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HomeInsuranceEUGENE OKWOR; Insurance manager cum administrator like no other

EUGENE OKWOR; Insurance manager cum administrator like no other

(1941—2024)

BY KELVIN EGERUE

(08023134970)

Talking about Chief Eugene Okwor; Nigeria’s first Commissioner for Insurance in the past is perhaps one of the most difficult scripts for me to write in my over three decade career as a journalist. The reasons are simple: Chief Okwor served as the supervisor of the nation’s insurance industry much longer than the era of his four successors; that is Chief ‘Dipo Bailey, Chief Emmanuel Chukwulozie, Mr Fola Daniel and Alhaji Mohammed Kari put together. That was how articulate, professional, robust, engaging, accommodating and compassionate that he was. Above all these, the lawyer in Okwor made him to be firm but fair to all who passed through him. Okwor had his signature on virtually all the insurance companies’ operational license.

The pain in referring to Eugene Okwor in the past is deep for he was not just like a father to me as with many others who related with him, he was indeed a father to me. He encouraged my pioneering role as the nation’s first insurance journalist. He called me Eugene in place of Egerue till date due us part on January 14, 2024. He was the one who gave me my wife; the mother of my children.

I had sometime around 1993 taken a young lady to Okwor’s office at ICON House on  Idejo Street Victoria Island in search of a job for her. He referred us to Chief Anthony Akintunde who was the then Managing Director of Phoenix of Nigeria Assurance Company Limited on Broad Street. Akintunde’s Admin Manager came out with a verdict that the lady, my proposed wife did not pass her employment interview and I disappointedly reported same to Chief Okwor. “Anthony, I did not ask you to interview the lady, I pleaded with you to give her a job” Okwor had yelled to Akintunde on phone. To assuage my pains and frustration Chief Okwor had to take me down memory lane by narrating the marriage encounters with his wife. “Eugene”, he had called me then, “if you love her, go ahead and marry her”. Chief Okwor was to lead a legion of insurance Chief Executive Officers who honoured me with their presence at the Charity Hotel venue of my wedding reception. The first fruit of that marriage came as twins; a boy and a girl. That is to say that Eugene Okwor did not stop at making institutions survive, he also ‘created humans’.

It is on record today that Chief Eugene Okwor opened up the Nigerian’s insurance landscape to discerning investors the much that be encouraged the growth of the industry’s human resource base considering that he successfully dismantled all encumbrances to the registration of new insurance companies, broking firms, Loss Adjusters and insurance agents thus breeding an avalanche of chief executive officers many of who would have ended up as third rate practitioners. Okwor it was that undertook two successful insurance industry recapitalization projects which never culminated in the death of any institution.

Humble, easy going and unassuming, Eugene as he was fondly called by the likes of Prof J.O Irukwu, Talabi  Braithwaite, Akin-George, Erelu Aina, Bode Ogunlana, Alhaji Koguna Mohammad among others, he was a perfect link between governments at all levels and the insurance practitioners considering his adoption of a non aggressive position on almost all issues.

It could have been said that Comet were present on August 27, 1941 to bear witness to the birth of the one who was to be tagged the fore runner  of Nigeria’s modern insurance industry for that was when Chief Eugene Okwor was born. The heavens indeed announced his birth in style in viewof his numerous accomplishments.

For the uninitiated, Okwor could be taken as any other insurance manager and administrator. But no. He was much more than that for he was the beckon upon which Nigeria’s insurance hemisphere was molded, reshaped, refined and decorated with all the accolades that the industry is currently wearing.

For a man who had the privilege  of becoming the first in any line of authority when it comes to the regulation and supervision of insurance industry in Nigeria, Eugene who was a lawyer by qualification had functioned in 1976 as the Director of Insurance, Department of Insurance, Federal Ministry of Finance and Economic Development. That was when insurance supervision was merely allocated a desk in the Ministry of Finance. Neither the job nor the office was fanciful then but Eugene Okwor accepted the unenviable task of supervising the market as opposed to following the money as a practitioner. Perhaps the then young Eugene found solace in the saying that “when authority is required let me be gentle and sweet in administering it”

But before then, he had, in 1974 been appointed Registrar of Insurance, Federal Ministry of Trade before the ministry was transformed into Ministry of Commerce.

