Monday, May 20, 2024

EXCLUSIVE: In plot to be CBN governor, Aishah Ahmad rejects N1 trillion bid for Polaris; sells bank N50 billion to Mamman Daura, Tunde Sabiu, Auwal Gombe

The only female deputy governor has steered several missteps that went unreported, but her involvement in a scheme to topple her boss has grown too elaborate for ceaseless secrecy.

and • December 31, 2022
Mamman Daura, Aishah Ahmad and Yusuf Tunde Sabiu (Credit: Ahmed Oluwasanjo/Peoples Gazette)
Mamman Daura, Aishah Ahmad and Yusuf Tunde Sabiu (Credit: Ahmed Oluwasanjo/Peoples Gazette)

The provocative sale of Polaris Bank to an influential clique of President Buhari’s cronies was itself part of a ferocious plot to elevate Aishah Ahmad as the next governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Peoples Gazette learnt from documents and informed officials, stressing how a massive loss was inflicted on the country for personal headways while echoing an administration that never flinched from its rudderless reputation — even at five months to its termination. 

With her eyes on the highest job for monetary transactions and regulations in Nigeria, Ms Ahmad, the only female deputy governor at CBN, played along in a scheme that ultimately handed a key federal asset to the president’s cronies at “a giveaway price.” 

Polaris was announced sold in October to Strategic Capital Investments Ltd for N50 billion, despite strong opposition from lawmakers and national voices that included Femi Falana.  The firm was registered only six months earlier on April 28 as a subsidiary of Ponglomerape Limited owned by Auwal Abdullahi Gombe, a self-touted businessman more recognised as Ibrahim Babangida’s son-in-law. 

Auwal Gombe
Auwal Gombe

The Gazette has also been informed that Mamman Daura, the president’s octogenarian nephew, and Yusuf ‘Tunde’ Sabiu, the president’s administrative aide and confidant, also have significant interests in the SCIL. 

Mamman Daura
Mamman Daura (Photo Credit: BBC)

State-run bad bank administrator AMCON was also shut out of the purchase process, which was handled entirely by Ms Ahmad’s Financial System Stability Department at CBN, according to complaints of senior directors shared with The Gazette. 

Instead, as she raced to satisfy her allies, Ms Ahmad flunked public interest and accountability by hushing up a larger and more prudent deal for the taxpayers, The Gazette found. 

The lucrative deal of N1.04 trillion was placed for Polaris Bank by London-based Fairview Acquisition Partners, which offered N200 billion in immediate disbursement for the asset, a document said. 

CBN document
CBN document

In its March 18, 2020, proposal to the CBN, Fairview Partners said it had conducted a review of its offer, first placed on March 15, 2020, and determined that it could also acquire a struggling Heritage Bank for an additional N160 billion, pushing the deal to N1.2 trillion. 

But rather than present the offer, Ms Ahmad suppressed it and continued scheming to hand over Polaris to individuals close to power. She finally sealed the deal in July 2022 after receiving assurances that she would be made the CBN governor upon brokering. 

The Gazette first reported the deal in early August, two months before CBN’s announcement. Ms Ahmad initially pressured Polaris’ management to deny The Gazette’s story publicly in order to buy herself time to deal with the backlash and perfect the minutia of the deal, a bank official said.  

After rigging the acquisition process for Messrs Daura, Sabiu and Gombe, Ms Ahmad then presented her decision to the board for approval and onward announcement to the public. An official said Mr Emefiele would not have signed off on the deal had he known it would be his undoing. 

Ms Ahmad, 46, denied selling Polaris at a grossly-undervalued rate, saying the SCIL was asked to pay back over N1.2 trillion that was injected to rescue the bank and keep it running for years. After being reached for comments, she suggested CBN spokesman Osita Nwanisobi as the official to speak on the deal. Mr Nwanisobi said Fairview Partners, established in 2016, was dropped because it did not go through the third face of the bidding process. 

While Fairview Partners has little information in public to suggest it has a robust financial standing and corporate credentials, The Gazette learnt that the firm had already rallied investors for the acquisition — and it is not unusual for a start-up or midsize firm to raise capital towards a major acquisition. 

She, however, failed to say whether or not she knew people in Mr Buhari’s administration were acquiring the bank or whether the deal was the best for Nigeria. She also did not deny being promised the top job at CBN in exchange for aiding the Polaris acquisition. 

President Muhammadu Buhari
President Muhammadu Buhari

Messrs Daura, Sabiu and Gombe did not return requests seeking comments. Mr Sabiu passed The Gazette’s request for comment to an associate, who said they could not go on the record about his role in the deal.

All the officials who shared information and spoke with The Gazette sought the protection of their identities to do so — which was granted in line with our editorial policy on anonymous sources.

