Opinion… Atiku Allegations, Buhari and Issues of Transparency in Corporate Acquisitions

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By Ken Tadaferua
Atiku Abubakar, presidential candidate of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) did apparently seek to set off seismic waves to trigger a volcanic political eruption with his call for investigation, by relevant regulatory authorities, of allegations that President Buhari’s family now own shares worth over N1 trillion in two companies (N727 billion ($2 billion) in shares of Etisalat Nigeria and N307.5 billion worth of Keystone bank shares).
The allegations can be potentially damaging to the President Buhari’s cultivated spartan and ascetic image that powers his appeal among his political supporters. Not least now, in the middle of the political campaigns for the 2019 general elections in which he is making a second term bid
Indeed Atiku says: “If this (allegation) is found to be true, this scandal would break every rule of corporate and public governance, since this will be the first time members of the first family will be openly involved in a once-in-a-lifetime deal that would make them all richer beyond their wildest dreams.”
But why is Atiku asking for investigation after naming the two companies and the value of shares President Buhari’s family allegedly own? Why not just name the individual Buhari family members or their proxies who own the shares? Can his allegations be a mere political gimmick? Or is it a serious chessboard strategy with the move of the Queen (the facts) delayed until a crushing checkmate is delivered?
Ordinarily, the facts of the matter ought be easily accessed as both Keystone Bank and 9mobile are public companies. But are the facts or information about the key financiers and major shareholders publicly available? No. Before assessing corporate information availability let’s look at reactions to the allegations.
President Buhari and family have been loudly silent. No word. But the Presidency and hardcore Buhari supporters have risen vigorously, like a swarm of angry bees, to Buhari’s defence, more with emotional flusters, counter allegations of corruption, labels and abuse of Atiku than facts to disprove the allegations. Some say it is beneath the President to respond to or deny the allegations. Others say the onus of proof lies on the accuser.
There are vociferous Buhari supporters who contend with vehement vigour that the two named companies are not in operation. That Keystone Bank (former distressed Platinuum Bank taken over by Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria) remains with AMCON and has not been sold to investors. That Etisalat Nigeria was liquidated and non existent.
The claims are patently false. Keystone Bank was sold 22 months ago, in March 2017, by AMCON for N25 billion to a group of investors known as the Sigma Golf-Riverbank consortium. On the other hand, Etisalat Nigeria was rebranded as 9mobile Nigeria and was recently acquired for $301 million by Teleology Nigeria Limited. Both companies are on going concerns.
Let us return to the matter of information management and availability on multi -billion Naira acquisitions. When important information is concealed or made difficult to confirm, rumour sprouts, allegations mushroom.
Take the Keystone Bank acquisition. The public was informed by AMCON that the Sigma Golf-Riverbank consortium won from a rigorous and competitive bid process coordinated by Citibank Nigeria Limited and affiliates, FBN Capital (Joint Financial Advisers) and Banwo & Ighodalo and Crosswrock Law (Joint Legal Advisers).
But AMCON did not provide the public the names and profiles of the owners or shareholders of the Sigma Golf-Riverbank consortium. Nor were corporate profiles of Sigma Golf Nigeria Limited and Riverbank Investment Resources Limited which form the acquiring consortium made available. Interestingly, even today, a google search for the profiles of both companies turns up zilch. Nothing. Concealed information leads to speculations.
Hence, Daily Times reported on its online platform in March 2017 that in selling Keystone Bank to “a coalition of powerful Northern interests, the managing director of AMCON disregarded extant takeover provisions of AMCON”. It was also alleged that AMCON top management advised against the transaction but were ignored.
It was also speculated that Sigma Pension Fund, founded by Alhaji Umaru Modibbo and his brother, Adamu Mu’azu Modibbo, a former Adamawa State governorship aspirant, among others are promoters of Sigma Golf Nigeria and the consortium that bought the bank. The same Atiku Abubakar was linked to the consortium but he denied it in a public statement.
However Alhaji Umaru Modibbo did turn up as chairman of a provisional five man board of the newly bought bank. Profiles and details of the investors who forked out N25 billion through the consortium remain shrouded. But time throws up niggling questions about buried information. The allegation by Atiku may put harsh public glare lights on the shrouded investors that bought Keystone Bank.
The other company is Etisalat Nigeria. It did not die as claimed by some folks. It was rebranded as 9mobile Nigeria. Here’s the background:
Due to failure to restructure a $1.2 billion debt default with a consortium of 17 Nigerian banks that threatened to take over Etisalat Nigeria, its foreign investor, Etisalat International of Abu Dhabi divested from the company. It gave an ultimatum to Etisalat Nigeria to stop use of its Etisalat brand in Nigeria which led to the rebrand of Etisalat Nigeria as 9mobile Nigeria, an ongoing concern.
