Something must be fundamentally wrong with our judicial system that makes it impossible for influential Nigerians to get their comeuppance at home for crimes committed, whereas they get same abroad when charged for the same crimes, and in record time, too. This is the logical conclusion to draw, from at least the cases of two prominent Nigerians recently convicted abroad. The first was that of former Governor James Ibori of Delta State, and now, Dr. Erastus Akingbola, former Managing Director of the defunct Intercontinental Bank Plc (now Access Bank Plc).
Mr. Akingbola was on Tuesday ordered to refund N164billion to Access Bank Plc by the High Court of Justice, Queens Bench Division in London. The money was the proceeds of unlawful share purchase scheme and fund misappropriation, which was converted into personal use during his tenure as managing director of the defunct bank. The court held further that he devised and presided over the implementation of the strategy to buy Intercontinental Bank’s shares.
The court also said that Akingbola lied that he did not know that the bank was buying its own shares and that shortly before the implementation of the strategy to increase the bank’s share price with the intent of benefiting from the unethical and illegal scheme, Akingbola had borrowed N9.3 billion to purchase a large quantity of the bank’s shares for himself.
As if all these were not enough, Akingbola also misappropriated N16billion that he paid to a business concern owned by his family, Tropics Companies, to repay debts owed by the companies which were personally guaranteed by him. He was also found to have misappropriated another £8.5 million, which was paid to his English solicitors to complete the purchase of luxury properties in London in his name.
Akingbola’s conduct clearly depicted the impunity and primitive accumulation that characterised the banking sector until the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) wielded the big stick, by removing in a fell swoop, managing directors of five banks in August 2009, over alleged breach of corporate governance practices in their respective banks. Akingbola’s conviction justified the decision by the apex bank.
We give kudos to the U.K. judicial system, and particularly Judge Michael Burton for disposing of the matter expeditiously. Until very recent years, bankers in Nigeria were the conservative people that they should be – hardly seen in public- but over the years, they began competing with politicians and others for media space, winning all kinds of dubious awards that did not reflect the true position of things in their respective banks.
But the conviction, coming again from abroad, is another sad commentary on the state of the judiciary in the country. The impression being given is that it is difficult to convict high net worth Nigerians at home, no matter the crimes they committed. This is unfortunate. Our courts must take some tutorial from the Ibori and Akingbola cases on how to quickly and diligently dispense justice, no matter the person involved.
Akingbola’s counsel has hinted that they may appeal the judgment. We would not be surprised if the appellate court in the U.K. even delivers its judgment before the N47billion case over which the former Intercontinental boss is also standing trial in the country, is decided, no thanks to the snail’s speed at which justice travels here. This is one main area that the new Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Aloma Mariam Mukhtar, should look into.
We agree in toto with Access Bank’s lawyer, Segun Osuntokun of Berwin Leighton Paisner LLP in London, that the judgment will send “a strong message to international investors in Nigeria that it is no longer ’business as usual’ in its banking sector”. But we would have been happier if such a lesson had been taught right here in Nigeria. Bankers who fiddle with other people’s money should get their due punishment.
Source: The Nation