BY HENRY OJELU
Simon Chibuike Aranonu is the Executive Director of ‘Large Enterprises’ at the Bank of Industry, BOI. He has spent over 30 years in the banking and financial consultancy industry.
In this interview, Aranonu shares the story of his childhood, recounting how he grew up in an extremely poor family in a village; with petty traders as parents. He also reveals how he weathered the storm to become a successful banker.
I was born to very poor parents. I never imagined I would be talking to people like you today. I never also imagined I will be living in the urban area because I grew up in a rural town called Utuh in Nnewi South Local Government, Anambra state, though I was born in Onitsha. My dad was a petty trader while my mum was a seamstress who had a tabletop sewing machine which she took to the market to fix people’s torn clothes and occasionally sew new ones. That was popular in those days as clothes were passed on. It was a major source of income for her and she did that for many years. Amazingly, at 84 now, she still sews.
Growing up was very challenging with two petty traders as parents. I was the very first in my family to attend secondary school and university. Getting an education was very challenging because my parents didn’t have the money. Some of the things I learnt in those early days are still helping me today. For example, one of my hobbies is riding bicycle. People don’t know that I used to ride it back then, not for fun, but because I used to help my mother carry her sewing machine to the market which used to hold every four days. I used to take the sewing machine to the market before going to school. I will then return home, park the bicycle and then trek to school five kilometers away. After school hours, I will return home and then take the bicycle in the evening to bring back the sewing machine. I started doing that when I was about 11 years old.
Scuttled relocation to Lagos as an apprentice
When I finished primary 6 in 1974, I gained admission into Oraifite Secondary School, a missionary school set up by the Anglican Diocese. But to enrol to the school was a huge challenge because my father couldn’t afford the school fees. Before I completed primary school, my father had already arranged for my uncle who used to live in Lagos to come and pick me to learn how to sell motor spare parts as an apprentice trader. My uncle arrived right on time but by divine arrangement, my headmasters persuaded my father to allow me attend secondary school. My father told them that any of them that insisted I should go to school should bring the school fees. Somehow, I had an aunt who convinced my dad to allow me to go to secondary school because her son was in the same school. And because my father hardly says no to her, he changed his mind.
My oversized school shoes
It was very challenging going through that school. My dad bought me an imitation of Cortina shoe back then because he could not afford the real one. The shoe was so big that I had to put newspapers in it to cover up space in front for four years before it was able to match my size. I was mocked by friends but I didn’t allow that to affect my self-esteem. I left that school with one of the best results.
No hope of university education
The issue of going to the university never even arose because if your father was unable to train you in secondary school, there is no point mentioning going to the university. I became an auxiliary teacher after a brief stay in my father’s shop. I taught for a year in the same primary school where I graduated. It was there that I met someone who helped shape my destiny. The man advised me to save every money I receive as salary, and that I will need it someday. I took his advice.
Suddenly Shagari came to power and increased the minimum wage to N100 per month. That was the equivalent of about two hundred dollars then. I saved that money for a year and that was what I used to pay my university fees for the first two years in the university. By the third year, I had exhausted the money; so my father took me to my maternal uncle who agreed to lend me the money on the basis that when I start working, I will pay him back. We agreed and I paid him back all his money when I got my first job upon graduation.
Decision to read finance
My decision to read finance was by providence because my secondary school was science-oriented. I didn’t know anything about finance or accounting. I would have even been a doctor because I applied to study medicine or pharmacy. One evening, our guidance and counseling teacher met with my friend and I. He asked us what we applied to study. We told him medicine or pharmacy. While the man agreed with my friend to go ahead to study what he wanted, he, however, said no to my studying the same course. He said I should study Finance or Accountancy. The man asked me to bring my JAMB forms to him. I did and then he deleted what I had already filled and wrote finance and accounting. He then wrote economics and mathematics as subjects that I will sit for during the exam. That was how I found myself here.
30 years in the bank
Banking is a very strenuous occupation. It requires a lot of hard work and finding honest people who would borrow money and payback, especially in Nigeria, is a huge challenge. Integrity is a scarce commodity in this country. One of my lowest moments so far in the industry was when I trusted someone who I thought I knew, lent him some money and he disappointed me. Eventually, we were able to get around him paying back using legal ways, but it was a very low moment for me.
Banking is a job that if you are be honest, patient and diligent, and do it according to the rules, you will be fine. That’s why I am glad that as a young man, I started with Chase Merchant, an American bank. They taught me global banking practices. One of my highest moments would be watching projects that I started financing when they were small, blossom into very large enterprises. Some of those businesses are worth billions now. There is one particular one that is even flying around in his private jet. He has corporate offices not only in Nigeria but also abroad. For a banker, nothing gives you greater joy than that.
Prospect for small scale businesses in BOI
In BOI, there are very good prospects for small businesses. The reason is that whereas we have only one directorate dedicated to the large businesses, there are two different directorates dedicated to the small scale business. Unfortunately, many business owners don’t know this. We have what is called Small and Medium Enterprises Directorate headed by an Executive Director, who handles businesses of N10M and above. And then we have another directorate known as Micro-enterprises which handles businesses from N1 million to N10million. As I said, people don’t know that if you want to borrow less than N10 million from the Bank of Industry, you don’t need any tangible security. You don’t need to own land or a house. What we normally ask for are guarantors.
Advice f or youths
I have this formula that has worked for me, and it is 3Hs – hard work, humility and holiness. These are what have driven me all my life. Hard work has no alternative. If you are not willing to work hard, forget success. If you are not humble, you cannot learn. Invariably, you cannot grow. Holiness is next to godliness. Don’t do what God doesn’t want. Don’t steal. Move closer to God. He will guide and make ways for you beyond your imaginations. There is always a God factor in every success.