Lawson Omokhodion (2022), Powered By Poverty. Lagos: SME Media Limited. 404 pages.
Lawson Omokhodion, in this beautiful narrative, particularises the universal phenomena of poverty in telling “a story of adversity, ambition, diligence and triumph”. It is arresting and didactic. His story is a tribute of gratitude and reflections on many significant milestones in a life that intersects with Nigerian history.
Poverty serves as the peg upon which the author leans to share a rich account of his life, trials, and triumphs.
Powered by Poverty covers 22 chapters, a prologue, a foreword, and a preface. It tells the journey so far of the 70-years old Chief Lawson Omokhodion, Knight of the Catholic Church, an eminent citizen of Edo State, journalist, a senior bank executive and one of the pioneers of the structured management trainee programme of old.
The Lawson Omokhodion autobiography follows a trend of Africans bucking the Western literary canon that falsely claims that “poverty is rarely the main theme of a literary work” but a sub-theme arising from the fact that the main character or group is poor.
Omokhodion’s book addresses some of literature’s ten most common themes. They include coming of age, good versus evil, courage and heroism, health challenges, survival, love and marriage, and prejudice.
The time and place dimension enriches biographies. Powered By Poverty contains a rich depiction of time and place. The story of Nigeria from the 1960s to date is seen initially from the eyes of a daring and focused young lad to that of an adult with strong footprints in various areas. They include the Nigerian civil war, the merit-based school system, the influence of the Catholic Church, student unionism and aluta, journalism and the evolution, triumphs and trials of Nigerian banking.
Lawson Omokhodion hails from Ujemen, Ekpoma, Edo State. He went through Holy Cross Primary School, Benin City, Immaculate Conception College and Edo College, Benin City, and the University of Lagos, where he graduated with Upper Honours in Mass Communication. He earned a Master of Business Administration degree from Arizona State University, Tempe, the USA, as part of the Management Development Programme of the Centre for Management Development and back to higher levels in Nigerian banking.
His rich and variegated career includes returning to work in the Centre for Management Development, pivoting to his training as Business Editor of Newswatch and ThisWeek magazines, then Executive Editor of ThisWeek, on to AVC Funds and a banking career with All States Trust Bank. He then moved on to international development banking as an Executive Director at the African Development Bank in Abidjan.
Lawson Omokhodion earned the monicker OmoLaw as a student. It stuck over the years and described an aggressive yet friendly, courageous man of integrity, tested and proven over many encounters. OmoLaw courageously expressed his convictions through his schooling, career, and life.
He is outspoken in his views about his life’s time and place dimensions and its epochal events. That candour shows the most in the chapters on the unlamented Structural Adjustment Programme of General Ibrahim Babangida, the Prof Chukwuma Soludo Banking Consolidation programme that the author describes as a “fiasco” and the penchant of Nigerian leaders to shoot the country in the foot.
“Banking Consolidation Fiasco” in Chapter 16 is a must-read. It is a studied demolition of the bank consolidation exercise by a participant observer. Chief Omokhodion was managing director of Liberty Bank when the new Central Bank Governor Prof Charles Soludo announced the scheme. Omokhodion disputes the touted claim of the success of the exercise but submits instead that it failed the system, depositors, cost loss of lives, disrupted careers and cost the economy huge losses.
Soludo raised the capital requirement for a banking license from N1b to N25b. Omokhodion notes that the similar provision in the UK was six million pounds, equivalent to N1.5b in 2004. There were 89 banks, of which 62 were operationally sound, 14 were marginal and 11 unsound.
The Soludo Consolidation dictated a uniform banking regimen with no room for different categories. He says it failed “because of the absence of product differentiation, lack of specialisation, and the existence of the one-size-fits-all syndrome.”
Omkhodion submits: “The CBN banking consolidation programme announced in July 2004 was not properly thought through. There were no consultations. The federal government was too distracted and did not subject the CBN governor to a session where experts and concerned public could participate in robust questions and answers. The policy was mechanical and anti-people; ill-advised and ill-conceived. It was an arrogant display of the naked power of coercion. Its imposition was reminiscent of the Nigerian military era. There were too many casualties. The consolidation exercise was an attempt to cure the ills of the banking system by killing the industry” -pp 253-254.
“How SAP crippled Nigeria” builds on the narrative of the failure of the governments of Muhammadu Buhari, Sani Abacha, and Ibrahim Babangida. SAP was duplicitous in OmoLaw’s account and birthed a new Nigeria: “A new Nigeria had emerged. But it was not a better Nigeria. Shortages, cost escalation, and penury intensified. The people became increasingly restive. The military government became more repressive and thinner in patience.”
The chapter “Struggle for the soul of Africa” narrates the author’s experience at the African Development Bank. It captures how Nigerian leaders regularly short-change the country in those international organisations.
This book reads in some parts like a racy novel that tugs at your emotions. Such is the experience following Chief Omokhodion’s battle with cancer. Powered By Poverty is a gratitude journal. Many reasons abound for his thanksgiving including escaping the determined effort of the Nuhu Ribadu-led EFCC to tar his reputation and career with the charcoal of a crime he did not commit.
OmoLaw anchors his narrative in “The Pains of Family Love” in Chapter 21. It is a primer on poverty alleviation through the tested and assured route of education, hard work and family love.
There are a few editing glitches. The standout error is the mention of “Dr Christopher Okigbo” alongside Wole Soyinka and Chinua Achebe as persons who visited President Babangida to intercede for Mamman Vatsa. It was Prof John Pepper-Clark.
Powered By Poverty is instructive and courageous and would stir debates. The author delivers straight punches and a thrilling narrative of a journalist.
OmoLaw makes the universal particular