BY EMEKA EJERE
The end may not be near for the raging dispute between Heritage Bank and Senator Andy Uba, over the latter’s alleged refusal to repay loans he collected from the bank.
Instead, it is becoming more likely than unlikely that the two parties may soon be on their way to a court of competent jurisdiction to prove their cases beyond reasonable doubts.
But that can only happen if the senator representing Anambra South Senatorial District goes on to carry out his threat of filing a suit against the bank if the lender fails to apologise to him with a payment of N5 billion for alleged public embarrassment.
Few days ago, a video emerged online of the bank’s staff protesting at the gate of Uba’s official residence in Abuja, demanding he should repay the loan he was allegedly owing the bank.
In the trended video, a voice narrating the essence of the visit said they were staff members of Heritage Bank and were at Senator Uba’s residence in Abuja to put pressure on him to pay back his loans after several efforts had failed.
Over 20 young bank workers – men and women, in branded T-shirts and Jean trousers are seen in a video gathered in front of what they described as Uba’s house in protest, carrying placards.
The voice said: “Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. Today is Monday, the 21st day of June 2021, and we have here the staff members of Heritage Bank Plc, Abuja. We are in front of Senator Andy Uba’s house in Abuja.
“Senator Uba has been owing the bank for a couple of years now, and we are here for a peaceful meeting with him, very peaceful meeting. To ask him to kindly repay those loans, because they are depositors’ funds.
“Those monies, if they are not repaid, will throw the number of the people you see here, with their families out of work. And we know the situation of the economy now. If this number of people are thrown out of work, you know what it means.”
But Uba, an aspirant in the forthcoming governorship election in Anambra State on the platform of the All Progressives Congress (APC) has, through his campaign organization, denied indebtedness to Heritage Bank or any bank for that matter.
In a letter signed by his lawyer, Ahmed Raji (SAN), Uba threatened to sue the bank, describing the actions of its staff as shameful and embarrassing. He stated that the bank’s action was a mere campaign to smear his image as the APC governorship primary election for Anambra State draws nearer.
Part of the letter reads: ”Despite your veiled denial, the deliberateness of your staffs’ action is founded and the intent, to wit: – bring our client to public opprobrium shame, ridicule, scorn etc, is glaring for all to see.
”This is more so, as you deliberately picked the rather inauspicious period immediately preceding the forthcoming gubernatorial primary election of the All Progressives Congress [APC] for Anambra State slated for the 26th of June 2021, wherein our client is the leading candidate to clinch his Party’s ticket, to stage this smear campaign against him.”
Uba demanded that the bank tender an unreserved apology in five national dailies, alongside N5billion damages for tainting his public image.
”Surely, the damage occasioned to our client by your calculated but ill-advised action is unquantifiable. However, our client will be relieved if a public apology, unreserved, is tendered by you and published in at least five national daily newspapers within a day of receipt of this letter and payment of N5b in damages,” he said.
Uba is demanding an apology in five national dailies with payment of N5 billion for damages to his name as the only way to stop him from proceeding to court.
”If not, we have our client’s further instructions to seek redress against you in a court of law for the same. Kindly be advised. We hope that this bank will take benefit of the olive branch offered in this letter; the gamble, otherwise, is yours to suffer,” the letter read.
Meanwhile, a group under the aegis of Concerned APC Members of Anambra State is appealing to Mai Mala Buni, chairman, National Caretakers of the APC over the alleged indebtedness of Senator Uba, to Heritage Bank Plc, claiming that if the allegation was not investigated and proven false, it may jeopardize the chance of the party during the election.
The group, which wrote through its counsel, Adams Imuekemhe, said a candidate that is aspiring to fly the flag of APC in the gubernatorial election must be a person of high moral standing, integrity and of impeccable character and if the allegation against Senator Uba is not investigated, it will be a veritable tool in the hands of other contending political parties to drag the reputable name of the party in the mud.
In a letter titled “Alleged Huge Indebtedness of Distinguished Senator Andy Uba To Heritage Bank” dated 22, June 2021, the group said: “While we understand that the issue of debt between a bank and its customer is ordinary civil, it is however disturbing that a candidate with an allegation of huge debt profiling running into billions of Naira will be allowed to vie for a gubernatorial ticket of APC in Anambra State.
“There is a likelihood that the proceeds of the said debt or money meant for repayment of debt is being used to finance Senator Andy Uba’s political campaign which is contrary to the extant monetary law of the country, CBN regulation and the clear letter, spirit and intent of the 1999 constitution and Electoral Act.
“To whom much is given, much is expected, contrary perception can translate into reality if nothing is done about it.
“We humbly appeal that you use your good offices to investigate the allegation to avoid the possibility of our party fielding a high profile debtor in the forthcoming election if the allegation of Heritage turns out to be true.”
Reacting to the crisis, the national chairman of Zenith Labour Party (ZLP), Mr. Dan Nwanyanwu, said the action of the bank was unacceptable and politically-motivated to diminish the aspirant in the run to Anambra governorship poll.
“The act of the Heritage Bank and their staffers is grossly irresponsible and against the ethics and ethos of the banking profession, Nwanyanwu, a former banker stated.
“What happened between Senator Andy Uba and the Heritage Bank was a business relationship clothed with fiduciary, understanding which is not for public drama.
“By the action of Heritage Bank, they have acted in an ignominuous manner as paid hirelings out to embarrass and disgrace Senator Andy Uba in order to satisfy their paid masters rather than a genuine attempt to recover the so-called debt. No responsible bank or its officials anywhere in the world will act in that manner.
“As a banker of many years, I know that banks don’t recover their debt through a public show, rather there are procedures and mechanisms available to any bank to recover any debt owned by a customer that is getting difficult to be repaid.
“I don’t know when it has become a crime for individual and business concerns to borrow from a bank. Most business concerns run their businesses with some facilities from banks in a fiduciary relationship and it is never a crime. Is Nigeria not owing?”
Also reacting, a public affairs commentator, Mr. Bayo Oluwasanmi, who was neither here nor there, accused Nigeria banks of conniving with corrupt politicians to rob depositors of their hard earned money as well as engage in accounting fraud and other unethical practices.
“The invasion of Uba’s house by Heritage Bank workers further amplifiers that Nigeria is governed by organized chaos. In a civilized society, Heritage Bank would simply have seized Uba’s assets to recoup its loans or drag Uba to court. But this is Nigeria where the blind lead the sighted. It serves Heritage Bank right”, Oluwasanmi said.
“Weep not for Heritage Bank. But cry your eyes out for the former Anambra Senator Andy Uba for the public affront and humiliation brought upon him by the ignorant staff of Heritage Bank who invaded his home to protest against non-payment of loans.”
However, when contacted, spokesperson of Heritage Bank, Fela Bidapo, said the bank has no reason to apologise to Uba, as apology only comes when one has done something wrong.
He disclosed that the bank is waiting for the lawmaker to take the matter to the next level now that the time (till Thursday) he (Uba) gave for apology has elapsed without the lender doing so.
“There is nothing to apologise for, you only apologise when you’ve done something wrong. The fact remains that he (Uba) is owing the bank and he has not paid”, Bidapo told Business Hallmark in a telephone interview.
“According to the letter from his lawyers, which only talked about his public embarrassment without denying his indebtedness to the bank, he gave us until Thursday to apologise to him in newspapers.
“And now that we have not done that, we’re waiting for him to take it to the next level.”