Adversaries in a Nigerian lawsuit in which a leading presidential candidate is accused of secretly controlling the private company that collects taxes in the state he once ran are discussing an out-of-court settlement, Bloomberg reports.
Oladapo Apara, a founder of Alpha Beta Consulting LLP, alleges that Bola Tinubu concealed his control of the firm. In the early 2000s, as governor of Lagos state, Tinubu awarded the newly established ABC a contract to collect taxes in Nigeria’s commercial hub that it still holds today.
Apara filed his suit against ABC and Tinubu in June. Ahead of a court hearing scheduled for March 24, Apara and ABC are discussing a possible out-of-court resolution to the dispute, the plaintiff’s lawyer, Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa, said by email.
The settlement talks still require Tinubu’s “input” to be “meaningful and conclusive,” according to Adegboruwa.
An accountant who says he “solely conceived” of ABC, Apara alleges that Tinubu directed him to transfer 70% of the company’s shares to two individuals of the then-governor’s choosing, according to the plaintiff’s statement of claim.
Apara said he did this as a “pre-condition” for Tinubu’s approval of a project to improve the tracking and management of Lagos state’s revenue.
Tinubu led Nigeria’s wealthiest state from 1999 to 2007, and has always held “a controlling interest” in ABC, Apara alleges in court filings, describing it as “extortion” and an “abuse of office.”
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Through a spokesman, Tinubu declined to comment on Apara’s “unsubstantiated allegations” while the court case proceeds. Eventually, “the true facts will be established and justice will prevail,” he said.
The spokesman sent Bloomberg three undated statements signed by ABC.
The statements claim Apara had spread “false allegations” in a “desperate attempt to conceal and distract attention from his own wrongdoing and misconduct that led to his termination” from ABC. “Apara’s grief arises from his removal as managing director of Alpha Beta for fraud and other serious indiscretions,” one said.
Akin Doherty, ABC’s current managing director who is named as a defendant alongside the company and Tinubu, didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Since winning the first election to govern Lagos state following the restoration of democracy in Nigeria, Tinubu has remained hugely influential, especially in the southwest of the country, and played a central role in the merger of opposition parties that created the All Progressives Congress in 2013.
Two years later, the APC won nationwide polls that brought President Muhammadu Buhari to office and pushed the People’s Democratic Party out of power after 16 years.
Tinubu, who is the APC’s national leader, declared his intention to run for the presidency in an election due to take place next February. He is the most prominent politician so far to announce plans to seek the ruling party’s nomination to succeed Buhari, who is nearing the end of his second term.
Since becoming the state’s tax collector, ABC helped Lagos’ government to increase its annual revenue to more than 300 billion naira ($718 million) in 2019 from about 10 billion naira in 2002, according to the lawsuit that Apara submitted to the state’s high court. The company is entitled to a commission of 10% of the total sum collected, the complaint said.
From 2018, Tinubu and Doherty “have assumed firm control of the financial management” of ABC and excluded Apara from its affairs, the company’s founder alleged.
At Tinubu’s direction, ABC has denied Apara his 30% share of profits since 2010, according to the complaint, which estimated the firm’s earnings from its commission at about 150 billion naira over the same period.
ABC has also paid millions of dollars out of the company in “suspicious monetary transfers” that “erode” the dividend due to Apara, the complaint said.
Doherty served as a senior Lagos state financial official when Tinubu was governor.