Jim Ovia is one of the most secretive heavyweights in Nigerian banking. From the first time I wrote about the man, several years ago, I realised that there was alot about him that all those profiles provided by Zenith Bank, newspapers, magazines and writers would always leave out or just did not know.
I wrote a story titled ‘Godfather of Nigerian Banking’ which made me even more curious and determined to get the missing details in the story of this prodigiously successful banker. From that point onwards, I began to discern that the Jim Ovia story was a mine of information yet to be dug out.
Most profiles about Jim Ovia describe him as co-founder of Zenith Bank but they do not name the other co-founders. When I could not find information on the internet, Google or anywhere else about these other co-founders, my instincts and experience found this unusual. Ofcourse, Nigeria is a failure at preserving information. Most schools and even universities have half-empty libraries. History seems to have been removed fron the secondary school curriculum and even the President of Nigeria had to go to court to prove that he sat for his GSCE.
Jim Ovia was not enthusiastic about my plan to do his biography. Things could have been a lot easier, if he had agreed to tell me his story. The book would have been more voluminous. Ofcourse the Zenith Bank success story is well documented but Jim Ovia’s personal journey is another matter, almost non-existent on record. The only accurate story and even mention of the name of his father exists only in a story posted by my blog andybriggsreport, last year.
Digging deep into the Jim Ovia story has offered me a bit of an adventure into Agbor, an enchanting old town that is beset by a shortage of good hotels. Eventually, I found a decent hotel just off the Asaba-Benin Expressway at the Agbor town junction. It has a royal ring to its name.
I stumbled into an open secret in Agbor. Jim Ovia recently bought acres of land where he is building the mansion that will bring the Nigerian elite to a speechifying moment. The reason for this, allegedly being that his friend, the richest man in Africa had ‘yabbed’ him about his present home in Agbor town. Jim’ Ovia’s present Agbor home is made up of two white houses and a white car park seperated from each other by two parallel streets.
When some of the richest and most powerful men in Nigeria including OBJ, Aliko Dangote and the Governor of Delta State came to Agbor for the burial of the mother of the CBN Governor Godwin Emefiele, Ovia’s house became a talking point. Perhaps they had gone to his house for refreshment. How them go come Agbor, wey dem no go reach Jim Ovia house? So, challenged by their affectionate but uncharitable observation, Nigeria’s most successful banker took up the gauntlet and is presently doing a house that will leave everyone in awe.
The Godfather of Banking will soon be available in bookstores in a limited hardcover edition.
Ovia’s Agbor home.