Prof. Chris Onalo is not your usual Nigerian, who relishes in hugging the limelight, but he is definitely a man adept at multi-tasking.
How Guardian Newspaper Unmasked Nigeria’s ‘Mr. Credit’
He is one of those very few individuals around who are known to possess more than one business call cards, as he is at present the Registrar/CEO of the Institute of Credit Administration (ICA), President/CEO of the Postgraduate School of Credit and Financial Management which is Nigeria’s frontline credit management higher educational Institution for credit professionals, Managing Director/CEO of Credit Business Services (CBS) and Director of Nigerian London Business Forum (NILOBF).
While Onalo will go down in history books as the man who saw tomorrow and brought credit management to Nigeria just the same way Mr. Akintola Williams introduced accountancy to the country, the heights attained today began with small steps.
“Life is a journey from the known to the unknown. The unknown; is what makes it riddled with so many uncertainties,” he said while recounting how his voyage to become the doyen of credit management started. “You never can tell what is planned ahead. It is only God that knows that.”
However, the conviction to trudge along in the unknown path was triggered by a dream he had many years ago. “Whether you like it or not, human existence embodies body, spirit and soul. I recall vividly one of those dreams I had, I was on a journey and suddenly I came across two directional roads – the proverbial broad and narrow way.
“I came to that fix and paused for a while, then I heard a tiny, slim voice saying ‘keep going and take your right,’ which is the narrow way. Immediately I heeded the voice, I entered a ditch of thorns, and the more I was going, the narrower the pathway became. At a point I encountered a door opening to a seaside, I was a bit afraid of what lay in store beyond the door. I became fearful, but I had an uncommon courage to go on despite being alone except for the voice that kept nudging me to keep going.”
“I kept going. When I woke up, I knew I was in a tough terrain in Nigeria and that what I was doing to bring the culture of credit management was going to be a tough one. I had this dream during the period of then President Shehu Shagari’s austerity measure and the government propaganda then was this: ‘Andrew, don’t check out, stay in your country and let’s salvage it together.'”
Obviously, like the fabled Andrew at the time, Onalo was tempted to return to the United States of America, where he got his training in credit management. To enforce his conviction, he subsequently had other dreams, which instructed him to stay and help transform Nigeria from cash to credit system.
“I knew I had to tighten my belt to face up to the task. I didn’t know where it came from, but I suddenly had the power of creativity, resilience, patience and adaptability and all these kept me going when it was tough. Several people were discouraging me and advising that I should
change course since our economy will always be cash driven and it will never change in the next 50 years.
“Besides, credit management is not in the educational curriculum nor in the knowledge skills of Nigerian professionals then, you will never read it in any university. It was tough for me. I received rejections from CEOs, executive directors and people who were not thinking beyond their present circumstance. I battled this frustration between 1983 to the early 90s.”
All these sacrifices came at a huge personal cost to ‘Mr. Credit’; one of which was that for most part of his adult life till date, Onalo has found it extremely difficult to keep any savings. “I couldn’t have any savings because I was running a graduate school of credit administration, which name was later changed to Postgraduate School of Credit and Financial Management. I also introduced the first magazine on credit management in Nigeria because it was strange to the media at the time; yet I needed a mass media platform.
“It has taken a lot from me. The struggle is no longer to put food on the table, but rather to institutionalize the virtues of giving, taking, managing and facilitating credit management in our private, public and national life. As a result of these, I have lived most of my adult life without savings. It was a tug of war to build my house and presently, I have no house in my village. If my mother of about 125 years drops dead today, I have no personal house in my village to keep my guests (he laughs).
“Secondly, the ICA, which I singlehandedly founded took me 12 years to scale through the legal processes because some indigenous professional institutes thought the only way to remain relevant was to ensure other professional institutes are not registered.
“This was a major stumbling block, particularly coupled with the fact that you need to be cleared by the office of the Minister of Justice and Attorney-General of the Federation before an organization whose name begin with the word “Institute” can be registered in the country,” he added. Today, the Institute of Credit Administration has become a formidable, highly regarded national body for all matters relating to credit management in Nigeria, imparting strongly on business credit stakeholders namely, credit givers, credit takers, credit facilitators and managers of credits, including public institutions which in one way or the other inspired the growth and development of credit economic system in the country.
