• Wednesday, April 24, 2024
businessday logo

BusinessDay

Herbert Wigwe, Access Bank and the danger of a single story

Wigwe’s PA recounts how luggage stopped him from joining ill-fated chopper

It was the venerated writer, Chimanda Adichie, who first warned us against the destructive influences of a single story in her now-famous 2009 TED talk. Many did not take her seriously, and a lot more probably do not know the importance of her lecture. She described a single story as an overly simplistic and generalised perception of a person, place, or thing—a narrative that presents only one perspective, repeated again and again. Chimanda asserts that the danger of a single story is that it can result in perspectives based on stereotypes.

The tragic deaths of Dr. Herbert Wigwe and his family in an air crash have led to a surge of false stories on social media. The cruelty and depravity of the people who spread these falsehoods is unfathomable. They aim to destroy the memory of the deceased banker, inflict pain on his parents and business partners, and damage the reputation of the businesses he left behind. This is a clear example of the depth of human cruelty and depravity.

Read also: Herbert Wigwe and the story of Nigerian banking

The acquisition of Intercontinental Bank by Access Bank in 2012 has been a topic of public debate. While purveyors claim it was a healthy bank and that then CBN governor, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, orchestrated the sale, the reality is that Intercontinental is no longer available for plunder and theft, leading to attacks on the late Wigwe and his partner, Aigboje Aig-Imoukhuede, who are mourning.

The author, who was on the senior management staff of Access Bank at the time of the Intercontinental acquisition, has extensive knowledge about the transaction. In 2008, the CBN conducted a stress test on all banks in the country, revealing that Intercontinental was severely distressed and was heading for collapse. A further examination revealed a pattern of insider abuse and high-level fraud by directors and senior management, causing significant damage to shareholders’ funds and capital.

In 2009, the Central Bank of the Philippines (CBN) sacked Mr. Akingbola and the bank’s board, replacing them with an interim board to devise a recapitalization plan. In 2011, the CBN put the bank up for sale, deciding recapitalization was not feasible. In 2012, the CBN approved Access Bank’s offer to take over the bank. However, Access Bank management discovered a deeper hole in the bank’s balance sheet than previously revealed by the CBN’s examination, audit reports, and due diligence.

Akingbola faced multiple court cases in the UK and Nigeria for his involvement in insider abuses and frauds. This is not the first time Nigerian banks have collapsed or been liquidated for severe capital impairment in the last 30 years. Over 200 Nigerian banks have collapsed or been liquidated, including Standard Trust Bank merged with UBA in 2005, Union Bank acquired by the Capital Alliance Group, and FCMB bought Finbank. Other mergers and acquisitions have occurred in the industry.

Akingbola’s legal troubles arising from his involvement in the collapse of the Intercontinental are many. In December 2009, a Federal High Court sitting in Lagos granted a freezing injunction and attachment worldwide on all assets of Akingbola for total offences amounting to N346.185 million and £1.08 million. In July 2012, a Royal Court of Justice in London presided over by Mr. Justice Burton found Akingbola guilty of stealing and diverting billions of depositors’ funds and ordered him to repay more than £1 billion to the bank (Access Bank). He has also faced several charges from the EFCC.

The acquisition of Intercontinental therefore arose from the mismanagement of the bank, insider abuse, and fraudulent activities perpetrated by its directors. The transaction followed all due processes according to the laws of Nigeria and was approved by the courts and the regulatory authorities.

Read also: Life & Times of Herbert Wigwe in 68 rare pictures

If the CBN did not find a buyer for Intercontinental, the bank would probably have gone the way of Bank PHB and a few others that were not acquired and were on continued life support from the Treasury. Thus, the purchase of Intercontinental by Access saved the nation a colossal waste of resources.

I have also read an article written by Mr. Muiz Banire, a senior advocate of Nigeria (SAN), in which he flippantly referred to the acquisition of Intercontinental by Access Bank as “A Tilapia swallowing a Whale.’’ This is misleading and false imagery, purportedly indicating that Intercontinental was bigger than Access at the time of the transaction. In the first place, the financial strength of a bank is not all about the number of branches it has or the height of its headquarters building, which the public usually sees.

