations, Bolaji Agbede is a seasoned professional. She has a successful track record of leading culture transformations, executing corporate strategies, and managing people through mergers and acquisitions. Bolaji holds a bachelor’s degree in mathematics and Statistics from the University of Lagos (1990) and an MBA from Cranfield University (2002). She is a member of the Chartered Institute of Management UK and the Chartered Institute of Personnel Management of Nigeria. Bolaji started her career at Guaranty Trust Bank, where she held roles such as Relationship Manager and Vault Custodian before quickly rising to Manager by 2001. She joined Access Bank in 2003 as an Assistant General Manager, where she managed the bank’s portfolio of chemical trading companies. Since 2010, Bolaji has served as the Head of HR for the Access Bank Group, where she oversees human capital development. Bolaji’s appointment came after the unfortunate death of Herbert Wigwe, the former Group CEO of Access Holdings Plc.

The gradual but steady rise of female managing directors in Nigerian banks is a powerful symbol of recognition for women’s capabilities and critical contributions to the country’s economic growth. This encouraging trend represents a significant step towards achieving gender equality and inclusivity in corporate governance, as exemplified by the emergence of these accomplished women. The fact that women are gradually breaking through the glass ceiling in traditionally male-dominated fields is a testament to their resilience and determination to succeed in environments that have been historically hostile to their progress. The rise of female managing directors is a sign of progress and a departure from traditional patriarchal norms, marking the beginning of a more diverse and harmonious leadership framework. This shift in leadership signals a move away from conventional paradigms and towards a more balanced and inclusive leadership landscape that recognizes and rewards merit, regardless of gender. In essence, the emergence of female managing directors in Nigerian banks is a clear indication of progress toward a more equitable, inclusive, and progressive society where every individual has an equal opportunity to succeed, regardless of gender. The banking industry stands to benefit immensely from cultivating a workplace culture that values diversity and inclusivity. By embracing women with a broader range of outlooks and backgrounds, the sector is better equipped to make informed decisions and foster innovation. This is because a diverse workforce brings forth unique perspectives and ideas that may have otherwise been overlooked. However, achieving diversity and inclusivity requires more than simply hiring individuals from different backgrounds. It also involves challenging preconceived notions and biases that may exist within the organization. It is only by addressing these issues and fostering a culture of open-mindedness that the industry can move towards a more just and inclusive society. 

In today’s fast-paced world, where social media has become an integral part of our lives, it is common to come across influencers who may lead you to believe that education is a waste of time. They may try to convince you that formal education is an unnecessary burden and that you can achieve success without it. However, it is essential to remember that education is not just about gaining knowledge and skills, but it is also about developing critical thinking, problem-solving abilities, and social skills. While self-learning and informal education have their own merits, formal education provides a structured approach to learning, exposure to diverse perspectives, and opportunities for personal growth and development. While it is true that academic knowledge and formal education aren’t the only factors contributing to personal and professional success, education remains a vital component in an individual’s growth. Education is a vital tool that equips individuals with the necessary skills and knowledge to lead a fulfilling life and contribute meaningfully to society. It fosters the development of cognitive abilities, critical thinking skills, and core values such as discipline, perseverance, and a passion for lifelong learning. Education has the power to shape the future of individuals, communities, and nations alike. Therefore, true greatness emerges from a harmonious blend of personal experiences, emotional intelligence, and the capacity to connect with others. Women who possess these qualities and leverage them to create a positive impact on those around them are the ones who genuinely shine.

In the present times, there is an alarming trend that suggests that women who are intelligent and speak their minds are being silenced due to a fear of offending those who possess a lower level of intellect. This issue has sparked numerous meaningful discussions and debates about balancing the emotions of individuals who may not possess the same level of intellectual capacity and promoting the free expression of ideas and thoughts. The matter at hand is quite multifaceted and requires thoughtful consideration from all angles. One of the critical questions that are being posed is whether this trend signals a broader problem of silencing intelligent women or if it is a case of overgeneralization. It is essential to delve deeper into this issue and understand the underlying factors that contribute to this trend. In today’s world, many intelligent women prefer to keep quiet and stay in the background due to the fear of offending those with foul mouths on social media. They understand that the online world can be pretty hostile, especially towards women who express their opinions or ideas. These women prefer to work behind the scenes and avoid any controversy that might arise due to their outspokenness. They don’t want to be seen as aggressive or confrontational, and they also don’t want to be labeled as ‘difficult’ or ‘bossy.’ Instead, they choose to be subtle and strategic in their approach, working quietly towards their goals and aspirations. Unfortunately, many talented and capable women are forced to hold back due to the toxic environment that exists on social media. It is essential to acknowledge their contributions and support their efforts to make a positive difference in the world.

