Even as I write this, I still have not fully accepted the incredibly sad news about Emeke Iweriebor passing on 1st September 2020! His passing is a huge loss to his family, friends, and colleagues across the African continent he so dearly loved. While he will be remembered for his enduring commitment and outstanding contribution to building the United Bank of Africa (UBA), I will remember him for his dedication to supporting African entrepreneurs and SMEs.
I recall vividly our first meeting at a gathering in Heirs Holding, soon after I joined the Tony Elumelu Foundation in April 2014. I will cherish the warmth of his smile, his welcoming embrace, and his unconditional support.
In 2016, he spoke to the thousands of African entrepreneurs gathered for the second TEF Entrepreneurship Forum in Lagos on fostering an entrepreneurial mind. He told them:
“If your goal, your dream, your idea is not daunting enough, that means it is too small for you. In all the things you need to do, to grow, to scale-up, you need financial institutions. UBA is ready, is steady and available to work with you all the way”.
He went on to tell them that entrepreneurship is inherent in Africa full of opportunities. Over the five years of my tenure as the CEO of the Tony Elumelu Foundation, I had many opportunities to travel with Emeke Iweriebor as we accompanied the Chairman of UBA and Founder of the Tony Elumelu Foundation across the African continent, taking the story of African entrepreneurs shaping the continent and changing the African narrative. I watched him engage with the TEF entrepreneurs in Nigeria, Cote D’Ivoire, Rwanda, Senegal, Mali and Kenya at the US Global Entrepreneurship Summit, hosted by President Obama.
As a small but mighty team in TEF, we relied heavily on our UBA colleagues across the 20 African countries where the bank is present. Emeke Iweriebor became my go to person for helping us find the right people in the local and regional offices who would help with due diligence, opening business accounts for the entrepreneurs graduating from our programme and help us with hosting meet-ups. He not only understood the vision and mission of the Foundation and its flagship entrepreneurship programme, but he embodied it and made it a part of his narrative as the Regional CEO for UBA in East and Southern Africa.
What mattered to him was not his job title, but how through the bank, he could make a difference. I welcomed his readiness to committing UBA to supporting SMEs, because he believed they are the catalyst to sustainable economic development and eradication of poverty. He replicated good practice interventions undertaken by the bank in some African countries to others through digital solutions to support financial inclusion and business activities of SMEs and entrepreneurship.
In January 2020, I learnt that he had retired from the Board of UBA, after a professional life dedicated to working in the financial sector. Over the five years I spent with Mr Elumelu, I would hear the story of the merger of Standard Trust Bank and UBA and know that Emeke played a huge role in the growth of the Bank from its roots in Nigeria to now having a presence in 20 African countries.
We were connected on LinkedIn and Facebook where he published thought leadership articles and shared his hopes and dreams for his beloved continent.
My friend Obinna tells me he was writing a book which he was about to publish. He loved to experience African art, and I loved the fact that his favourite travel destination was not Dubai but Limbe in Cameroon!
His passing is a great loss, but he has left a significant legacy. Emeke exuded humility, kindness, gentleness, respect, charm, passion, and intellectual curiosity.
Emeke for me was proof that being a dedicated banker and being a wonderful person are not mutually exclusive. Rest in Peace dear Emeke E. Iweriebor.