Mr. Yemi Soladoye who was a former Managing Director of Elmac Insurance and a Consultant to the National Insurance Commission recently clocked 60 years. In this interview, he shares insights on sundry issues in the industry.
By Rosemary Onuoha
HOW did you get into insurance, was that your chosen career from the beginning?
I didn’t want to study insurance and I in fact rejected studying insurance. I wanted to go to Ahmadu Bello University because I was a very staunch Muslim student at secondary school and at HSC levels. So because of Islam, I wanted to go to ABU to study accounting and it was in the days of direct entry – before JAMB. After waiting for a long time without any response from ABU, I went to inform Alhaji Okunu about my frustrations and he gave me a note to his friend who was then the Deputy Vice Chancellor of University of Lagos (Unilag) to see if he could be of assistance. I met Prof Oladapo in late November 1978 and he sent me to the Factuality Officer of Business Administration who told me that they had over – admitted for Accounting and Business Administration; and that the only available course was insurance. I said within me, “God forbid bad thing” in Arabic and thanked her and went away. While I was almost approaching the Unilag gate, I remembered that I should have gone back to Prof Oladapo and tell him that I was offered insurance and I had refused it, because he might still be the person to help me next year. So, I went back to him, and he said to me, “My son, I forgot as you were going, I wanted to tell you to go and take insurance because that is a new course and it is the future of Nigeria and you will enjoy it. That put me in a big dilemma and I resolved within myself to waste one year to study this ‘yeye course’ and later change to Accounting. From my level of exposure then, I knew insurance as just a side attraction or pastime business for motor dealers in Ibadan, so insurance was by then not a course you could be proud of, that you were studying in the university. But within the first year, my eyes were opened to see that insurance is a big international business that occupies position of strategic importance in the lives of nations and families and that its negative outing in Nigeria was due to the “ messenger and not the message”. That’s how I found myself studying and practicing insurance as a profession.
One of the major initiatives in the insurance industry today is Market Development and Restructuring Initiative (MDRI), and the history of that project will not be complete without Yemi Soladoye, what do you have to say about that?
First, I will like to thank Mr. Fola Daniel, the Commissioner for Insurance from 2007 to 2015 for giving me the opportunity to serve my industry, not only on the MDRI, but also on other projects like the Country Diagnostic Study of Micro insurance, and Takaful, the Guidelines on Bancassurance Operation among others that God used me to handle for the country. If you look at it from government side, it is one thing to have a robust strategy and it is another thing to implement the strategy. 98 per cent of dynamic strategies that would have solved our problems in this country are not implemented at the government levels. The MDRI was a medium term agenda carved out of the Financial System Strategy 2020 (FSS 2020) project which I did for the CBN in collaboration with the World Bank. That was in fact the origin of MDRI. My consulting work actually started with the CBN and not directly with NAICOM. MDRI is being implemented though in piece meal under different names which has prevented the industry from deriving optimal benefits from the initiative. As I had earlier said, without implementing the MDRI as a holistic industry master plan and in a coordinated manner, the Nigeria insurance industry cannot occupy its position of strategic importance in the Nigerian economy as obtained in South Africa, U.S.A, India or even Kenya.
Again, taking you back to insurance as a career, would you say you are fulfilled and when you look back what is your regret?
Anybody that has what I always call the “Muslim Mind” will feel fulfilled at every point of his life. I do not define fulfilment by possession of material wealth but by how many lives I have touched and my relevance to the society at large. Academically, I thank God; career wise, I thank God; family wise I am grateful to God. I find myself relevant in my industry, I find myself relevant in my home town, Ibadan which is the largest indigenous city in Africa. By the way God has patterned my destiny, I thank him most sincerely.
Yes, many things have happened to me that you will call regrets but which I believe are just in my destiny and only to serve as lessons for me or other people in life. I have taken many wrong steps in Business, in investment and in relationships all due to the fact that I am too trusting and too generous. I am sure this will surprise you. My greatest regret is that I have stayed for too long in insurance. I should have left insurance the moment I left Elmac. I also regret that my dream for the Nigeria insurance industry could not be fulfilled due to many institutional deficiencies that exist in this country.
Luckily for me I am a highly multi – talented person with belief in changing my environment at each point in time and that is why at sixty, I decided to go back home and serve my people. Yes, I regret my prolonged stay in insurance and the state of insurance practice in Nigeria.