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Adaora Umeoji @ Zenith: Provoking Sounds And Fury

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By Chidi Matthew Nwachukwu

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On Tuesday, the 19th of March, 2024, news broke out that Dr. Adaora Umeoji had been appointed the Group Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of Zenith Bank Plc., making her the first female to occupy such a position in the bank’s history. As was expected, mixed reactions trailed the development as members of the public expressed equal bouts of approval and dissent to the choice of the 58-year-old banking veteran as leader of the 34-year-old banking institution.

Many who objected to her appointment were of the opinion that she was too cosmetic to occupy such a sensitive administrative position, while some others felt she could not have merited the appointment but was merely favoured because she knew how to use her ‘bottom power.’

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An assessment of the plethora of opinions expressed by members of the public following Adaora’s appointment revealed that majority of the naysayers and critics, most of whom did not know Adaora personally, did not just like her physical appearance and attributes as was evidenced by the condescending comments they made about her complexion, choice of fashion, and even her hairstyle.

Many of the women who expressed antagonistic views about Adaora were apparently more concerned about how she had managed to stay young, fresh and girly, in spite of her age which did not in any way reflect on her physical appearance.

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In a bid to explain the underlying psychology of the women’s reaction to the development, Dr. Harold Umunnakwe, a general psychologist, posited that women, by their very nature, are inclined to being envious of members of their gender who appear to exude more charm and grace than themselves. Umunnakwe’s submission was corroborated by Dr. Adebisi Olukoya, a seasoned social behaviour expert, who averred that women are more inclined to vanity and pettiness than their male counterparts, and that this is as a result of their being too self-absorbed and their unwillingness to be clear-minded.

Now, it was ostensible that while the male folks antagonized Adaora out of egoism, misogyny and a chauvinistic mindset, the females antagonized her out of sheer jealousy and envy. It can’t be ruled out that the only women who celebrated Adaora’s limit-breaking emergence as CEO were the ones who are success-driven, career-minded and goal-oriented like herself, including the many young, middle-aged and advanced women who look up to women like Adaora as role models.

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Now, it is very important to note that Adaora is not the first woman to have been appointed bank CEO in Nigeria. Before her, there had been other amazons and banking heavyweights like Miriam Olusanya of Guaranty Trust Bank (GTB) who has been overseeing the operations of one of the most successful banks in Nigeria since 2021, and also being the first female to be so appointed, Yemisi Edun of First City Monument Bank (FCMB) who also was appointed managing director and chief executive officer in 2021, and Halima Buba of SunTrust Bank, also appointed in 2021. The others are Ireti Samuel-Ogbu of Citibank, Nneka Onyeali-Ikpe of Fidelity Bank, Kafilat Araoye of Lotus Bank, Bukola Smith of FSDH Merchant Bank, and Yetunde Bolanle-Oni of Union Bank.

So, if this number of women had been appointed bank chief executives before Adaora, why then did Adaora’s appointment provoke so much controversy that it seemed no woman had ever been appointed to that position before? Well, the answers to this single very important question are not far-fetched.

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First and foremost, Adaora’s demeanour does not reflect the semblance of a typical female Nigerian bank chief executive. She does not have that unsophisticated and nondescript appearance of the other female bank CEOs. Her curvaceous physique, which she often flaunts in her signature red fitted gowns and suit pants, oozes some sort of ‘sexiness’ that is not common with most career-minded women. Female career heavyweights are assumed to be too busy to have time for flaunting and ‘slaying.’ Whether this is true or not is not as important as whether or not Adaora’s ‘sexiness’ is often misconceived as the only potent weapon in her arsenal which she employs strategically to her advantage.

Adaora is an embodiment of a dozen other adequacies, but her critics would rather not admit to this fact. They have decided not to look at her beyond her smashing physique. They probably want her to always appear in oversized suit jackets and skirts and walk around like some old emotionally-tired English midwife. They would prefer that she always adorns some ear-covering headgear than flaunt her well-made beautiful hair.

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Secondly, Adaora is an intellectual glitterati which means that her passion for knowledge is unwavering. Armed with three bachelor’s degrees, two master’s degrees, and a doctorate, Adaora can take on any intellectual giant and give them a run for their money if she finds herself in a contest with any. Adaora’s intellectual achievement is not the kind one hears of everyday. She took her pursuit of intellect a notch further, and smashed all imaginable barriers that could have stopped her from emerging triumphant.

Her achievement is not a mean feat. It takes a lot of mental, emotional, spiritual, and financial preparedness to acquire the sorts of laurels that Adaora has to her name. So, it is only natural that some vain and disillusioned men and women will consider her as over-educated and be uncomfortable with her academic accomplishments. But that is not even something to fuss about. In this 21st century, anyone can become anything. A woman can become anything she chooses, and no force in the Universe can stop her.

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So, Adaora’s emergence as Zenith Bank’s chief executive officer is by all means a making of history. The only concern now is whether she will be able to fit into the big shoes left for her by Dr. Ebenezer Onyeagwu, her predecessor. Onyeagwu met Zenith Bank at its lowest ebb and used his Midas touch to regenerate it and position it at the top of the Nigerian banking industry. Under Onyeagwu’s watch, Zenith Bank bagged several awards including “Bank of The Year” three consecutive times, that is; 2020, 2021, and 2022.

So, it is expected that as a seasoned banker and an administrator with over 30 years of experience in corporate management, Adaora will break the records set by her predecessors and even set new ones in the course of her managing one of the most celebrated financial institutions in Nigeria. She will achieve all her set goals and confound her detractors. If naysayers and critics are already casting votes of no confidence in her ability to steer the Zenith Ship just because she does not conform to the stereotypes created for women in our society, then they should better know that it is only a matter of time before their hopes and expectations are dashed. Adaora did not get to the zenith of Zenith Bank by playing around or sleeping around, but by committing her entire life to a cause that she found worthy of sacrificing her all for. Those who have already written Zenith Bank off as an unserious institution just because it appointed a woman to head its corporate operations, will come back to eat their words and rejig their dealings with the bank.

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As Adaora takes on the saddle as Zenith Bank’s Group Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer from 1st June, 2024, it is the prayers of all well-meaning Nigerians that she succeeds in her capacity as leader of the organization. It will mean a ‘big win’ for all women if Adaora, like her other high-flying colleagues in the banking and corporate industry, smashes all the barriers in her way and rises to become the most formidable bank chief executive in Nigeria.

And as for those who will never accept that women are twice as productive and resourceful as their male counterparts, be rest assured that Adaora is here to shock you and force you to have a change of heart. What a man can do, a woman can do it even better!

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Nwachukwu is an Abuja-based journalist and media consultant. He can be reached through email at cmatencore86@gmail.com and on X @Cmatencore

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