Some call him the “Mafia Banker” others call him “The Godfather” but only a few know him by his real name, James Nzemeke alias “Akatukpo”, the third son of the first wife of the Olihe of Agbor, Chief Nzemeke who was born on a Sunday, the 4th day of November 1951.
Unlike most wealthy families, we learnt James had to start earning pennies weeding people’s farms as the burden of sending him to school fell on his mother after the demise of his father Chief Nzemeke who was a farmer and quite successful by the local standards of those days.
A reliable source who gave us a history of young James disclosed that he attended the local primary school in the village, Igwe Primary School which was then known as Pilgrims Baptist Primary School from where he proceeded to Ika Grammar School, Agbor later on, sat and obtained good grades in his West African School Certificate Examination. James migrated to Lagos shortly after he finished his secondary education as he was hired as a clerical staff by the Ikeja branch of Barclays Bank, now Union Bank.
With zeal to excel academically, young James set out to the United States of America where he secured admission with the Southern University, Baton Rouge Louisiana for his Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration. He also went further to work as a part-time operator at the local Baton Rouge Bank and Trust company and also obtained his MBA from the University of Louisiana with valuable experience in Information and Communication Technology.
A return to Nigeria in 1980 saw him landing a job with the international Merchant Bank, where he steadily climbed the administrative ladder as he soon became a senior manager by 1987. He also worked with the Merchant Bank of Africa as the head of the corporate finance department where he subsequently set up a thriving corporate division which later paid off, as three years later he became a shareholder in the now thriving Zenith bank and its first Managing Director after the deregulation of the banking sector by General Ibrahim Babangida’s administration in the late 1980s.
Amongst James’ achievements is a sprawling project about four hundred meters away from a prominent landmark in the Obi Olihe Quarters of Ime-Obi on the Obi Ikechukwu road where he grew up as a child, the James Hope College, an edifice that is by far the most modern architectural structure in the area housing a magnificent American Styled Secondary School owned by Jim Ovia, the billionaire that James Nzemeke transformed to.
Yes, the Jim Ovia we know now was not his given name from birth. He was known as James Nzemeke.
The banking godfather begins his mafia style of taking over the now famed Zenith Bank with the change of name.
To be continued…