Rather, its strength is measured in terms of financial ratios, namely: efficiency ratio; profitability ratio; capital adequacy ratio; income-expenditure ratio; and deposits and return ratios. These are not visible to the public and may not be understood by those who are not financially literate. Intercontinental’s ratios were in the red when the acquisition occurred. Its huge after-tax loss of N321 billion for the year ended September 2009 was one of the biggest in the industry then.

On the other hand, Access Bank was then in its tenth year after it was taken over by Herbert and Aigboje Aig-Imokhuede. It was very profitable, and the ratios were very positive. Senior lawyers like Banire have a responsibility to speak with some knowledgeability; otherwise, they would misrepresent their clients.

Another nasty and deceptive single story that emerged soon after the death of Herbert Wigwe was an article published recently by Tony Okoroji, a former President of the Performing Musicians Association of Nigeria (PMAN), who now runs an organisation known as the Copyright Society of Nigeria (COSON). In the article, Okoroji wondered how Herbert made so much money to establish a university and why he named the university after his family’s name. He wrote, “I’m in the creative industry and can understand the pitfalls of unbridled self-promotion,’’ He then went on to allege that Access Bank has refused to release funds in the account of COSON to him and that the “bank has looked for every silly reason to hold onto our money.’’

First, how did Herbert make all the money to establish a university? Herbert is one of the major owners of Access Corporation, the holding company of the bank, and as a publicly quoted company, Access Corporation publishes the particulars of each director in its annual reports and audited accounts every year. This is a statutory requirement for all quoted companies. Such details include the number of direct and indirect shares held by the director and the dividend payments received by each director and shareholder.

Read also: What to know about Herbert Wigwe family and real estate

This will give Okoroji an idea of the man’s wealth if he cares to review the bank’s latest annual reports. In addition, Herbert’s family also has interests in other businesses, including construction. Why did Herbert name the university after his family? This is as silly a question as it can get. Organisations and institutions are named after their founders as a mark of honour or memorabilia to the memory of the founder or the family.

Herbert is proud of the Wigwe family he hails from, and the university was appropriately named to give honour to the family, just as Harvard (the oldest institution of higher learning in the US is named after John Harvard); Yale (named after Elihu Yale); Obafemi Awolowo University; Ahmadu Bello University; Nnamdi Azikiwe University, etc. are named after great personalities. Many others across the globe, like Albert Ludwig University, Freiburg, Germany; Aga Khan University, Karachi, Pakistan; Alice Lloyd College, Kentucky, US; Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge, England; and Gregory University, Uturu, Abia State, among many others, are named after their founders.

Tony Okoroji’s claim that Access Bank has deliberately withheld COSON’s funds is a deliberate fabrication and obfuscation of information just to hoodwink the public and impugn the characters of those involved. The fact is that some members of COSON—Premier Music, Ivory Music, and Pretty Okafor—have sued COSON and the bank, seeking to restrict their accounts. The case is still in court, and as a senior lawyer in Access Bank’s Legal Department told me, “in keeping with the legal doctrine of Lis Pendis, the bank as a responsible corporate citizen cannot take any steps that will tie the hands or foist a fait accompli on the court.’’

In other words, the bank cannot release the funds until the litigation is over. But Okoroji did not tell his readers that there is a pending case in court involving the accounts of the association. Rather, he blamed the late Herbert Wigwe for the delay in releasing his money and insinuated that the deaths of Herbert and another staff member of the bank who died in December were a punishment from God for the bank’s delay in releasing the money. How mean-spirited can people be?

Read also: 7 Herbert Wigwe quotes Nigerians will not forget

Finally, Herbert is no longer with us, and he cannot defend himself against all these baseless and putrid stories deliberately churned out to defame him and his legacy and traumatise his family and business associates. May God forgive those who are perpetrating these evil deeds, and may the souls of Herbert Wigwe, his wife, Chizoba; his son, Chizzy; and his friend, Abimbola Ogunbanjo, who died with him, rest in peace. Amen.