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FIRSTBANK: THE EMBODIMENT OF CORPORATE RESPONSIBILITY AND SUSTAINABILITY

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Who should corporate responsibility and sustainability lessons be taken from? Some companies are still unclear about the concept but latching onto the sustainability mantra anyway, because it has become a marketing buzzword for business? Or a company through whose creed and deeds, over the many decades it has been around, people can see corporate responsibility and sustainability lived (first) and preached (subsequently)?

 

If the above set of questions constituted a question in an examination hall, it would be one of the easiest of questions to answer. Not one person would fail it. Outside the examination hall, the answer to this question that seems as easy and simple like the question of 2 + 2 may not be as easy and simple. It may be complicated by all the cleverly arranged noise and claims projected at people to make it difficult for them to see and accept the obvious.

 

So, it is incumbent on people who know, and care enough (like this writer), to keep stating and restating the obvious. This is in the hope that doing so would help others to take full cognisance of the obvious and not allow themselves to be bamboozled by image without substance and rhetoric without pedigree.

 

The concept of corporate responsibility and sustainability is not about the clever or manipulative use of marketing buzzwords by corporate citizens. It is about impact, net positive impact, in the lives of real, not imagined, people through the deliberate and well-planned activities of socially-responsible corporate citizens.

 

Even if history is no longer taught in most schools in Nigeria, the records are there. The records show that Nigeria has been blessed to have standing by her, at all times, a corporate citizen which understands the concept of corporate responsibility and sustainability.

 

This corporate citizen has been standing by Nigeria before the country’s founding, through its amalgamation, Independence and all the conflicts and crises Nigeria has gone through and still faces. Today, the corporate citizen still stands by Nigeria.

 

First Bank of Nigeria Limited, a lender of unmatched pedigree, a bank with a history of unparalleled support to Nigeria and Nigerians (right from the colonial era to date, even serving as Nigeria’s central bank at some stage of our national development), has been a corporate citizen like no other.

 

A brand that has backed innumerable groundbreaking projects across Nigeria and beyond, FirstBank has demonstrated that real impact that can be seen and felt by all, and not mere marketing buzzwords, is the real measure of an institution’s understanding of corporate responsibility and sustainability.

 

It is incontrovertible that whichever way corporate responsibility and sustainability is understood or defined, FirstBank is sure to tick all the boxes. Just name every parameter for assessing a company’s efforts in corporate responsibility and sustainability and match each against what FirstBank has been doing. Is there any parameter that FirstBank has not surpassed?

 

FirstBank has been living corporate responsibility and sustainability for most, if not all, of its existence as a going concern. Knowing it cannot do it alone, the bank has also devoted resources to efforts that will enable it to preach or pass the message so other corporate citizens, groups and individuals will emulate it.

 

One platform the bank has used effectively for this purpose is its Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability (CR&S) Week. The CR&S Week is a full working week that the FirstBank Group, in-country and across the world where it operates, dedicates to the promotion, execution and celebration of social responsibility initiatives.

 

The Sustainability Week also includes a huge kindness campaign to reorient citizens towards the right values and reignite acts of kindness in society. It is only one of the many ways FirstBank is living true to its brand promise to always put customers first.

 

And the Sustainability Week seeks to invite others (individuals and corporate citizens) to follow the bank’s example and begin to intentionally create positive impact in their immediate communities.

 

From the inaugural edition in 2017, where the theme was “Promoting Kindness: Putting You First”, the Sustainability Week has helped to reinforce FirstBank’s role as a nation-builder that is driving sustainable development across communities where it operates. It was an opportunity for the bank to encourage others (individuals and corporate citizens) to follow in its steps, even if all they can afford to take are small steps.

 

Taking small steps may have informed the choice of theme for the second edition of the Sustainability Week in 2018: “Touching Lives: You First”. The bank sought to debunk the notion that touching lives in meaningful ways and making an impact on society require big-ticket projects, whilst emphasising the power in the little things people do and the small steps they take.

 

After all, is it not little drops of water that make a mighty ocean, like the saying goes? And does the journey of a thousand miles not begin with a (small) step, like another saying puts it?

 

Just take a look at SPARK (Start Performing Acts of Random Kindness), a values-based initiative that raises consciousness promoting kindness to one another in society, which the bank started during the inaugural Sustainability Week in 2017.

