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Ecobank Asks First Bank To Reject Otudeko’s Share Acquisition



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Ecobank Asks First Bank To Reject Otudeko’s Share Acquisition

Ecobank has called on First Bank Holdings (FBH) not to accept the acquisition of 4.7 billion shares by a former Chairman of the bank, Dr Oba Otudeko.

Truetells Nigeria recalls that Oba Otudeko’s Honeywell Group last Thursday bought 4,770,269,843 shares of the firm in a cross deal worth N87.8 billion intensifying the battle for the control of First Bank of Nigeria Holdings Plc.

These shares which Otudeko bought at N19 per unit are the largest volume of First Bank shares traded in a single day since 2012, when the stock exchange started publishing data.

The acquisition takes his shareholding to 14 per cent of the bank’s outstanding market value.

A “disclosure of shareholding” sent to the Company Secretary, FBN Holdings Plc and dated July 7, 2023, by Honeywell Group Limited stated: “We write on behalf of Barbican Capital Limited, an affiliate of Honeywell Group Limited, and refer to the provisions of Sections 119 and 120 of the Companies and Allied Matters Act 2020 (as amended).

“In addition to the previously disclosed interests by Honeywell Group Limited’s affiliates, kindly take this as notification that, as of 7th July 2023, Barbican Capital Limited has acquired an aggregate of 4,770,269,843 shares in FBN Holdings Plc. Kindly accept the assurances of our highest regards. Yours faithfully, Yewande Giwa Head, Governance & Sustainability.”

But Ecobank, in a letter written by its Legal Counsel, Kunle Ogunba & Associates, stated that the business magnate, through his affiliated entities, owed the bank N13.5bn.

The letter, dated July 7 and signed by the Principal Partner of the law firm, Oludare Amusan, said the bank had instituted several lawsuits against Honey Group Limited, Siloam Global Services Limited, Anchorage Leisures Limited, Honeywell flour Mills PIc and Dr. Oba Otudeko at the Federal High Court, Lagos.

According to the letter made available to The PUNCH, the legal tussle between Otudeko and the bank was in view of recouping the debts owed by the highlighted business entities.

The letter read in part, “Whereas, the prior-mentioned entities had initially disputed their indebtedness to our client and had consequently filed an action in court to that effect, the Supreme Court on the 27th day of January, 2023 in Appeal No. SC/CV/210/2021 delivered Judgment (Certified true copy of which is herein attached) affirming the indebtedness of the above persons to our client and further commanded that they must pay all the outstanding debts that have accrued under the loan contract between the parties; the same debt personally guaranteed by Dr. Oba Otudeko, which said indebted stood in the sum of N13,507,052,417.99.”

The bank, through its lawyers, alleged that instead of taking urgent steps to repay their indebtedness in line with the mandate of the supreme court, it had come to its notice that Otudeko, who had personally guaranteed to pay the said debt, had taken steps to divert his assets/funds using a company known as Barbican Capital Limited as a special purpose vehicle.

The letter read, “We state that the said Dr Oba Otudeko has via the said Barbican Capital Limited allegedly purchased 4,770, 269, 843, (Four billion, Seven hundred and seventy million, two hundred and sixty-nine thousand, eight hundred and forty-three) shares of FBN Holdings Plc.”

The letter said the bank had been informed that the said shares were purchased via 19 business entities and were currently being held by 10 different companies.

Basing its argument on the aforementioned facts, the law firm said that it was beyond doubt that the actions being taken by Otudeko were targeted as diverting his assets and that of the Honeywell Group of Companies through the said Barbican Capital Limited, to frustrate the enforcement of the judgment of the Supreme Court against him and the Honeywell companies, towards recovering his/their unđisputed indebtedness to Ecobank.

The letter added that “We, therefore, therefore demand that you respectfully stay/reject the approval/consent/registration/ratification {howsoever described or in whatsoever manner of the shares bought by the said Barbican Capital Limited held via the afforested entities, as proceeding with such approval/registration will be tantamount to assisting in the diversion of funds/assets meant for the payment of the debt which has been affirmed by the Supreme Court, same being a flagrant violation of the extant judgment of the Supreme and which has effectively determined the outstanding indebtedness between the Honeywell Group and our client, Ecobank Nigeria Limited.”

The letter also demanded the details of the said transaction within the ensuing seven days, noting that as a responsible corporate entity, FBN Holdings was not expected to take an action that would encourage the violation of a supreme court ruling.

Recall that Otudeko, who was chairman of First Bank until 2019, is making a swift comeback to become the single largest shareholder of the bank.

Billionaire Femi Otedola became the bank’s single largest shareholder in 2021 after a tussle with Hassan Odukale who was also vying for control of the bank after a leadership gap emerged from Otudeko’s exit.

In response to the billionaire’s attempt to return to the bank, some shareholders of the company were said to have met on Monday to discuss the matter.

The shareholders, who were bent on preventing Otudeko from taking control of the bank, were said to be concerned about the consequences of having Otudeko back in control of the bank in any capacity, especially after being unceremoniously ousted by the central bank in 2021.

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