Barely a year after its sale,there are question marks over the real ownership of Polaris Bank and this newly leaked information has taken not a few staff of the company by shock with many of them unaware of what the future holds.
A cast of venture capitalists, a banker, and a real estate entrepreneur are said to be the controllers of Strategic Capital Investment Limited (SCIL), the consortium to which the Central Bank of Nigeria sold Polaris bank, albeit underneath with the information unknown to many.
The trio of Michel Danladi Verheijen and Ehimari Idahi, who are venture capitalists, and Albert Chukwuemeka Emuwa, a banker, used layers of offshore entities to hold their 45% shareholding in the bank.
Full disclosure of these holdings, including details of Polaris Bank‘s full beneficial ownership, was missing in the bank’s documentation with the Corporate Affairs Commission, investigations reveal.
The non-availability of the details is a clear breach of the Corporate and Allied Matters Act (CAMA) 2020.
That Messrs Verheijen, Idahi and Emuwa are associated with 45 per cent interest in Polaris Bank was largely unknown before now, but the control of the larger 55 per cent shareholding is long known to be held by Auwal Lawal, a real estate tycoon and in-law to ex President, Babangida.
The new revelation is the product of several months of cross-border digging by this newspaper. The investigation began shortly after the bank, a hitherto distressed entity that was bailed out of trouble with over a trillion naira of public funds, was sold to the SCIL consortium in October 2022.
Our investigation spanned Nigeria, Mauritius and Jersey, where we eventually hit a dead end. When approached by our reporters, authorities in that secrecy jurisdiction declined to disclose the ultimate beneficial owners (UBO) of Zagamon Limited – a shell company through which Messrs Verheijen, Idahi and Emuwa hold their 45 per cent stake in Polaris Bank.
We then approached the management of Polaris Bank with our findings. We informed the Bank that the non-disclosure of 45 per cent of its ownership clearly violates the CAMA Act 2020, which seeks to make ownerships of businesses operating in Nigeria more open and transparent.
On May 15, in response to our enquiry, the bank surprisingly revealed the identities of all its beneficial owners. However, it wrongly claimed that no provision of CAMA 2020 was breached with the non-availability of the UBO records in the company’s file with the CAC.
Enacted to enhance corporate transparency and combat illicit financial flow, CAMA 2020 took effect in 2020, promising progress against asset shielding by dodgy business people and politically exposed persons (PEPs), with a statutory requirement for companies to disclose their beneficial owner(s) or person(s) with significant control (PSC).
Even where a foreign company is a subscriber or shareholder in a company registered in Nigeria, the law requires the offshore company to disclose the particulars of its beneficial owners, which can be publicly accessed in the CAC register.
The particulars of the PSCs, including real names, national ID numbers, residential and tax addresses, email addresses, age, and place of birth, nature of and percentage of ownership, and PEP status, are to be kept in the central PSCs register by the CAC and made publicly accessible.
The SCIL consortium and Polaris Bank
Last October, the Central Bank of Nigeria announced the sale of Polaris Bank to SCIL for N50 billion. The sale decision was jointly taken with the Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON), the government’s bad debt buyer, which took over Polaris Bank’s predecessor Skye Bank after the CBN withdrew its licence in 2018 before setting up Polaris as a bridge bank.
In addition to the N50 billion acquisition price, SCIL also got 25 years to repay the N1.3 trillion the central bank injected into Polaris in the four years before the sale.
Publicly available incorporation records show that SCIL was registered with the Corporate Affairs Commission on 28 April 2022, six months before it emerged as the preferred bidder for the acquisition of Polaris, whose assets are worth N1.2 trillion (2.8 billion USD).
CAC checks further show that SCIL has two PSCs or beneficial owners, with both being corporate entities: Ponglomerape Limited (55 per cent) and Clotaire Investment Limited (45 per cent).
Ponglomerape was registered on September 5, 2002, and is 99 per cent owned by Auwal Lawal, with Asmau Ahmad Auwal Mohammed taking the remaining 1 per cent shareholding, according to our investigation and the disclosure made to us by Polaris Bank. The ownership of Ponglomerape by the Lawals is disclosed in the corporate filing at the CAC, complying with CAMA 2020 requirements on beneficial ownership disclosure.
