OPINION | Access Bank: Between Fact and Fiction By Jackson

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By Jackso Ugbechie.

One noble attribute of the average African is that he or she seeks opportunity to do good. The African man is his brother’s keeper. This finds strong expression in an Igbo adage: “Let no one leave his kindred behind.” Access Bank and its Group Managing Director, Herbert Wigwe, just did that as Nigeria and indeed the rest of the world buckle under the Covid-19 pandemic.

Wigwe and his bank donated N1 billion apiece to a common purse managed by Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) under the auspices Coalition Against Covid-19 (CACovid). The donation was not directly to the Federal Government. It was to be administered by the apex bank for the building of isolation centres and acquisition of other medical facilities to combat the pandemic. Other corporate bodies and good-hearted Nigerians also contributed to the purse. By last count, over N27 billion had been donated into the purse.

Africa’s richest man, Aliko Dangote, oil magnate Femi Otedola are among the donors. Politicians like Bola Ahmed Tinubu and Atiku Abubakar also made donations in their own unique ways. It was clearly a freewill donation. Corporates who donated only fulfilled a part of their corporate social responsibility, CSR. Every year, corporate organisations vote millions and billions for CSR, as a way of giving back to the society. In recent years, CSR has become an integral component of corporate budgets and budgeting.

It helps to give capitalism a human face. It’s become a powerful public relations tool. If you make money from a community, it’s only fair that you donate to the same community. It is part of global best practices. Corporates now recognise that an organisation is as good as its environment; that profit is not everything but impact is. Wigwe and his bank chose the path of impact. They chose to add value to society, to be a part of the solution to a plague that got the whole world into a lockdown mode. The efforts of these corporates and individuals is noble and commendable, especially as they are not under compulsion to give.

What they donated was used to build isolation centres in all the six zones of the country. It was to serve all Nigerians, poor or rich, irrespective of ethnic configuration. And truly, all categories of Nigerians have been profiting from these donations. The very fact that Nigeria has been able to increase the number of test centres, increase number and capacity of medics and successfully treated and discharged over 480 covid-19 patients owes largely to the efforts and goodwill of these donors. It’s therefore unfair to vilify any of these donors under any guise.

Wigwe, a chartered accountant, banker and economist while explaining reasons for the donation said: “In our characteristic manner of offering ‘more than banking,’ Access Bank is at the forefront of the fight against COVID-19. Through our various projects, we are looking to support the government and the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) by providing facilities that can serve as both testing and isolation centres.

“Despite the strides being made, we implore all Nigerians to adhere to stipulated social distancing guidelines, and practice regular hand-washing as directed by the World Health Organization. We are positive that we can beat the spread of the virus, if we all comply with the safety measures as advised by the NCDC and WHO,” he stressed.

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Worthy of note is the fact that the same bank made similar donation in Ghana and got rave commendation, not denigration. Access Bank donated a fully equipped ambulance to the University of Professional Studies, Accra (UPSA) to improve health care delivery on campus and in the community in which it operates. The ambulance, which will be managed by the UPSA Clinic on campus, is equipped with basic emergency kits such as oxygen inhaler, fire extinguisher, stretcher among others. While the bank has been roundly commended in Ghana for its gesture, the contrary is the case in Nigeria where it gave even more. Is this a case of a prophet not being honoured at home?

Outside Africa, other public-spirited individuals and corporates have continued to make donations in cash and in kind. Chinese billionaire and e-commerce mogul Jack Ma has his donations shared across the world including Nigeria. World richest man, Bill Gates of Microsoft fame, through his foundation has been dishing out money to find a cure for the virus. He has already splashed $250 million of his money for this cause. He, too, needs commendation, not vilification.

It is therefore shocking to hear some Nigerians pour venom on Wigwe and his bank for making donations in the manner they did. It is an act of ingratitude to say the least. His maligners point to an imaginary sacking of Access Bank staff and an anticipated cutting of salary of staff as reasons for their criticism. Here, they miss the mark. The bank has not sacked any staff on account of covid-19 economic impact. Staff sacked were non-essential casual workers inherited from Diamond Bank which it acquired recently. Staff rationalisation is usually a consequence of mergers and acquisition. To continue to hold to the notion of staff layoff, therefore, is to continue to dwell on fiction, not fact.

Even with the intervention of CBN on staff layoffs, the impact of covid-19 on businesses cannot be ignored. Some Nigerian corporates including media houses have served notices to staff of inevitable layoff. The biggest and profitable global conglomerates have furloughed staff, some embarking on outright sack. General Motors, Scandinavian Airlines (SAS), Air Canada, Marriot (the world’s largest hotel conglomerate), Tesla (the automobile maker) have furloughed staff in thousands. The sombre song is same in South Africa and other parts of Africa, Asia and Europe. Note that most of these corporates also donated for the cause of Covid-19 in their respective countries. Commercial ventures are no charities. They mind the bottom-line.

Singling out Wigwe and his bank for purloining on a false premise of staff layoff is a show of ingratitude to a man of immense goodwill and a corporate citizen that has a history of public good. The Malaria to Zero initiative, Access Lagos Marathon, the “W” Initiative which seeks to broaden women participation in entrepreneurship, the UNICEF Charity Shield Polo Tournament 2016, and Health Awareness Programs focusing on awareness and sensitization on: Sickle Cell, Diabetes, HIV/AIDS, Cancer, Obstetric Fistula amongst other health-related challenges are a few of the many public-good ventures undertaken by the bank. Wigwe and his bank deserve garland, not guillotine.

·         Ugbechie writes from Abuja

 

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