BY AZUBIKE UGWUMBA—In the last three days, we have seen a storm of allegations regarding the ownership of Titan Trust Bank Limited (TTB) and Union Bank of Nigeria Plc (“Union Bank”), and this has captured public attention. These claims, reportedly stemming from a report submitted to the President by a Special Investigator, Mr Jim Obaze, have initiated a critical discussion around transparency. However, the lack of access to the report begs for an open dialogue to clarify the unfolding narrative.
The core accusation revolves around the former Central Bank Governor’s alleged use of intermediaries in acquiring Union Bank and doubts about whether Titan Bank met the reported purchase price. To understand the gravity of these claims, it’s imperative to grasp the financial magnitude of the investors steering these banks.
TGI Group, with assets exceeding ₦3.75 trillion and 2022 revenues surpassing ₦1.74 trillion, emerges as a financial powerhouse. To underscore this, the sale of its subsidiary “Chivita” to Coca-Cola Group companies in 2020 for more than USD 500 million, a figure nearly three times the alleged equity element in the Union Bank acquisition, speaks volumes about the group’s financial robustness. TGI Group’s financial resilience, underscored by concrete figures, paints a picture of stability.
Contrary to these allegations, documents availed necessary parties indicate that payment for Union Bank shares was indeed made, raising questions about the accuracy of claims suggesting non-payment and highlighting the importance of verifying such financial transactions. Titan Trust Bank’s chairman, Mr Tunde Lemo, has strongly refuted the allegations made by the special investigator, providing details and names that can confirm the transparency and integrity of the transaction. Drawing parallels, it’s akin to questioning a transaction’s legitimacy while the receipts stand as concrete evidence.
The news of Mr. Lemo being summoned by the special investigator once again has been making waves in the business community. The investigator has written a letter in reaction to the rebuttal made by Titan Trust Bank. The letter stated that Mr Lemo and TTB’s rebuttal was offensive.
The letter is filled with many allegations, and it has raised questions about the independence and bias of the investigation. Many wonder whether Mr Obaze is singling out Mr Lemo for unknown offences or if the investigation is truly unbiased and objective.
It is important to note that Mr. Lemo is a respected figure in the business community, and many have lauded his efforts. He has always been known for his dedication and hard work. Therefore, the allegations made against him have come as a surprise to many.
The scrutiny extends to Luxis and Magna, the UAE-based holding companies accused of lacking a physical presence in Dubai. Yet, in the global business landscape, such corporate structures are commonplace. TGI’s financial fortitude backing these entities accentuates their credibility, emphasising the need for context in evaluating business practices. TGI, in its statement, categorically affirmed that “the entire transaction was managed by highly reputed global financial institutions including Rothschild and Citibank. And like most major acquisitions, the process took years to complete. A USD 300 million loan was sourced from the African Export-Import Bank (Afrexim), and the rest of the capital was sourced from the proceeds of TGI’s sales of its Chi Ltd business to Coca-Cola, all to finance the acquisition of Union Bank.”
Another layer to the controversy involves a “mysterious shareholder” supposedly providing interest-free long-term loans. Examination of the financial records reveals that these loans were granted within the TGI Group, illustrating a standard business practice. Parallels can be drawn to global corporate scenarios, where loans within a closely-knit business ecosystem are considered normal.
The allegations surrounding Mr. Cornelius Vink, the founder of TGI Group, necessitate a balanced perspective. As a distinguished Dutch national, his cooperation in providing requested documents to the investigator showcases a commitment to transparency. Analogously, it mirrors other reputable figures in international business who willingly subject themselves to scrutiny.
Turning our attention to the alleged recommendation for the government to take over Union Bank, the financial stability of Union Bank and Titan Bank, coupled with the investigator’s apparent lack of statutory powers for such recommendations, raises questions about the credibility of this assertion. It’s akin to questioning the legitimacy of a referee’s call beyond the established rules of the game. Mr Obaze lacks the necessary statutory powers to make such calls and appears once again to be arrogating powers to himself that are not legal. Perhaps we should remember and question his many ‘allegations’ against corporate entities and individuals that were just him bloviating.
Amidst this uncertainty, the call for transparency echoes louder. TGI Group’s financial resilience, fortified by concrete evidence, underscores the importance of a candid dialogue to address the swirling allegations surrounding the Union Bank/Titan Trust Bank transaction. The figures presented and the parallels drawn serve as signposts guiding the need for clarity in this complex financial tapestry.
The business community eagerly awaits the outcome of this investigation and hopes the truth will come out. Until then, these questions must be answered.
1. Why did the Special Investigator go to the media instead of taking the usual investigative or legal route?
2. Is this an attempt to create negative publicity for the Banks, TGI and personalities involved without presenting any evidence?
3. If the Special Investigator believes that Mr Godwin Emefiele owns the bank as he has alleged, why hasn’t he provided any evidence after such a lengthy investigation?
4. Why is he specifically targeting and harassing legitimate business owners and professionals?
5. Is the Special Investigator suggesting that the government is willing to face significant consequences by seizing private investments, especially when the nation is actively trying to attract foreign investments?
It is prudent for Mr Obaze to remember that rather than this media trial that he has embarked on, “affirmanti non neganti incumbit probation” – the burden of proof lies on him, who asserts.