 

Aimed at reinforcing FirstBank’s corporate culture of encouraging giving and volunteering among its staff and the larger society, its magnitude today and the many kind initiatives it has sparked off across the country could not have been imagined when the seed was planted five years ago. Incalculable manhours and financial resources from FirstBank staff and partners have been contributed willingly.

 

Children in orphanages, internally displaced persons (IDPs) in various IDP camps, widows and other underprivileged or vulnerable groups have been visited and their challenges alleviated if not totally eliminated. Scores of career counselling sessions with secondary school pupils across Nigeria has also been organised as part of the Sustainability Week, which has been the first of its kind in Nigeria’s financial services industry.

 

In 2019, the third edition of the Sustainability Week with the theme: “Ripples of Kindness: Putting You First” enunciated the values (or pillars) of the SPARK initiative to include Compassion, Civility and Charity. FirstBank believes that these values and the acts of kindness that flow as a result of embracing the values are critical to promoting and building peaceful co-existence and prosperity in society.

 

Among the key highlights of the 2019 Sustainability Week was a “Nice Comments Day” that was a day set aside to foster words of encouragement, support and kindness to people around one, regardless of ones’ familiarity or close ties, in recognition of the instrumental role kind words play in lighting up people’s day and bringing out the best in them.

 

Another highlight was the SPARK School Engagement that promoted the SPARK initiative in schools, with the objective of embedding the values of SPARK amongst school children at a young age so the values become part of, and habitual to, them as they develop into adulthood.

 

Due to COVID-19 pandemic and government-imposed lockdown, the year 2020 witnessed no edition of the Sustainability Week. Any attempt to stage the kinds of activities and events that usually accompany the Sustainability Week would have been counterproductive, spreading infections and possibly deaths instead of kindness and joy that the Sustainability Week has become synonymous with.

 

However, FirstBank’s avowed commitment to corporate responsibility and sustainability would not allow it fold its hands and just watch while COVID-19 and its debilitating effects tried to make living and learning difficult for most Nigerians.

 

Working virtually or remotely and, where it could not do otherwise, physically but in strict adherence to COVID-19 safety protocols, FirstBank executed several initiatives meant to ameliorate the very difficult situation in Nigeria then.

 

The bank contributed to efforts to provide palliatives to vulnerable Nigerians, announced a moratorium on repayment of loans, set up a special loan fund for businesses run by women, established another for school proprietors in collaboration with a state government and drove an e-learning initiative that sought to move one million school children to a safe online learning platform so their educational progress would not be set back due to COVID-19 restrictions, government-ordered lockdown and the closure of educational institutions for the greater part of 2020

 

“Kindness: A Way of Life” was the theme for the fourth edition of the Sustainability Week held in 2021. Highlights of activities of the 2021 Sustainability Week, designed to entrench a culture of kindness, included a practical-oriented training webinar for staff to embed a culture of kindness in the bank by driving understanding of how kindness (or the lack of it) can impact the workplace, the marketplace and the communities in which staff live and work.

 

Another important feature of the Sustainability Week was the “Kind Comments Days” that ran all week to inspire a consciousness of kind choice of words and consideration for others. There was also a dedicated programme in secondary schools designed to institutionalise SPARK by using school SPARK champions (including students and teachers) alongside other partners such as Junior Achievement Nigeria (JAN) and Lagos State government to inculcate the SPARK values in school children.

 

One other feature was the ground-breaking ceremony for the Lagos State government’s OCAAT (One Community At A Time) initiative to provide the Primary Health Care Centre at Ijedodo community in Alimosho LGA. Set up as an initiative to improve the health and welfare of the members of various communities in Lagos State, FirstBank partnered the government on the project as part of its contribution to global efforts to meet some specific Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

 

There were also webinars: a general webinar with the sub-theme: “Education: Does Kindness have a Role?”; and a millennial webinar with the sub-theme: “Making the Cyber World a Kinder Place” which sought to proffer solution to the question of how people could become kinder on social media platforms.

 

All the past editions of FirstBank Sustainability Week highlight the longstanding and relentless commitment of FirstBank not only to continue to live but also to preach the message of corporate responsibility and sustainability.

