What it takes to lead can seem arduous and ephemeral depending on where you stand but when the time comes for you to take the responsibility, you will find the strength you eventually need to get the job done.
The challenge of COVID-19 pandemic remains damning and yet the biggest threat to mankind, however in it we have found the edge not only to survive, but also thrive.
Nigeria remains the nation that thrives in diversity and survives, sometimes, unimaginable challenges and battles. The people do not give up on themselves, no matter the situation.
So, when the 47th African Insurance Organisation Conference was scheduled to be hosted by Nigeria in 2020, and no one saw COVID-19 pandemic ahead, it was feared that the conference might be cancelled like several global events.
However, the Pan-African organization in conjunction with the Local Organising Committee in Nigeria took the daring approach of the International Olympics Committee and the Japanese LOC to rather postpone than cancel the event.
It turned out that it was the right decision as the host country, Nigeria, showed that it could provide needed leadership of the insurance industry in Africa post COVID-19.
Note that at every AIO Conference, the Nigerian delegates have always been 65 percent of the total number of participants thus leading in terms of numbers. Therefore, this year's event held in Nigeria could not be different and indeed, had many more Nigerians in the room, notwithstanding the need to respect COVID-19 protocols regarding public gatherings.
With the theme, "Rebuilding Africa's Economy - The Insurance Perspective" and the quality of presentations and discussions at the conference, the Nigerian insurance industry was challenged to lead the post-COVID-19 insurance industry. Some asked "Can this happen?" Yes, I responded, if the leadership of the insurance industry in Nigeria would take the following three steps:
1. Maintaining the Spirit of Oneness after the Conference
The success of the 47th AIO Conference can be attributed to the true spirit of oneness displayed by the LOC though instilled through the standards set forth by AIO for its events.
Given the abilities, knowledge and skills of the insurance professionals in Nigeria across different arms of the insurance industry namely underwriting, broking, loss adjusting and other related services, only the decision and commitment to work together could enable visionary leadership, which was needed to make Nigeria the leader of the pack.
I am certain that if, for example, the issue of recapitalization and claims payment were viewed with the same spirit towards the gains that could be achieved rather than who would lose, the Nigerian insurance industry would have been on its way to leading other insurance markets in Africa.
2. Focus on Contributing to the Larger African Economy
In his address to the Conference, Nigeria's President Buhari called on the insurance industry to leverage on diversification and contribute to the economic development of Nigeria and Africa. Though this might not have sounded unfamiliar, it did present the opportunity for the insurance industry to make the move rather than keep calling on the government to support it in terms of patronage and bailout especially in the face of huge claims payouts during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.
The opportunity was even made stronger considering that a Nigerian professional, Mr. Tope Smart, Group Managing Director and CEO of NEM Insurance Plc and Immediate Past Chairman of Nigeria Insurers Association (NIA) took the stead as President of AIO for the next one year.
Yes, he is leading other African Insurance Professionals to contribute to the rebuilding process of the economy in the post COVID-19 era and would be expected to exploit the opportunity to put Nigeria ahead.
Coming at a time that Africa found its competitive edge through the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) agenda, Mr. Smart only needs to lead his colleagues to the headquarters of AfCFTA in Accra with the communique from the Conference and the stage will be set for Nigeria's historic take over of the leadership of the insurance industry in Africa.
It is also important to mention that if Mr. Smart desires to lead AIO to the African Development Bank (AfDB) and the World Trade Organization (WTO) where Dr. Akinwummi Adesina and Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala hold sway, the contribution of the insurance industry in Africa will be pronounced and the leadership of Nigeria will be doubtless.
3. Promote Inclusiveness
The origin of insurance was inclusiveness and should continue to be the philosophy by which it is studied, sold and promoted.
Insurance also remains the one non-traditional source of finance and wealth for the larger population, which Africans need in the fight to overcome poverty.
The Nigerian insurance industry should get involved in deliberately fighting poverty in Nigeria with insurance offerings that improve lives as a way of helping rebuild our economy post COVID-19.
We have the technology now in Nigeria as evident in payment and lending solutions and applications, which insurance can leverage on to reach the active low income amongst us and migrate them to the higher level above the poverty line.
Microinsurance is the tool and we have had it for some time but only need to seek collaborations to make it the game changer it is for deepening insurance penetration. There is also Takaful that is already helping to increase awareness while health insurance, thanks to the Universal Health Coverage 2030 agenda, has gained more momentum as we win the battle against COVID-19 pandemic.
There are lessons the regulators, educators and operators in Nigeria can learn from other African countries to prime Nigeria into a true leadership position in terms of insurance in Africa beyond the Conference.
Leading the rest of African insurance market is not strange to Nigeria as we have previously produced the best insurance brains, gurus and doyens who dominated with their brands.
In this year of Nigeria's leadership of AIO, we will remember all those who contributed to make this season possible and hope that our current contributions will advance the African market in years to come.
In the limit, the role we give our young professionals to play today will determine how well and how long Nigeria will lead the African insurance market.
Let us celebrate the Nigerianness that has brought us this far and would keep us going farther.