By Ayo Aminu, Efem Nkanga, Akinwale Akintunde in Lagos and Yemi Akinsuyi in Abuja
Citing fears of harassment by the nation’s security agencies, the sacked Group Managing Director of the Intercontinental Bank Plc, Mr. Erastus Akingbola, has fled into self-exile, two days after returning to the country from the United Kingdom.
Akingbola, who was not in the country last Friday when the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) sacked him and the CEOs of four other banks, had spent the weekend in London to attend a wedding ceremony and returned to Nigeria on Monday.
He suddenly left the country again on Wednesday following the arrest and detention of the other CEOs by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) which yesterday warned bank debtors that disputes over amounts owed and figures published by the CBN would not be taken as an excuse from them.
The EFCC had, on Wednesday, given the debtors a seven-day ultimatum to pay up of face prosecution by the anti-graft agency.
But some of the debtors accused of not servising their debts in a publication by the CBN have continued to fault the apex bank on the facts and figures published in the newspapers.
One of the advertised debtors, Dangote Industries Limited, said last night that it had paid Oceanic Bank N3.1 billion as part of its business relationship with the bank.
The company said in an SMS to THISDAY: “This serves as a follow-up statement to the statement issued by Dangote Industries Limited in reference to the CBN advertorial of 19th August, 2009, and specifically to the N2.5 billion listed as owing to Oceanic Bank Plc. Dangote Industries Limited issued a statement on 20 August 2009 to the fact that there was a dispute over the sum, and was working on a resolution with Oceanic Bank.
“Dangote Industries Limited wishes to state that we have ongoing business with Oceanic Bank and have made payment of N3.1 billion to the bank, receipt of which the bank has confirmed by letter to us. We reiterate our position that in the course of doing business it is normal for a group our size to partner with banks and other financiers to fund our growth as and when required.
“The banks charge for this service and in the course of doing business disputes may arise. Responsible organisations will enter into conversation to resolve any matters arising. Dangote Industires Limited have demonstrated and continue to demonstrate by our actions that we are responsible and professional, meeting all our obligations as and when due.”
The sacked CEO of Oceanic Bank, Mrs Cecilia Ibru, has also raised an objection to the CBN action and asked the apex bank to revert the decision.
Akingbola, sacked along with other CEOs for “being principal causes of financial instability in their banks and for acting in a manner that was detrimental to the interest of their depositors and creditors”, left Nigeria through one of the neighbouring countries.
A close aide of Akingbola, who confirmed this development to THISDAY yesterday, said the sacked bank chief had to leave the country to avoid harassment by the security operatives.
“Akingbola did not literarily flee the country. He had to leave to avoid being harassed and detained by the security operatives. You can see the way his colleagues are being harassed and intimidated by the EFCC. Despite all these embarrassment and harassments, they have not been able to establish any criminal charges against them,” the aide said.
As at yesterday, three of the five sacked CEOs – Union Bank’s Bartholomew Ebong, FinBank’s Okey Nwosu and Afribank Nigeria Plc’s Sebastian Adigwe – along with the 16 top official of their subsidiaries were still being detained by the EFCC on suspicion of various crimes, including fraud and insider trading.
The Commission’s spokes-man, Femi Babafemi, confirmed to THISDAY that it was only the detained three were still in EFCC’s custody.
He said Akingbola and Ibru had not reported and that EFCC was still looking for them but had not declared them wanted.
Fielding questions from journalists at the protocol lounge of the Murtala Mohammed Airport, Ikeja, Lagos, yesterday, the EFCC boss, Mrs Farida Waziri, said 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,” Waziri warned.
She said the EFCC would need the support of all stakeholders especially players in the banking sector, the judiciary and the media to achieve its goals.
She said: “No one can do it alone and that is why you see us working with SSS (State Security Service), CBN, SEC (Securities and Exchange Commission), Police, NDIC (Nigeria Deposit Insurance Commission) and others to recover these huge funds that had been lost due to sharp practices in our banks.”
Meanwhile, Ibru yesterday appealed to Governor of the CBN to revert the order of August 14, 2009 which led to her removal from office.
The request came 24 hours after Akingbola approached the Federal High Court, Lagos, seeking for an order of Certiorari to quash his removal as the CEO.
Ibru’s request was contained in a letter written by her counsel, Mr. Ajibola Oluyede, a managing partner in TRLPLAW & Co, contending that her dismissal was outright illegal and a miscarriage of justice.
Copies of the letter dated August 20, 2009 were forwarded to the President, Senate President, Speaker of House of Representative, Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Inspector-General of Police, Director of SSS and EFCC Chairman.
The letter read: “Ibru and her management became aware of the CBN action from the same press briefing like other Nigerians. She complained that they were not given any opportunity to make representations to the apex bank or its governor before the order of August 14, 2009 made in pursuant of BOFIA (Banking and Other Financial Institutions Act).
“She and her management were not at anytime aware of this type of action neither were they informed when a special examination of their books and affairs were ordered under section 33 of BOFIA, nor where they privy of the findings of the investigators.
“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, there would not be any reason to dismiss her and executive directors.
“CBN breached the provisions of Section 33 of BOFIA which provides 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.
“The CBN Governor’s reason for ordering investigation in the instant case, was because of the banks are heavy users of funds at EDW or drawn from other banks under cover of CBN and do not have the ability to meet their obligations to depositors and creditors as they are in grave situation.”
Her contention was hinged on the Section 33 (1) of BOFIA, which states that the CBN Governor “shall have power to order a special examination or investigation of the books and affairs of a bank where he is satisfied that it is the public interest so to do; the bank has been carrying on its business in a manner detrimental to the interest of its depositors and creditors; the bank has been contravening the provisions of the Act; and an application is made therefore by a director or shareholder of the bank or a depositor or creditor of the bank.”
It further stated that the reasons given by the CBN Governor for ordering the special investigations or examinations did not fall within the contemplations of Section 33 and that the reason given that the banks were in “grave situation” could not be a cause for ordering for a special investigation instead of being its result.
“It is her understanding that the grouping of managing directors and executive directors for purposes of this action without allowing each of them as constitutionally protected individuals to respond to the specific allegations against each person is unlawful.
“The bank and its management have been severely injured in their business and professional reputation by various aspersions direct and indirect that followed your action including their loss of livelihood.
“The threat of arrest, detention and restrictions on their movement are totally unjustifiable, illegal and appear designed to distract them from pursuing their enforcement of their rights. We demand an immediate reversal of the order of August 14, 2009 and the steps taken pursuant thereto,” the letter said.
Ibru thus demanded that all false innuendos and allegations of criminal behaviour attributed to her persons “including the declaration of your intention to put people in jail must stop henceforth”.
Yesterday, more listed debtors came out to deny CBN claims. They are Mr. Femi Otedola, Chairman of Zenon; African Petroleum (AP) Plc, of which Otedola is also chairman; Obat Oil and Petroleum Ltd; Mobitel; and Alhaji Alao Arisekola.
“As at July 29, Zenon Petroleum and Gas paid the sum of N3 billion into the account of Union Bank which was acknowledged by the bank,” Otedola said, adding that there are pending issues which were being discussed with the bank and that all the loans are fully collaterised.
AP, on its part, described as “incorrect and uninformed” the list published by the CBN, explaining that it normally collects money from Afribank to bring in petroleum products, while Afribank in return collects the sales from all of its filling stations across the country.
The Chief Operating Officer (COO), AP Plc, Mr. Tunde Falasinnu, in a statement yesterday, said it was wrong for the apex bank to claim that the loan facility is non-performing when the bank directly collects all remittances from sales of products imported through a Facility Account operated by the company.