Insurance guru and administrator, Dr. Matthew Oludele Ebunoluwa Ayeni, is the immediate Director of Examinations & Records, Chartered Insurance Institute of Nigeria (CIlN). He shared his life story with TUNDE ADELEKE.
Sir, you are not known to have tried your hands on any other thing outside insurance. Why insurance and not other sectors like oil and banking?
I actually intended to be a Chartered Accountant. I was a commercial student at Nigeria Peoples High School, Ebute Metta, Lagos, as well as Lagos Secondary Commercial Academy, Yaba, Lagos. Also at Anwar-ul Islam College, Agege. My subject combination was Geography, Mathematics and Economics. My interest in Accounting was not unconnected with my elder brother, who was then working as an accountant.
The drive was truncated when the result of the Advanced Level papers were not beautiful enough to study accountancy, hence, I decided to opt for any course in the Faculty of Business Administration in the University of Lagos. There was opportunity for either B.Sc. Finance or Insurance, but I preferred the latter which was new, but unique.
Although, there were other courses that I had interest in as a secondary school boy as I wrote concessional examinations; University of Benin – Estate Management (1977); University of Nigeria Nsukka (1978) Estate Management, before I had a change of mind to go for the Higher School Certificate (HSC).
Reading Insurance as a career was not by design, but divine. Even as an undergraduate studying Insurance at UNILAG, I did not venture into writing the professional examinations. I still wanted to write ICAN after the first degree in Insurance. The first degree went well, and I started ICAN examinations after my National Youth Service Corps assignment in Bendel Insurance in Benin. Coincidentally, I was posted to the accounts department of the company.
By November diet of ICAN examination, after three years of writing the examinations, the Institute introduced PE II i.e. additional new subjects. I, therefore, decided to ‘run’, abandoned ICAN and started writing the Chartered Insurance Institute of Nigeria examinations and got qualified as an associate, and I am now a Fellow and elder of the Institute. That was how I consequently jettisoned ICAN examinations. The knowledge garnered in reading for ICAN is a profit to me till today.
Can you describe your family background?
I was born in Ile-Aro in Aran-Orin in Irepodun Local Government Area of Kwara State in the 50s to the family of Rufus Ayeni-Idowu and Mama Felicia Omoponmile Ayeni-Idowu. My father had two wives. I understand there was delay in child bearing of the first wife, and my dad decided to marry my mother after 18 years of waiting. My father heeded the advice of his aunt, Iya-Egbe Iwaro.
The union of the multiple marriage produced three males and three females. Many children died in infancy, even before I was born. I understand the first born was born in 1932.
In the “seemingly” polygamous setting, there was ‘No Jew, No Gentile’. The two wives of my father worked together as sisters; my father was also a pleasant and friendly individual. The culture we the children cultivated still live with us till today.
We were taught to have the fear of God, communal life, respect for elders and to be dogged, determined and not to allow sentiments, emotions and distractions to be our attractions and above all, not to be too much in a hurry in order to get to our destination. We also learnt that, there could be storm in life and whatever may be the tide, God is always there as an anchor and strength, the legacy which I so much cherish and have imbibed!
At the developmental stage of my life, these principles shook, shaped, and molded my relationship with people around me.
How was life, growing up?
My growing up was nice, peaceful, interesting and cheerful, but there were cases of infractions, distractions and hiccups arising from the operating environments, social, economic, cultural and so on. But love from siblings, friends, peers and particularly, the two mothers probably kept me in shape and moderated me.
Also my father, Rufus Ayeni-Idowu, was a soft-spoken and amiable man. The only time I saw him talking hard and behaved harsh was at a political rally of the Action Group during a political campaign. He shouted and I was very scared and confused. I tried to learn calmness from him. His leadership and direction also moderated me and influenced my actions and inactions on many issues.
I also had a stint of stay with my sister, Titilayo Fagbohun, at Amen Street, Abule-Oja, Lagos. She is a Mother-in-Israel, who taught me how to be adaptable to situations around me. My elder brother, Doherty, picked me on September 6, 1972, to join him in his 2-room apartment at 7,Salami Saibu Street, Pedro, Shomolu (now Pedro Road), Lagos. We stayed there till April 18, 1974 when we moved to a more comfortable accommodation, 2-bedroom apartment at 4, Adebambo Street, Obanikoro where I lived during my secondary and university education until I got married on November 5, 1988. That earned me the nick-name ‘Ebun Obanikoro’.
Another relation, a cousin, Joshua Omoniyi Gbede (deceased) also contributed immensely in my developmental process, both morally and spiritually. Through his influence and that of his friend, Philip Maitanmi (also deceased), I returned fully to the Adventist fold, having ‘derailed’ and got ‘contaminated’ by environmental influences during my secondary school days at Ahmadiyya as well as University of Lagos.
What is your educational background like?
After my secondary education at both Nigeria People’s College (Nigerpeco), Ebute Meta, and Lagos Secondary Commercial Academy (LASCA), all in Lagos, I was at Ahmadiya College, Agege, for my Advanced Level before proceeding to the University of Lagos for a Bachelor of Science degree in Insurance. I also attended Ladoke Akintola University (LAUTECH) for the Master of Business Administration programme and Enugu State University for a Master of Science degree in Strategic Management and capped it with a Ph.D General Management with bias in Corporate Governance from the Atlantic University, USA.
Sir, can you take me through your career history?