 

Given its unmatched pedigree in corporate responsibility and sustainability, FirstBank has earned the right to address all other corporate organisations as well as individuals and groups on matters of sustainability. The bank has earned its right to the people’s audience.

 

It is against this backdrop that FirstBank’s forthcoming 2022 Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability Week should be welcomed by other banks and corporate citizens, irrespective of industry, as an opportunity to come together and take lessons from Nigeria’s foremost corporate citizen with regard to corporate responsibility and sustainability.

 

FirstBank does not consider itself too big to take lessons from other corporate citizens in areas where they have distinguished themselves. So other corporate citizens should not feel too big to take lessons from FirstBank in this area where the bank stands highly distinguished.

 

Or can anyone claim not to know that if the concept of corporate responsibility and sustainability were to be represented by one corporate citizen per country on a world map where countries are denoted by their foremost corporate entities, it is unarguable that FirstBank would be the company eminently representing Nigeria on that map?

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CBN Governor, Godwin Emefiele Unruffled

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The Story of Godwin Emefiele can be likened to the story of a child born with uncommon grace. Every time enemies have tried vehemently tried to cut short his life by firing hot shots targeted at taking his breath; he resurfaces like the proverbial cat with nine lives. Yes, he is a dogged fighter and one who so much believes in giving his all to the betterment of his fatherland. Since his appointment as the Governor of the Central Bank close to a decade ago; he has tried his best to ensure policies that will stabilize the economy by giving preference to Small and Medium Scale Enterprise, and also huge investments in agriculture which is currently fetching the government and the country billions of dollars in return on investment.

 

Despite all the hard work and sleepless nights, he and his team put in motion for the upliftment of the country economically and giving our Naira more power some unscrupulous elements have resorted to blackmail and campaign of calumny in undermining his office and all the work he has invested over the years.

 

Like the proverbial ram in a fight that moves back to bring more firepower; the Banking and Finance graduate from the University of Nigeria Nsukka, has remained firm in proving cynics wrong but not giving into their antics of cyberbullying and all kind of tactics. Instead, he has remained a terror for those who want to plunge Nigeria into recession and financial distress by hoarding a substantial amount of cash which is supposed to be in circulation. This we gathered was his sin that has made many want his head at all costs. After several meetings with his team, he resorted to the Naira redesign which got many tongues wagging as several people in high places lashed the CBN Governor for deliberating trying to scuttle their plans.

 

At a point when he travelled out of the country for medical checkups, his detractors also went on different media campaigns claiming he was wanted by the state security service for some nefarious acts. After the campaign, Emefiele jetted back into the county and was given a warm welcome by his boss President Muhammadu Buhari. This further threw his enemies off balance as they are currently looking for a way to get rid of him. In spite of all these, Emiefele has remained unruffled and unbothered; discharging his duties according to the constitution. He further got many aggravated when he announced days ago that the deadline for the old currency in becoming acceptable won’t change as he urged Nigerians to deposit the old cash in their account or risk the currency becoming expired.

 

Sources say; The former Director at Zenith Bank is not bothered and not giving in to the pressure from all corners as he is committed to ensuring a better Naira and a better economy for Nigeria. “Emefiele is aware of those fueling the mischief around him but trust me, he has the backing of his boss which is to restore the strength of the Naira and strengthen the Economy and also turn Nigeria into a digitalized economy where we would run a cashless society which will ease pressure from currency printing and also put Nigeria on the global pact as a thriving economy that is not reliant of cash. This will open more investment for Fintech companies and other service providers.”

 

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The Benevolent Side of MC Oluomo Musiliu The Media Hardly Talks about

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Oladapo Sofowora

 

For the want of a better description; the erstwhile chairman of the National Union Road Transport Workers Lagos State chapter and now Lagos State Park and Garage Management with the sobriquet MC Musiliu Oluomo Akinsanya is a misunderstood person. More reason many unprintable names have been ascribed to him on and off the media space. Those who are not familiar with him have stereotyped him owning to his background as a ‘task collector’ at the motor park before rising through the rank to attain the post of Chairman of the Lagos State Park and Garage Management. In reality, Oluomo is a super intelligent and brilliant chap who on several occasions has displayed his native intelligence in proffering solutions to issues. While many believed he is not lettered, those close to him averred that his brilliancy and vast knowledge in issues relating to his field, politics, finance and corporate governance will marvel you. He is a man with few words but he is one of the few men who have impacted his immediate environment with his God-given wealth more reason he has thousands of followers who see him as a model and also as a leader with listening ears.

