By Mike Adeyemi
The sacking of the management board of First Bank Plc by the Central Bank of Nigerian last week was the climax of a high wire tussle for the control of the bank by notable shareholders and staff, National Pilot has learnt.
Recall that the apex bank sacked all directors of the board and its holdings company, FBN Holdings Plc over the issue.
It all began with the news that the erstwhile Board of Directors of First Bank of Nigeria Limited, which was chaired by Mrs. Ibukun Awosika, had approved the appointment of Mr. Gbenga Shobo to succeed Mr. Adesola Adeduntan as the new Managing Director/Chief Executive of the bank.
Adeduntan was ousted after leading the bank since January 2016, but when still within the term limit of his tenure, which is due to expire in December this year.
But the regulator reinstated Adeduntan as the managing directors, a day after he was removed by the board.
Speaking with National Pilot on the issue, an insider who spoke under animosity detailed what led to leadership crisis at the bank.
According to him, ‘Adedutan is late billionaire business, Azeez Arisekola Alao’s candidate on the board as Mike Adenuga, the billionaire owner of globacome inherited Arisekola’s shares’.
“The Chairman of the Board, Awosika, is Oba Otudeko’s candidate in the board. Oba Otudeko’s company is indebted to the bank and Central Bank of Nigeria has been pushing the bank to perfect the collateral which happens to be the Arisekola’s shares.
“Adenuga is willing to buy that. Adeduntan, being Adenuga’s (Arisekola’s) stooge was willing to dance to the step of CBN calling for perfection of Arisekola’s shares. Hence, Oba Otudeko quickly moved to avert that by removing Adeduntan,” he said.
Continuing, ‘The issue is that the bank is heavily exposed to Honeywell Group, a conglomerate owned by Oba Otudeko. The loan was secured by personal guarantee of Oba Otudeko’.
“The bank has not perfected its lien on the shares of Oba Otudeko (the major shareholder). Currently Honeywell Group is not doing so well and unable to repay that loan. Calling in the loan will mean Otudeko may lose his shares in First Bank.
“There are other major Shareholders waiting to pick up those shares. Adedutan is just a pawn on the chessboard. Besides, he was Arisekola’s candidate on the board”, the source added.
He said “Arisekolas shares was pledged to Guarantee Trust Bank in exchange for a loan (that’s why Fola wanted to buy it) when Arisekola died. Adenuga took over those shares from GTB.
“The issue now is Adenuga has been mopping shares up but don’t have enough yet hence alliance with Odukale to oust Otudeko. Odukale is in it because he knows Adenuga will never be cleared by SSS to be Chairman,” he further noted.
Also, analysing the development, an Ilorin based economist, Shola Sanyaolu, said the situation was avoidable and regretted that it was not nipped in the bud by the former board.
He said: “What has happened to First Bank Limited should not have been allowed to escalate to this level. Since around 2015 First Bank has been in and out of the news for not-too-palatable reasons…”
He also argued that the CBN retains the right as a regulator to maintain its oversight on all banks under its jurisdiction, adding that since it receives and examines the books and transactions of all banks, it alone can make a judgment call on whether a bank’s directors have done the right thing.
Sanyaolu said: “In the communication we have seen in the space, the central bank has emphasised the fact that it has given First Bank some regulatory forbearance more than once, and that it has had to help the liquidity position of the erstwhile biggest bank in Nigeria on a number of occasions.
“I wouldn’t understand how a bank ignores such weighty warnings. The CBN went further to detail some of the insider lending of First Bank, especially as it relates to the chairman of its holding company – Otunba Oba Otudeko.”
Acording to him, “Some of the people on the side of the now dismissed board have alleged all sorts. The most ridiculous is that the CBN is after First Bank for supporting Flutterwave, which also supported EndSARS. Everything has become politicised in Nigeria.”
“With the move from the CBN, we pray First Bank finds some peace. But more generally, we hope that our smart people who run banks will understand the sheer enormity of the licences they owe and never get it into their heads to throw it all away in some flight of fancy,” he added.
By Mike Adeyemi