ThisDay-The former Group Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Intercontinental Bank Plc, Mr. Erastus Akingbola, is not likely to return to the country until he is formally charged to court, but he has reported himself to UK authorities after being declared wanted in Nigeria.
A statement issued on his behalf by his Media Assistant, Suleiman Adebajo, in Lagos, yesterday said: “Akingbola wishes to make clear – in light of escalating press speculation – that he is most emphatically not evading arrest by the law enforcement agencies in Nigeria or ‘on the run’.”
Akingbola, who the statement addressed as the Group Chief Executive, and a Director of Intercontinental Bank Plc, President of the Chartered Institute of Bankers of Nigeria, Pro-Chancellor and Chairman of the Governing Council of Adekunle Ajasin University, Ondo State, Nigeria and the Second Vice-President of Nigeria Stock Exchange (NSE), said he is “not guilty of any wrongdoing but appears targeted for persecution and for character desmirchment”.
The statement reads: “He is currently in the UK. Our client believes that the prime objective of detaining all those arrested is to prevent them from presenting their side of the story.
“All persons should be presumed innocent until proved guilty by a court of law. As soon as it was alleged that he was evading arrest, Dr Akingbola notified the UK authorities of his whereabouts and provided full contact details through his legal representatives. Dr Akingbola strenuously denies all allegations of wrongdoing or improper conduct and has challenged the legal validity of his removal from office as Group Chief Executive of Intercontinental Bank Plc by way of judicial review which will come up at the Lagos Judicial Division of the Federal High Court on 14th September 2009.
“The proceedings relating to the bail application by the four other bank Chief Executive Officers and other non executive directors of Intercontinental Bank Plc have also been adjourned to the same date.
“All further comments on this matter will await the outcome of the legal suit in order not to prejudice the outcome of the suit.”
According to one of his associates, Akingbola believes he is the main target of the sack of five bank chiefs by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).
Akingbola had travelled to the UK a few days before the sack, after holding a meeting with the staff and informing them of the impending CBN action.
On August 14, the CBN had sacked the senior management teams of five banks -Afribank, Finbank, Intercontinental Bank, Oceanic International Bank and Union Bank – and injected N420 billion, saying lax governance had left them dangerously undercapitalised.
Already, Akingbola has challenged the legal validity of his removal and the case comes up today at the Federal High Court in Lagos where his colleagues will also have their day between today and tomorrow.
Akingbola and the incumbent Governor of the CBN, Mallam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, had had some disagreements over de-marketing when the latter was the CEO of First Bank of Nigeria Plc.
The former Intercontinental Bank boss had alleged that First Bank was de-marketing Intercontinental Bank and even placed an advertorial to that effect in some newspapers but did not mention First Bank or the name of its CEO.
The advert referred to “one of the old generation banks whose CEO had an ambition to become the Governor of the CBN”.
De-marketing is a term used to describe competitors trying to pull down one another.
This development, according to the statement from Adebajo, explained why it was only Intercontinental Bank that had all its directors in detention.
He said: “How do you explain the fact that directors whose loans are performing are being locked up today? Even those who don’t have one naira loan in the bank are being held in detention.
“Is it not curious that in our democracy you can accuse people without one shred of document to support your allegations and immediately parade them as criminals?”
He said Sanusi never hid his dislike and disdain for Intercontinental Bank Plc and the CEO while he was CEO of First Bank. This, he explained, was why he orchestrated a ferocious de-marketing campaign against Intercontinental as MD of First Bank.
“In the past few days, the whereabouts of Akingbola have been a subject of speculations, and deliberate falsehood. It is clear that he is not in Nigeria contrary to what the false rumours that were circulated would want the public to believe,” he said.
Adebajo said he had also read in the newspapers that Akingbola had been declared wanted by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) over alleged misdeeds while in office as the Group CEO of Intercontinental Bank Plc.
He said: “As at the time the news appeared, he (Akingbola) was already outside the country for medical care. He had told me and other close associates that he was eager to come back to the country to squarely pursue his case against his removal from office by the CBN.
