Published On: Thu, Jan 5th, 2017

INVESTIGATION: How Elumelu’s UBA Aided Massive Looting By Military Chief

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By Sadiq Umar

The United Bank for Africa (UBA), without doubt, is one of Africa’s largest financial services provider. Subsidiaries in 20 African countries, representative offices in France, the United Kingdom and the United States, it is arguably a success story. That’s not all, UBA offers universal banking services to more than 7 million customers across 626 branches. In July 2011, it adopted the holding company model and as of December 2011, the valuation of UBA Group’s total assets was approximately US$12.3 billion (NGN:1.94 trillion), with shareholders’ equity of about US$1.07 billion (NGN:170 billion). It is indeed a big bank. But so are its problems, especially now when it is under investigation over its alleged role in the systematic looting of Nigeria’s treasury by an erstwhile military cabal.

Chairman, Heirs Holding

When the allegations of monumental sleaze dubbed Arms-gate, involving former Chief of Defence Staff, Air Marshal Alex Badeh were made public, little was known about how the bank aided the unwholesome deal. News Investigators can now reveal how the Tony Elumelu chaired bank helped the former military chief to carry out the alleged looting. The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Nigeria’s anti-graft agency investigating the matter, has fingered UBA as one of the conduits for the fleecing of military allocations during the sordid years. Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari, has vowed to get to the bottom of the case. Loots are being recovered and accused persons are under probe. Hence, the anti-graft has continued to comb the Asokoro, branch of the bank located at the nation’s capital. In the last six months, its official have been regular visitors to the EFCC head office. Earlier, the anti-corruption agency had paid a visit to the bank in Sanni Abacha Barrack, Asokoro. It carted away for further investigations relevant documents including office computers.

Alex Badeh, Nigeria Chief of Defence staff between January 16, 2014-July 13, 2015 was in charge of the N2billion monthly allocation to the military. The account is domiciled with the branch. Part of the amount which flowed into the account during the period, it was discovered, was paid into personnel accounts as monthly wages. Investigations further showed that the sum of N400 million from the total was paid as salaries. The balance of N1.6billion, however, was then changed into US Dollars by men of Bureau De Charge right inside the bank. To be sure that enough forex was available for the exchange of the loots, the bank invites the money changers from the black market at the instance of the CDS. Our investigation reveals that they usually gather at the branch every month end for the shady transaction. Some of the BDC operators involved have offered useful information in the on-going investigation.

The UBA has become notorious for unwholesome deals. Last year, the bank was enmeshed in a controversy over the unmerited loan granted Ndudi Elumelu, a former member of the House of Representatives and People’s Democratic Party (PDP) governorship aspirant in Delta State. Rep. Ndudi who is a sibling of the Group Chairman, Tony Elumelu had approached his elder brother for financial assistance to enable him prosecute his gubernatorial project. Against the warning of other directors of the bank and their demand for due process, the Group Chairman had pushed for the approval a loan amounting to N2billion to his junior brother, banking on Ndudi’s house document as collateral. The House is located at Lobito Crescent, Wuse ll, Abuja. What wasn’t clear was the value of the sprawling property in question.

 

But then, true to the fear expressed by other directors, things soon gone awry. Ndudi lost the ticket of the party to Ifeanyi Okowa, a Senator who eventually emerged as governor of Delta state. The former Chairman of Committee on Health in the House of Representatives then shocked the nation when he openly accused the PDP screening committee of swindling him of over N900milion, questioning why the ticket was not delivered unto him after collecting the money from him. It was enough scandal. The Group Chairman needed no further confirmation that his bank was already trapped in a bad deal. He had threatened to dispose the young Elumelu’s property should he fail to pay back. But little did he know that that won’t just happen without a fight. The junior Elumelu had to petition the EFCC accusing his elder brother and indeed UBA of granting him “unmerited loan,” literally making the hunter the hunted. Till date, the loan is yet to be fully redeemed.

Even at that, the bank has been doing well, declaring heavy profits and high turnover annually in billions. In 2016 for instance, on Thursday June 2, 2016, the bank released its first quarter (Q1) 2014 results which showed a 30 per cent decline in profit after tax (PAT) to N11.1 billion, while profit before tax (PBT) declined by 21 per cent to N13.544 billion as against Q1, 2013. The decline in PAT was greater due to a loss of N1.3 billion on the other comprehensive income line compared with a gain of N761 million in the prior year. It was a sign of the time. Nigeria is going through economic meltdown, UBA like others are feeling the heat.

But that has not stopped the Group Chairman from drawing heavily from the volt. According to an Inside Source, the Group Chairman draws on monthly basis the sum of N1.2billion from the bank. The money, it was learnt, are mainly spent on HEIR Holding, which is Elumelu’s sole project as well as other pet projects including that of his wife. The downturn in Nigeria’s economy, where UBA is headquartered, is also taking its toll on the banking sector in the country. This has in recent time led to massive retrenchment of banks and financial institution workers. Banks like the Skye bank, ECO bank and UBA have also laid off workers. The ones done by UBA has been controversial with many describing it as “ethnic cleansing in UBA”. The exercise was alleged to have been targeted at a particular workers of the Yoruba extraction.

However, while it continued to grow “vertically and horizontally” such progress hardly impacts on its staffers many of who are complaining in hush tone of low pay package. Pauline Azodo (not real name) who spoke to News Investigators on condition of anonymity lamented. “There is no doubt the bank is doing well, it is sad we are earning peanuts compare to our colleagues in Zenith for instance,” Azodo particularly lamented UBA’s poor pay package for lower cadre staffers like drivers and security men. “It bleeds my heart anytime l remember one of our drivers died recently just because he could not get the right medical treatment. There is no medical package for them,” the source revealed.

But that was fate of the poor driver. Certainly, the Group Chairman is a philanthropy of some sorts. He has become famous for his financial support and encouragement to young entrepreneur across Africa. The Tony Elumelu Foundation, his project, has since 2010 encouraged young businessmen across Africa. Just last week, the foundation released the list of 1000 selected for the TEEP 2016. But it is doubtful whether the current administration in Nigeria is impressed by any of these. Recently, a team of managers from the bank managed to secure an appointment with the Chief of Staff to President Muhammadu Buhari, Alhaji Abba Kyari, a lawyer, banker, sociologist and a former newspaper editor. The visit was to pledge loyalty to government and to solicit business support. Alhaji Kyari was a former manager with UBA. But the team were disappointed. While they were well received by the Chief of Staff, they were told point blank that there would be no deal as long as the current management structure remains.

UBA’s Director, Corporate Affairs, Charles Aigbe, when contacted, said there was no truth in the allegations. “Thanks for getting in touch with me. These allegations are unfounded and not true but I would like to meet with you.” Mr. Aigbe stated.

To be continued…

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