Tuesday, Jan 2021

Thisday Newspaper’s Nseobong Okon-Ekong writes that an Ijaw ethnic nationality group protecting the memory of its late patriot, Chief Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, Bayelsa Natives in Nigeria and the Diaspora, among others have weighed in on the quarrel between Captain Idahosa Okunbo and Dr. Olatunde Ayeni, which is assuming wider political dimension.

For a very long time, erstwhile close associates, Captain Idahosa Okunbo and Dr. Olatunde Ayeni were prevented from going at each other’s jugular by friends and family members who made every effort possible to reconcile them. But after both men, last week, decided to pull political strings and deploy their contacts in government in a show of strength, a point of irreconcilable differences appears to have been reached.

Supposed allies of Okunbo and Ayeni like Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, former President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, former Vice President, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar and the National Leader of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu have each made cautious and courteous interventions and other forms of involvement into the costly disagreement over business interests and mega financial transactions that have generated heated divergence of opinion, possible scandals in several ministries, departments and agencies of government and have threatened to topple a delicate balance of political power in the Presidency and a few states of the South-west, which may result in the loss of thousands of jobs.

Notwithstanding calls to both men, especially, Ayeni to be decorous and transparent in his account of the transaction, the former Chairman of the defunct Skye Bank (now Polaris Bank) has continued to report a version that is unswerving with his vow to play the victim, whereas incontrovertible evidence show the exact opposite.

The bone of contention is the claims by Ayeni that he remains a shareholder of Ocean Marine Solutions Limited (OMS) despite documentary evidence showing he sold his shares in 2018. Ayeni is said to have waited for a time when Okunbo is down in the dumps and has been receiving treatment in a London hospital for the past three months, to churn out petitions and claims that he is still a shareholder in the company.

But Counsel to Okunbo, Mr. Augustine Alegeh (SAN), a former President of the Nigeria Bar Association has stated clearly that Ayeni is being unnecessarily belligerent and outlandish in his claims that he discovered “a lot of stealing and diversion as well as gross mismanagement of large sums of money belonging to the company.” Ayeni, may be aware that his past as Chairman of Skye Bank who was accused of giving himself insider loans without collateral and which he could not pay back to Skye Bank may have returned to haunt him, has taken the fight to Okunbo, while positioning himself as the victim. The former bank chairman knows that his story will be viewed with distrust by many. He was a strong financial pillar to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and was said to have doled out billions of Naira in the bid to return Jonathan as President. Ayeni allegedly borrowed tens of billions of Naira to buy NITEL/MTEL, Ibadan Electricity Distribution Company. Skye Bank (now Polaris Bank) was said to have run into irretrievable troubled waters owing, largely to Ayeni’s alleged fraudulent activities, but was rescued for the sake of hapless depositors by the Asset and Management Company of Nigeria (AMCON).

In the recent Edo State governorship contest, Okunbo came out openly in support of the APC candidate, Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu.

Incorporated in 2008 by Okunbo, OMS, a leading asset protection company dedicated to protecting Nigeria’s natural resources from graft and illegal activities, is also a foremost player in the global maritime industry. Okunbo, perhaps in a bid to expand his company’s operations, invited Ayeni on board and he reportedly snapped up about 35 percent stake.

However, after his unceremonious ouster from Skye Bank owing to alleged money laundering and mismanagement of depositors’ funds, Ayeni approached Okunbo that he would like to sell off his shares and cease to be a director of OMS. Okunbo, who would never use gilded words to masque deceit or brandish fickle principles and statistics to conclude with a false truth, appealed to him to rescind his decision. But Tunde’s mind was already made up to sell off the shares. Documents show that Ayeni, using his company, Prime Union Investment Limited, specifically on August 15, 2018, agreed to sell his shares including the 175, 000, 000 ordinary shares in GYRO (and the 50, 000, 000 shares held by Mrs Ayeni) to Wells Property Development Company Limited for the total sum of N2bn (Two billion Naira).

A special resolution of the board of Prime Union Investment Limited, signed by Ayeni and his wife, Biola, confirmed the sale of shares mid-August 2018. Following this agreement, Capt. 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 mutually agreed to be paid on a monthly instalment.

The board of OMS went ahead to notify the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, and the Office of the Vice President per Ayeni’s resignation of his membership of the board of the OMS and its affiliate companies. While acknowledging the agreement in January 2019, the CBN stated, “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, the Vice President, 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, applauded Capt. Okunbo’s renewed commitment to service in the agricultural, aviation and hospitality sectors of the economy, adding, “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.”

