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Right of Reply: LES LEBA’s uninformed attack on Soludo, AFC, and UBA

By Christian Aburime
I read with disgust an article published in the Vanguard newspaper of February 20, 2011 authored by one Les Leba entitled ‘Aganga vs Soludo: The pot and the kettle’. I have never responded to any newspaper article but after reading this one, I felt I must write.

Nigeria is a funny country, where there are no heroes and everyone who dares to revolutionise our country is criminalised and hounded out. In a country where few things work, the ones that work are seen as aberrations, and some evil minds work hard to bring them down to the general low standards.

I was greatly disappointed by the said article which was a wicked attempt to fabricate tales and use them to maliciously try to attack Soludo, the African Finance Corporation (AFC) and the UBA.  I have tried to ask questions about the author of the article and what I heard from his colleagues almost discouraged me from wasting my time.

As even the author admits in the article, no one pays attention to what he writes. But should that be the reason to vent his frustrations by publishing athwart materials on a distinguished Nigerian like Soludo or our revered institutions.

I used to believe a lot of things I read in the newspapers but after reading this article, especially about issues I have followed closely, my confidence in newspaper ‘opinions’ was shaken. Without holding forte for Soludo or AFC or UBA.

Les Leba fabricates stories to insinuate that EFCC investigated the setting up of the AFC, and that Soludo was found ‘guilty of abusing his office’ in setting up the institution without approval by federal executive council and the national assembly and that UBA was fined in the US because of its involvement in money laundering associated with AFC funds.

All these, Leba had to invent in order to get into the ‘war’ between Aganga and Soludo.  The article is a mumbo jumbo of sorts, alleging that Soludo ‘liberally disbursed $ 7000 m of Nigeria’s foreign reserves (to Nigerian banks) as bonus endowment for successful recapitalisation, with terms which continue to remain shrouded in secrecy…”.

He went into all kinds of illogicality and blatant wicked lies about AFC, etc, and concluded that Soludo “wants us to forget what the EFCC administration confirmed to be criminal culpability for which he sought and received unusual Presidential pardon even before he was formally prosecuted and found guilty”.

I have tried to investigate the issues raised by Leba, and troubled to realize that these are nothing but concoctions in the mind of Mr. Leba. I just can’t believe that a newspaper published these obvious wicked lies.

First, I confirmed from the Central Bank of Nigeria that not a penny of Nigeria’s foreign reserves was ‘disbursed’ to any Nigerian bank to manage. In the first instance, ‘foreign’ reserves in the account of ‘local’ banks are no longer foreign reserves.

The CBN policy was to require foreign banks and Asset Management companies managing Nigeria’s foreign reserves to have local partner banks so that they could also engage in capacity building for the local banks in asset management.

Let Leba name any one Nigerian bank that received the $7 billion that Soludo ‘liberally disbursed’ to them, and in the event that there is no such a thing, will he and Vanguard publicly apologize?

He claims that the CBN’s investment in AFC was ‘from proceeds officially borrowed on behalf of the Federal Government of Nigeria from the sale of treasury bills…’ Incredible! Mr. Leba, the CBN does not and cannot tamper with funds belonging to the FGN. It is like saying that your bank will take money from its customer’s account to solve its own problems.

The CBN is permitted by law to issue its own ‘treasury bills’. If CBN used money belonging to the FGN, why is the investment still in the name of the CBN and not the FGN as in cases where such is the case? Mr. Leba, I thought the most elementary tenet in journalism is that facts are sacred, and comments are free. In your case, you manufacture both the facts and comments.

Second, UBA was never fined in the US because of money laundering associated with AFC funds.  You mean that a bank was found ‘guilty’ of a criminal offence of ‘money laundering’ and it received a mere penalty which is given to civil infractions?

Money laundering is a criminal offence and an institution or individual found ‘guilty’ of it is prosecuted, at least that is the case in the United States. Neither UBA nor any of its officers was prosecuted in the USA, confirming that the bank was fined for routine procedural infractions, and I found that the infractions pre-dated the establishment of the AFC.

The other convoluted fantasies of Leba regarding the movement of AFC funds simply smack of total ignorance about basics of banking and foreign exchange operations. We won’t waste time on such laugh-it-offs.

Third, there was never an EFCC investigation into the establishment of AFC. As widely reported in the media, there was an ad-hoc 5-man ‘Committee’ drawn from different institutions, but chaired by a police officer attached to the ICPC. So where did Leba get his story about ‘EFCC administration’? Nigerians followed that bizarre political witch-hunt and celebrated the fact that in spite of the high wire politics involved, Soludo and the AFC were completely exonerated, with a letter of commendation by the late President.

We all know that every day, tens of ad-hoc committees are set up in government to study or investigate or review one thing or the other. Any report of such ad-hoc committees remains the ‘internal’ working document of the agency and could sometimes be accepted wholly or in part or rejected, and no one hears about them as they are part of daily routine processes in government.

