Succession Planning, Family Councils and Separation of Power:
Understanding the Intricacies of Family Business and Corporate Governance in Nigeria.

In the vibrant landscape

of Nigerian business,  the timeless tradition of family-owned enterprises exists side by side with the contemporary call for modern corporate governance.

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This intersection of tradition and professional governance mechanisms—such as succession planning, family councils, and the separation of power—profoundly raises questions about the degree to which family businesses in Nigeria genuinely adopt corporate governance principles. In this blog, we embark on a comprehensive exploration of the pivotal research questions surrounding this topic, while also delving into potential solutions that seek to strike a harmonious equilibrium between tradition and effective governance.

As Nigeria's business horizon unfolds, casting shadows of ancestral legacies against the backdrop of emerging structured governance frameworks, a profound juncture emerges. This juncture prompts inquiries that delve beyond the surface, plumbing the depths of family businesses' commitment to embracing corporate governance principles in a nation where enduring business traditions prevail. Navigating the intricate labyrinth of these inquiries, we first cast a light upon the practice of succession planning—a cornerstone that shoulders the weight of orchestrating seamless generational transitions.
How adeptly do Nigerian family businesses navigate the intricate voyage from one generation to the next, skillfully steering through the waters of leadership change while steadfastly upholding the torch of business continuity? This enigma beckons insights that penetrate the veils of tradition, illuminating the strategies employed to safeguard both cherished family heritage and the boundless potential of future enterprises.

Our exploration further broadens its canvas to encompass the concept of family councils—enigmatic gatherings where lineage converges with leadership. Do these councils, acting as crucibles of deliberation, genuinely epitomise the democratic essence of decision-making? The role of these councils in shaping the destinies of family businesses demands scrutiny, inviting us to contemplate whether they serve as bridges connecting historical lineage with innovative pathways, or if they run the risk of becoming mere echoes of entrenched tradition.
A symphony of paramount importance resonates at the heart of effective governance—the symphony of the separation of power. How precisely do Nigerian family businesses compose this symphony, harmonising the spirited family influence with the measured orchestration of impartial management? Here, we discover the fulcrum upon which governance pivots, a delicate balance poised on the precipice between the gravity of heritage and the centrifugal force of modernity.

To what extent do Nigerian family businesses implement formal succession planning strategies?

The passing of the torch from one generation to the next is a defining moment for family businesses. Exploring the level of formalisation in succession planning can shed light on whether these businesses are adopting forward-looking strategies to ensure leadership continuity and maintain stability. The process of passing the baton from one generation to the next is both a symbolic and pragmatic transition for family businesses. Delving into the degree of formalisation in succession planning uncovers a spectrum of arguments, both in favour of and against, shedding light on the intricate dynamics at play.

In the bustling realm of commerce, stability stands as a prized gem, cherished not only by those within the organisation but embraced by the entire intricate web of the enterprise's influence. It's here that formal succession plans emerge as the master architects of unwavering stability, crafting an impressive edifice of assurance. This assurance is not mere words; it's a living testament to a legacy painstakingly nurtured and a future fortified against the unpredictable tides of uncertainty. With a meticulously charted succession roadmap meticulously in place, the enterprise emanates an air of resolute self-assuredness—an assurance that resonates far beyond its walls, cultivating trust, fostering enduring relationships that bravely withstand the test of time, and ultimately embodying an unbroken continuum that gracefully spans across generations.

As the narrative unfolds, the concept of formal succession planning gracefully expands its horizons to encompass the realm of professional growth. Notable examples from a historical perspective are documented for references

1. The Dangote Group:

The Dangote Group, one of Nigeria's most prominent and diversified conglomerates, offers a historical example of a family business that has implemented formal succession planning strategies. Founded by Aliko Dangote in 1977, the group has grown to become a global powerhouse with interests in industries ranging from cement and sugar to oil and gas. Aliko Dangote's foresight and commitment to ensuring the longevity of the business led him to initiate a formal succession plan. In 2014, Aliko Dangote announced his intention to step down from his role as CEO of the Dangote Group, signalling a carefully orchestrated leadership transition. He appointed his nephew, Sani Dangote, as the vice president of the group, effectively grooming him to take over key responsibilities. This move exemplified a clear intention to pass on leadership roles within the family while maintaining the group's operational stability and growth trajectory.

