• Tuesday, July 23, 2024
businessday logo

BusinessDay

Ronke Sokefun, chairing NDIC’s role in Nigeria’s finance sector

Ronke Sokefun, chairing NDIC’s role in Nigeria’s finance sector

Ronke Sokefun currently serves as the Board Chairman of the Nigerian Deposit Insurance Corporation, a position she assumed in 2019.

In her capacity as Chairman, she has continued to bolster the organisation’s reputation as a critical player in the Nigerian financial sector with collaborative agreements geared towards achieving global industry standards.

Prior to joining the Corporation as Board Chairman, she served in the Ogun State Government as Commissioner of Agriculture and later Commissioner for Urban and Physical Planning, providing strategic leadership and overseeing seamless execution of government policy from 2012 to 2019. Her involvement in governance was kick-started in 2011 when she served as the Special Adviser/ Director – General Bureau of Lands & Survey from 2011 to 2012.

Before her foray into public service, she gained extensive experience in the private sector, rising through the ranks of her profession as a trained lawyer, having worked with Ighodalo & Associates and Aluko & Oyebode (As Partner).

Armed with extensive experience and industry expertise, she went on to become Head, Management Services of Ocean & Oil Services in 2002, and Head, Legal Services of the Oando Group when it was formed in 2004, rising to the position of Group Chief Legal Officer of the Group in 2007, a position she held until 2011 when she heeded the call of public service.

Sokefun is a fellow of the Institute of Directors, a member of the Institute of Chartered Secretaries & Administrators, the Nigerian Bar Association, the International Bar Association, and the Association of International Petroleum Negotiators.

She graduated with honours from the Faculty of Law, Ogun State University (now Olabisi Onabanjo University) as the best student in Jurisprudence & Legal Theory and Commercial Law.

Tell us about your formative years and influences

I grew up with parents who were both educationists. They retired as secondary school principals though my dad ventured into politics at some point. It was fun growing up with my sisters and at the same time, our parents were strict but not overly strict. You had no excuse for missing household chores on Saturdays or morning mass on Sundays. I can’t remember any of us ever missing classes, so that never even came up.

In essence, the way I was raised has helped me tremendously with my growth as a person and professionally. For instance, when it comes to punctuality, I am a stickler for timing as I believe it impacts on everything else.

The core value for me however is integrity. It is the bedrock for most other values.

Did you always want to be a lawyer? What has your years of legal practice taught you?

I always knew I wanted to be a professional, which I suppose is true for most kids, but in what, in particular, I wasn’t too sure, but I think I narrowed down to Law when I was in Form IV in secondary school.

Legal practice is rigorous and trains you for everything else associated with the profession, but beyond that, it teaches one how to think, when presented with any set of facts, how to ask the right questions, which is critical to problem-solving.

The legal profession is vast in outlook. There is also respect for seniority which makes you grounded and thorough as you have people to look up to, in terms of mentoring, and who could guide the quality of your work, especially in practice.

Share your experience being on the board where you served on the Legal & Regulatory and Finance subcommittee as an alternate director

It was my first hands-on boardroom experience. You had to be thorough in reviewing board papers as well as active in contributing to discussions during meetings.

It made me understand the company’s business in detail as well as the risks associated with the trade.

I was an integral part of the Board as I had to take some key decisions on my principal’s behalf and sometimes, these decisions were not predetermined and had to be taken on the spur of the moment. It was a learning phase for me but one which I cherish.

Share with us on being a partner at Aluko & Oyebode

Aluko & Oyebode is a law firm where it became clear to me what direction I wanted to go within the legal profession. It was (I’m certain it still is) well structured, and you could grow in whatever practice direction you chose.

I was a corporate/commercial lawyer and was privileged to service a number of blue-chip companies. From joining as an Associate in 1993, I made partner in 2001. It was a career-defining moment for me and one which I would always treasure.

Tell us about your experience in the oil and gas sector and your contribution

My career in the oil & gas sector started from when I was in legal practice. I provided legal advice to a number of oil & gas companies including the registration of new ones and creating structures for those which signed on technical partners or went into joint ventures.

I joined the then Ocean & Oil Services in 2002. At the time, it was purely a trading company. Oando Plc had just evolved from its takeover of the then Unipetrol, and it operated in the downstream sector. Eventually, both entities metamorphosed into a group of companies and carried on business in the downstream, midstream and upstream sectors.

As Chief Legal Officer, I headed a team that serviced all the companies within the group. It was akin to running a law practice and one which I thoroughly enjoyed.

I worked on the documentation for the first ever round of marginal fields, which was a new introduction back then, aimed at integrating Nigerian companies into becoming operators of oil blocks.

I am glad to see that today we have a Board to monitor local content in operations in the oil & gas industry to ensure compliance.

I also participated in the public hearing of the then PI Bill which has now been signed into law.

You were commissioner of Agriculture and later Commissioner for Urban and Physical Planning. In both capacities, what changes did you effect?

