By Kele Nwankwo
Albert Egbaroghene Okumagba (AEO) was born in Warri on Saturday April 4th, 1964, to the illustrious family of Chief Daniel Okumagba of Okere-Urhobo Kingdom Warri and Chief Mrs Philomena Okumagba of Effurun in Uvwie local Government area both in Delta State.
Albert was so loved by his parents that he was treated specially having identified him as an unusually gifted child-a replica of his Father, a deep thinker, dreamer, selfless with a knack for seeing what others couldn’t see and making the seemingly impossible possible in addition to great leadership skills. They both were change agents for whatever they encountered. They were men who impacted so much with little or no desire for material gains.
Albert attended one of the best nursery schools at the time – The Uvwie Nursery School Effurun. He was specially driven to school by his father whilst his siblings walked to and from school. He attended Federal Government College Warri (FGC Warri) from 1975 to 1981 where he was Food Captain. Subsequently, he became one of the most popular alumni of FGC Warri serving not only as a one-time National President of the School’s Old Students Association but also a rallying point for scores and legions of ex-students of the school all through his lifetime.
He completed his A-levels at the prestigious Kings College Lagos from 1982 to 1983. He served in various capacities for the Alumni Association of the school. Informally, Albert served as a mentor and a master networker of great repute for Kings College Old Boys of all sets even for boys who were born decades after his graduation.
Albert then proceeded to Nigeria’s premier university – the University of Ibadan where he obtained a BSc in Economics in 1986. He did his National Youth service Corps programme in Bomo Zaria, Kaduna State, where he served faithfully as a Class 4 Economics teacher at the Government Day Secondary School. He then proceeded to the University of Lagos for an MSc. in Monetary Economics, graduating in 1988. He subsequently qualified as a Chartered Stockbroker with the Chartered Institute of Stockbrokers (CIS), leading a generational revolution in the stockbroking profession that changed the perception of the stockbroking vocation and placing it at par with other prestigious financial institutions in the world. He attended several courses in Multilateral Agency Credit Appraisals, World Bank Assisted Projects and Corporate Finance. He was an alumnus of Lagos Business School’s Chief Executive Program (CEP).
A Legendary and Visionary Investment Banker, Albert identified his calling in the financial sector right from the beginning of his career and immediately took steps to actualise his vision and to carve a niche in his chosen field of Investment Banking. His fame as a legendary investment banker was rooted in his time with Centre Point Merchant Bank Limited, where he served under the tutelage of Chief Dennis Odife. Albert was Head of Mergers & Acquisitions (M&A) and managed portfolios in Corporate Banking, Multilateral Agency Credit Appraisals and traded on the floor of the Nigerian Stock Exchange on behalf of Centre Point’s stockbroking affiliate, Centre Point Investment Limited: an experience that proved to be quite germane for Albert’s future forays in leading seismic changes in the Nigerian Banking landscape.
The heightened political risks of the early 1990s led to a surge in systemic distress in the Nigerian Banking Industry resulting in the collapse of weak banks. While this led to increased apprehension amongst several career bankers, Albert in his typical contrarian style spotted opportunities in the market place. Thus, Albert departed Centre Point, and joined hands with a trio of ambitious young men in their 30s to set up a niche investment bank, primarily established to become a vehicle for the acquisition and restructuring of ailing banks. The new investment bank — Banc Guaranti Limited was incorporated in May 1993 and commenced operations in May 1995. The founders included Tony Elumelu (an alumnus of Linkage Assurance), Albert Okumagba, Wale jafojo (from Allstates Trust Bank), and Ike Nwaboku (an alumnus of Pinnacle Commercial Bank). Subsequently, based on moral suasion from regulatory authorities, Banc Guaranti Limited changed its name to BGL Limited.
The first banking acquisition transaction BGL was involved in was of Merchant Bank of Commerce, (MBCOM) in 1995 which was acquired and subsequently renamed Continental Trust Bank. In 1996, BGL also worked on the acquisition of Crystal Bank which was subsequently renamed Standard Trust Bank (STB) with Tony Elumelu at the helm. Albert thus became the CEO of BGL Limited in 1995, a position he held until his death.
