Zenith Bank is ‘at the forefront of encouraging Nigeria’s upcoming digital economy’

Dr Ebenezer Onyeagwu weighs in on President Tinubu's challenges, Lagos' new tech hub, and what investors need to know about Nigeria

September 20, 2023

A bonus edit from our interview with Dr Ebenezer Onyeagwu, Group Managing Director and CEO of Nigeria’s Zenith Bank. What are the challenges that face recently inaugurated President Tinubu? What’s Zenith’s view on the fast-growing tech hub in Lagos? And how should international investors approach Nigeria?

World Finance: I’m back with Zenith Bank’s Dr Ebenezer Onyeagwu to discuss Nigeria’s current economic landscape, starting with recently inaugurated President Tinubu, who faces a whole host of challenges?

Dr Ebenezer Onyeagwu: Yes, the president duly acknowledged the challenges of the economy. A few of them I may mention will be the issue of the multiple exchange rates, the issue of the fuel subsidy, the issue of inadequate power supply, high inflationary environment leading to high costs of doing business.

He also communicated his determination to deal with these challenges head on. And I will say even in the early days, he’s been bold and audacious to take some decisions – unifying the exchange rate, and also stopping the fuel subsidy. These are painful decisions, but what I think the president has just done is say, look: Nigerians, we find ourselves in a hole. Let’s stop digging.

But above all he requires the cooperation of all, all the stakeholders, to succeed. It’s about every one of us collectively working to solve, supporting the government. We have to have some discipline, it’s a question of saying, it’s going to get a bit tough and rough before it starts getting better.

World Finance: Now Lagos has been positioning itself as a fast-growing tech hub; what’s your view on this emerging industry?

Dr Ebenezer Onyeagwu: Lagos is the commercial nerve centre of the country, so you see about 80-90 percent of the tech entrepreneurs are out of Lagos, and there are well over 200 tech companies that are coming up, looking at several segments of the economy and developing very interesting and exciting digital products to deal with such human endeavours.

And we at Zenith are at the forefront of encouraging this upcoming digital economy. Since 2019 we started having the annual tech fair, and what we do is we provide opportunity for upcoming tech entrepreneurs to showcase their products.

We also organise a hackathon, where at the end we give cash prizes and we also put the finalists into an incubation programme to commercialise their ideas.

So tech is something that we are monitoring closely, and we expect to be the main driver and advocate for that.

World Finance: And what other industries are showing strong growth?

Dr Ebenezer Onyeagwu: The non-oil export, that cuts across different sectors. We also have the gas business. We have agriculture – you fly around the country, you see farming in Nigeria is largely subsistency. We need to mechanise it! Nigeria has the potential of becoming the organic food basket of the world.

Of course FMCG, by virtue of the size of the economy, remains a very very viable sector.

World Finance: Finally, for international investors looking at Nigeria’s growth potential, what are the most important things for them to know?

Dr Ebenezer Onyeagwu: The first thing I always tell them is, don’t come in to Nigeria at lunchtime and expect to go back at dinner time. When you come in, just stay for the long haul.

We go through cycles, but, you know, we hardly have huge bubbles and busts. So anybody coming into Nigeria, have a view of being long in Nigeria. When you are short in Nigeria, it’s no good for anybody, it creates unnecessary volatility.

Zenith is a valuable to partner with investors, so we look forward to welcoming them and helping them to navigate. Ease of doing business is being improved upon. Labour is readily available. If you need funding Zenith will be there to provide funding for you. So we would like to welcome investors and say that, know your area of preference but Nigeria is a huge opportunity. I see it like the treasure pot of Africa.