By GODWIN DUNIA
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) in March 2019 reopened before the Federal High Court in Lagos, the 10-year-old fraud trial of Dr Erastus Akingbola, a former Managing Director of the defunct Intercontinental Bank Plc. The trial, in the charge marked FHC/L/CS/443c/09, reopened before Justice Mojisola Olatoregun.
In the 26 counts filed before the court, the prosecution alleged that while he was MD and Chief Executive Officer of Intercontinental Bank, Akingbola, between November 2007 and July 2008, was involved in reckless approval of credit facilities without adequate security for a number of firms.
The prosecution alleged that for instance, Akingbola recklessly approved a credit facility of N8billion each to Soo-Kok Holding Limited, Tofa General Enterprises, Cinca Nigeria Limited, Harmony Trust and Investment Limited, Stanzus Investment Limited. The EFCC said the illegal transactions were carried out between May 2008 and May 2009 in contravention of “accepted practice or Intercontinental Bank Plc’s regulations”.
It said Akingbola violated Section 15(1)(a)(i) of the Failed Banks (Recovery of Debts) and Financial Malpractices in Banks Act, Cap F2, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004 and was liable to be punished under Section 16(1)(a) of the same Act.
In another instance, the prosecution alleged that under Akingbola’s watch as MD/CEO, Intercontinental Bank Plc had N87.6billion non-performing credit burden.
It said Akingbola failed to take all reasonable steps to ensure compliance with the requirement to maintain, at all times, the minimum capital adequacy ratio specified by the Central Bank of Nigeria in compliance with Section 13(1) of the Banks and Other Financial Institutions Act, Cap B3 Laws of the Federation 2004. The ex-bank chief has, however, pleaded not guilty to the 26 counts. The matter also came up last week before a Federal High Court, Lagos and has been adjourned to another date.
Also, in March 2019, the Chairman and the Managing Director of the defunct Skye Bank PLC, Tunde Ayeni and Timothy Oguntayo have been arraigned over allegations of criminal breach of trust to the tune of N456 billion. They were arraigned on Wednesday before an FCT High Court in Apo by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) on a four-count charge.
The anti-graft agency alleged that the defendants committed the offence between Jan.1, 2014 and Dec. 31, 2016. It was alleged that the defendants being bankers, entrusted with depositors’ funds, conspired and criminally breached the trust as regards the custody of N456.6 billion.
The offences are said to have contravened the provisions of section 96, 97 and 315 of the Penal Code Law.
Since the era of Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, who is now the Emir of Kano, as the Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria, there have been remarkable trials of some bank chiefs in the law court. Less than a year after his appointment, Lamido Sanusi, appointed in June 2009 by late President Umaru Yar’Adua, had said he expected at least three or four of the bank chiefs who were earlier sacked, to be convicted and possibly jailed for criminal offences at the end of their trials.
Sanusi made the pronouncement in Cape Town, South Africa, at the 2009 Africa Forum organised by Standard Bank. He said he was not bothered by litigation or prospects of it by the sacked bank chiefs to challenge the CBN’s action. His argument was that, owning a bank was not a right.
“But the reality is that banking is not a human right but a privilege to take depositors’ funds on the condition that you operate in a particular way, and if you don’t, you lose it”.
The CBN under Sanusi had sacked a total of eight banks’ Managing Directors between August 14 and October 2 in his first year, after the completion of the first and second rounds of bank stress tests. He implemented the 10 year maximum tenure of bank CEOs. According to the CBN, the bank Managing Directors were fired for poor corporate governance and reckless credit management, among other infractions.
The affected MDs, who were affected and replaced, were: Mrs. Cecilia Ibru (Oceanic Bank), Mr. Batholomew Ebong (Union Bank), Mr. Okey Nwosu (FinBank), Mr. Sebastian Adigwe (Afribank Plc) and Mr. Erastus Akingbola (Intercontinental Bank Plc).
Others included: Mr. Francis Atuche (BankPHB), Mr. Charles Ojo (Spring Bank) and Mr. Ike Oraekwuotu (Equetorial Trust Bank). It would be recalled that the only CEO that challenged his sack then, was Akingbola, who also was on the run and subsequently declared wanted by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission.
However, the period of Sanusi in 2009, kicked started major trial of banks chiefs involving several billions of naira and other foreign currencies. Some of the bank executives had been convicted while trial of others still pending in different courts.
In August 27, 2009, the Lagos office of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, was a beehive, with the operatives fixing the jigsaw created by the action of the CBN that removed the boards and Managing Director of five banks, three weeks earlier. The EFCC was to later confirm that no fewer than sixteen bank executives and sixty loan defaulters were in its custody.
The commission also said that it had so far recovered a sum of N25.5billion out of the N1.143 trillion of total non-performing loans of the five banks. The break-down of recovered debt and the banks were: Intercontinental bank N7.736 billion, Finbank N1.590bn; Afribank N7. 551bn; Oceanic bank N8.033bn and Union bank N659m.
The then Chairman of the anti-graft agency, Mrs Farida Waziri, who made the disclosures at a briefing at the Ikoyi head office of the commission, also assured that the agency was only committed to recovering more money from loan defaulters and not criminalizing loan procurement from banks. The commission also obeyed a court order to set the former MDs of Finbank and Afribank, Messrs Okey Nwosu and Sebastian Adigwe respectively free with stringent conditions attached.
In September 2009, four former Managing Director and Chief Executive Officers of Oceanic bank, Mrs Cecilia Ibru; FinBank Nigeria Plc, Mr Okey Nwosu; Mr Sebastian Adigwe of Afribank Plc and Bartholomew Ebong of Union Bank of Nigeria, spent ten days in detention consequence to a Federal High Court, Lagos adjourned ruling on their bail application till September 14, where they were standing trial on five separate charges of 131 counts, bordering on fraud, concealment and granting of loans without adequate collateral, running into about N625.95billion.
By October 2010, Cecilia Ibru, was sentenced to six months in prison for fraud and ordered to hand over $1.2bn (£786m) in cash and assets after she had pleaded guilty to three of 25 counts of fraud and mismanagement. According to reports at public domain, she was one of a large number of executives held in connection with the near-collapse of nine banks in 2009. Her three sentences were for six months each, but ran concurrently. Indicating, she spent only six months in jail.
However, concerned Nigerians have continued to express worries on the delay in concluding most of these cases opened against some of these bank chiefs.