The rebranded 9mobile remained saddled with the heavy bank debts and other creditors. The company urgently needed investors with deep pockets to acquire and inject fresh infusion of funds into the company. Last February, Teleology Nigeria with an offer of $301 million emerged the preferred bidder for 9mobile, beating 16 other telecoms as Virgin Mobile, Smile Telecom, Vodacom, BUA Group, Glo, MTN, Airtel networks among others.
In March, Teleology paid $50 million, an initial, non-refundable deposit that demonstrates commitment to acquire 9mobile. Teleology did not meet a 90 day timeline to make the $251 million balance payment, until after eight months, in November. Again, as with the consortium which acquired Keystone Bank, profiles of investors in Teleology which acquired 9mobile Nigeria are not public.
What is publicly known is that Teleology Nigeria is a special purpose vehicle (SPV) formed by Adrian Wood for the acquisition of 9mobile. Remember him? The Australian who at the onset of the Nigerian GSM revolution managed and positioned MTN as the market leader. He fell in love with Nigeria and really never left the country again. He is reportedly well connected with Nigeria’s powerful and wealthy from whom he sourced the $301 million to acquire 9mobile. Is Adrian Wood just a front for some corrupt mandarin? Who are these powerful and wealthy Nigerian financiers?
Check out this scenario. The kind which industry watchers say drive speculations. A key supplier creditor of 9mobile Nigeria  is IHS Towers Plc reputedly the largest mobile telecommunications infrastructure provider in Africa, Europe and the Middle East by tower count. Its chairman is Mallam Bashir Ahmad El-Rufai, said to be a key influence in the 9mobile acquisition deal. He is said to be a relation of Mallam Nasir el-Rufai, a former director general of the privatization agency, the Bureau of Private Enterprises, former minister of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja and now Governor of Kaduna State.
Nasir el-Rufai is a close personal friend of Hakeem Bello-Osagie, former chairman of UBA and later chairman of Etisalat Nigeria. The two men visited and took published chummy pictures with President Buhari in Aso Rock back in 2016. It was under chairman Belo-Osagie that Etisalat Nigeria took and defaulted on bank loans which brought the company to its knees, sent its foreign partners scuttling away and Belo-Osagie himself forced to resign as chairman. This tale is only potent grist for speculations.
Apart from Adrian Wood, we do not know the men of power and wealth behind Teleology Nigeria. We know that the new chairman of the newly acquired 9mobile Nigeria (former Etisalat Nigeria) is the Masoya Ciroma Kano, Alhaji Nasiru Ado Bayero. Who are the financial muscles of Teleology? Are they major shareholders of 9mobile? Again, many questions but no answers.
There are three ways to prove the Atiku allegations true or false. One, is for Atiku to provide through his deep throat sources the names of Buhari family members with shares in Keystone Bank and 9mobile. His call for investigations into the allegation will be ignored by the government which will thus limit the allegations to the realm of speculation. So Atiku owes Nigerians names. But will Atiku reveal this details? Not likely. A political trade off might be executed instead.
Two, is for President Buhari, if sufficiently upset by the allegations, to publicly deny them, to call on regulatory and security agencies investigation with a view to wipe out doubts about his image and to strike Atiku as bearing malicious falsehood. That is if the investigations prove himself and his family innocent of the allegations. Will this happen? No. The Presidency’s focus will be to dismiss the allegations as unserious. This will not dissuade folks who think the allegations are true.
Three, regulatory bodies, the CBN, NCC and AMCON should publicly publish the names of major shareholders or financiers of Sigma Golf-Riverbank consortium (Keystone Bank) and Teleology (9mobile). Will this happen? Not likely. They would not want to upset the powerful and wealthy.
Therefore it is not likely that the public will ever get to know if the Atiku allegations are true or false. Powerful and wealthy Nigerians are family no matter how much they appear divided by politics. What happens in the family is kept in the family. But no matter, information like water have a way of leaking out no matter how well they are boarded. Only a matter of time.
The greater troubling concern than the Atiku allegations, is the seeming impunity with which the rules of corporate and public governance, transparency and provision of relevant information including the profiles of those buying up corporate Nigeria are flouted by institutions as the NCC, CBN and AMCON. While we wait (perhaps in vain) for more details on the Atiku allegations, we must demand for transparency in the process of corporate acquisitions and we must ask:
Who are the Nigerian carpetbaggers throwing up billions of Naira like confetti and buying up our corporate entities? What is the source of their massive wealth? Are the billions they burn, fruits of successful entrepreneurship or putrescence of crass corruption? Nigerians deserve to know.
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