The first Bank of Nigeria started as British Bank of West Africa and later it became Standard Bank (British Bank), when Bashourn Samuel Oyewole Asabia became the Managing Director, he started working towards making it a Nigerian Bank with Nigerian Directors, thereby removing the colonial directors. On one occasion he called for a meeting and proposed to change the name to reflect Nigeria’s glory. He told everybody at the meeting including himself to write a name they think should be the new name of the bank on a piece of paper, fold it up and drop in a plate. One person was asked to pick one paper from the plate and ‘First Bank of Nigeria’ which he wrote was picked and that was how the name came to be.
The Bank commenced business in 1894 when it got incorporated and headquartered in Marina, Lagos, Nigeria, West Africa’s commercial nerve centre, as the Bank of British West Africa, serving British shipping and trading agencies in Nigeria. The founder, Alfred Lewis Jones, was a shipping magnate who originally had a monopoly on importing silver currency into West Africa through his Elder Dempster shipping company. According to its founder, without a bank economies were reduced to using barter and a wide variety of mediums of exchange, leading to unsound practices. It primarily financed foreign trade, but did little lending to indigenous Nigerians, who had little to offer as collateral for loans.
In 1912 – Calabar branch, the second branch in Nigeria, was opened by King Jaja of Opobo; Zaria branch was also opened as the first branch in northern Nigeria. In 1947 – First Bank advanced the first long-term loan to the then colonial government, followed in 1955 by a partnership with the government to expand the railway lines. After Nigeria’s independence in 1960, the Bank began to extend more credit to indigenous Nigerians. At the same time, citizens began to trust British banks since there was an ‘independent’ financial control mechanism and more citizens began to patronise the new Bank of West Africa. In 1965, Standard Bank acquired the Bank of West Africa and changed its acquisition’s name to Standard Bank of West Africa.
In 1969, Standard Bank of West Africa incorporated its Nigerian operations under the name Standard Bank of Nigeria. In 1971, Standard Bank of Nigeria listed its shares on the Nigerian Stock Exchange and placed 13% of its share capital with Nigerian investors. After the end of the Nigerian civil war, Nigeria’s military government sought to increase local control of the retail-banking sector. In response, now Standard Chartered Bank reduced its stake in Standard Bank Nigeria to 38%.
Bashorun Samuel Oyewole Asabia became the first indigenous Chief Executive and Managing Director of First Bank of Nigeria in 1975, he moved in from being the Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria to assume the executive leadership position at First Bank following the government’s acquisition of majority interest from the Standard Chartered Bank. Administrative activities during his tenure included recruitment and training of college graduates to replace the expatriate staff and construction of new head office in Marina, Lagos. Part of the reason for the government’s takeover of Standard Bank’s interest was to expand banking and credit facilities to more Nigerians and First Bank was asked to expand branches in the rural areas and by 1979, he changed the name to First Bank of Nigeria.
Contributed by DrRaphaelJames