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Shareholders allege sabotage as Fortis crisis deepens

The resignation of Mrs Bunmi Lawson as Managing Director of the Interim Management Committee set up by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to pilot…

The resignation of Mrs Bunmi Lawson as Managing Director of the Interim Management Committee set up by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to pilot the affairs of Fortis Micro Finance Bank may not be unconnected with the deep rooted controversy regarding how she run the affairs of the bank.

Fortis, in a letter to the Nigerian Stock Exchange (NSE) on August 14 said: “The interim management committee of Fortis Micro Finance Bank hereby informs its shareholders and the general public of the resignation of Mrs Bunmi Lawson as the interim managing director with effect from the 3rd of August, 2018.

“Following the said resignation, it is expected that the CBN will announce the appointment of a new interim managing director in the future as the interim management committee continues its task in line with its terms of reference.”

Fortis Microfinance Bank Plc was incorporated as a Private Limited Company on June 18, 2007 and commenced operations as a unit Microfinance Bank on October 4, 2007.

The company converted to a Public Limited Company in October 2011 and its shares were subsequently listed on the NSE on the 20th of June 2012. In August 2015, Fortis obtained a license from the CBN to operate as a national microfinance bank.

However, consequent upon the inability of Fortis Microfinance Bank Plc to submit its  year end 31 December, 2016 audited financial statements to the NSE as required by the applicable provisions, the shares of the bank were suspended from being traded on the floor of The Exchange.

The bank, in a statement said: “The technical suspension of Fortis’ shares from the trading floor of The Exchange set off a chain reaction that culminated in several unintended outcomes, the most significant being the panic withdrawals of deposits it triggered. This was because the announcement was largely misconceived, misinterpreted and misunderstood as a revocation of the bank’s operating license.”

Although the Exchange lifted the suspension on 15th September 2017, after it submitted the financial statements and met other conditions for the lifting as required by regulation, “it was impossible to change the mindset of majority of depositors within such a very short time,” it further noted

In the third quarter of 2017, just as Fortis was about to migrate to a more versatile and robust core banking application, several accounting anomalies were unearthed that had to be immediately brought to the attention of the bank’s primary regulator, the Central Bank of Nigeria. 

The NSE again in July 2017 suspended trading in the equities of Fortis over its failure to adhere to best corporate governance practices, and refusal to submit its accounts and operational reports.

Following these developments, the apex bank appointed Bunmi Lawson to serve as Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer, Tiko Okoye as Deputy Managing Director, and Adewale Aderounmu ED, Development Finance.

The committee was mandated to maintain current operations and conclude negotiations regarding the bank’s restructuring. The bank which has funds under management in excess of N14 billion, disclosed that it had embarked on a housecleaning exercise following some accounting irregularities.

An insider and shareholder who confided in our reporter, disclosed that the interim management and the apex bank failed to act on a PricewaterhouseCooper (PwC) audit report that indicted two directors of the bank to the tune of N6 billion.

Since the resumption of Mrs Bunmi Lawson, and the interim management, they have pruned the branches of the bank from 15 to 4. They have also sacked over 300 staff and another one thousand on the Small and Micro Credit scheme (SMC) nationwide.

Document sighted by Daily Trust suggests that right from the inception of the committee, it did not act as a team as two nominees of the bank were sidelined and left out of management meetings.

Our reporter observed that the furniture that were recovered from the closed branches were dumped at the head office of the bank, Medife House Plot 2135, Herbert Macaulay Way, Wuse Zone 5, Abuja and had been rotting away as a result of exposure to rain and hash weather.

Another shareholder who spoke with our reporter said: “Those who were appointed to restructure the bank have instead helped to debase what they met.”

Daily Trust also learnt that the CBN has invited the current chairman, Mr. Felix Achibiri, who founded DFC Holdings Limited, to appear before it to explain how the bank became distressed under his watch.

Effort to get Mr Achibiri was not successful as he declined to comment, saying only that the CBN is handling the issues.

Investigation also showed that the current bank chairman personally reported the suspected graft that rocked the bank.

 Mrs Lawson did not reply a mail sent to her seeking her response on the issues raised by the shareholders.

Her resignation, a shareholder noted was indicative of the level the crisis rocking the institution had reached.

The shareholder said: “This is someone who took N4 million monthly salary from an ailing bank and without any result has abandoned the ship to wreck.”

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