Celebrating Eugene Okwor; Nigeria’s insurance guiding light @ 80

“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 is 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 delivers”

”By putting my highest self in charge, useless and negative thoughts are removed and annoying habits ended”. Unanimous

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This was true of Chief Eugene Okwor, the man who qualifies to be addressed as the fore runner of modern insurance business in Nigeria. Yes. I mean insurance as a business.

For the uninitiated, Eugene Okwor is just another insurance practitioner and administrator. But no. Chief Okwor is much more than that. He is the beckon upon which Nigeria’s insurance industry was molded, reshaped, refined and decorated with all the accolades that it is currently wearing.
Let us go down the memory lane a little and perhaps one will appreciate better why the entire insurance industry in Nigeria believes, and rightly too that it owes Chief Okwor a huge debt of gratitude.

Eugene (only the likes of Joe Irukwu, the late Talabi Braithwaite, Erelu Aina, Alhaji Koguna Muhammad, Chief Akin George among few others could call him by his first name) has the pride of place of becoming the first in any line of authority when it comes to the regulation and supervision of insurance industry.

Born on August 27, 1941, Eugene who is 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 but Eugene Okwor accepted the unenviable task of supervising the market as opposed to making 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 has 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.

Let us fast forward. 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 is 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 delivers.

It was from his desk as the Director of Insurance, Federal Ministry of Commerce and Industry that the government created 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 creating the balance, Okwor initiated many of the self regulatory frameworks which guided the operations of the industry. Humble and amiable, Okwor for friend to all for he is 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 was profitable. This was how the number of insurance company grew to over 120.

During this period, Okwor put on his thinking cap again 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 licencing insurance companies as he was in approving the leadership 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 has contributed immensely to the body of knowledge in insurance in Nigeria, as both a business and profession. He has written 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 has refused to distance himself from discussions which are 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.

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