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How Ndi Okereke-Onyiuke became victim of board room intrigues

By Babajide Komolafe

The  recent crisis that engulfed the nation’s only stock exchange would not have been if the erstwhile Director-General Dr. (Mrs.) Ndi Okereke-Onyiuke  had not fallen victim to circumstances many say she created with her larger than life image in the corporate world.

Ndi Okereke-Onyiuke

To many operators she was one of the best things that had happened to the Nigeria Stock Exchange (NSE) and her contributions to the development of the exchange and the capital market are quite sterling and colossal.

For example, within two years of  assuming duties at the Exchange in 1993, she strengthened the research base of the Exchange and influenced the computerisation of the Exchange leading to the creation of “The Nigerian Stock Exchange” All Shares Index .  Also during this period, she spearheaded the training of potential stockbrokers by starting off The Stock Exchange’s Authorised Clerkship Examination.

As a result of these and many more contributions which culminated to her appointment as Director-General of the Exchange in 1990, the history of the nation’s capital market will not be complete without significant mentioning of Ndi Okereke-Onyiuke  .

But one of the consequences of her achievement and status was the development of a “strong man” personality which many read as wanting to control everything. And they say occasioned her ego clash with billionaire and business mogul, Alhaji  Aliko Dangote.

Due to her laudable contributions and the fact that she rose through the ranks,  Okereke-Onyiuke  over the years developed strong grasp and grip of the Exchange which combined with the enormous respect she commands in the economy and political goodwill enjoyed during the Obasanjo era, made her become very powerful  to the extent that  nobody or group including the Securities and Exchange Commission, which was the apex regulatory body for the capital market, could  confront her or call her to order on any issue. Whatever she says or do cannot be changed or reversed.

Investigations revealed that she was said to have became so knowledgeable and powerful that she determined who was appointed to the  council of the Exchange hence most of the people on the council could not challenge her on any issue.

According to insider sources trouble started at the council of the Exchange when Dangote resisted the former DG’s perceived overbearing influence and its impact on conduct of the affairs of the Exchange.

It was gathered that he had severally reminded the former DG that she is to report to the council and she is not the head of the council but an employee. This off course did not go down well with her.  Insider say that this created a feeling that she orchestrated moves to ease Dangote out of office as President of the Exchange.

Dangote on suspecting her moves they say responded with a petition to SEC  that the NSE was  insolvent. In the petition to the Director General of the SEC, Ms Arunma Oteh, he enjoined the regulatory authority to investigate certain irregularities, particularly as they pertain to the accounts and books of the NSE.

He alleged that the Management of the NSE has not presented the audited financial statement for the year ended December 2009, seven months into the current financial year, neither has it been able to produce for consideration by the Finance and General Purpose Committee of the council, interim financial statements for the first and second quarters of 2010.

Despite having a surplus cash position of over N 9 billion as at the end of 2007, Dangote said NSE is today in deficit and unable to meet its obligations as and when due. Commenting on the expenditure pattern of the NSE, he said the NSE in the last four years grossed a total income of N 42.2 billion with a surplus of only N 5.6 billion, representing 13 per cent growth over the period.

According to him:  ‘At the end of 2007, NSE had a surplus cash position of over N 9 billion and as of today, the Exchange is in deficit and is unable to meet its obligations as and when due… the current inter-company balances with inter-company/associated companies amount to over N 3 billion, which have been built over a period of years.

Similarly, investment in such companies is now in excess of N 1.3 billion without any commensurate return being accounted for.

Dangote also asked SEC to urgently audit the Exchange’s Pension Scheme, to gain a thorough understanding of the extent of the liability of the Exchange. For instance, he said there was an actuarial valuation done which presented a deficit funding of N2.6 billion. He said over N423 million of the amount is said to be kept in an insurance company, for which the existence of the funds is yet to be ascertained.

Thus  from battling to install a successor, Ndi Okereke-Onyiuke now finds herself with the onerous challenge of fighting to clear herself any wrong doings at the Exchange as the head of management.

But she would have spared herself of this embarrassment if she had quitted last year or early this year, when calls for her to leave were on. Insider sources in the Exchange confirmed that she would have left in January but for the fact that she does not want to be seen bowing to pressures and also she so much wanted to ensure that a suitable emerged as her replacement as DG.

The first sign of possible trouble for her was the appointment of Ms Arunmah Otteh, an outsider but not totally a stranger to the nation’s capital market. Market operators said that Otteh’s appointment was a clear message that the authorities would  no longer tolerate the then existing order. But Okereke-Onyiuke thought she could manage the new SEC DG and ensure the Commission did not bite.

The second indication operators argued, which proved her wrong, was when the Commission ordered her to appear before it to explain her role in Transcorp, which was found to be   indebted to about five banks when the Central Bank of Nigeria released the list of banks debtors last year. Also last year, she was quizzed by operatives of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) over the Transcorp debt. These, in addition to calls for her to step down were enough indications that she had stayed beyond her welcome in the market but she chose to hold on.

Investigations revealed that, the new leadership of SEC had long decided to probe the operations of the Exchange but decided to start with probing operators, the brokers and bankers, believing this would produce strong evidence needed to investigate the Exchange. The allegation by Dangote only fast forwarded the process.

Further investigations revealed that the intervention of the Commission-appointment of an administrator and auditing firms to investigate the books of the Exchange had been planned hence the pace at which the Commission implemented the intervention.

Sources at the Commission said that had she left last year or early this year, the intervention would  not have  been necessary and indeed there were signals from the leadership of the Commission to the former DG that she should take a honourable exit. One of such signal was the demand for a succession plan for the appointment of the next DG they explained


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