Interestingly, in a shocking volte-face after collecting his full balance, Ayeni, acutely aware of Okunbo’s illness and ongoing battle to stay alive, reportedly petitioned the EFCC through his lawyer, Femi Falana, SAN, alleging that he sold his shares under duress and, therefore, wants more money. His premise, according to sources privy to the document, was that Okunbo is wealthy enough to pay him more from the company after he had collected the agreed N2billion. Falana, a renowned human rights activist and lawyer, is said to have taken up Ayeni’s case in his bid to possess Okunbo’s business, in spite of his public posture as a defender of the defenceless looms large and someone whose crusade for social justice reverberates globally. If Ayeni was under duress to sell his shares, as he now allegedly claims, was his wife, Biola Ayeni, who co-signed, too?
Thus, in a joint statement issued by the board, management and shareholders of OMS, Ayeni’s claims of still being a shareholder of the company were disproved. “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.

As such, Ayeni, the statement averred further, had not been involved or connected in any way with the management of the OMS since the time he sold his shares and resigned from the board. However, 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. A top official of OMS said, “Ayeni has never been part of management so he never understood how we work. It is like questioning the security vote of a state. All he was interested in was money without caring about the company. The chairman loves Ayeni like a brother and was always there to protect him against all odds not knowing he was the real devil.”

The board of the company, the statement noted, has also passed a vote of confidence on Capt Okunbo but described Ayeni as “a meddlesome interloper who is seeking to blackmail Capt. Idahosa Wells Okunbo at this time of his ill-health for financial benefit.”

Therefore, the company’s stakeholders declared in the statement that they were compelled to issue the disclaimer to set the records straight and to prevent government agencies, clients of OMS and the general public from being misled by Ayeni’s “deliberate misrepresentation of facts” while advising him “to steer clear of OMS and its associated companies.”

Details of the transaction which have been brought to the public space, according to Counsel to Ayeni, Mr. Femi Falana (SAN) remained shadowy, as a principal witness mentioned by Ayeni, Mr. Ned Nwoko, a former federal legislature from Delta State, who would have been a bastion supporting Ayeni’s story discredited his claims. On the surface, Okunbo and Nwoko maintain that almost every part of Ayeni’s narrative is flawed.

Falana blamed Okunbor for trying to pull a fast one on Ayeni, “Sometimes in July 2020, one of our client’s partners told him of a discrepancy which had been noticed in the accounting records leading to an unauthorised withdrawal of $10 million and $8 million, respectively.

“Capt. Hosa Okunbo had claimed to them that he had spent the sum to settle a Senate hearing on one of the subsidiary companies, the Secured Anchorage Area (SAA), and that $8 million was spent in the Presidency on the same issue because of the dispute between him and the Ministry of Transport/Nigerian Ports Authority, which our client considers to be unreasonable because the total annual profit achieved on the SAA was about $5 million.

“You will agree with our client that the claim that Capt. Hosa Okunbo spent $18 million on influence peddling without discussing it with our client amounts to diversion as it makes no sense at all. More so, that the story of the amount he claimed to have spent has continued to change by the day from $1 million to $2 million to $4 million to $6 million until he made them to input the records $10 million for the Senate hearing and $8 million for the Presidency.”

Another political angle that has resurrected with the Okunbo versus Ayeni face off is the definite tension that it is stoking in the vocal Ijaw ethnic nationality, whose respected leader and first Governor of Bayelsa State, the late Chief Diepreye Alamieyeseigha reportedly got the short end of the stick in a business transaction with Ayeni. Kinsmen of the late Ijaw patriot under the aegis of the Bayelsa Natives in Nigeria and the Diaspora, B.A.N.N.D, accused him in a recent widely circulated statement that despite all that the former governor did to empower Ayeni, he has only repaid him by maliciously lying on his memory and abandoning his family.

“It came to our notice that when the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, arrested Tunde Ayeni for withdrawing N29billion from Skye Bank, he lied to the agency that he gave the money as a bribe to our brother and illustrious son of the Niger Delta, Chief Diepreye Alamieyeseigha. That is callous and gratuitous. At no time, as far as we know, did Chief Alamieyeseigha have that amount of money in any bank whether in Nigeria or abroad. He was a simple man of the people who gave back to the society that made him. He coveted no riches and he led a simple life.

“What Tunde Ayeni did was to just lie on a dead man who cannot defend himself. This is a betrayal of the friendship we are aware that they maintained while the former governor was alive. Ayeni merely played to the gallery and decided to call a dog a bad name in order to hang it. This is not what friendship is about. And we have no doubt that the man (the former governor) must be turning in his grave at this deliberate and disdainful desecration of his memory.”

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