In this concluding interview, Mr. Unyime Idem, managing director, Idems Ultimate Limited and Chairman, Stanford Microfinance Bank limited, speaks about his bank, politics, family, leisure time and countries visited, among other interesting issues. Happy reading:
As a GSM dealer and entrepreneur, what motivated you to venture into Bank business?
I got motivation to start Stanford Microfinance Bank when I interacted with my customers across the entire state and discovered that their basic challenge was inability to source for funds for their businesses. I also discovered that there was a gap between them and the commercial bank in that the banks are always scared to grant loans to small businesses for fear that they may not be able to refund such.
It is not that Akwa Ibom was not operating microfinance bank then. When I saw the gap, I decided to take advantage of establishing a bank to enable small scale businessmen to benefit from it. It was my opinion that microfinance bank could best be managed by a businessman who understands how to raise funds for small business people. In fact, the desire to meet the yearnings of my customers, not my interest, motivated me to set up the bank. Through the bank, the business people have access to collect loans to run their businesses. Out of 9,000 customers, we have empowered 6,000 so far and we are still working very hard to do more. The bank in partnership with Idems Ultimate has created employment opportunities for 450 persons. Again, Stanford Bank visited China and imported 3,000 recharge cards printing machines. Idems Ultimate guaranteed and distributed the machines to 3,000 beneficiaries who use them to make a daily living. Some of them make between N6,000 and N7,000 every month. In short, the bank has created additional 3,000 jobs to people.
What is the share capital of the bank?
The initial share capital of the bank is about N200 million, though we are working hard to raise it. The customer base is also high.
What is the estimated number of your customers in the bank?
So far, we have about 15,000 customers.
What about Board of Directors?
We have seven directors comprising of professors from Business Management Department, University of Uyo. They are great men who join hands with me in building a vibrant and efficient bank.
Do you intend to convert it to a commercial bank?
For now, I want to use it to empower the on-bank community. I cannot tell what will happen tomorrow. With time, we will convert it to a commercial bank. When I have been able to achieve much in this sector, I can think of moving it to the next level.
An average Akwa Ibom youth wants to go into politics to be appointed Personal Assistant or Special Assistant to a local government chairman or to a governor. In your opinion, is this a better way to start life?
Frankly, I do not believe in this. My advice is that youths should start life with a job or go professional. First, they should develop themselves and be self-reliant in undertaking a worthwhile venture before they join politics. I see politics as a hobby where you go in and come out to continue with your profession. People, indeed government should not encourage youths to start their lives with politics. Let the youths become established and acquire cognitive experience by engaging in a useful venture before they participate in active politics. When you start with politics, you will not be able to contribute your quota to polity at a higher level. Again, you will be seen as a boy because of your naivety. But if you groom yourself first, become mature and be devoted to a job, you will be loaded to contribute to politics. Like our Excellency, Governor Emmanuel Udom, he developed himself in the private sector for years. He did not come to contest for councillorship. After developing himself for several years, he contested and became a governor. The result speaks for him that he was busy developing himself. So, I want to challenge the youths to drop the idea of becoming a P.A. to another P.A. after leaving school. It is not a good way to start life.
Some women are known to be sycophants by playing the role of cheerleaders in political events. What is your take on this?
It is not wrong for women to go into politics. Politics needs people who have integrity. They should participate in politics, but they should not depend solely on it. Women should work or engage in trading. The state government has been disbursing soft loans to women. Since the governor came into office, he has offered the loans twice or three times to them. Let women take advantage of this gesture by collecting and ploughing it to their business ventures. Let them see politics as a hobby or a part-time job meant to support the government thereafter they retire to their business. If you depend on government alone for a living, the government would not be able to meet your basic needs. When disappointment is rife, you will start to criticise government, instead of supporting it. However, it is advisable to encourage women of integrity, good education and sound Christian values to join in contributing their ideas to political parties.
Assuming one day, your people want you to represent them in any political office. Will you accept the call?
Why not? For leadership representation as seen in the civilized world such as USA, UK, and the rest of them, their people beckon on people like us leadership. Leadership needs people with pedigree, showing what you have been able to do, what you used your talents for before you aspire to represent them at any level or in any capacity. I cannot say ‘no’ to the call because that is one way that I can contribute positively to their yearnings in this country. When we allow incapable people to assume leadership, you will experience difficulties. But when people like His Excellency, the governor of Akwa Ibom state offered himself in 2015 for the leadership of Akwa Ibom, you see the results. I am ready to serve my people anytime, any day to effect the desired change in the system.
