There is a Yoruba adage to the effect that the world licks your hand when it is coated with honey but will never lick the same hand when it is dripping blood. It has been only a few days – not even one week, since Mr Robert Orya was, along with 26 other Managing Directors and Director-Generals of various parastatals, honourably relieved of his appointment as the MD/CEO of Nigeria Export – Import (NEXIM) Bank and the diverse knives are already being out.
As Hermann Göring said, “The victor will always be the judge, the vanquished the accused…” The cyberspace and even some legacy media are already awash with opinion pieces that have only one goal and that objective is to demonise Mr Orya. Today, such writers and those whose interest they serve may appear the victors and thus arrogate to themselves the assignment of writing the history of NEXIM Bank and Orya’s stay at the helms of its affairs.
The distortions being peddled make no efforts to conceal the real object of the campaign of calumny that only gathered steam after the former NEXIM helmsman was out of the saddle. This will suggest that anything is possible going by the degree of desperation so far exhibited by those after Orya. Files that will prove his achievements in history could be disappeared or entire cabinets that could properly tell the Orya magic story could go up in mysterious flames while one will also not rule out the possibility that phantom files could be planted just to manufacture evidence to smear the man’s image and superlative tenure.
The envy for Roberts Orya’s trailblazing work at NEXIM Bank is however not new. In the ranks of those driving the vendetta against are those who thought they have been wronged by him because he refused to short-circuit due process to meet their spurious demands. The ranks include those who wanted loans without collaterals; and not to be left out are those who were made to pay back what they borrowed. Many of these elements even as early as 2012 had started sending death threats to, and sponsoring calumnious media campaigns against him through various outlandish means and platforms. The records are both in High Courts where Orya sued most of them, and various media platforms. Their present point of departure is therefore obvious. Now that the man is no longer in office it is time to kick him – they forget that he is out of NEXIM as MD but he is not down so the idea of kicking is ridiculous to start with.
They can try their best to tar him but the marble achievements he recorded while his tenure at lasted in NEXIM are such that no amount of mudslinging will stick. Orya did enough at the Nigeria’s Trade Policy Bank to leave whoever his successor will be to be permanently challenged.
For a start, as opposed to what the next Managing Director of the Bank will meet, when Orya stepped in 2009, the bank was in appalling shape with the greater number of the accounts it was holding being in the non-performing class. NEXIM Bank’s total loan portfolio was N14.6 billion as at that time and 72% of this was non-performing; a large portion of these, more than two-third was considered as completely lost. This was a time the world was still grappling with the fall out of a global financial crisis and NEXIM Bank has such dismal capital base that there was not much it could do by way of meeting its mandate.
This situation was compounded, at that time, by the Bank’s over bloated work force that largely lacked the requisite technical skills to deal with the specialized needs of the organisation. In the period he presided over the institution’s affairs, Orya saw to it that the staff were trained to meet their job specification while additional efforts were made to right place them for optimal performance. The challenge posed by poor staff motivation was also addressed and the result was discernable as the revitalised staff were able to come up with world class ideas to drive the institution. One result from the empowered staff with automated system was the significant slashing down of the turnaround time that saw delivery time 80% Turn Around Time and 95% IT efficiency rate and uptime.
For the first time since its inception in 1991, it was under Orya’s watch that NEXIM was able to pay dividends to its owners. He achieved this feat despite the dismal state in which he took over the running of the Bank. It took only sixteen months to move from making a loss of N5.460billion in 2009 to turning an impressive audited profit of N189million in 2010. The momentum was sustained until his noble disengagement from the Bank.
Then there was the overall issue of what NEXIM had been doing wrong prior to Orya’s advent. Here was a specialised bank that was drawn out of its area of mandate for political expediency. It was spreading its resources so thinly trying to satisfy everyone without satisfying anyone. But the quick thinking of the Orya led management saw the institution streamlining and re-focusing its area of intervention. Instead of attempting to unsuccessfully cover the entire world, the West African sub-region became its area of focus with resounding success stories following. Nigerian businesses were able to make inroads into the neighbouring countries with their products.
Even as NEXIM redefined its focus, other sectors of the Nigerian economy continued to enjoy the stability and funds injection made possible by its creativity. Beneficiaries went beyond the traditional businesses to break new grounds like the entertainment and creative industry which benefited both technically and financially from the Bank’s facilities.
Under Orya, NEXIM initiated the facilitation of a transnational shipping company under the auspices of the organised private sector associations in West and Central Africa and in partnership with the Federation of West African Chambers of Commerce and Industries and Transimex S. A Cameroun. The Sealink Project was conceived to address the non-tariff barriers and high logistical costs that had slowed intra-regional trade and competitiveness of Nigerian manufactured exports in the region. The promoters of that project are keen to see it to completion, nonetheless.
The bank also moved from an institution that operated in isolation to one that signed several Memoranda of Understanding with sister Export – Import Banks from other countries. Relationships now exist between NEXIM and most of the EXIM banks in the world. The U.S EXIM Bank, the African Import-Export, Afrexim, EximIndia, and the ECOWAS Bank for Investment and Development (EBID) are among those working with the Nigerian counterpart. Collaborative relationships have been established with various other development finance institutions around the world including China, Turkey, Brazil and Mexico.
All the other achievements of the bank went a long way towards creating thousands of desperately needed jobs and foreign exchange earnings in Nigeria. These include direct and indirect jobs that were added to the economy.
Recognition may be scanty in Nigeria but the world acknowledged the strides covered by NEXIM under his unique leadership. The 24-member Global Network of Export-Import Banks and Development Finance Institutions (G-NEXID) elected Roberts Orya as its Honourary President in 2015 in recognition of his globally relevant contributions.
His sterling performance was such that he was again reappointed for a second term by former President Goodluck Jonathan. Thankfully, the President Buhari Administration has proven that its change mantra is hinged on meritocracy, so there is no gainsaying that the baton of excellence Mr Orya has wielded for almost the past 7 years would be handed over to another patriotic Nigerian. This would ensure the consolidation and escalation of the manifest achievements Orya had wrought in the Bank. This position has nothing to do with self-interest. Orya’s achievements has at the very least benefited the West African sub-region and it would be sad to see the bank slide back to those awful days when it was but a political appendage for settling and repaying party loyalists.
Those who have decided that ill-treatment is the reward for serving the fatherland on this scale will do well to have a rethink. Whatever they may think they have against Robert Orya, there is the comforting knowledge that the legacy he built at NEXIM will outlive him and his assailants. This is because he built a system, an institution and not the cult of an individual. In this, Robert Orya, the Managing Director of NEXIM Bank between 2009 and 2016, is a victor. Like all victors, he will by his achievements judge the vanquished, the accused, who today think they are his persecutors.

Odoma is President, Africa Arise for Change Network, Abuja.

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