“Indeed, against his doctor’s advice, he left London for Nigeria on Sunday, August 16, 2009 (two days after CBN’s incursion into Intercontinental Bank) just to institute the legal action against CBN.
“However, his condition deteriorated a day after his arrival following his traumatic experience from threats and harassments by security agents and other faceless individuals, thus prompting his immediate return to London for full medical care.
“He has already indicated his intention to be back to the country as soon as his doctors certify him fit to contest the aggression by CBN against his person and the institution he has laboured to build from scratch for 20 years. He will then promptly report to EFCC as soon as he steps into Nigeria, as he has nothing to hide.”
CBN’s spokesman, Abdullahi Muhammed, who described these allegations as personal, said he would not want to comment.
“All these are personal things, which I do not want to comment on. But the facts of the matter are on the ground. Is it not true that those loans were given out? Was the process of investigation not undertaken?
“If the Governor was against him (Akingbola), what of others that do not have anything personal against the Governor,” he asked.
In Lagos, the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, Justice Dan Abutu, will today decide whether to grant bail to some of the detained directors of the five banks who were sacked recently by the CBN.
The directors were arraigned by the EFCC, on a total of 131 count charges bordering on fraud, concealment and granting loans without adequate collateral running into about N700 billion.
They were alleged to gave committed the offences contrary to and punishable under Sections 20(b) (7), 28 (1,2, and 3), 24 and 50 of the Banks and Other Financial Institutions Act (BOFIA) Cap B3, Laws of the Federation, 2004; Section 422 of the Criminal Code Act, Cap C38 Laws of the Federation, 2004.
They were also alleged to have contravened Sections 15 (1)(a) (b), 19 (4) of the Failed Bank (Recovery of Debts) and Financial Malpractices in Bank Act, Cap F2 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004 and punishable under section 16 (1) (a) of the same Act.
Some of them, especially the CEOs and directors, were accused of failing to give true and fair view of the state of the affairs of the banks to CBN by incorrectly importing false amount of commercial papers under the Expanded Discount Window in the statement of assets and liabilities. Part of the charges filed against the directors of Intercontinental Banks include taking $10,000 as holiday allowance in contravention of the code of conduct for banks issued by CBN.
Justice Abutu who had fixed September 14 and 15, 2009 respectively for ruling on the directors’ bail applications, had also ordered that they be kept in custody.
Specifically, those to know their fate today are former managing director (MD) and CEO of Oceanic International Bank Plc, Mrs Cecilia Ibru, former MD and CEO of Union Bank Plc, Mr. Bartholomew Ebong; former MD and CEO of Afribank Plc, Mr Sebastian Adigwe and former MD and CEO of Finbank Plc, Mr Okey Nwosu.
Others who will know their fate today are MD of Falcon Securities Limited, Mr Peter Ololo, and Messrs Henry Onyemem and Niyi Albert Opeodu who are directors of Union Bank and were arraigned with Ebong.
The court will also tomorrow determine the fate of the former non-executive directors of Intercontinental Bank Plc, Messrs Raymond Obieri, Hyacinth U.F.Enuha, Ikechi O. Kalu; Christopher Adebayo Alabi; Samuel Adegbite; Alhaji Isyaku Umar; Bayo Dada and Dr Sanni Adams.
At the last sitting of the court, counsel to the EFCC, Mr. Abubakar Mahmoud (SAN), had opposed the directors’ applications for bail, arguing that the offences for which they were being tried were very grave and border on economic sabotage and threats to the economic health of the nation.
Besides, Mahmoud told the court that the EFCC had incontrovertible evidence to the effect that many of the suspects, if admitted to bail, would interfere with the trial by “influencing prosecution witnesses”.
He also disclosed the preparedness of the commission for the speedy trial of the suspects, praying the court to discountenance claims being made by some defence counsels about the ill-health of one of the suspects.
The EFCC lead counsel argued that the suspects were receiving adequate medical attention from the commission.
“Since no claim had been made that the accused persons are not being offered adequate medical attention, it would not be right for the court to release them on bail on that condition,” he said.