As commissioner for Agriculture, my key focus was on maximising the agricultural value chain and also integrating the youths along the value chain. I also worked on easing access to land by simplifying the process.

I equally created a model greenhouse farm which metamorphosed into a train the trainer model. In addition, I established a modern hatchery to increase poultry production.

As commissioner for Urban & Physical Planning, my focus was on improving the state’s ranking on the ease of doing business metrics. I therefore embarked on a holistic process re-engineering which ultimately eased the approval process for obtaining construction permits.

How was your transition to public service?

Prior to coming to the public sector, keep in mind that I had already worked in the private sector for over 20 years with diverse experience in corporate law practice, so I was mentally and professionally prepared to serve, and this eased the transition from private to public sector. Yes, of course, both are complimentary, however, the way the two operate are not exactly the same. For instance, the initial challenge was the manual processing of most transactions which we eventually addressed by commencing ERP solutions. The people that I worked with (smart, competent, dedicated staff) also made the transition easy. For me, the public sector is about call to service, and the fact that I could render service and resolve issues at that level is rewarding in itself.

What does NDIC do, and as board chairman, what are your responsibilities and how are you carrying it out?

NDIC is a core part of the financial services safety net, but what does that really mean to the average person on the street? Good question. It is interesting you asked about my responsibility. Part of my responsibility is to convey to anyone who has deposits in a CBN-licensed financial institution that NDIC is the agency that guarantees their deposits. That means, it is our job to make sure that your savings in the bank is safe and secure. By that I mean, any bank, and all financial institutions, as long as it is licensed by the CBN. Permit me to spend a bit more time responding in detail to this question because it is quite broad. As Board Chairman, my job also includes coordinating the activities of the Board of directors which is charged with the responsibility for policy direction and oversight of operations of the corporation.

As a revenue generating public entity, we are obliged under the Fiscal Responsibility Act to contribute part of our revenue to the Consolidation Revenue Fund (CRF). I am pleased to report that a key part of the achievements of the current board includes improving on the established practice over the years of year-on-year increase in our CRF remittances to the Federal Government. Cumulatively, total remittances are approaching a quarter of a trillion and close to 80% of the remittances to date was in the last 4 years. The corporation actually received a written commendation from the oversight commission for its consistency in this regard.

However, this could not have been possible without focus on our people, our staff, which in my opinion, even in this age of technology and data science, employees remain the most important competitive asset any organisation could have.

At the Board, we are focused on creating a work environment that would rank among the best workplaces in Nigeria. We have recently introduced a harassment-free workplace policy to protect employees from both verbal and physical harassment be it from peers, subordinates and/or superiors. The policy has a wide coverage including cyber bullying. I have been in both public and private sector for over 25 years and I can say confidently that, our zero tolerance for harassment policy is very comprehensive, and in my opinion, we should rank among the top-3 in the country.

How are you ensuring that unsafe and unsound banking practices do not go unchecked?

As stated above, bank supervision is a supervisory function charged with the responsibility of ensuring the safety and soundness of the banking system as a whole. Banking supervision seeks to reduce the potential risk of failure and ensures that unsafe and unsound banking practices do not go unchecked. The NDIC has also introduced the differential premium assessment system which has further helped in checking unsafe and unsound practices in the banking system, in that banks which indulge in riskier practices pay higher premium than those with low risk appetite. This has encouraged sound risk management practices by banks.

In what way is NDIC stabilising the financial system?

NDIC promotes stability of the financial system through the effective discharge of its core mandates, which are four in number. They are deposit guaranty, banking supervision, failure resolution and bank liquidation. While deposit guarantee ensures financial protection against loss of deposits in the event of bank failure, banking supervision protects depositors and ensures monetary stability and effective/efficient payment system as well as promotes competition and innovation in the banking system. The role of NDIC in stabilising the financial system in the event of bank failures is by assuring depositors that, they will have immediate access to their insured funds even if their bank fails, thereby reducing their incentive to make a “run” on the bank.

What are the challenges with Fintech companies on risk management and how is NDIC responding to them?

Fintech can generally be referred to application of software and hardware to provide financial services or intermediation, making them easier and faster. However, advances in technology have allowed traditional banking to mobilise deposits and deliver related services through third-party agents and electronic channels such as computers or smartphone applications. Moreover, the industry has experienced the growth of purely digital intermediation platforms that have no physical office, mainly due to the fact that some of the innovation in financial products and services are being developed and provided by technology companies.

Some of these products have the potential to create confusion for consumers who may not understand the differences between new financial products and deposits in deposit money banks. They also raise questions about what, if any, role there is for deposit insurance in the evolving environment.

These products are so similar to deposits and the providers linked into the financial system, leading to concerns about financial stability and depositor protection, necessitating that some sort of protection should be provided for them. Essentially, some of the challenges faced by Fintech companies are cybercrime, identity theft, network downtime, inadequate IT infrastructure among others.

NDIC is intensifying efforts in providing more public awareness to enhance financial literacy in order to help consumers better understand the difference between new Fintech products such as e-money accounts, crypto-assets, alternative finance instruments and regular deposits. In addition, further collaboration with financial system net players and other relevant stakeholders in the digital landscape is being vigorously pursued as a mandate.

