• Saturday, May 18, 2024
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Umaru Mutallab: Epitome of hard work and professionalism


Work is the lifeblood of Umar Muttalab. He retired some 25 years ago at the pinnacle of his banking career as the managing director and CEO of United Bank of Africa. But he is still as agile as ever. These days, he’s overseeing his private businesses and helping upcoming businesses and young entrepreneurs find their feet with professional counselling.

He remains a vastly influential muscle in Nigeria’s organised private sector. Despite being around for a long time, Mutallab always knew at any particular moment when to quit. He left the enviable position of bank MD after eight years on the saddle, two years short of what CBN has now made mandatory period for bank MDs. By a dint of hard work and professionalism, two hallmarks of his lifestyle, he was able to leave behind impeccable records and indelible marks in the banking sector of Nigeria. No history of Nigerian banking industry will be complete without the opulent mention of the Funtua, Katsina state-born banker.

No doubt, younger Nigerians have in their midst an accomplished achiever of Mutallab’s status for inspiration and professional guidance. In fact, in these days that our nation is passing through economic challenges and uncertainties, even those in the corridors of power too can seek his wise counsel and gain some useful ideas and direction.

Although he has both the benefits of working for the public and the private sector, Mutallab is more famous for his contributions to the growth and development of the Nigerian banking industry. From 1975 to 1978 he was a federal minister – first, of Economic Development, and then, of Cooperative and Supplies – but voluntarily resigned to join UBA as executive vice chairman. Two years later, not surprisingly, he assumed the position of the bank’s managing director/CEO and remained in that position for eight good years before he retired.

His years at UBA could be said to be the golden period of the then largest bank in West Africa. The phenomenal growth of the bank under Mutallab’s tutelage earned him respect in the financial world. He is a Fellow of the Institute of the International Bankers Association of the United States (FIBA) and Fellow of Institute of Bankers (FIB).

On the national scene, he chaired the Business Support Group (BSG) arm of the Vision 20:2020, one of the cornerstones of the economic policies of the Federal Government. He contributed in shaping the Northern Nigerian Development Company Limited (NNDC), one of Ahmadu Bello’s long-lasting legacies, first as its financial controller, then deputy general manager, and finally as general manager in the 1970s. Other national financial institutions and businesses he has offered selfless leadership to as board chairman or member include First Bank of Nigeria plc, National Revenue Mobilisation, Allocation and Fiscal Commission, Okigbo Panel on the Central Bank of Nigeria, and the defunct Bank of the North Limited, to mention but a few.

The bespectacled banking icon is now 73, but looks much younger, his light complexion unfazed by the tropical sun of the Sahel in which his home state of Katsina is located. Retired but not tired, he is continuously sought after by many blue-chip companies to chair their boards. At the last count he was the chair of no less than seven such companies, including Ja’iz Bank, Impresit Bakolori plc, Incar Nigeria plc, and Spring Water Nigeria Limited.

Behind the successes he recorded was his privileged education. He attended the famous Barewa College. His short course at Achimota College of Management in Ghana set the path for what Muttalab was to become in life – a consummate accountant. From Accra to London, Mutallab went in search of deeper knowledge in his quest to equip himself with modern skills. He joined the South West London College, famous in the 60s for award of degrees and diploma in accountancy and management. Thereafter, he kick-started his career working, for three years after his college studies, as management accountant with Fuller Jenks Beecroft & Co. Chartered Accountants of Moorgate, London E.C. 2.

Always clad in his spotless Babbar-riga with a matching traditional cap, one would imagine that his many achievements, wealth and indeed influential position within Nigeria’s organised private sector would create in him a sense of entitlement and self-importance. However, it is quite the opposite – Mutallab is exceptionally modest and inspiringly humble. But he is unexpectedly passionate about the things which he holds dear; a chartered accountant and proud of it. He nowadays preoccupies himself more with nursing of upcoming businesses and young bankers. One needed to see him when those young Ataturks of our financial institutions swarmed around him at the recent ASO Savings & Loans Housing Exhibition and Conference in Abuja.

His other passion is philanthropy – hardly surprising for one who grew up under the shade of Islamic culture and upbringing. He is a trustee of Katsina Foundation and a member of the Clinton Global Initiative, a multi-purpose foundation founded by former US President Bill Clinton and working in parts of the world, including Africa, in such areas as global health, economic inequality, childhood obesity, climate change and health and wellness.

Life is not always bed of roses, goes the saying. If Mutallab were the one writing the script of his destiny, the discomforting part he would leave out would probably be the involvement of his son in a plot to blow a US-bound plane few years ago. It was an incident that tormented the quiet, happy retirement life of the Mutallabs but one in which he displayed remarkable composure and unparalleled submission to the will of the almighty Allah. In the end he overcame.

Nigeria stands to gain a lot from the wisdom and wealth of experience of this most widely travelled colossus. Here is a man who adopts integrity as his hallmark and hard work the stallion he rides across the vast wilderness of life, confronting its many vicissitudes. Indeed, he is well recognised in the world and respected by the governments of Nigeria, past and present. For instance, in 1982 he received the Italian National Honour of Commander of the Order of Merit.

In Nigeria he has received one of the highest awards in the land – Commander of the Order of the Niger, CON. However, one would like to see that this man of no mean regional and international connections is closely consulted on matters of national economic policy and development; of national dialogue and security as our country struggles with itself on the intricate path of a nation building.


Hassan writes from Abuja.


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