 

Those close to the Oluomo of Oshodi disclosed that; He is a man destined for greatness. He has sowed traits of wizardry from his formative years which helped him climb the ladder of success early in life. As much as he likes to stay away from the media space, his good deeds often find a way to throw him into public consciousness. One thing Oluomo holds in high esteem is Loyalty. He believes as a man, your word should be your bond. Like the popular parlance; the prestige of a man lies in his ability to talk and stand firm with it. While many tried to cast aspersions and make disparaging comments about him he has remained unperturbed. He was given an archetypal outlook with the demeanour of an ‘Agbero’; Oluomo on the other hand does not see nor portray himself in such a manner. He is a cultured and well-grounded cosmopolitan man who is in tune with the latest fashion and style and also with his culture and tradition. His sense of organization, mobilization, leadership qualities and carriage even supersedes those who are lettered. His urbane nature is evident in the structure of the organization he currently heads. Oluomo on the other hand never despised his humble beginning as we gathered that those who were instrumental to his rise to the top, he goes back to show his gratitude.

MC Oluomo

One thing that marvels many is his humility personified nature. He is so gentle that he respects even the children around him. He is a stickler for success more reason anything he ventures into he is open to new ideas which have given him an edge over his rivals. Today, his idea gave birth to the QR code on Lagos Bus recently launched to curb kidnapping and other vices among drivers plying Lagos roads. He also ensured drivers are given good welfare packages as they often give room for the reorientation of task collectors and also bad drug and alcohol abuses by drivers in Lagos state. He also opened a complaint desk for commuters to report any incident of lawlessness by drivers and task collectors. He has also acquired buses for drivers in other to cushion the effect of the dwindling and biting economy in Nigeria.

 

One thing he never jokes about is philanthropy known as Zakat according to the teaching of Islam. As a devoted Muslim, he believes wealth is from God and the lives you touch with your wealth would be counted when everyone returns to meet their creator. That’s why he has been involved in philanthropy and humanitarian causes. He has over the years donated proceeds of his business to charity. It is public knowledge that anyone who cries to his house would definitely return with a smile on his or her face. Those close to him averred that he loathes the sight of anyone in distress; he is always ready to assist. Despite the beautiful thing being done by Oluomo; the media have not been fair to him. Despite the negative media, He is one of the few who loves journalists and media practitioners and he has over the years empowered those close to him. Regardless of the negative press, he has not stopped being a good person and he will continue to do his best to uplift humanity. Over the years he has been involved in paying school fees for out-of-school children running into millions of Naira. He has paid hospital bills for sick and pregnant women, he has empowered widows and also given out cars to many. He has established businesses for people and paid house rent and built houses for several people. A source disclosed that Oluomo was said to have imbibed the traits of giving from his parents that’s why he is being tagged a ‘dangerous giver’.

 

If there is one thing that stands him out, he knows how to keep friendships and build relationships. He believes relationship plays a pivotal role in the development of man. As a politician and a mobilizer, Oluomo is well-loved and respected within the Lagos metropolis and he is also a delight to many artists, actors and praise singers. He has been able to sustain his reign with his open hands and his support for those around him. He is a man who wants those under him to grow wings and soar high. More reason he has many people who love him to a fault and can go to any length just to prove their love and loyalty. Despite the negative media around him, he has continued to blaze the trail in politics, business, human management, and other spheres of life. As much as the media will not portray him as an angel in human form that he is, Oluomo’s name will forever be crested in Gold as one of the most benevolent people the Yoruba will call ‘Eleyinju Aanu’.

 

 

Oladapo Sofowora a Journalist and columnist at The Nation Newspaper Writes From Lagos.

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TRULY, THE NIGERIA CUSTOM SERVICE IS WORKING FOR NIGERIANS

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The Nigerian Customs Service via its Public Relation Unit has sort of rekindled my hope of a better Nigeria. It is also a re-assurance that there will be light at the end of the tunnel for Nigerians with the way and manner the unit swiftly responded and immediately put their hands to the plow until justice was served on a matter I personally reported on the 30th of November 2022.

