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Shocker: Nneka Onyeali-Ikpe-led Fidelity Bank Turns Gender Bias?

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Fidelity Bank

Felix Amadi

***How Bank Now Focuses More On Only Women-oriented Corporate Social Responsibility

Fidelity Bank Plc, a Nigerian tier two bank with about six million customers serviced across 250 business offices and digital banking channels appears to be fast metamorphosing into a feminist and gender bias financial institution.

In executing Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programmes, organisations all over the world are known to focus on projects that encompass both genders to create a balance. However, Fidelity Bank, under the leadership of its Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer (MD/CEO), Nneka Onyeali-Ikpe, seems to have a different opinion.

Initially appointed to the board of the bank as an Executive Director in 2015, seven years later, many would have thought that Onyeali-Ikpe would have developed the ability to harness and deploy the bank’s resources devoid of her personal preferences either in sex or affiliations.

Onyeali-Ikpe assumed office as Fidelity Bank’s MD/CEO on January 1, 2021, a year and six months after, she appears to have decided that the bank’s empowerment programme, at least during her tenure, would majorly focus on women-driven organisations, programmes and projects, even as members of the board of the bank appear to be unperturbed by this.

Interestingly, this is a total deviation from the ideologies known to have influenced Fidelity Bank’s CSR over the years, with a focus on Environment, Education and Health/Social Welfare.

As the MD/CEO of the same bank, Emeka Okonkwo was famous for his complete leadership skills, focusing the bank’s CSR activities in the earlier specified areas. Then, via its CSR, Fidelity Bank donated to state government, schools and other organisations, making sure that its empowerment programmes cut across all and sundry, thus making a lot of pained individuals smile. Simply put, the bank focused on benefiting projects without bias for the sex of the beneficiaries.

Part of Fidelity Bank’s empowerment programmes with Okonkwo at the helm of affairs was the equipping of the Information Communications Technology (ICT) Centre of Government Secondary School, Mabushi, Abuja, a project carried out under the aegis of the Fidelity Helping Hands Programme (FHHP) and described as part of the bank’s long-standing commitment to supporting communities.

During its commissioning ceremony, Okonkwo mentioned that the gesture was strategically aimed at building the capacity of students, particularly on the use of modern ICT tools. According to him, the renovation of the ICT Centre was in fulfilment of the objectives of the Fidelity CSR practice which rests on a tripod: The Environment, Education and Health/Social Welfare. One core point which Okonkwo pointed out at the event was the fact that the project was for the benefit of all, boys and girls included.

“We play a leading role by identifying and seeking viable solutions to the problems of the society like youth empowerment, especially those in our immediate operational environment. We strongly believe in social advocacy,” Okonkwo who was represented at the event by the Regional Bank Head, Abuja 1 Regional Bank, Hassan Imam said.

The statement by Okonkwo no doubt made a lot of sense, as it indeed forms the ideologies of any serious organisation, especially in the areas of CSR.

Again, one take-home fact about the empowerment was the fact that the 10 brand new computers and 10 years of unlimited internet access provided by the bank to the school served the purpose of providing personalized digital learning to every child in the school without bias for female students.

Also, when Fidelity Bank under Okonkwo donated N10 million each to Kano and Borno State governments in northern Nigeria, during the COVID-19 pandemic, the purpose was never to assist the girl children in the state, but to ensure that suffering was alleviated reasonably. Why would any organisation want to single out particular sex to benefit from its empowerment?

This question appears to be one only Onyeali-Ikpe can answer, as this is what Fidelity Bank is now focused on under its current Managing Director. In recent times, the bank has continued to empower female programmes and organisations in areas of CSR instead of embarking on an all-encompassing programme.

It would easily be recalled how the bank had an elaborate event to celebrate the 2022 International Women’s Day (IWD). The event which had several notable personalities including the former World Bank Vice President Dr Oby Ezekwesili, and businesswoman Bola Sagaya in attendance, has since seen many industry experts tagging it the turning point for the bank’s CSR projects. No doubt, which was a one-of-a-kind saw the bank splashing several millions of Naira.

Since then, Fidelity Bank has focused its empowerment on more female-oriented programmes. One of such one-sided empowerment recently saw the launch of ‘HerFidelity’, a digital training purportedly targeted at supporting women-owned businesses, women entrepreneurs and girls’ academy.

Questions have also been asked concerning the donation of the sum of N10 million for an IT centre to support Dream Catchers Academy for Girls.

One question that industry stakeholders have asked about this donation is why was it not done to a mixed school, after all, there are such institutions with similar if not the same ideologies.

At the power-packed 2022 IWD celebration organised by Fidelity Bank, Onyeali-Ikpe was perhaps justifying more future female-centred empowerment programmes when she said: “Despite the challenges women face, we continue to play a significant role in driving the economic, social and cultural development of our communities. Indeed, a recent PwC Nigeria report indicated that 41 per cent of micro-businesses in Nigeria are run by women, with over 23 million female entrepreneurs operating in this segment. This exemplifies not only our drive as women but the immense value we bring to the table. Just imagine what we could achieve if the girl child is given the opportunity she deserves, encouraged to go to school and is judged by her competence and not by her complements! The possibilities are endless.”

While the idea of an organisation supporting its host community and giving back to society is not a bad one, the question is why is Fidelity Bank under Onyeali-Ikpe seen to be supporting only women and girls-centric programmes and not those that will be benefitting to all? And why is the bank’s board also silent on this line of action, could she be acting with their blessings?

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