The President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration is said to have directed the Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Mr. Godwin Emefiele to sack the embattled Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer of Zenith Bank Plc, Ebenezer Nduka Onyeagwu, over his relationship with the founder/board chairman of the bank, Jim Ovia, which is against corporate governance compliance as stipulated in the Code of Corporate Governance for Banks and Discount Houses in Nigeria of May 2014, insider sources in the Villa squealed to SecretReporters.
The story which first broke on our news site has been a subject of discourse in the banking sector, with Emefiele looking for a soft ground for the MD to fall on, without invoking the banking sanction on him and his godfather, Jim Ovia. We gathered that the presidency was miffed at such discovery and ordered a discreet probe into the allegations.
A civil society group identified as the Transparency Advocacy for Development Initiative (TADI), recently sued the CBN governor, Jim Ovia, and four others over the appointment of Onyeagwu as the head of the financial institution.
In a suit filed on January 14, 2021, marked FHC/ABJ/CS/29/2021 and seen by this newspaper, Abiodun Babalola, the counsel to TADI, claimed that Onyeagwu’s emergency as Zenith Bank MD was an aberration and a violation of the Code of Corporate Governance for Banks and Discount Houses in Nigeria, which kicked towards the appointment of blood relations to the place.
The counsel to TADI requested the Federal High Court sitting in Abuja to declare that by the true interpretation of Section 2.3.3 of the Code made by Central Bank of Nigeria in May 2014 pursuant to the powers bestowed on it by the Central Bank of Nigeria Act, 2007 and Banks and Other Financial Institutions Act, 1991 the appointment of Onyeagwu, as the Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer of Zenith Bank Plc. is in gross contravention of the mentioned Code.
Additionally, Babalola sought a declaration ‘that Ebenezer Nduka Onyeagwu joined as 2nd Defendant in the suit is unqualified based on Section 2.3.3 of the aforesaid Code to be appointed as Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer of Zenith Bank Plc. being the 3rd Defendant by virtue of his blood ties and or relationship with Jim James Ovia, that is the 1st Defendant.’
The counsel further urged the ‘honourable Court to make an order directing the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) led by Godwin Emefiele to forthwith exercise its powers under the Banks and Other Financial Institutions Act, 1991 as well as other extant laws by relieving the 2nd Defendant of his appointment as Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer of Zenith Bank Plc. on account of his blood ties and or relationship with the 1st Defendant and replacing him with another qualified person.’
Babalola demanded that order of exemplary damages in the sum of N1 billion be made towards the Central Bank of Nigeria and its Governor, ‘sued as the 4th and 5th Defendants respectively, being the apex authorities regulating the financial activities and operations of Banks and other Financial Institutions in the country for approving the appointment of Ebenezer Nduka Onyeagwu as Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer of the 3rd Defendant on 1st June 2019 even when they were aware that he lacked the qualification to occupy the said position due to his blood ties and or relationship with the 1st Defendant.’
The counsel to TADI stressed that the resolution of its shopper, TADI, to hunt authorized redress “was based mostly on his mandate to work with related stakeholders for functions of preventing corruption in any establishment that holds the public belief, spends public funds, or is regulated by authorities companies such as the Central Bank of Nigeria.”
Furthermore, the group, TADI, during a protest rally to the Abuja headquarters of the bank recently, described Onyeagwu’s appointment as nothing but the expansion of nepotism and cruel practice of impunity in the corridors of authority in Nigeria.
Comrade Taiwo Adeniran, the Assistant Secretary-General, TADI said.
“The war against nepotism, impunity, bad leadership, and corruption should not be a course only within the public institutions but also should be reinforced within the private sector.”
He said, ”The flagrant disregard for the rule of law and guidelines has been a major plague that has marred our corporate existence as a sovereign entity. It is therefore imperative for well-meaning stakeholders and Nigerians to rise up to the challenge of fighting and stamping out this menace from our society.
“The appointment of Ebenezer Onyeagwu is in fact one example of gross disregard for due process and rule of law. His appointment as the Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer of Zenith Bank Plc. is evidently an example of the deficit in corporate governance compliance as stipulated in the Code of Corporate Governance for Banks and Discount Houses in Nigeria of May 2014 and as such should not be allowed to stand. It should be noted that this deficit or thwarted compliance to these codes was majorly responsible for woes experienced in our banking sector prior to the bank consolidation policy of 2006.
