By Innocent Anaba &Abdulwahab Abdulah
LAGOSâ€”The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, led by Farida Waziri, will today storm Lagos with 100 operatives and two Mobile Police units to arrest all loan defaulters who fail to meet the seven-day deadline given byÂ last Tuesday to pay up or have their properties sealed.
Meanwhile, the umbrella body for Nigerian lawyers, the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, has askedÂ EFCC to follow due processÂ in the plot to arrest some of the former bank executives, recently relieved of their jobs by the CBN and declared wanted by the commission on Sunday.
Waziri in Lagos
A source close to the commission revealed that seals running into thousands were released to the operatives to seal up property belonging to the loan defaulters.
According to the source, specially designed seals for private jets were also prepared by the agency as most of the defaulters own private aircraft parked at the airports in Lagos.
It was also revealed that the amount paid back so far â€œis paltry when compared to the magnitude of what the debtors are owing.
The property of the debtors would be sealed up in different parts of Lagos that have been penciled down by the anti-graft agency before the sledge hammer of the apex bank slammed against the banks barely two weeks agoâ€.
The source explained to Vanguard that â€œthe operatives left early this morning (yesterday) to enable them arrive early and carry out the operations as directed by the chairman as excuses will not be accepted for any failure.â€
When asked of the possibility of being influenced by the loan defaulters, the source simply said â€œour operatives are well paid.
They see this assignment as a challenge than monetary rewards, in short they cannot be influenced by anybody.â€
When contacted, Head, Media and Publicity of EFCC, Mr Femi Babafemi confirmed that operatives had been sent to Lagos as the deadline elapses by 12 midnight
NBA asks EFCC to follow due process
NBA also cautioned the CBN to follow due process in the on-going sanitation of the banking industry, pointing out that the CBN Governor, Mallam Lamido Sanusi had â€œin a moment of indiscretion, expressed his predilection for the sale of the banks when none of them has been declared insolvent and incapable to meet its obligations to the depositors and shareholders.â€
Chief Oluwarotimi Akeredolu (SAN), NBA President in a statement in Lagos, yesterday said â€œthe recent sack of five top bank executives by the CBN continues to generate comments in the country. Whilst we had commended the move by the Governor of the apex bank to sanitise the banking system, we note that not a few Nigerians have expressed their anxieties at the unfolding drama and the danger the whole episode poses for the health of the financial sector.â€
According to him, â€œthe EFCC appears to have been excited and the operatives of the agency are busy arresting the bank executives suspected to have breached the law in their dealings. There is also a report that some of these people may be declared wanted in the days ahead for the perceived roles in the alleged fraud.
The EFCC boss, Mrs. Farida Waziri, was quoted as giving the alleged debtors of the affected banks a week ultimatum to redeem their debts or face prosecution.
The CBN Governor, in a moment of indiscretion, also expressed his predilection for the sale of the banks, when none of them has been declared insolvent and incapable to meet its obligations to the depositors and shareholders. These statements have excited controversies and cast a heavy shade of suspicion on the seeming altruistic intention of the Governor.
â€œWeÂ Â hasten to caution government functionaries, on whose shoulders rest the onerous responsibilities to sanitise the banking system to approach their duties with tact and in strict adherence to the extant laws. The interest of depositors must be of paramount importance when adopting whatever measures deemed expedient to rein in the excesses of erring individuals with the ultimate aim of salvaging the entire system.
â€œNo arbitrariness must be contemplated in resolving these issues. Debtors are under obligation to pay their debts within agreed contractual and legal framework. Those who default should be made to face full sanction within the ambit of the law.
We must allow the law to dictate the steps to be taken in dealing with those involved in sharp practices.
â€œWe wish to admonish the regulators of the system to follow due process in dealing with the latest development in our banking industry. It is our hope that the shareholders in particular, and the generality of the public, will be taken into confidence before any fundamental alteration of the character of the ownership structure of the affected companies is effected.
Acting otherwise will further erode the already shattered trust between the investing public and the financial managers on one hand in addition to accentuating the doubts expressed by some in the sanitization crusadeâ€, he added.
Meanwhile, former Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice of Abia State, Chief Solo Akuma (SAN), insists that unless the EFCC can establish that the former bank executives committed an offence, they canâ€™t be held accountable for the loan they granted, as the only way to recover such monies was by filing a civil case in court for the recovery of the debts.