In our current era, some women rely heavily on men for support. A growing number of these women are opting out of pursuing a career and instead prefer to be provided for by a man. They sometimes view certain professions as undesirable and refer to them as “dirty” or “menial.” Instead, they relish the idea of being pampered with shopping trips, dining at restaurants, traveling, and clubbing. Additionally, hookups are becoming more commonplace among like-minded women in today’s society. Some of them leverage social media and YouTube to promote themselves. A portion of them take pride in their casual encounters, believing that as long as they are not committing theft, they are content with their choices. Meanwhile, others subscribe to the notion of utilizing their assets to achieve their goals. This particular cohort of young women views education as an unproductive pursuit. These girls believe that formal education obtained through schools and universities is less valuable and productive than it may seem. They contend that the knowledge and skills acquired in such institutions do not necessarily translate to practical application in the real world and that the time and money invested in education could be more effectively utilized elsewhere in life. It is essential to understand what factors have shaped the views of these women regarding education. Some of them may have had negative experiences in the education system, such as sexual harassment, financial difficulties in pursuing their education, or simply a lack of interest in it.

However, these women may hold particular beliefs or values that contradict the conventional approach to schooling. It is essential to recognize that education is widely recognized as a valuable investment in one’s future, given its significant potential to influence personal and professional development. Education can provide individuals with the knowledge, skills, and credentials they need to succeed in their chosen careers and lead fulfilling lives. However, it is also essential to acknowledge that everyone is entitled to their own opinions and choices, and it is ultimately up to these young women to decide what path they want to take in life. While it is understandable that these young women may hold negative views about formal education, it is crucial to encourage them to consider the potential benefits of education. By exploring alternative educational opportunities, such as vocational training or online courses, they may discover a path that aligns with their interests and goals. Ultimately, the decision to pursue education or not is a personal one, and each individual should be empowered to make the choice that is best for them.

In recent years, there has been a noticeable change in women’s fashion choices in office environments. Many have opted for more revealing attire, with trendy designs that showcase what was once considered private. It’s become quite common to see women wearing sagging jeans without underwear or a spaghetti-strap dress without a bra in official settings. This trend has sparked debates about where to draw the line between bold fashion and indecent dressing. At first, I assumed that women’s fashion was uniform across the board. However, I was pleasantly surprised to observe a few female bank CEOs exuding a mature elegance without relying on excessive makeup or skin lightening. Their innate beauty was truly breathtaking, and it was a delightful realization that one could cultivate a stylish appearance without sacrificing modesty. The recent rise in the popularity of wearing revealing clothing has sparked concerns regarding the appropriateness of nudity in professional environments. This trend has prompted individuals to question whether dressing provocatively in the name of fashion is suitable, especially in the workplace. These inquiries have emphasized the importance of comprehending the boundaries of dressing in corporate settings and the vital role of adhering to professional dress codes and standards. It’s important to acknowledge that what may be appropriate attire for leisure activities may not necessarily align with the standards of professional workplaces. Choosing to dress in a manner that exudes professionalism not only reflects positively on the company but also promotes a culture of mutual respect among coworkers. Given the constant evolution of fashion trends, it remains the responsibility of each individual, especially women, to select styles that align with their personal preferences. Whether one favors more revealing attire or opts for more modest clothing, the key is to dress in a manner that promotes confidence and comfort while being conscious of societal expectations and cultural traditions.

There is much to learn from female CEOs in the banking sector, especially for young girls. One important lesson is that success is achieved through patience and perseverance rather than quick fixes. Additionally, being an educated woman does not equate to having everything figured out. It’s essential to be confident and comfortable in one’s sexuality and to assert and express it when necessary. An educated woman understands the importance of doing what is right rather than just following her instincts. She is committed to achieving her goals through diligence, perseverance, and unwavering determination. She never gives up but continues to work tirelessly until she achieves the success she deserves. Hence, education is not merely a fundamental human right but also a potent means of bolstering women’s empowerment. The impact of educating women is far-reaching, as women stand to benefit immensely from it. Education equips women with a voice and agency, enabling them to acquire skills and knowledge and assert their rights confidently. This, in turn, empowers them to make informed and independent decisions. Thanks to their education, these exceptional women have defied stereotypes and broken through barriers, paving the way for more women to enter the banking sector and attain success. We are indebted to these pioneering women and should all endeavor to draw inspiration from their remarkable achievements.

Rev. Ma, S.J, is a Jesuit Catholic priest and PhD candidate in public and social policy at St. Louis University in the state of Missouri, USA. 

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