One of the most audacious and unparalleled deals in the Nigerian financial sector was the merger of STB and United Bank for Africa (UBA) in 2005 which was midwifed by BGL even ahead of the Banking Consolidation era. With this deal, BGL created the template for the subsequent M&As that followed between 2005 and 2006 – the banking Consolidation era. This was only made possible by Albert’s chutzpah and his ability to drive his investment banking team into new and uncharted waters. His ideal of increased banking activities through the creation of bigger and stronger banks cemented his name amongst the legends as a motivator and an audacious dealmaker in the M&A era, where BGL emerged as the M&A leader in the banking consolidation exercise. Thus, banks increased the possibilities of success in their M&A deals by simply engaging BGL as a financial adviser. Albert and BGL’s ‘can-do spirit’ ensured that the bespoke structuring and stakeholder engagement required for each transaction was provided with thoroughness, commitment and passion. It took a lot of sleepless nights of work from the investment banking professionals, but working hard under Albert was fun and interesting. Albert’s motivational skills were quite uncharacteristic of the average Nigerian manager. His avuncular attitude towards his staff and his incentive schemes brought out the best in his teams.
In addition to the hands-on experience, most of the banks were also comfortable with the independence of BGL during the exercise as most other competitors either had banking licences or were subsidiaries of banks. So, in order to preserve the independence of BGL, Albert led other executives of BGL into a management buyout (MBO) of BGL in August 2006. This MBO was a novel deal at the time and demonstrated Albert’s capacity to bravely reach for new grounds in the investment banking deal space. With the MBO settled, Albert was able to unlock new areas of growth for BGL through novel and audacious investment banking deals in the rather taciturn Nigerian financial landscape.
With the expansion of the equity space which led to the entry of several other peers in the M&A business, Albert subsequently identified another niche opportunity in the fixed income space, when in 2006, BGL advised Access Bank Plc on Nigeria’s first corporate bond transaction in decades. Albert was a firm believer in differentiation strategy and always sought new ways to place BGL above the fray. This was evidenced by the multiple awards BGL garnered from prestigious institutions including Euromoney.
Albert led BGL into the public sector deal space where he largely redefined the sub national bond space well ahead of peers. BGL was a market leader in the bond space as the firm raised hundreds of billions for State Governments, thus helping to unlock long term funds for infrastructure development across the country. Following this attainment, with Albert’s lead, BGL played an active role in the privatisation programme of the Federal Government, advising both on the Buy and Sell sides over its privatisation mandates. The company consummated transactions worth several billions of Naira since inception and was widely regarded as a niche player with extensive expertise in public sector and privatization advisory transactions in Nigeria.
Albert was a trailblazer in differentiating BGL as a thought leader and an intellectual brand.
He had a passion for the BGL Financial Monitor publication, a magazine which focused on macro and capital market issues where he regularly provided editorial oversight. He also led the firm to publish several niche and pioneer publications on topics such as agriculture, pension, insurance and banking. He along with the publisher of Thisday newspaper Nduka Obaigbena created the Thisday BGL 50 Index, which was Nigeria’s first pioneer joint stock market index.
In 2007, when it became clear that a key differentiating factor for boutique investment banks could be their ability to underwrite and build a proprietary war chest for domestic market opportunities, Albert took the bold step to raise N30 Billion for BGL and to turn the company into a public company. At that time, equity capital of that size was unheard of for boutique firms, but Albert believed there was a future for focal investment banks where capital could be a key differentiator. It can be argued that this vision led to a new wave of stronger, more capitalised advisory firms, better positioned to compete in today’s finance landscape.
Albert’s passion was beyond BGL He had a keen interest in National Development with a strong focus on education. His zeal for education was demonstrated in his unending and enduring work for his alma maters – Kings College Lagos (KC) and Federal Government College (FGC) Warri. In addition to serving as a former National President of the Federal Government College Warri Old Students’ Association (FEGCOWOSA), and former Vice President of Kings College Old Boys Association (KCOBA), he also served as the pioneer President-General of the Unity Schools Old Students’ Association (USOSA) the umbrella body of alumni associations of the over 100 Unity Schools in Nigeria, incorporated in 2007. At USOSA, Albert quickly established a credible group that became a strong advocacy platform for the strengthening and reform of unity schools. His aspiration for a non tribal, non-partisan comradeship among Nigerian Unity School alumni that would produce leaders across all facets of the Nigerian economy, including politics, was only partly achieved. He was also a strong voice amongst the Kings College alumni. His passion for the school was quite visible to all who knew him well enough, and in the early part of 2020, he was appointed Chairman of the Renewed King’s College Endowment Fund Committee; a N100 Billion fund for the school,
Albert’s commitment to the KCOBA program needs in the area of financial support remains a benchmark in the association’s records. He was instrumental to major corporate engineering initiatives undertaken by the KCOBA. As financial secretary and chairman of mobilization committee, Albert made it possible for the first major fundraising event/dinner to hold outside Lagos and was successfully organized in Abuja in 2001.