When is the need to liquidate a bank and how and when does NDIC come in?

When all resolution options applied to rescue a troubled bank has failed, then the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) as the lead regulator would decide to liquidate the bank by revocation of the operating license. Revocation of bank’s operating license by the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria commences the bank liquidation. This is followed by the Federal High Court issuing orders for the bank to be wound up and appoints the NDIC as Liquidator. The Corporation in its capacity as Liquidator of failed banks has responsibility for the management and recovery of risk assets (i.e. loans and advances) of banks in-liquidation, realisation of physical assets and investment of the banks (in-liquidation).

How important is it for the populace to know that fund managers are not covered by NDIC?

With the recent increase in investment channels arising from innovative products, there has been an increase in illegal fund managers who have been using different platforms, soliciting the public to invest their funds with them with promises of excessive returns on such investments. Some of these illegal fund managers have continued to claim on their websites and advertisements that their products are covered by the NDIC. They do this to lure unsuspecting members of the public into their net.

In order to protect unsuspecting depositors, it has become necessary for the NDIC to continue sensitizing the public on the high risk associated with investing funds with illegal funds managers.

Accordingly, as the deposit insurer, the NDIC would like to inform members of the public that contrary to claims by some of these illegal fund managers, the Corporation does not insure investments with them. The NDIC insures only deposits of financial institutions licensed by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to accept deposits from the public. To confirm whether a financial institution is covered by the deposit insurance scheme of the NDIC, please visit our website at www.ndic.gov.ng and click on “Who We Cover” for the complete list. You can also address any other enquiry to the Director, Communication & Public Affairs Department, Nigeria Deposit Insurance Corporation. Members of the public are also advised to report any entity suspected to be involved in illegal deposit mobilisation to the law enforcement agencies.

As a female board chair, are there peculiar challenges?

You know what? I get asked this question pretty often, I actually think yes, we, as a society need to have this type of discussions especially as we are gradually emerging from a male-focused world to a human world. Now, having said that, I am not certain there is any job that does not have challenges irrespective of gender. The important thing in my estimation is to be well-equipped for any job one signs for.

Once you demonstrate knowledge of the job, fairness to all, respect for your peers and subordinates, and exhibit a high level of responsibility, you will earn the respect of your colleagues and that, has been my experience.

What other societal development programmes are you personally involved with?

I have a Foundation which acts as an interventionist for the provision of social amenities for small communities. I believe Nigeria has been kind to us and if we are in a position to do so, we should give back.

In other climes, people pay for their education all through their working years. It is not the case here. It is important therefore to give back whenever we can.

I have been able to achieve this through the Corporation’s CSR platform and have successfully donated a 200-seater JAMB ICT Centre as well as a fully equipped Pediatrics Unit amongst other interventions.

What are you looking forward to? What is on your front burner?

Alright, I would take the front burner issue first. At this time, the front burner issue includes ensuring that we maintain our proactive professional approach to supervisory oversight of deposit, taking financial institutions through capacity development especially with the transitions wrought by disruptive technology in the financial services sector. This would enable us sustain our contributions over the years to financial systems stability since our inception.

In addition, the need to strengthen the ESG program at NDIC, including exploring the possibility of enhancing our procurement process by giving preference to vendors and suppliers of goods and services with verifiable environmentally sustainability practice in their organisations. Also, entrenching governance practices across board in the Corporation. That is for the front burner issues.

As a nation, we are faced with a number of challenges and this sometimes undermines our growth. However, these challenges are not insurmountable. They would however require each and every one of us to be part of the solution.

I have a record that cuts across both the private and public sectors. I believe, with my talent, experience and expertise, I can continue to contribute meaningfully with the opportunities I have and to make a difference. I look forward to more years of service to the nation.

What is your take on women in politics? What are the peculiar challenges? What solutions can you proffer on increasing the numbers?

I am glad to note that more and more women including technocrats are showing more interest in politics. The truth is one cannot be insulated from the political space. We have to be involved to make a difference.

It is heartwarming that the nation’s First Lady, Her Excellency, Aisha Buhari, and the wife of the Vice-President, Her Excellency, Dolapo Osinbajo physically appeared at the National Assembly to lend their voices to the various bills promoting women inclusion a few months back.

The challenges I see relate purely to consistency in propagating this ideal. Sometimes, the results and rewards are not immediate. We need to stay the course. As with every other thing in life, there is a gestation period. We also need to accept that our involvement would be in varying degrees. I do some work with women at the grassroot level and it is essentially to encourage them to have businesses to provide for their day to day needs and not be solely dependent on handouts from political gatherings.

In terms of increasing the numbers of participants, the good thing is, there is more and more awareness at all levels. Even as a voter, you have a role to play. Be informed. Familiarise yourself with parties’ and candidates’ ideologies and programs. Share ideas if you have any. Serve wherever there is an opportunity to do so even if pro bono. Whatever you do, be involved.