Bank Bosses Sack; Uncertainty persists, EFCC insists on deadline

Please, threats of tougher sanctions, prompt payment by debtors and clarification of amounts in contention yesterday trailed the order of the Economic and Financial C rimes Commission (EFCC) and the published list of debtors of five banks by the Central Bank of Nigeria.

Alleging miscarriage of justice, Oceanic Bank Plc and its sacked managing director, Mrs. Cecilia Ibru, asked the CBN to reverse her removal from office on August 14, 2009.

The EFCC, which revisited the matter yesterday, warned that it would not accept the disparities in the figures as reasons for any debtors to default in payment.

It threatened that after the expiration of the seven-day ultimatum, the anti-graft agency would arrest, prosecute and confiscate the property of the defaulting debtors.

EFCC Chairman, Mrs. Farida Waziri told journalists at the local wing of the Murtala Mohammed Airport, Ikeja, Lagos yeterday, that the Commission was prepared to effect the arrest of defaulters at the expiration of the ultimatum.

“We have heard some of the debtors disputing the figures published by CBN. Our position on this is that they have to pay whatever they are claiming they owe first and after that we can sit down and reconcile the accounts. But I can assure you that we will not take any dispute on figures as an excuse from anybody. They don’t have to wait for us to start effecting their arrests before they begin to perform.”

“If you claim to owe one kobo, bring that first, then we can all sit down and reconcile the difference. Otherwise, we will do exactly what we have promised to do; that is, arrest, prosecution and confiscation of their assets. I will need the cooperation of the concerned persons and not excuses. As you can see, our operatives have been moved to Lagos not for fun but mainly for this purpose.”

In a letter written to the CBN Governor, Mr. Sanusi Lamido Sanusi and his management, Ibru asked the apex bank to ‘reconsider and reverse’ the steps taken on August 14, 2009 pursuant to sections 33 and 35 of the Banking and Other Financial Institutions Act (BOFIA) in view of the ‘grave injustice’ done to the bank, its shareholders and management.

Through her lawyers, TRLPLAW, Ceciia Ibru in the letter and signed by the firm’s Managing Partner, Mr. Ajibola Oluyede, wondered why Sanusi, his deputies and directors through a press conference on August 14, 2009 announced the removal of managing directors/chief executive officers and some executive directors of five banks.

According to her, she and her management became aware of the CBN’s action from the same press briefing like other Nigerians.

She claimed that the bank’s management was not at anytime aware of this type of actions neither was she informed when a “special examination of the bank’s books and her affairs were ordered” under section 33 of BOFIA, nor were they privy to the findings.

She complained that they were not given any opportunity to make representations to the apex bank or its governor before the sack made in pursuant of BOFIA.

Ibru therefore asked whether through this order, the requirement of Sections 33 of BOFIA was met in ordering a special examination/investigation of the bank or whether the requirement of Section 35 of BOFIA was met in exercising the power to remove the MDs and EDs of the affected banks.

Ibru said she was raising these issues because of the serious accusations before and since the event, adding that Sanusi came into office with an “agenda to change the ownership structure of the banking industry”.

According to her, the facts and evidence available confirmed that, in respect of Oceanic Bank, “there was a miscarriage of justice, considering information that is now available,” if CBN had followed the procedure envisaged by law as well as “given the bank’s management an opportunity to respond to the findings of the investigators.”

She argued further that CBN breached the provisions of Section 33 of BOFIA which provides for discretion of the CBN Governor in ordering a special examination or investigations of the books and affairs of a bank in which he must be satisfied upon the binding of that discretion.

She added that the reasons given by the CBN Governor for ordering the special investigations or examinations did not fall within the contemplations of Section 33, adding that the reason, given that the banks were in ” a grave situation” cannot be a cause for ordering for a special investigation instead of “being its result.”

In her conclusion, Ibru said “the bank and its management have been severely injured in their business and professional reputation by various aspersions, direct and indirect, that followed your (CBN) action including their loss of means of livelihood.”

“The threat of arrest, detention and restriction on their movement are totally unjustifiable, illegal and appear designed to distract them from pursuing their enforcement of their rights.