Now close to his 60s, the only thing Onalo has known and committed his energy to is credit management. He sleeps, wakes, dreams and breathes credit management. With benefit of hindsight, he has seen how dangerous it is to live on a cash and carry system as a nation and from examples of other countries; he could spend hours elucidating on the benefits of a fully developed and robust credit system.
“Credit is basically taking something of commercial sense now and paying for it at a later date. The question to ask is what can I take now and make quick use of that can produce enough income to pay for it with the little interest added. That way, several job opportunities and wealth would be created. The option for any economy to grow is to put in place policies that stimulate people to bring out the best in them.
“Sadly, the huge number of banks and other financial institutions we have in the country have not translated to robust credit availability due to some unfavourable government policies. In an ideal economy, bank loans would be easily accessible to SMEs to enable them grow the economy; since it is not the duty of government to be a major player in the generation of employment. It is the private sector and professional citizens that generate sustainable employment. It is against this backdrop that I am continually pressing the Nigerian federal government to take a bold step now to establish a well capitalized National Credit Guarantee Corporation to serve as collateral/security backbone to the nation’s SMEs for accessing loanable funds.”
Onalo has safely predicted that the future of credit management in Nigeria is extremely bright because no economy can survive without credit system. “Government policies may be very slow or not encouraging but there is a continual economy that factor in the truism that people must eat and engage in credit system to survive.
“A cash and carry economy cannot take Nigeria anywhere in terms of human and capital development index. The future is massive and the starting point is to build that foundation of credit line availability and access. It is not enough to have a cashless economy but it must be supported by a credit system,” he said.
After more than three decades of living his dream as a career credit economist, he was last month duly acknowledged as the Father of Credit Management in Nigeria and earned his nickname as Mr. Credit, when the London Postgraduate Credit Management College (LPCMC) in collaboration with its affiliate universities across the world appointed Onalo as professor of Credit Management.
In a statement, a copy of which was made available to The Guardian by the college’s International Programmes Director, Danette Gayle, LPCMC considers this a justified designation as Prof. Onalo has had great influence and profound impact on credit management profession in Nigeria and beyond.
“He has been quite instrumental to the establishment of a number of credit management development infrastructures such as his involvement in the setup of Nigerian Institute of Credit Administration (ICA), the Postgraduate School of Credit & Financial Management (PSCFM), Nigeria and African Director of London Postgraduate Credit management College UK (LPCMC). He has contributed immensely to the development of credit management faculties, which are largely used today by universities and other learning institutions around the globe.
“These strides cannot go unnoticed. LPCMC is honoured to have Prof. Onalo on board to share his level of expertise and vast experience in the credit management field and as an affluent role model for our students to emulate. Though his footsteps will be hard to follow, it will be an exciting experience for our students as they aspire to his level,” the statement added.
Onalo is from Elele, Ibaji in Kogi State, but has gradually grown to become a very respectable world citizen, who has made so much contributions and commitments to the present world’s credit management industry.
A highly principled man with strong Christian orientation, Onalo will be remembered for his articulation in credit management, by solely spearheading contributions to the formation of critical infrastructures needed for the growth, development and professionalization of credit management nationally and internationally.
Such institutions include the ICA, which is Nigeria’s national body for the regulation and setting standards for people in credit management; and the Postgraduate School of Credit and Financial Management (PSCFM), the only specialist institution in Africa offering higher professional learning programmes in the field of credit management.
Chris, a much-sought after teacher of credit management and renowned expert in the credit guarantee scheme project with countless industry, individual and institutional friends around the world, holds a Bachelor of Science, Masters of Arts and Doctorate degrees in Credit Management.
He is currently designated African director of the prestigious London Postgraduate Credit Management College (LPCMC) UK, the first African to be appointed “professor of credit management” by the LPCMC.
He is the first to establish in Nigeria a company that provides credit and business information on company (Credit Business Services Global Ltd – CBS Credit); the first to publish monthly magazine on credit management (The CreditManager, Creditnews and CreditMarket); and the first to run ‘This Week Credit Business’ live programme on Nigerian Television Authority (NTA).
All of these endeavours has strengthened and maintained Onalo’s strong advocacy voice in Nigeria’s credit economy, industry and market for best practices and policy reforms aimed at creating awareness, enhancing and promoting credit management profession not only in Nigeria but the world over.
Success, as defined by Booker Washington, is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life, but by the obstacles, which he has to overcome. It is the obstacles, rather than the successes that define the journey of one of Nigeria’s unsung heroes today.
– Culled from The Guardian Newspaper, Sunday January 11th 2015, pg 49.