2. UAC of Nigeria Plc:

UAC of Nigeria Plc, a renowned conglomerate with a history dating back to 1879, offers another historical example of a family business that has embraced formal succession planning. Over the years, UAC has navigated leadership transitions while adhering to professional governance practices. In the 1980s, UAC undertook a comprehensive restructuring process that included the formalisation of succession planning mechanisms. The company established a well-defined process for identifying and grooming successors within the family while integrating external talent to enhance professional management practices. This strategic approach helped UAC maintain its market presence and adapt to changing business dynamics.

3. First Bank of Nigeria:

The First Bank of Nigeria, established in 1894, stands as one of the oldest and largest banks in Nigeria. As a family business that evolved into a publicly traded entity, First Bank's historical journey showcases a blend of traditional values and formal succession planning. In the mid-20th century, the bank underwent a transformational shift as it transitioned from family ownership to a publicly listed company. During this process, First Bank implemented mechanisms to ensure transparent governance and a structured approach to leadership transitions. The bank's commitment to formal succession planning was evident when it appointed a non-family member, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, as the CEO in 2009. This move underscored the institution's focus on merit-based appointments and effective leadership continuity.

4. The Elumelu Family and Heirs Holdings:

The Elumelu family, known for their entrepreneurial endeavours, provides a historical narrative of family business leadership and formal succession planning. Tony Elumelu, a renowned entrepreneur and philanthropist, has fostered a legacy of empowering future generations through structured planning. Tony Elumelu's establishment of Heirs Holdings, an investment company, serves as a testament to his commitment to formal succession planning. Heirs Holdings operates on the principle of "Africapitalism," which emphasises the role of the private sector in driving economic and social development. Elumelu's approach involves mentoring and grooming young African professionals to assume leadership positions across various sectors. This initiative showcases a deliberate effort to ensure continuity, innovation, and sustainable growth within the family business framework.

The historical examples from Nigerian family businesses reveal a spectrum of approaches to formal succession planning. While some enterprises, like the Dangote Group and UAC of Nigeria Plc, have embraced structured strategies to ensure leadership continuity and stability, others, such as First Bank of Nigeria and Heirs Holdings, have integrated professional management practices while maintaining family values. These historical narratives underscore the significance of formal succession planning in navigating the complex dynamics of family-owned businesses in Nigeria's evolving economic landscape.

The Challenges in Transitions in the Family Business Network

The challenges in family business transitions can often meddle with corporate governance practices, leading to potential conflicts and hindering the effectiveness of the governance framework. The narratives below highlight how these challenges intersect with corporate governance:

1.   The Challenge of Rigidity and Bureaucracy

The implementation of formal succession planning strategies can inadvertently lead to rigidity and bureaucracy within a family business. In the case of the textile manufacturing family, the introduction of formal succession plans resulted in an increasingly hierarchical organisational structure. This rigidity can clash with principles of effective corporate governance, which emphasise agile decision-making, transparency, and accountability. Bureaucracy and slow decision-making processes can hinder the ability of the business to respond to market changes and innovations promptly. Corporate governance practices encourage streamlined decision-making processes that are in line with the company's best interests and stakeholder value.

2.   Conflict and Division Within the Family

Formal succession planning, while designed to ensure a smooth transition, can lead to conflicts and division within the family. Such internal strife can disrupt the unity of the family and compromise the stability of the business. Corporate governance principles stress the importance of effective board structures and conflict resolution mechanisms. When family conflicts spill over into the business realm, corporate governance practices can be compromised, affecting the board's ability to make objective decisions and prioritise the company's well-being.