“In the circumstances, therefore, we demand an immediate reversal of the order of August 14, 2009 and the steps taken pursuant thereto.

“All false innuendos and allegations of criminal behaviour including the disgraceful declaration of your intention to put people in jail must stop henceforth”, she demanded.

The letter was copied to President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, Senate President David Mark, Speaker, House of Representatives, Dimeji Bankole, the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, the Inspector General of Police, Director of State Security Services (SSS) and the EFCC boss.

The new Managing Director of AfriBank, Nebolisa Arah, who declined to give the names of the customers, confirmed in Lagos, yesterday, that one customer paid over N1 billion.

“This morning(yesterday) another customer had paid N2 billion and a third customer brought a cheque of N100 million,” Arah said.

The CBN says AfriBank is owed N141.856 billion. In a statement yesterday, businessman, Femi Otedola said his companies’ indebtedness to Union Bank was due to huge losses from the slump in oil price from $147 to $36, coupled with the devaluation of the naira.

“When we sold the oil, exchange rate was N116 to the dollar but when we wanted to repurchase the dollar, the exchange rate had gone up to N156 to the dollar. That variation alone created a massive loss on us. But Zenon being a responsible corporate entity entered into discussions with Union Bank on the issue. We decided to take our loss in our stride. And as at July 29th, Zenon Petroleum and Gas paid the sum of N3 billion into the account of Union Bank which was acknowledged by the bank.”

Otedola added that “There are however outstanding issues such as interest rate and excess charges which were being resolved before the change of management. It is however important to point out here that the loan is fully collaterised.”

Chairman of Obat Oil and Petroleum Limited, Eniti Akinruntan has rejected his inclusion in the debtors’ list.

Akinruntan, in letter to the CBN by his counsel, Adebayo Adenipekun (SAN) demanded the immediate retraction from the apex bank for its wrongful inclusion in the debtors list.

In the letter by Adenipekun from Afe Babalola Chambers, the oil magnate through his lawyer yesterday said of the first N2.5 billion facility which is payable over 60 months period including 24 months moratorium, he had paid several months ahead in payment of the interest on the loan as at the end of July, and therefore cannot be described as ‘non-performing’.

“We have the instruction of our client to inform you that contrary to the contents of your publication, it had consistently, as and at when due, met its obligations to the above mentioned banks in satisfaction of the loan facilities granted to it as a result of which the said loans cannot as stated in your publication be described as non-performing; as at the end of July, 2009 , our client had paid the total of N1,307,324,621.43 as payment on the interest out of the total of N1,416,666,666.67 agreed between the parties.”

Mobitel Nigeria, through Johnson Salako, its President and Chief Executive Officer, expressed shock and disbelief on the claims that it owed Intercontinental Bank, “With reference to Mobitel owing Intercontinental Bank, nothing could be further from the truth. The amount owed to Intercontinental Bank was N1.380 billion. After negotiation, a full and final payment of N1.0 billion was made by on August 8, 2008. This was duly acknowledged by a letter dated 8th of August, 20, 2009 from Intercontinental Bank’s loan recovery unit.

Meanwhile, Intercontinental Bank has expressed satisfaction with customers’ response so far to the development.

The bank’s Acting Managing Director, Mr. Joseph

Ajewole assured the customers that the bank was capable of meeting its obligations as and when due.

Meanwhile, the Association of Corporate Affairs Managers of Banks (ACAMB) has called on the Nigerian public, particularly banks’ customers to be wary of the avalanche of uninformed analyses that will come their way as a result of the recent intervention of the CBN.

The body also decried the huge debt portfolios of corporate bodies, institutions, governments and individuals to the banks and asked the banks’ debtors to urgently honour their financial obligations to the banks.

In a statement issued yesterday in Lagos after an emergency general meeting last Tuesday, the group cautioned that a lot of publications, media and commentaries (local and international) were likely to take advantage of the well-intended position of the CBN to assume an “almighty financial analysts status” to create confusion in the Nigerian banking industry.


By Ibe Uwaleke, oses Ebosele, Chika Ezeokoli (Lagos) and Iyabo Lawal (Ibadan – GUARDIAN