I started with the defunct Bendel Insurance Company, Benin City and later joined Plaza Insurance Brokera, Ikeja, Lagos in 1985 and had a 2-year stint before moving to the National Steel Council, Kaduna as the pioneer Insurance Officer. I moved from there in 1989 to Confidence Insurance, Akure as Senior Insurance Underwriter/Training & Development, a position I held till 1993 when I crossed over to Oasis Ventures Nigeria Ltd. as Risk Management & Insurance Officer. In 1996, I joined NEM Insurance Plc., Lagos as Head of Underwriting before moving to Liin of Africa Insurance in 1999 as Manager, Client Services & Business Development.
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I also had a brief stint there before moving back to NEM Insurance in 2001 as Head, Marketing & Business Development. Oasis Insurance Plc., however, took me over the following year as Deputy General Manager, Technical Services & Compliance Officer/Head of Marketing. I called it quits with Oasis Insurance in 2010 to join Woodland Insurance where I was until 2013 when I was appointed Director, Examinations & Records at the Chartered Insurance Institute of Nigeria (CIIN) for a term of five years. I have since retired into private practice as Chairman/CEO, Major Royale Consulting.
In the course of my career, I attended numerous courses and seminars and also lectured on part-time basis with the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Lagos Outreach, 2005 – 2010 and Lagos State Polytechnic (LASPOTECH), 2010 – 2012 and also served as facilitator/resource person in training and development at leading training institutions.
How about your love life?
My wife, Adekemi Williams-Ayeni, a Lagosian of Elelede Family of Lafiaji, Lagos, lost her father at a very tender age and as the only daughter of her mother for Mr. Akanmu Churchill-William who at the age of 46 before his demise worked with UAC and owned his own private house at 13, Odunlami Street, Shomolu, Lagos where he later died.
The mother, a Baptist by sect, had to remarry to Alhaji Sekoni, who lived in 3, Oke-Arin Street, Ilupeju, Lagos.
I was attending a CAC as a pastime, while still attending Seventh-day Adventist Church under the roof of my brother at Obanikoro. It was along Oke-Arin Street, Ilupeju that I saw her on one of the days in her secondary school uniform. She was then attending Government College, Agege.
This attracted me because I was a student of Anwar-ul Islam College (Ahmadiyya, Agege).
We never met or saw at Agege. This attracted me and I continued going to the CAC. Even when not convenient for a friend I normally went with, I would still make sure I crossed the express – Ikorodu Road – from Obanikoro to Ilupeju to attend church service in order to see her. The relationship grew and blossomed into marriage which was consummated on Saturday, November 5, 1988 at the First Baptist Church, Araromi Street, Lagos.
The marriage is blessed with children and grandchildren. It is worthy to note thatthe patient dog eats the fattest bone. Adekemi’s patience and understanding won my heart because I had two other relationships as an undergraduate. Kemi would never visit me at school, but she would rather go to my brother’s house at Obanikoro on Fridays and worship with the family on the Sabbath at SDA Church and return to her parents on Sundays. My nephew, Yinka, now an elder of the SDA Church and Dr. Mopelola Jegede, a niece, were fond of her.
This calmed, nailed and tamed me. I became responsive, attentive and receptive and consequently made a marriage proposal. She is a woman, a sister and a mother; despite my excesses, she tolerated and still tolerates me. We live together now as brother and sister.
The family is peaceful, loving, happy and on Christ the Solid Rock, we stand.
What pranks did you play in your youth?
I sold kerosene in bottles after school hours. Sometimes, if I misplaced or lost or spent proceeds, I would put water into the bottle to fill it to the normal level. It would be discovered as water would settle down at the bottom of the bottle. I was usually caned for such pranks.
Sometimes, I would swim in a large stream after school hours, rather than rushing home for house chores; I would apply cream on my body so as not to reflect because ‘that hard man in our company’ would discover such antics, arrest and beat me.
I also indulged in altering my position in the class without tampering with my grade. An instance is changing 13th position to 3rd position, raising figure ‘1’ to circle ‘3’. This was also discovered and got sanctioned.
I was also involved in playing football after school hours which was forbidden in our house then. Having played football, I would have to wash my legs before going home. My mother would query “you cannot be in school throughout the day and your legs will still be as neat and clean as this? This also was always detected and warnings followed. Sometimes, no food, until I confessed.
At lower primary classes, I wouldn’t want any assignment or special lesson at home, I would drop my slate on the flower bed behind the toilet in the class, and another one would be given the following day. I did same thing repeatedly. ‘Oga Mike’, my teacher, aggravated the incident and severe beating made me to confess, took them to my school where we discovered five other slates I earlier hid. A terrific beating followed, I think that was the straw that broke the camel’s back.
Did you get to attain the membership of any professional bodies?
To the glory of God, at age 64, I bagged a Ph.D in General Management, specialising in Corporate Governance and also became a Fellow of the following professional bodies: Chartered Insurance Institute of Nigeria (FCIIN) Loans and Risk Management Nigeria (FLRM) Institute of Chartered Administrators and Researchers of Nigeria (FICARN) and Associate member, Nigerian Council of Registered Insurance Brokers.
How would you describe yourself as a family man?
I see myself as a family man who is beautiful in and out; no more, no less, but my family members often describe Ebun Ayeni as a team player, man of compassion and empathy, a man who is considerate and honest and above all, a lover of peace, pervious to correction and a stickler to discipline.
There must be certain company you want to keep and one you don’t like.
I love associating with people of like minds, who are firm, progressive, positive, proactive, constructive, innovative and honest. On the other hand, I loathe people who keep malice, compromising the truth, envious, proud and who are dishonest and not trustworthy; those who do not respect their family, not taking care of their parents and men without conscience.
What are your pastimes?
I love reading, I travel, and I love gardening. I like visitation and singing songs from the Adventist Hymnal and translating the wordings into teaching and messages.