3. Limited Flexibility in Responding to Change

A rigid succession plan can limit a business's flexibility in responding to disruptive changes. Corporate governance advocates for strategic agility and adaptability, allowing businesses to navigate evolving market conditions effectively. An overly structured succession plan that fails to account for technological disruptions and emerging competitors can undermine a company's ability to uphold its corporate governance principles and maintain competitive advantage.

4. Overlooking Non-Family Talent

The challenge of overlooking non-family talent in succession planning can impact the diversity and expertise within the leadership team. Corporate governance emphasises the importance of bringing independent and diverse perspectives to boards and leadership positions. Neglecting non-family professionals who have contributed significantly to the company's growth may lead to a lack of fresh ideas and hinder innovation. Effective corporate governance encourages the inclusion of qualified individuals who can contribute to strategic decision-making and uphold the company's long-term interests.

The challenges with family business succession have been underscored in the recent past. These challenges include the risk of rigidity and bureaucracy, conflicts and divisions within the family, limited flexibility in responding to change, and the potential oversight of non-family talent. These narratives highlight the importance of striking a delicate balance between formalisation and adaptability to ensure the longevity and success of family-owned enterprises in Nigeria.

RoadMap for Corporate Governance Compliant Succession Planning in Family Businesses

Achieving successful family business succession while adhering to corporate governance principles requires a careful and strategic approach. Here are some actionable steps to facilitate a smooth transition that aligns with corporate governance codes:

·        Early Planning and Communication

Begin succession planning well in advance to allow for thoughtful decision-making and ample time to address any concerns. Transparent communication within the family and the business leadership is vital. Regular family meetings and open discussions can help address potential conflicts and ensure everyone's expectations are understood.

·        Independent Advisory Board

Establish an independent advisory board or seek outside expertise. Including non-family professionals on the board can bring fresh perspectives and help make objective decisions that prioritize the company's best interests.

·        Develop a Comprehensive Succession Plan

Create a formal succession plan that outlines roles, responsibilities, and a clear timeline for leadership transition. The plan should encompass both family and non-family members, ensuring a balanced approach that values talent and skills over solely family ties.

·        Merit-Based Selection

Implement a merit-based approach to leadership appointments. Evaluate potential successors based on their qualifications, experience, and track record rather than solely on family lineage. This approach aligns with corporate governance principles of fairness and accountability.

·        Professional Development

Invest in the professional development and training of potential successors. This helps prepare them for leadership roles and ensures they have the necessary skills to navigate complex business challenges.

·        Conflict Resolution Mechanisms

Develop mechanisms for resolving conflicts within the family or the business. A well-defined process for addressing disputes can prevent conflicts from escalating and disrupting the succession process.

·        Performance Metrics and Accountability

Implement performance metrics and accountability mechanisms for all leaders, including family members. Regular evaluations based on predetermined criteria help ensure that leadership positions are earned and maintained through demonstrated competence.

·        Governance Structures

Establish a robust governance structure that includes clear roles and responsibilities for family members, independent directors, and executives. This structure ensures that decision-making is transparent and that there are checks and balances in place.

·        Regular Review and Updating

Periodically review and update the succession plan and governance framework to adapt to changing business conditions, family dynamics, and corporate governance guidelines.

·        Succession Continuity

Plan for continuity in case of unexpected events, such as sudden leadership vacancies. Having a contingency plan in place ensures that the business can continue to operate smoothly during times of transition.

·        Ethical and Legal Compliance

Ensure that all succession-related decisions adhere to ethical standards and legal requirements. This includes considerations of inheritance laws, tax implications, and other regulatory aspects.

·        Documented Policies and Procedures

Document the succession process, governance policies, and decision-making procedures. This documentation promotes transparency, helps resolve disputes, and provides a reference for future transitions.


Research and Advocacy Department, IoD Nigeria

28, Cameron Road, Ikoyi, Lagos, Nigeria


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