“Rules and regulations are guiding principles as enforced by the law, has no exceptions to its compliance. These and more could be said about the potency of this important provision – the Code of Corporate Governance for Banks and Discount Houses in Nigeria – because of the sensitive nature of banks and their inherent pivotal and crucial roles in our nation’s economy. Section 2.3.3 of the Code of Corporate Governance for Banks and Discount Houses in Nigeria made by the CBN in May 2014 is crystal clear on the guidelines for the composition of bank’s management.
“However, it is quite unfortunate to discover that the Jim Ovia led board of Zenith Bank Plc will appoint his NEPHEW (Mr. Ebenezer Nduka Onyeagwu) as the Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer of Zenith Bank while the Central Bank of Nigeria in turn tactically endorses this illegality. It is true that a man can falsify everything about himself but one thing that cannot be changed is the lineage blood-tie of relations.”
Speaking further, the group said: “The records have it that, Jim James Ovia and Ebenezer Nduka Onyeagwu are both from Ika South Local Government Area in Delta State. The indigenes of Ika South Local Government Area are generally called Ndi Agbor, which comprises Ogbemudien, Ogbease, Ihogbe, Obielihe, Ekuku Agbor, Ihaikpen, Ogbeisore and Ogbeisogban. While Jim James Ovia hails from Obielihe, Ebenezer Nduka Onyeagwu is from Ogbemudien, Agbor Obi also in the same Ika South Local Government Area.
“The truth about their genealogy happens when a woman named Oror was married in Ogbemudien Quarters and had two sons namely, Nwatukele and Onyeagwu. The said Onyeagwu alias “Old Soldier” gave birth to Ebenezer Nduka Onyeagwu. This same woman, who later remarried in Obielihe to Pa Ovia and gave birth to Jim James Ovia. By implication, the father of Ebenezer Nduka Onyeagwu is an elder brother of Jim James Ovia both of them having come from the same womb. This cumulated as a perfect disguise due to their different surnames to perpetuate this illegality.
“Several reports have revealed that sit-tight syndrome of management and unhealthy influence from personalized interests which plagued the corporate governance of our banking sector contributed in no small measure to the Nigerian banking crisis. The appointment of Mr. Ebenezer Nduka Onyeagwu is an abuse of financial probity and flouting of the existing code of corporate governance for banks and discount houses in Nigeria which were to establish and strengthen corporate governance practices in our banking sector.
“This nepotistic practice is criminal and inimical to the integrity of our financial system and institutions as a nation. Owing to the sensitive and important role of our banking sector to the development of our nation and also; any economy that desires to be taken seriously by investors, whether local or foreign should avoid this kind of corporate disaster in the interest of her shareholders.
“Therefore, it is our collective duty as Nigerians and stakeholders in the polity of our dear nation to rise up and champion the campaign/fight to flush out agents and elements of retrogression from our systems. This embarrassing cycle of corporate disasters in Nigeria has to STOP and the culprit be duly sanctioned.”
“Furthermore, as the saying goes in legal parlance, you cannot put something on nothing and expect it to stand. The appointment of Ebenezer Nduka Onyeagwu as Managing Director/CEO of Zenith Bank Plc is fraudulent and illegal from the beginning and must not be allowed to stand.
“Mr. Ebenezer Nduka Onyeagwu should be relieved of his duties as the MD/CEO of Zenith Bank PLC with immediate effect.
“The process of his (Mr. Ebenezer Nduka Onyeagwu) appointment and ratification by CBN should be investigated and every individual involved in the illegal appointment of Mr. Ebenezer Nduka Onyeagwu should also be exposed and sanctioned.
“We hereby call on all the anti-graft agencies to prosecute all the parties involved in this appointment illegality in accordance to the provisions of the law of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
“The Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria should ensure that the credibility and integrity of our financial institutions are sabotaged by unscrupulous elements that with their selfish interest results in dubious means to have their unholy intentions actualized.
“We call on handlers of private institutions especially banks and other financial institutions to embrace the rule of law and regulations by adhering strictly to the guidelines and codes governing their establishment, he said.
This report is in series as we continue to monitor the bank and presidency.