The dusts of the 48th birthday anniversary of the Divisional Head of Keystone Bank for Akwa Ibom and Cross River, celebrated on Tuesday 27th July 2021 might have settled, but it has succeeded in raising the curtain to look into the life of a man who has seamlessly illuminated Akwa Ibom society through job creation and innovative ideas.
Dr. Magnus Chukwuekezie, born in Inyi, Oji-River local government area of Enugu State, is not only a vastly experienced financial expert with over 20 years in the banking sector, but also a gem that possesses special ability in expanding frontiers for humanity, having personally generated about 270 direct jobs in Akwa Ibom State through his private establishment, Everyday Foods Group of Companies Limited. He is of promise that the company would open 50 more opportunities for the job seekers in the state by the end of 2021.
The entire life of this astute banker is a huge lesson and inspiration for many. His growing up days, coupled with dreams to succeed in life, was a sail against the tides. In his interaction with THE RIGHTS GUARDIAN, Dr. Magnus Chukwuekezie disclosed how fierce his struggle with life began when he was a toddler. He had polio at the age of two. His mother sought all available remedies to put him back on feet but to no avail until she had to come to grim terms with the reality that he has to live with disability. Despite the setback early in life, young Chukwuekezie developed a burning desire to excel. According to him, “in primary school, while others were playing, I would take that time to be reading, drawing and engaging myself in some other academic activities instead of sitting back in self-pity. With that, I was always emerging tops of the class. While others were playing football, I was doing some reading and this routine continued to the secondary school level. It was very horrible because in Nigeria, there is no provision for the disabled. At secondary school, the staircases didn’t even have hand-rails to climb, and the toilets were very far away. I could fall like four to five times on my way to the toilet. But at the end of the day, how I am standing here, I can’t tell. Even in the university when I studied at the University of Nigeria, Enugu campus, it was the same thing. It was a struggle all through. I was doing what I was doing: always thinking ahead. If I was to go to lectures by 8.00am, I would know that I won’t be able to struggle, so I moved ahead. Before the others arrived, I was already seated.”
With innate ability, Magnus Chukwuekezie was able to pull through all outstanding odds. His story could be likened to that of Hephaestus in the ancient Greek mythology. Hephaestus was an Olympian god who was famed for giving skills of glorious crafts to mortals and helping them out of difficult situations. This god was depicted as having slender feet, walking with cane but was able to overcome his disability and attained the status of a god of fire, metalworking, arts, technology, and blacksmiths. In the like manner, Chukwuekezie, with all his graces to humanity, has surmounted all the hurdles on his way to career success. He was able to obtain a BSc in Accountancy and later got an MBA in Banking and Finance, all in the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. He holds a PhD from the University of Uyo and became a fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria (ICAN) as well as the Nigerian Institute of Management (Chartered).
Magnus Chukwuekezie started his banking career with the defunct Citizen’s Bank in August 2000 and went ahead to handle top managerial positions: worthy of mention is the position of a Regional Manager at United Bank for Africa (UBA) which he held from June 2013 to June 2016. He is currently working at Keystone Bank as Divisional Head (Akwa Ibom and Cross River Division).
Meanwhile, he had a setback in 2005 which opened another chapter of his life. He lost his job at the Assurance Bank Plc at the time when then Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria, Prof. Charles Soludo, introduced banking consolidation policy which required increment in banks’ capital adequacy from N2 billion to N25 billion. Since Assurance Bank Plc where he worked could not meet up with the requirement, it received the hit and became liquidated, resulting in the loss of job to Mr. Chukwuekezie.
To avert similar sinister experiences in the future in the event of getting another job, Magnus Chukwuekezie decided to venture into business. According to him, he thought joining business would help him have something to fall back on in an event that he secures another job and maybe lose it like what happened at the Assurance Bank. He had to invest his little savings in cement business with the help of Akwa Ibom top building materials magnate, Mr. Ubong Obot, who is the owner of Ubotex Nigeria Limited. It was a sort of relief to Chukwuekezie. Fortunately, he got another banking job in the next six months. By that time, he was able to lay a foundation for a group of companies that came to birth in 2009. Today, Dr. Magnus Chukwuekezie is the Chairman of Everyday Foods Group of Companies Limited which is into marketing and distribution for Nestle, Olam, Suntory, Procter & Gamble including other products like Maggi, Golden Morn, Nescafe, Milo, Cherie Noodles, Tasty Tom Tomatoes, OK Biscuits, Fresh Yo, Lucozade Boost, Ribena, Ariel, Oral B, Safeguard, Gillette, and several manufacturing companies. The Group also provides Cold Room and Quick Services Restaurants. Everyday Fish is one of the popular hangouts in Uyo, the Akwa Ibom State capital.