He said, â€œit depends on what the EFCC is accusing the former bank executives of doing. Unless they have committed an offence, they canâ€™t be arrested over a facility they granted a customer. If they have committed an offence, the EFCC is authorised by law to declare them wanted, if it had invited them and they failed to appear.â€
â€œOn the other hand, if they have not committed an offence, I mean if what they did is not a criminal offence, but a function carried out, like granting of loan facilities to customers, then the EFCC has no business with them.
It is not just that Mr A has been given credit facility and that he refused to repay or he has not been able to repay the loan and for that reason, the bank MD has committed an offence, that cannot be true.
â€œGranting of credit facility are purely contractual arrangements and purely a civil matter. The EFCC should tell us what they did.
Did they in the course of granting the facilities, request a percentage? If a man is given N30 as loan and he gives the bank executive N20, then we can understand that an offence has been committed.
If in your office you take salary advance, which your manager duly approved, if for any reason you are no more hardworking and unable to repay the salary advance you took, does it mean that your manager who approved it has committed an offence.â€
â€œMy position is that the EFCC should tell us the offence they have committed, but if it is purely because they granted a facility, which is not performing, then it becomes a purely civil matter, which I believe EFCC has no business getting involved,â€ he added.
But for NBA Secretary General, Mr Ibrahim Mark, the bank executives should first honour EFCC invitation and know why they are wanted in the first place and not to speculate on why they are wanted. He said, â€œEFCC knows why it is looking for the effected bank executives and we know that EFCC is an agency charged with the function of fighting crime.
So, if they are looking for them and they refuse to honour such invitation, there is nothing stopping the EFCC from declaring them wanted, because the EFC will not wait for them indefinitely.
The argument that they have not committed any offence, but merely granted loan to their customers, is not an excuse for them not to honour EFCC invitation.
If they report to EFCC and it is discovered that they have not committed any offence, they will be released to go home, but if it is established that they committed an offence, they will be charged to court.
â€œIt was reported in the papers recently, that some of the loans were given without due process and in some cases, laid down procedure was not followed.
If you grant a loan of N30million without aÂ collateral, you canâ€™t say you have not committed an offence and some of them, we read also offered loans to themselves, without approval from the CBN.
We also read of allegations that some gave stock brokers huge loan and I donâ€™t think share certificate can be used as a collateral. Let them report to EFCC and who ever does not have a case, will be set free, instead of saying that they will not report to the commission,â€ he added.
Emeka Ngige (SAN) saidÂ â€œthe EFCC has unfettered powers and rights to declare the bank officials wanted, especially if they have been invited and they did not turn up. Also, the anti graft body can also declare them wanted where a criminality has been established against them.
Looking at the matter, they can be invited in regard with the loans granted to the companies by the banks. Also, in line with the provisions of the Failed Bank and related offences Act and the EFCC Act, the EFCC and the CBN have the right to invite or declare them wanted.
â€œHowever, they (bank executives) are protected by the constitution to have access to their lawyers, their dignity must be protected and that they have to be charged to court for any offence seems to be committed by them within a reasonable time granted by the law.â€
Also, a senior lecturer in the Faculty of Law, LASU, Gbenga Ojo said the EFCC had no such powers to declare them wanted until they got a court injunction to that effect. Ojo said â€œ EFCC has no such powers to declare them wanted. It is ultra-vires of the power of the EFCC to do that.
They can only investigate the case, but declaring them wanted could only be possible through a court order.Â Also, I need to point out that the issue is of two folds, in as much as the EFCC can arrest the bank officials, they cannot arrest the bank customers, except if they have genuine case of fraud against them.
The matter is pure business and contractual agreements with the individual banks.
Their lawyers, in separatereactions, argued that the EFCC has no right to declare them wanted, especially when the matter is before the court.
Akingbolaâ€™s counsel, Mr Tunde Fagbohungbe (SAN) said â€œthey cannot declare him wanted because he has not done anything wrong.
The CBN has not accused him of any criminal offence, so they cannot declare him wanted. All the noise that Akingbola had fled the country is incorrect. He is outside the country for a very important engagement and he will soon return.
â€œThey are now busy examining the books of the banks to find something to nail him. But as far as we know, they have not found anything against him. The examination they are now doing is what they should have done before the CBN made the announcement which removed him from office.â€
Mr Adeniyi Akintola, representing Mrs Ibru said: â€œThis is the only country where people go to the media on issues they know nothing about. Mrs Ibru is not ordinary Nigerian, she is an eminent one. They know where she lives. She has not gone to hiding.
How then can she be declared wanted? She was invited by the EFCC, she was there and thereafter allowed home. If they still want her, why did they not go to her residence?â€