By Dapo Akinrefon
For Edo State-born politician, philanthropist and business mogul, Captain Hosa Okunbo, it was a sigh of relief when he was cleared of the alleged theft and criminal diversion of company funds levelled against him by a former Chairman of the defunct Skye Bank, Dr Tunde Ayeni.
Okunbo was Ayeni’s erstwhile business partner.
The bone of contention was whether Okunbo lawfully acquired Ayeni’s interest in Ocean Marine Solutions Limited, OMS, an issue that generated so much heat.
The Nigeria Police, however, laid the matter to rest as it exonerated the Edo-born business in the matter saying he (Okunbo) was blameless
Upon a thorough investigation, the police in a letter to Okunbo’s lawyer, Mr. Augustine Alegeh, SAN,, copied to the Attorney-General and Minister of Justice as well as the Chairman of Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, said the petition by Ayeni against Okunbo could not be established.
Ayeni had through his lawyer, Mr Femi Falana, SAN, filed a petition on December 7, 2020, with the police accusing Okunbo of theft of the funds of Ocean Marine Solutions Limited, a company they, in company with others, had formed.
The former chairman of the defunct Skye Bank (now Polaris Bank) had last year, dragged Okunbo (his business partner) to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, for alleged mismanagement, stealing and diversion of funds from their company – Ocean Marine Security, OMS, Limited.
Ayeni’s decision elicited angry reactions from sources privy to the business deals between the two.
Multiple sources, familiar with the business deal, disclosed that Ayeni, who had sold his shares in OML in 2018 and was duly paid, consequently upon which he resigned his appointment as Director and shareholder of the company is trying to take undue advantage of Okunbo’s ill-health to hijack the company by claiming that he is still a shareholder in the company.
Ayeni, in the petition by his counsel, Mr. Femi Falana, alleged how Okunbo attempted to scheme him out of the company, saying he had since discovered “a lot of stealing and diversion as well as gross mismanagement of large sums of money belonging to the company.”
The former bank boss also alleged that Okunbo, whom he said had been his partner since 2003, deceived him and took over control of the company while he was undergoing a court trial, which he claimed had distracted him.
Besides, Ayeni said he and Okunbo invested in the Ibadan Electricity Distribution Company, IBEDC, but his partner moved the company’s account to another bank and abandoned repayment of a $100 million loan used to fund the acquisition of the power firm.
The petition reads: “Subsequently, Capt. Hosa Okunbo told our client that all accounts of the businesses that he was involved in for which he was a signatory, was being rumoured to be closed because of the trial our client was facing, and it was important for him to step aside from the Ocean Marine and its subsidiaries structure and hand over to him so that he could protect the income sources as that was the only source of income with which to fund the faithful repayment of the gross liabilities, which were well over $150 million owed to a consortium of banks led by Polaris Bank over the acquisition of the IBEDC and the YEDC DisCos as at the time.
“Our client agreed to the advice and did not doubt Capt. Hosa Okunbo’s sincerity and intention to act in good faith, based on the trust our client had in him as they had both been working and partnering together since July 2003.
“At no point was an actual sale of his interest in Ocean Marine Solutions Ltd or any of its subsidiaries or affiliates ever discussed, but Capt. Hosa Okunbo is trying to use the gentlemen’s arrangement to forcefully take over his holdings of the Company whose monthly income is about $9 million.
Okunbo invites Ayeni
It was also gathered that Okunbo invited Ayeni on the board of OMS where he acquired a 35% stake in the company.
But following his exit from Skye Bank, Ayeni had approached Okunbo that he would like to sell off his shares and cease to be a director of OMS.
A special resolution of the board of Prime Union Investment Limited, signed by Ayeni and his wife, Biola, confirmed the sale of shares in mid-August 2018.
Following this agreement, Okunbo, on November 26, 2018, duly authorised the transfer of N1billion to Ayeni’s Olutoyl Estate Development and Services Ltd’s Sterling Bank account.
The balance was, however, mutually agreed to be paid on a monthly instalment.
It was further gathered that the board of OMS went ahead to notify the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, and the Office of the Vice-President about Ayeni’s resignation of his membership of the board of the OMS and its affiliate companies.
Acknowledging the agreement in January 2019, the CBN said: “Please, be informed that the resignation of Dr. Ayeni from the board of your company does not in any way affect his liability, or that of Ocean Marine Solutions Limited or any of its subsidiaries/group members, to Skye Bank Plc (now Polaris Bank Limited) and, indeed, any other bank in Nigeria.”
Similarly, on March 1st, Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo, in an acknowledgement letter titled: ‘Re: Notification of Resignation and Share Divestment of Dr. Olatunde John Ayeni’ signed by the Deputy Chief of Staff to the President, Ade Ipaye, commended Capt. Okunbo’s renewed commitment to service in the agricultural, aviation and hospitality sectors of the economy.
The letter reads: “Your Company’s disclaimer as regards the said Dr Ayeni’s activities as chairman of Skye Bank has been duly noted and brought to the attention of His Excellency, the Vice President.”
But in a document, the EFCC, through Muhammed Umar Abba, its Director of Operations said investigations it conducted revealed that Ayeni, had on August 8, 2018, sold his 35 million Ordinary Shares in Ocean Marine Solutions Limited and he is no longer a Director and shareholder of the company.
OMS management clears the air
However, responding to Ayeni’s claim, the Management of OMS was explicit that Ayeni was no longer a part of either OMS or its associated companies.
Setting the records straight, the OMS management said he (Ayeni) resigned in 2018 after selling all his shares.
It said: “The attention of the Board of Ocean Marine Solutions Limited (OMS) has been drawn to several petitions written to various Government Agencies and widely circulated online, written, authored and orchestrated by Dr. Olatunde John Ayeni, a former Director and shareholder of OMS.
“Dr. Olatunde John Ayeni is no longer a Director of OMS and any of its associated companies having resigned from OMS since August 2018,” the signees posited, adding that he sold and transferred all his shares and interests to Wells Property Development Company Limited for valuable consideration since 2018.
According to the management, when Ayeni became aware in September 2020 that Captain Okunbo had health issues and was undergoing treatment in London, he “has since then started making false claims that he is still a part of OMS.”
Ayeni was also accused of peddling misinformation to the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit, NFIU, about the spending in OMS (a company he stopped having any ties with since 2018) without a full understanding of how security companies work in Nigeria.
Police absolve Okunbo
Laying the matter to rest, the Police, in a letter, dated 16 March 2021, and titled: ‘Police Investigation Report’, absolved Okunbo.
The police had noted that whilst it found that the company was formed with the following shareholding, Wells-Okunbo (46 per cent), Ayeni (38 per cent), Garth Dooley (14 per cent), and Admiral Augustus Aikhomu (5 per cent later sold to Okunbo), they said they found that Ayeni had legally and voluntarily sold his stakes to Okunbo.
The letter, signed by Head of the IGP Monitoring Unit, Nigeria Police Force Headquarters, Mr. A.A. Elleman, an Assistant Commissioner of Police, reads: “From the foregoing, it is pertinent to state that the allegations of stealing and criminal diversion of company funds as alleged by the complainant – Dr. Tunde Ayeni- against the suspect, Capt. Hosa Wells-Okunbo, could not be established as documentary evidence that was provided by the suspect – Capt. Hosa Wells-Okunbo, which clearly shows that Capt. Hosa Okunbo has lawfully acquired Dr. Tunde Ayeni’s interest in Ocean Marine Solutions Limited (OMS) for the valuable consideration of N2,000,000,000.00 only. So also the allegation of criminal diversion of company funds is baseless, malicious and false as it hasn’t be proven by the complainant.”