July 10, (THEWILL) – Four days after the acquisition of 4.8 billion shares of FBN Holdings (FBNH) Plc by Oba Otudeko Ecobank Nigeria has written FBNH, asking it not to recognise the new shares recently acquired by the multibillionaire through one of his subsidiary interests, Honeywell Group,
Oba Otudeko’s Honeywell Group last Thursday bought 4,770,269,843 shares of FBNH Plc in a cross deal worth N87.8 billion, thus making the multibillionaire businessman the largest shareholder of Nigeria’s oldest financial services institution
This newspaper learnt that Ecobank Nigeria, the local unit of Lomé-based Ecobank Transnational Incorporated, made the request through its solicitor, ‘Kunle Ogunba & Associates, in a letter dated 7 July 2023.
The solicitor noted in the letter that the bank made the request because of Oba Otudeko’s failure to clear a debt totalling N13.5 billion with Ecobank.
Ecobank noted that it initiated a legal action against Honeywell Group Limited, Anchorage Leisures Limited, Siloam Global Services Limited and Mr Otudeko at the Federal High Court in Lagos, aimed at recovering the debt.
According to the document, the four entities disputed their indebtedness to Ecobank, but a Supreme Court judgment on 27 January 2023, affirmed the indebtedness, ordering them to pay N13.5 billion from the loan contract said to be personally guaranteed by Oba Otudeko.
It was learnt that on the same day the letter was issued, FBNH had written the Nigerian Exchange to notify the bourse of acquiring a 13.3 per cent holding in the financial services group by Barbican Capital Limited, an affiliate of Honeywell Group.
It was further gathered that Barbican Capital was registered in Nigeria on 9 March 2023 and has Otudeko Obafemi Adedamola and Oyeleye Foluke as persons with significant control of the enterprises.
“Instead of taking urgent steps to repay their indebtedness in line with the mandate of the Supreme Court, it has come to our notice that Dr Oba Otudeko (being the prime mover and alter ego of the debtor companies who personally guaranteed to repay the said debt) has taken active steps to divert his assets/funds and those of the debtor companies,” the sources said, quoting Ecobank’s lawyers.
“This he has done by using a company known as Barbican Capital Limited (special purpose vehicle), which was recently and hurriedly incorporated after the judgement of the Supreme Court (specifically on 9th March 2023,” they added.
Ecobank remarked through his solicitors that Mr Otudeko’s actions are targeted at diverting his assets and those of Honeywell Group of Companies through Barbican Capital so as to frustrate the execution of the apex court judgment against him.
The solicitors requested FBN Holdings to refrain from approving the shares, given that “proceeding with such approval/registration will be tantamount to assisting in the diversion of funds/assets meant for the payment of the debt, which has been affirmed by the Supreme Court.”
They equally requested the corporation to furnish them with the details of the status of the transaction in the next seven days.
Mr Otudeko, who chaired the group’s board until a shake-up ended his tenure in April 2021, controls Honeywell Flour Mill. The businessman owns a 75 per cent stake in the company through Siloam Global Services Limited, according to the company’s 2022 earnings report.
The recent acquisition of FBN shares by an entity associated with Oba Otudeko, an erstwhile chairman of the bank has sparked a fierce tussle for control among major shareholders of Nigeria’s oldest bank.
Some of the major shareholders are said to be warming up with strategies on how to respond to the apparent emergence of Otudeko as the bank’s single largest equity holder
Their worry appears to revolve around concerns that Otudeko and some other shareholders would now seek firstly to enthrone a board representative of interests of the shareholders and not that of the suspended governor of the central bank Godwin Emefiele who brought the bank under a controversial regulatory control last year.
This may also mean trouble for some in the management of the bank seen by the Otudeko group as puppets of the suspended CBN governor