Opinion

Beyond Bounds: Celebrating Isaac Okorafor as he bows out of CBN, By Kelechi C. Ogbamgba

Access Bank

I think it is only appropriate to celebrate a media impressario whose business, all these years, has been other people’s business; building of the image of individuals and institutions.

Isaac Okorafor, who retired after a meritorious service at the the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) on September 30 after hitting the retirement age of 60 years has, no doubt, raised the bar of journalism and media marketing. He has rendered meritorious service to humanity with the best of his intellect and professional prowess.
He had worked at the CBN for 16 years and rose to the position of Director, Corporate Communications. Many observers and media practitioners have showered encomiums on him for serving the bank, the media and the country well. He deserves no less.

He started his professional life, working as a Reporter-Researcher at the defunct Concord newspapers where he rose to the position of Deputy Editor before moving to Business Day, where he was the Editor.

It was while he was at Business Day that he broke the ice; he became a Media Consultant to CBN under DFID.

Later, he became the Senior Adviser to Prof. Chukwuma Soludo, former governor of the CBN. He later went through a rigorous recruitment exercise to become a staff of the bank. And did he make a successful outing at apex bank! Okorafor stated that his success was made possible by his team in the Corporate Communications of the regulatory bank.
As one online medium reported, “it is rare for journalists to celebrate Corporate Affairs officials of any organisation because of cat and mouse relationship between the two because of stories which the later views with reservations.

“Journalists resent Corporate Affairs officials who hardly pick their phones when journalists call and also fail to return the calls or text messages. But in the case of Okorafor, he was very professional and will not take an undue umbrage when a balanced story that is not necessarily positive to the CBN is published. Even when some Editors refused to pull down the story at request, Okorafor sees that as a mark of professionalism and would not blacklist the media house or reporter quite unlike other public relations officials of some organisations.”
Okorafor succeeded, it’s been noted, because he has the knack of pre-empting crisis that might rock the bank and swiftly takes journalists and editors into confidence by at least not lying about issues even though he wasn’t giving out all the information there is.

He is famous for holding “a Chatam House meeting” with Editors to give the side of story from the bank’s perspective on any controversial projects and policies thus making a convincing argument that it was in national interest and some editors buy into that as patriotic citizens.
This patriotic zeal of journalists came into being when Okorafor explained why CBN banned forex for 43 items, the anchor borrowers and other controversial policies of the bank.
His last battle before he drew the final curtain at CBN was the controversy sparked by the statement from the Nigerian Economic Summit Group (NESG) against CBN policies and the state of the economy where the inflation rate is reported to be more than 13 percent, according to the current statistics from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS).
A newspaper appraisal of what could account for Okorafor’s last official assignment at the apex bank, hit the nail on the head when it reported that in “his usually style of constructive engagement, Okorafor fired economic salvos that was aimed at neutralising the harsh criticisms of NESG. He reminded the NESG that the Nigerian economy is not immune to global economic crisis occasioned by the outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic.”

Okorafor’s rebuttal of the NESG’s position showed his usual grasp of the national and international economic landscape: “As we all are aware, the impact of COVID-19 on countries across the world resulted in a significant downturn in the global economy. Consequently, countries, including Nigeria were forced to impose lockdown measures in order to contain the spread of the pandemic. This action resulted in depressed economic activity in the first half of the year. Except for China and Vietnam, advanced, emerging and frontier market economies, all experienced significant negative growth in the first half of 2020, and some are currently in a recession.
“In response to these unfortunate events across the globe, central banks have embarked on measures aimed at stabilizing their respective economies by reducing lending rates, which declined to negative territory in several advanced economies, in addition to increasing the scale of their asset purchase programmes.

“Indeed, after reducing its Federal Funds rate to 0 percent, the US Federal Reserve Bank implemented a huge securities purchase programme, which included purchase of corporate bonds (including those below investment grades).
“The Reserve Bank also provided credit facilities to non-bank institutions, which included money market funds and corporations. The balance sheet of the US Federal Reserve in support of these activities increased by over $3 trillion, while the European Central Bank expanded its balance sheet by over $1 trillion. Furthermore, the Bank of England in an unusual move gave an open check to the UK Government in order to fund its recovery efforts.
“It is, therefore, pertinent to state that the Nigerian economy is not immune from these crises given the over 65 percent drop in commodity prices; disruptions in global supply chains and the unprecedented outflow of over $100bn of debt and equity funds from emerging markets between March and May 2020; in addition to the impact of the lockdown on economic activities. These activities resulted in an over 60 percent reduction in revenues due to the Federation Account, a significant drop in foreign currency inflows, which led to downward adjustments in the naira/dollar exchange rate and a rise in inflation due to the exchange rate pass-through effect of imported inflation.”

Well, without intending it, the economic eggheads at NESG only but unwittingly provided Okorafor the opportunity to make his “last comment” before bowing out of the CBN.
By the time Okorafor rested his case, some key members of the NESG, who are bank Managing Directors, resigned from the NESG, casting doubts over the statement which the body issued which was signed by its Director General.

One thing that was said to have held Okorafor in good stead while he manned the Corporate Communications of CBN is “his sense of humour and knack to keep in touch with his media constituency. Unlike his peers in the Corporate world, he was said to pick his calls from reporters even at a most inconvenient time. Usually, after rebuking the reporter for calling late, he still goes ahead to provide the information needed.

He thinks his overall career success would not have been possible without the grace of God of which he is thankful of. He says God’s crowning glory for him was the giving away of his only daughter, a graduate in Communication Studies, in marriage before his retirement. His two sons are also graduates in Medicine and Economics, respectively.
Okorafor has plans for his retirement which is to first rest and travel to different continents during which he will research for his book. But the COVID-19 advent and it’s resolution will determine how far he can go with that.
Media practitioners and colleagues share one feeling in common about Okorafor: He will be sorely missed but “his fond memories and legacies will be there for all to emulate and excel.”

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