‘Madam Governor’

Two months after Polaris was handed over, the State Security Service levelled grievous charges of terrorism financing and economic sabotage against Governor Godwin Emefiele, a move that tossed the nation into confusion. Although the SSS failed to sustain its claims before a federal judge, the allegations alone have jolted Mr Emefiele and placed his job on the line. 

Speculations have flared about how Mr Emefiele was being hounded for redesigning the national currency while limiting cash withdrawals, with many linking his ordeal to politicians not comfortable with such moves ahead of a major election in which money is expected to play the biggest factor. 

As of Saturday afternoon, only a few people in the administration believed Mr Emefiele would still have his job in the new year. Already, the CBN governor himself has started preparing to seek asylum in the United Kingdom or the United States, barring any serious assurances of his safety by the president, The Gazette reported. 

Whereas the president has not indicated his preferred successor to Mr Emefiele, The Gazette heard that Ms Ahmad had been seen as the top favourite because of her northern roots and status as the most-senior deputy governor. 

The Gazette learnt that Ms Ahmad became engrossed in the conspiracy to trade Polaris for the top job at CBN as soon as it was up for acquisition. 

A composite of Polaris Bank and CBN logos
Polaris Bank and CBN logos

Polaris Bank was nationalised in September 2018 after AMCON bought its debts. It was known as Skye Bank until the takeover. But AMCON has not been able to sell the bank to investors since the takeover, which was precipitated at the time by the financial crisis and recession of 2016 and 2017.

But Messrs Daura and Sabiu became desperate to take over the bank as the Buhari administration began winding down, people familiar with the matter said, and subsequently sought Ms Ahmad as an ally in their plot. 

It was unclear who first initiated the conversation about trading Polaris for CBN governor’s seat, but Ms Ahmad was eager to be a party to the arrangement, people familiar with the matter said. 

“She suddenly started holding meetings with Auwal Gombe,” an official said. “At times, the businessman will be in her office for three good hours.”

“She was meeting frequently with the son-in-law of Ibrahim Babangida, who has been partnering and fronting for Mamman Daura and Tunde Sabiu,” the source added. “It was then that they started calling her ‘Madam Governor’.”

The deputy governor suddenly became arrogant at the office beginning months before the deal was finalised, another official said while corroborating Ms Ahmad’s closeness to the president’s cronies. 

Double portion

Ms Ahmad was nominated as a CBN deputy governor in October 2017 and was confirmed by the Nigerian Senate in March 2018. Prior to her appointment, she was a director in charge of retail banking at Diamond Bank, now part of Access Bank. At CBN, she has supervised financial system stability.

But recognising her weakness as a central banker without any education or practical background in economics, Ms Ahmad, who has been a practising Christian until her appointment, started embracing Islam in order to ingratiate herself towards the inner circles of the president, which conduct state affairs mostly on the basis of religion and ethnicity. 

The Gazette’s findings revealed that Ms Ahmad was a devout Christian at Diamond Bank. But suddenly, as she moved to the CBN, she started wearing headscarves and putting an Islamic praying mat in her office. 

“Everyone at CBN now calls her ‘Hajia’ and she would be replying ‘as-salamu alaykum’,” an insider said. 

Still, the CBN chief still regularly worships as a Christian and sometimes attends Christian services secretly in Abuja and Lagos, The Gazette understands. 

Ms Ahmad did not clarify what informed her decision to embrace Islam suddenly after becoming a CBN official. 

‘Criminal cronyism’

Ms Ahmad’s role in the controversial sale of Polaris has been described by anti-corruption campaigners as criminal and deserves a steep inquiry and potential prosecution. 

“The bank was worth N1.8 trillion according to expert evaluation,” said senior rights attorney Femi Falana. “Selling it for N50 billion is a criminal act that should not be allowed to stand.” 

Femi Falana
Femi Falana

Mr Falana said Ms Ahmad’s claim that the president’s cronies who bought the bank would repay N1.2 trillion in 25 years was a fig leaf aimed at closing further discussions about the bank’s sale. 

“They have no intention of recovering the public funds from the president’s cronies they transferred the assets to, that’s why they came up with the joke of 25-year repayment plan,” Mr Falana said, adding that the sale would be challenged in court.

Lanre Suraj, an anti-corruption campaigner, said the excuse that only a firm backed by the president’s cronies was competent enough to buy Polaris was a transparent folly.

“You cannot tell me that a group that was ready to pay N200 billion immediately and subsequent N100 billion per year in order to close the deal in just about right years is incompetent,” Mr Suraju said. “But the characters around the president who bought the bank for N50 billion with a 25-year repayment deal is competent?”

Mr Suraju said the president should constitute a panel to audit assets sold under Ms Ahmad and the current CBN regime, and prosecute those found to have grossly undermined public interest for personal corrupt purposes. 

“The losses already inflicted on Nigerian taxpayers could still be mitigated if people behind the conspiracies could be brought to justice,” he added.

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