Let us talk about family matters. Do you love your mother?
Yes, I love her seriously.
Do you love your wife?
Yes, I love her seriously.
How did you meet her?
I married when I was ready to for that. I did not meet my wife by accident. When I was mature for marriage, I started a search for a wife. Fortunately, I visited a Church, where I met her at the entrance door. Before I went there, I had this picture of my wife. The moment I saw her, I said to myself “God, this is the person I have been looking for.”
Which Church was that?
That was Catholic Church, No. 2 Wellington Bassey Way, Uyo. I do not know why my spirit directed me to that church. One fateful Sunday, I took my bath, dressed and then visited the Church in search of a wife. I am not a member of the church. Though I was not invited to the church, I went in search of a wife and God directed my steps.
I met her in 2005 and expressed my interest to marry her. By then, she was not ready for marriage. She said I should allow her to complete her education overseas. She studied Marine Engineering in the United Kingdom for eight years. Like Jacob paid for the marriage of Rebekah, I also paid the price in waiting eight years for her before she returned to Nigeria (Laughter). I am really enjoying the union. It is advisable to be patient not to rush when you are ready for marriage.
How many children do you have?
I have already gotten a number that I asked God to bless me- two boys and two girls. What a perfect number and gift from God!
What are those things you admire in your children?
First, I see them as the greatest gift that I have in this world. Nothing excites me like the children I have. In fact, the most precious gift that God has given to me is family- my wife and my children. When I look at the children and the kind of intelligence they display, I am pleased. I accompanied them to school one day. I was so excited when they were doing birthday in school and I saw the way one of the boys was doing things. I asked his teacher: Of the 20 children in this class, what position do you place him using a scale of 1 to 20? I was so shocked when the lady told me that he is the best in the class. So, right from that day, I do not take my children for granted. I cherish them because of their intelligence and the way they conduct themselves. When we were their age, we were not smart. Sometimes, it amazes me when I look at the way they behave. I derive joy from them on a daily basis. I cannot stay away for too long without seeing them. If I go for business trips that keep me over for two to three weeks, I am always anxious to return to see them.
As a busy person, how do you relax?
Owing to the nature of my business, I do not have much time to relax. Playing squash in the morning normally keeps me away from work for few hours. I play squash on daily basis from first to 31st of every month- Monday to Sunday. I also relax when I am reading and viewing football match on the television. These are things that make me to sit down for one hour. Outside this, I review reports or I attend to issues as I do not really believe on holidays.
What is your best dish?
I eat everything, but I do not like eating much food. However, I enjoy eating snails spiced with naturally extracted juice.
What special message do you have for Nigerians, Akwa Ibom state, youths, women and business entrepreneurs?
I would say that our country is a great one. Yet, inability of our leaders to lay a solid foundation for development as obtained in other countries is a major setback. We are blessed with enormous resources, but our problem is inability to exploit and utilize the resources for development. I want our people to continue to believe in Nigeria, believe in Akwa Ibom state, and believe in our respective local government system. One day, we will get it right and regain our greatness. We have abundant natural and human resources in the country to sustain meaningful development. These resources can actually launch us beyond the status of UK, South Africa, or any country in the world. But our problem is dearth of people in resources management. I want to enjoin Nigerians to show keen interest in electing people, who will entrench good governance and effectively manage the resources.
To our youths, I want them to be patient and wait for God’s time to fulfill their colorful destinies. They should not rush to avoid cutting short their destiny. They should be economically self-reliant and should develop themselves. Develop yourselves so that you can take over the leadership, when the opportunity avails itself.
So, for the entrepreneurs especially in Akwa Ibom, they should believe so much in what they are doing. Let them not run around looking for what to do without concentrating on a particular one and waiting for the results. Inconsistency is one of the reasons we do not succeed in business especially in Akwa Ibom. When we start a business, we have to be diligent and committed to it. If you expect your business to grow and flourish, you must put in your best. We should rely on what we do and pay less attention to the distraction out there. That is my message to the upcoming entrepreneurs in our state.
How many countries have you visited in the world?
I would say a minimum of 20 countries.