A  London certified Chartered Insurance practitioner, Chief Eugene Okwor had prepared himself ahead of the task of becoming an industry supervisor.

His insurance career had seen him working variously for Fire and Marine of London, Sun Alliance and London Insurance Group as well as Co-operative Society also in London. It might interest one to note that he was at a time, the claims manager of NEM Insurance Plc. These jobs- joggling lasted from 1973 to 1974 when he was appointed Registrar of Insurance.

It was consequent upon Chief Eugene Okwor’s diligence and ability to create greater chances and choices for the growth and development of insurance industry in Nigeria that the various leadership regimes in the country never bothered to offload him from the seat of power. In the alternative, the man who was called the bridge builder was saddled with the responsibility of developing every stage of the templates for the growth of the subsector. For every position paper that he submitted to government, Eugene Okwor would be challenged with its implementation.  And he always delivered.

It was from his desk as the Director of Insurance, Federal Ministry of Commerce and Industry that the government created Nigerian Insurance Supervisory Board (NISB). This marked the beginning of autonomy for the insurance industry. Eugene Okwor had to move his office from the Federal Secretariat in Ikoyi area of Lagos to ICON House in Idejo area of Victoria Island.

Under his watch the various legal reforms for the insurance subsector were developed. Okwor started the struggle for the benchmarking of insurance with the banking sector. He was in the forefront of the emancipation of the insurance practitioners from been perceived as the poorer cousins of bankers.

Since legislations were not enough in creating the balance, Okwor initiated many of the self regulatory frameworks which guided the operations of the industry till date. Humble and amiable, Okwor was a friend to all for he was very unassuming.

Under his watch, the nation’s insurance industry grew in numbers and relevance. It became fashionable then to own an insurance company considering that the business had started to become profitable. This was how the number of insurance companies grew to over 120 under his watch.

During that period, Okwor put on his thinking cap and what he got was the establishment or was it the metamorphosis, of the NISB to the now National Insurance Commission (NAICOM). And that was how Chief Eugene Okwor in 1993 occupied the pride of place as Nigeria’s first Commissioner for Insurance, a position which earned him equal recognition with the governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Nigerian Deposit Insurance Corporation (NDIC) and other sectoral supervisory bodies. He was commissioner for insurance till 1997 when he handed over to the late Chief Oladipupo Abiodun Bailey.

As Commissioner for Insurance, Okwor was as generous in licensing insurance companies as he was in approving the managers of those companies. It came to pass that Nigeria used to produce the largest number of delegates to any insurance gathering within the African continent.

Because he was good on the job, Eugene found himself in the board room of many companies. He was a former Director of both NICON Insurance and Nigeria Reinsurance Corporation. Member, Financial System Review Committee (1976), Vice Chairman, African Reinsurance Corporation, Member, Board of Governors, West African Insurance Institute then in Monrovia, Liberia among others.

An indigene of Enugu State from where himself and the late ‘’Dipo Bailey were conferred with chieftaincy tittles on the same day, Chief Okwor had contributed immensely to the body of knowledge in insurance in Nigeria, as both a business and profession. He wrote so many technical and academic papers many of which still stand as guiding light to the future of the insurance industry in Nigeria.

No wonder that Chief Okwor refused to distance himself from discussions which were meant to enrich Nigeria’s insurance landscape. For Chief Eugene Okwor, pure manners are filled with grace. Virtue is the beauty that makes a person lovely, unique and unforgettable. Behold Eugene Okwor; behold one of the insurance icons of our time. Good bye dear one, good night the master of his game, fare thee well the spirit of the ancestors.

 

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