Dr. Chukwuekezie has become a rare gift to Akwa Ibom State and people. Since his arrival in the state in 2001, he has increasingly viewed Akwa Ibom as a new home and has developed an encyclopedic knowledge of the socio-economic terrain of the state. Apart from creating numerous job opportunities, he has been able to note key areas that should be addressed in a bid to make the state’s economy work optimally. In his expert assessment, he believes that one major setback to Akwa Ibom domestic economy is lack of consumers’ population or dense market where products could be delivered, pointing that this is the reason industries are underperforming. He believes that with the airport and Ibom Deep Seaport working side by side, the state’s economy could be stimulated through free-flow of goods and emergence of new markets.
“We have the airport, and if we can get the Ibom Deep Seaport working, then the business environment in Akwa Ibom will blossom because right now there is not much ventilation of population into the state. If you check Aba or Lagos, you see an influx of people there. In Aba, for example, you would see that people move in from Enugu, Owerri, Umuahia, and even Akwa Ibom. If you see a business like a plastic industry in Akwa Ibom, you hardly find it surviving because there is no market for the producer to sell the products. There is no market just because we don’t have a market: we have market but there are few people. If the Deep Seaport is opened, people will be coming from everywhere to export the materials and to bring in the population that we need,” he said.
As the financial expert acknowledged lack of a dense market and resultant poor performance of businesses as enervating the state’s economy, he said this challenge has contributed to reasons commercial banks harbour reservation about giving out loans to companies in need of capital augmentation. Making an illustration, he said, “To get a loan to go into plastic production for example, you may not have as much of an advantage as someone who has his own factory in Aba. The fear is that you may not perform so well. And it appears that banks in Akwa Ibom are scared of working with the private sector here.”
While advising young Nigerians that are desirous to go into entrepreneurship in the economy of a nation adjudged to be the world’s headquarters of poverty, the banker said the niche lies in the production of affordable and essential materials that easily gets to a common man. He urged young entrepreneurs to provide goods and services that get to plenty of people, explaining that such is the strategy the richest man in Africa, Alhaji Aliko Dangote, uses to push a breakthrough. According to him, Dangote works with numbers and understands the importance of a vast population as he focuses his energy on production of items like salt, sugar, noodles, and some others that could be afforded by everybody across all social strata. He added that banks know the importance of numbers too and make more income by seeking to establish a wider customer base because small service charges on a vast number of customers could produce huge returns.
Describing small and medium scale enterprises as the engine room of the economy, the Keystone Bank Divisional Head urged the state government to endeavour to sign Certificate of Occupancy (C-of-O) for business operators so that they could be able to get credit facility from commercial banks, stressing that “they may want to get loans from banks to improve their business but because they don’t have the C-of-O, banks are not going to give them loans, and you would see them being turned down.”
On youth empowerment, Dr. Magnus Chukwuekezie believes that government, together with the organized private sector, should build industries to create meaningful job, calling for massive investments in agriculture with well structured value chain opportunities. He believes youths need empowerment that is not with cash but through equipping them with assets and enablement to set up their enterprises. He said, “You can actually empower youths for example, by getting a massive land, to produce maybe cucumbers and then you have the off-takers to buy these things from them. So when the person is going to produce, he knows that as I’m producing, I have someone that would be buying. I am not a fan of sharing money to the people and be calling them empowerment.”
Chukwuekezie is today a happy man, married to Nneka. The marriage is blessed with four children and he was pleased on the occasion of his 48th birthday that Providence has sustained his life even from the COVID-19 scare. He revealed to THE RIGHTS GUARDIAN that as a way of giving back to the society, he would come up with a scholarship scheme.
Times are hard, and the critical urgencies coming off the prevailing economic situation in Nigeria demand more astute and pragmatic individuals with mastery in the application of financial instruments and sound economic sub-models in a bid to stave off mass starvation and daily surge in the rate of unemployment and joblessness. One of such experts that should not be overlooked at a time like this is Dr. Magnus Chukwuekezie, the Divisional Head of Keystone Bank for Akwa Ibom/Cross River and the Chairman of Everyday Foods Group of Companies Limited.
By UbongAbasi Ise who writes for THE RIGHTS GUARDIAN