In the case of the kangaroo investigation, it was reported that neither the CBN nor the AFC was given fair hearing and yet a ‘report’ emerged. To underscore the politically motivated nature of the ‘committee’ and its ‘report’, versions of the drafts were published in the media before it was even submitted to the President. Mr. President was obviously embarrassed by the entire affair and sent the ‘report’ to the CBN for its comments/reactions-to hear the other side of the story.

It turned out that contrary to all the insinuations and convoluted logic, the CBN received all necessary approvals from President Obasanjo, and the Board of the CBN approved the investment as provided by CBN Act. I still remember that Soludo publicly declared that if it was found that he stood to personally benefit one penny from the institution then or in the future, he would resign his job as Governor.

It was also reported that even the Board had offered him a percentage of the share capital as ‘sweat equity’ as is usual for founders of private sector companies but he rejected the offer.

After examining the systematic point by point rebuttal and evidence by the Central Bank, the President rightly concluded that the ‘report’ was maliciously baseless, and consequently in a letter to the CBN in January 2009, rejected the entire report and its baseless conclusions and recommendations. Soludo’s tenure expired and he left office in June, with an unprecedented letter of commendation from the President.

So, Leba, when and where did Soludo ‘seek and obtain presidential pardon’?  The letter by the President rejecting the entire report was clear six months before Soludo left office. In the article, Mr. Leba seems to manufacture his own reality and dwell in it. I can see why not many people waste their time to read him or take him seriously.

Consequently, government returned CBN’s investment to AFC, ratified its Charter and AFC continues to be Africa’s No. 1 infrastructure bank-with infrastructure investments in 13 countries now. Ghana recently joined after paying $50m, making it the 8th African country as member.

Thus, Soludo achieved what the African Union has been planning and procrastinating for decades-to set up a pan African investment bank.

This time, it is private sector-led, as part of Soludo’s grand vision of Nigeria as Africa’s financial hub, and tackling Nigeria’s and Africa’s infrastructure deficit. Soludo envisioned that AFC would be able to fund more infrastructure projects than the Federal Government, and before the ‘investigation’, the pipeline of projects was more than $15 billion.

If AFC was not derailed by the useless investigation, perhaps by now, it would have been funding mega projects such as the 4th mainland bridge in Lagos, power plants, etc. Soludo dreamt mega dreams for a big economy like Nigeria.

Indeed, even if the only achievement of Soludo is the establishment of the AFC (which is the African equivalent of the International Finance Corporation, IFC, of the World Bank), he deserves double African achievement award for this.

But not in Nigeria where every hero or man of rare intellect and capacity must be pulled down.

Mr. Leba is uncomfortable that Soludo contested for the governorship of Anambra and wondered how he funded the election. Sorry, Mr. Leba, I am aware that the Anambra people persuaded Soludo to come and help give their state a direction, to perform the revolution he performed in the economy. He still refused the pressure until the late President Yar’Adua joined in pressuring him to answer the call to duty.

Most people in Anambra know who the major funders for Soludo’s election were and many of their rich men who wanted a new Anambra joined the mass movement, not to talk of the PDP governors who also donated. Everyone knows how he was stopped, and Anambra people are still in pains.

By the way, it is only minds like Les Leba who think that those contesting for public office do so out of their pocket. How did all the civil servants and teachers who have been elected to exalted positions fund their elections? How did the Shehu Shagari’s or Aminu Kano’s or Oshiomhole’s or Shakarau’s and other governors fund their elections?  You think that if Soludo has anything to hide, he would have agreed to subject himself to the treacherous, murky waters of partisan politics?

But whatever Les Leba and his likes who want to re-write history say, Soludo has in a short period written his name in gold.

The history of our banking system will remain pre, and post- Soludo. He built the new banking system, saved it from collapse during the global crisis, created tens of thousands of jobs in the banking system, and the banking consolidation with the new wealth being created everywhere (including the capital market) helped to recreate the middle class— before the global crisis hit the system.

He brought sound economics to bear on the conduct of monetary policy such that inflation came down from 24% in 2003 before he took over in May 2004, to 10% in 2004 and single digits in 2006 and 2007 before the global crisis and the liquidity injection inched it up again in 2008.

He introduced the new forex management system (Wholesale Dutch Auction System) and maintained the longest stability in foreign exchange market while almost doubling our foreign reserves every year before the global crisis.

Furthermore, Soludo managed to avoid an overvaluation of the real effective exchange rate of the naira despite rising oil prices which is a feat few governors of central banks have achieved all over the world.  Mr. Leba, go and collect data from the National Bureau of Statistics on the growth rate of the manufacturing sector, agriculture, oil and gas, industry (so-called real sector) and the unemployment figures while Soludo was in office, and also the annual growth of bank credit to these sectors, and see how uninformed you are.

You have a sacred duty to inform and educate, and not use the privileged newspaper page given to you to distribute falsehood.

If there is still honour in the profession, Vanguard and Les Leba need to apologise to Soludo, the AFC and UBA for the libellous publication. It is the only honourable thing to do.

Christian Aburime is Head, Faces and Profile B3 Communications, Lagos

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