By Orobosa Omo-Ojo
The arraignment of Dr. Tunde Ayeni, the former Chairman, Board Directors of Skye Bank Plc, now Polaris Bank before Justice Nnamdi Dimgba of Federal High Court, Abuja by the Economic and Financial Crime Commission (EFCC) is at best unreasonable and at worst utterly absurd and ridiculous considering the processes leading to the unfortunate loan saga that plagued the once boisterous bank.
The EFCC, in its usual haphazard prosecution of perceived corrupt persons who have anything to do with the previous government hurriedly arraigned Mr Ayeni alongside Timothy Oguntayo, for allegedly conspiring at different times to fraudulently divert depositors’ funds domiciled at Skye Bank Plc on an eight-count charge, bordering on money laundering to the tune of about N8 billion.
One of the counts reads: “That you Dr. Tunde Ayeni whilst being the Chairman, Board of Directors of Skye Bank Plc and Timothy Ajani Oguntayo whilst being the Managing Director and Chief Executive of Skye Bank between the years 2014 and 2015 conspired at different times to do an illegal act, to wit; caused cash delivery to you, Dr. Tunde Ayeni of the sums of money totalling N4,750,000,000 (Four Billion, Seven Hundred and Fifty Million Naira) and USD5,000,000 (Five Million United States Dollars) belonging to Skye Bank Plc, contrary to the provisions of Section 1(a) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act 2011 (as amended) read together with Section 18 (a) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act 2011 (as amended) and punishable under Section 16(2) (b) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act 2011 (as amended)”, to which they pleaded “not guilty” to all the counts.
EFCC’s gun-jumping trial of Ayeni and his colleague belied the known facts about the defunct Skye Bank’s travail and the federal government reckless abandon not to honour its own part of contractual obligation with Integrated Energy Distribution Company Plc.
It is important to point out that Tunde Ayeni and his partners were the core investors for the Yola Disco that they have since returned to the Federal Government through the Bureau of Public Enterprise. Yet, Federal Government has not refunded the contribution made by Dr. Ayeni and his team. But in a most bizarre manner, the same federal government through her agencies is persecuting the very person they owe $180 million since 2015.
If this amount was settled by the federal government, it should have helped to defray the loan advances by the defunct Skye Bank. Without doubt, the refusal by government to make refunds to Integrated Energy Distribution Company has led to the unsustainable debt crisis that the company subsequently relapsed into due to no reasons of their own.
With the delay in refund, the company was left to service the loan on behalf of the federal government, even with the hike in the foreign exchange market. It is instructive to state that the part of the loan was sourced at a conversion rate of N150 to the dollar, which skyrocketed to N380 at the close of 2017.
These challenges have severely constrained the operations of Discos and thus, the non-realisation of the supposed gains of the privatisation of the power sector.
In reality, these challenges were underestimated and completely overlooked, by the Federal Government through the BPE and NERC on one hand, and the core investors and their financiers. Realising these lapses, it will be more helpful to the nation to support the core investors of the DisCos to overcome their debt overhang that is threatening their survival.
Rather than this needless persecution, government should refund the $180 million with interest to Integrated Energy Distribution Company to defray the company’s exposure to Skye Bank rather than allowing divisive elements through sponsored stories to portray a businessman in bad light.
In additionally, the Central Bank of Nigeria can also restructure the outstanding loan with Skye Bank (now Polaris Bank) into long-term debt or equity. This will further demonstrate the readiness of the President to attract and retain local investors in the country.
If there was any doubt about the intentions of Dr. Tunde Ayeni’s adversaries, a similar on-going attack on him, which again is based on his rapid success stories at NITCOM and NTEL, that once derided Nigeria Telecommunication Company (NITEL and MTEL) has put paid to the fact that his travails were heinously planned and is being systematically executed.
NTEL became Nigeria’s fifth mobile network and first to deploy pure play 4G/LTE advanced network in 2015 after a successful rigorous bid process that that eventually selected NATCOM Telecommunications, a consortium headed by Dr. Ayeni as the preferred bidder for the Nigerian Telecommunications Limited (NITEL).
The sale of NITEL went through a “guided liquidation” process led by the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE). The Nigerian government eventually handed over NITEL and MTEL assets over to NATCOM (NTEL’s parent company).
Quickly, the new owners transformed the moribund telecom company into a world-class enterprise and with this feat, came needless attack. The giant strides NTEL recorded within the short time after commercial launch brought many hurdles, which NatCom has had to overcome. Undaunted, the company has remained focused, and has continued to contribute to the growth of Nigeria’s economy, providing thousands of jobs in the process.
From available records, it is clear that Skye Bank played a pivotal role in the financing of NTEL, which at the onset was good business that had no hidden agenda but purely business financing – which is in line with the mandate of any board. The initial purpose of bringing the two transactions to the bank was to contribute to its profitability that should have contributed to her bottom-line. Happily, the two companies (Yola DisCo and NTEL) are going concerns. The cash flow of the respective companies and the refund of US $180 million expected from the Federal Government of Nigeria can easily defray the exposure of NTEL to the defunct Skye Bank. Anything outside that would amount to mere gloating and media trial of Dr. Tunde Ayeni in order to discourage a capable competent local investors.
*Omo-Ojo is a former Commissioner for Information in Edo State.