The need to integrate young and middle aged OBs into the fold of the Association was a major policy thrust and Albert was readily available to mid-life the Network Forum as committee chairman to facilitate entrepreneurship interaction across the board for sustainable development for King’s College. During the College restoration projects leading to the centenary program, Albert was identified as an arrow head to drive the fund mobilization as chairman of finance committee, a task that he performed creditably well.
Albert’s firm, BGL Asset Management Limited was also engaged to put in place a structure for the KCOBA Endowment Fund program for KC and was one time regarded as the largest corporate employer of KCOBS as Albert paid forward with gratitude, the exceptional treatment he received from OB Dennis Odife at the final job interview that launched his banking career
Albert supported the association in different areas and his residence was made available at at all times for different KCOBA activities and meetings, Albert was a very potent force in the KCOBA ExCo till his death, who at a point singlehandedly paid the salaries of KCOBA secretariat staff.
Albert also availed the Federal Government with his vast experience, serving in various volunteer roles for the Government. He led engagements with the Federal Government on improving the sustainability of Unity Schools in Nigeria. In 2010, he was a member of the Federal Government Job Creation Committee established by the then Minister of Finance – Olusegun Aganga, under the Chairmanship of Alhaji Aliko Dangote. He also served as a member of the Federal Government Committee on the Downstream Petroleum Sector in 2012, following the Occupy Nigeria protests, against the removal of petrol subsidy in January of that year. In all of these engagements, Albert proved his mettie as a progressive who pushed for bold and audacious reforms. His brief foray into politics saw him running for the 2007 gubernatorial elections in his native Delta State.
Albert proved to be a good steward for the Investment banking and Stock broking community He served as the President of the Association of Issuing Houses of Nigeria (AIHN) and as a member of the Securities Exchange Commission (SEC) established Capital Market Committee (CMC). He also served as the President of the Chartered Institute of Stockbrokers (CIS). He championed the establishment of the Central Securities Clearing System (CSCS) Plc and the NASD OTC Pic, to provide an alternative platform for trading equities. His aspirations for a thriving and deep capital market resulted in his efforts to persuade the Federal Government to grant forbearance on margin loans to 84 stockbrokers in December 2012. Albert championed several other causes, in all cases, aspiring to make everything he was involved in better than he metit.
Albert’s endearing qualities would include his audacious optimism, his great sense of humour, his well cultivated networking ability, his expansive memory on people’s names, his knack for spelling these names correctly, his motivational skills, and his empathy which reflected in his pursuit of several humanitarian causes. Beyond these, Albert was a firm believer in the human ability. Thus, at BGL and in so many of his groups, Albert provided a strong platform for human talent to discover themselves and excel. This is demonstrated by the leadership positions of many BGL alumni across the Nigerian financial sector and beyond. At BGL, he also instituted a strong culture of enterprise, ownership and self-confidence amongst the staff, while also creating a work place that was great fun to be at. Albert was a contrarian who just loved to dare and pursue new possibilities, while taking down perceived obstacles in his course. He was well known for defending the oppressed whenever he found himself in David and Goliath scenarios. He will be sorely missed for these qualities.
Albert was a devout Catholic, who regularly attended mass daily at the Church of Assumption, Falomo, Lagos. He was also an avid sportsman, with a passion for squash where he excelled on the court, especially at the private squash club – Of Trafford in Ikoyi, where he was a leading member.
Albert was happily married according to the ordinance of the Catholic faith to Emilia of the Akagbosu Family of Agenebode Edo State. Albert Egbaroghene Okumagba passed on to greater glory on November 19th, 2020, aged 56. He is survived by wife Emilia, his five children – Michael, Oghenerukevwe, Fidelis, Akpovona, and Elohor, his siblings and mother. He is also survived by members of the Okumagba, Najomo, Akagbosu families as well as the Okere Urhobo Kingdom Warri, Deitans and Nigerians.
The family and Nigeria as a whole have lost a true gem and we will forever miss you. You live in our hearts and prayers.
Rest in peace Albert – Nigeria’s unsung hero.