As a border boy, I am not unfamiliar with the rules and restrictions placed on several business activities in and around the border communities and as a law abiding citizen I try to keep my part of the Nigerian Deal to the best of my abilities even though these restrictions are very inconveniencing for the average border community dweller. But on that faithful Wednesday afternoon, an officer of the Nigerian Customs serving in one of the checkpoints between Idiroko and Owode went above board. This officer had threatened to delay and waste my time, and he did -for no just cause than the fact that I had an altercation with one of his errand boys popularly called CAMP BOYS that are ordinarily not suppose to be on the road whom I queried for hitting on my car with a stick after confirming I had no contraband in my car. The only response I got from the guy after my polite enquiry is to refer to me as being stupid! He repeated the verbal assault, adding who am I? Of course, I told him he must be stupid too for him to have a feel of what he was ditching out on me. Suddenly, the said officer came on the scene, requested to see my custom papers (which was immediately given to him and confirmed genuine) and then he dropped an unguarded statement “I will delay you today”, and thus, the delay started.

After waiting for over 1hour and 30minutes with no end in sight, I decided (out of my frustration) to report this case of intentional delay and inhuman treatment on The Nigerian Customs Service official Facebook Page inbox. I remained there with my friends until few hours later when the “BOSS” of an officer feels fulfilled and Okay to release my papers and car keys. That was after several hours of delay for no just cause. I left the scene frustrated because I had missed my appointment and also cancelled all other engagements for the day. But my main worry as I zoomed off in my devastated state was; will things ever get better for our nation in the area of respecting human rights?

But alas, The Public Relations Unit of the Nigerian Customs Service cleared my doubts! At about 6:48pm of the same day I received this as a response to the message I had earlier sent to their inbox:
”Good afternoon, I have forwarded your case to the appropriate channel. You will be contacted”.

I thought this was some regular face saving message since the message appeared to have been read but I was wrong! By 7:46pm (Just about 1 hour after the response) I heard my phone ringing:
Me: Hello, good evening
Caller: Hi, my name is….a Superintended of Customs…. And I am calling from the headquarters in Abuja, I got your complaints and I want to know if you were able to resolve the matter?
Me: (Surprised and Excited)… Good evening sir sir sir, my name is Julius Oyedokun …. (And then I re-narrated the whole story)
And the Superintended of Customs replied thus: “Please you have to understand the orientation; some people like to do the exact opposite of what they are meant to do. Some thinks that their wearing uniform is an opportunity to molest and victimize people, so I think that’s what some believe the uniform is meant for. And whoever toes that line, I don’t think we must pamper him but we just have to give him a fair hearing.”
Me: (Still surprised and amused… I thought within myself, Wow wawwu… Is this happening in Nigeria or some American Film???)
And within a few seconds the Superintended of Customs linked me up with another Unit of Lagos state, to which he assigned to take up the case and do thorough investigation of the matter with a caveat that “IF” the incident actually happened the way I have narrated, the officer in question should be identified and disciplined accordingly. Fast forward to the second day, I was heading to work when some calls started coming in to ask If this was the same Julius that had an encounter with a particular customs officer yesterday… Infact, I was invited to identify the erring officer via a WhatsApp video call (from their Zonal Office) among all the officers that were on duty on the day of the incident at the check point. All were summoned.

Anyways, long story cut short, I even had to beg on his behalf when I saw the action that were been taken after the officer was identified, scolded and reprimanded appropriately BUT one thing remained with me since the day and that is the fact that a better Nigeria is in the offing.

The takeaway from this encounter is that Nigeria is not unredeemable. Good things are happening in the Nigeria Custom Service particularly from the top echelon. C.G Hammed Ali Reform initiatives is taking shape within the organization. Despite knowing a good number of top officers in the NCS, I decided to go through the official channel to test the efficacy and effectiveness of the unit and how prompt public complaints will be addressed. To say I’m impressed with the handling is an understatement.
Kudos to NCS. Good things takes time. Bad eggs in the NCS should watch their back. Then, other Nigeria institutions should endeavour emulate NCS particularly the Nigeria Police Force.

Thank you Nigeria Customs Service and God bless Nigeria.

Julius Oyedokun writes from [email protected]

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