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Albert Okumagba, I knew

About 8 days before his death, Albert returned my-earlier call that day, and we spoke for about an hour. As usual his optimistic self was on display. We spoke about the plans he was putting together to return his firm, BGL Plc to the market. Unfortunately, he will not be able to follow up on those plans.

As the “Binis “put it “Eduwu. Ihofo” …death forecloses all thinking, and plans…

Albert was a charismatic fellow. Straight forward and jovial. He was full of life, boisterous in his approach. I never meant a more optimistic person. Everything was always looking up for him, no matter what the situation is. Albert’s presence is immediately felt when he comes into any gathering. He was level-headed and unpretentious. In all my dealings with Albert, I always felt happier when I left him. I first met Albert, some 25 years plus ago, when he worked for Centre-point Investments. I became close to him after he was elected as the chairman of the Governing Board of the Association of Issuing Houses of Nigeria (AIHN) where I was also elected the Director of Finance … AIHN is the investment banking Association, with membership drawn from the capital market . Its membership cuts across the Banking and Non-Banking institutions in the market.

In his characteristic bombastic manner, at our first meeting as an Executive Committee, Albert immediately announced that he had changed his title of President to Chairman of the Board and other committee members were now Directors. That was Albert, dictatorial with things he wanted done. He was a pleasant person to work with, we were able to elevate AIHN to its pride of place. He knew his strength and used it well for results.

We embarked on expanding the influence of AIHN to have strong input into the rules that governed the primary side of the market. In his tenure, we also succeeded in putting AIHN in a solid financial Standing, a position the Association still enjoys till date. Albert did not only become a fundraiser for the Association, but he was also aggressive about it. He will put a call to a chief Executive of a Bank, and say, we are not only asking you to pay your dues to the Association, I also wanted to inform you that I have apportioned N1m as donation to the Association from your Bank. Albert was mostly responsible for the success we recorded in that period.

In the last few years, he became a victim of the harsh regulatory environment everyone deals with in Nigeria. In his case, it was even more so, when he came face to face with a vindictive Regulator, who wants to play police.

His firm BGL Plc, was a top player in the Capital market, with an array of talents. As with everything Albert, he was bullish on the Stock Market, unfortunately the market crash of 2008/2009 strained BGL Plc operations. There was nothing wrong with BGL Plc as a firm, that could not be fixed. As far as I know, …if it is Finance, …it can be fixed. BGL Plc raised billions as a firm for other Companies including many of the Banks that were recapitalised in 2005/ 2006. The problem was the high handedness of the Regulator who fancies the stretching of the rules, to fit purpose. The overreaction that followed was all about proving a strongman Regulator mindset.

BGL Plc had the capacity and required talent to recover and do well.

The famed US Securities Firms Goldman Sachs and Merrill lynch will not be here today, if their US Regulator, decided to close down every firm for infractions of its rules. Fines are the preferred option. Our Regulators have long abandoned their roles as enablers in the market and had long chosen to be the policing agency. Their interventions have always left the market poorer. They do not take into consideration the disruption to the market infrastructure that these firms represent, nor the investors’ interest in these firms. They also do not bother about the severe damage to employee’s careers as a result of their unwarranted actions… Investors’ confidence in the general marketplace is always affected.

In the case of BGL Plc, no one has proven any fraud to the best of my knowledge. A more conducive regulatory approach could have seen the systemic significance of such a firm as BGL Plc. Imagine if the CBN decided to close every bank that had challenges during the last 2008/2009 Market crisis. Saving it could have done a lot of good to the market and the firm’s specific Investors. This was even more so, when 2/3 of its creditors had agreed to convert their debt to equity, but the Regulator insisted on its pound of flesh.

Instead of the Regulator educating the public on the difference between a “Private placement “ and an “ Initial Public Offer ….“ IPO” the Regulator joined the lynch mob in openly hounding firms who raised funds through “Private Placement,” for not listing on the Stock Exchange . Claiming that this amounted to fraud, without ever providing any proof. Even if it was true in a few cases, it was not true in the majority of cases.

The SEC has Rules now, to regulate the raising of funds by “Private Placement.” …it will be Unworkable at best because there is nothing to regulate in a “Private placement” of shares of Private Companies. Raising a first and second round of equity money to build a Business, proving its model, before selling ownership to a wider investing public is the right thing to do…

Simply put, the SEC has no power over “Private Placements “It is over regulation. It has only succeeded in blocking a major source of IPOs, for market listing.

Albert has gone to his maker; he will be judged by his deeds on earth. For those of us who knew him well, we know he was a good man, and He did his best.

Goodbye Albert, my loyal friend.

May his soul rest in peace.

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