Mr Lawal shot into public consciousness after his wedding in 2017 to the daughter of Nigeria’s ex-military president, Ibrahim Babangida. He is a real estate tycoon. According to the company’s website, he chairs Ponglomerape Properties Investment Limited, which has developed residential properties in Abuja, including in the affluent Maitama neighbourhood of the capital.
On the other hand, Clotaire is 100 per cent owned by another company, an offshore entity known as Zagamon Limited, the company’s status report shows.
While Nigeria’s law allows an offshore company like Zagamon to be a subscriber or shareholder in a Nigerian-registered company, the legislation requires such an offshore entity to “provide the prescribed particulars of the person with significant control who ultimately owns or controls the foreign company…,” according to the PSC Regulation 2022.
Despite this provision, CAC only has on file Zagamon, an offshore entity, as the 100% shareholder of Cloitare. That arrangement made it impossible for the public to know Cloitaire’s UBOs through the CAC register. That, in turn, made it difficult to have a full span of the real owners of Polaris Bank.
The non-disclosure violates Nigeria’s law and creates concerns about the continued use of offshore secrecy for asset shielding in a country notorious for corruption and illicit financing involving PEPs and dodgy business people.
On CAC records, Zagamon is said to have been registered in Mauritius, a notorious destination of the rich and powerful seeking a haven for their financial secrets.
However, investigations revealed that Zagamon was not incorporated in Mauritius but in another offshore secrecy jurisdiction, Jersey.
We were able to track down the company in Jersey. The Zagamon we found in Jersey was incorporated on 21 May 2019 and has the same incorporation number as the one on the CAC database. However, the CAC wrongly claimed the company was registered in Mauritius.
We then officially approached Jersey Financial Services Authority for information and did a paid search for records on Zagamon’s ultimate beneficial ownership.
That search at the Jersey company registry still did not yield the beneficial owners of Zagamon. Rather, what is listed as the director and shareholder of the company is a long-known offshore secrecy seller, Lumbro Corporate Services Limited. Secrecy enablers are usually used as nominee directors and shareholders of companies to hide assets in notorious tax havens and secrecy jurisdictions.
In the search report, Zagamon and Lumbro share the same address, Standard Bank House, 47-49 La Motte Street, St. Helier, JE2 4SZ, Jersey. This address features in our earlier Panama Papers Investigation. It is linked with other secrecy sellers like Standard Bank Offshore Trust Company Jersey Limited, Lumbro Nominees (Jersey) Limited, and Cotllion Trust Company Limited.
Often, in countries like Jersey, beneficial owners are never publicly known. Instead, service providers who help to incorporate these shell companies appear as nominee directors and stand-in shareholders. Real beneficial owners, whose information is usually tucked away in confidential files, may only be revealed when requested by law enforcement agencies or in leaks such as Panama Papers, Paradise Papers, or Pandora Papers.
The regulators involved in the Polaris Bank transaction – including CBN, AMCON, and Corporate Affairs Commission – appear unable to explain how they allowed partial disclosure of the ownership of the bank, in violation of the law.
“We are concerned about this matter because we advocated the legal framework to enable the disclosure of beneficial owners of companies in Nigeria,” said Auwal Rafsanjani, the executive director of the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), the representative of Transparency International in Nigeria.
“To now see that a Beneficial Owner (BO) of SCIL that purchased Polaris Bank is itself a corporate entity whose BO is a shell company with concealed owners registered in Jersey, which is a tax haven, is a red flag.’
Trade minister, Uzoka-Anite launches NATEP, targets 50 Million jobs for youths
The minister of Industry, Trade and Investment, Dr Doris Uzoka-Anite has launched the National Talent Export Programme (NATEP) in a bid to position Nigeria as a talent export hub designed to create not less than one million jobs in the next five years.
The Minister performed the launching on behalf of President Bola Ahmed Tinubu at the sidelines of the 78th Session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), in New York, United States of America.
In her opening remarks at the launch of the initiative at the Microsoft office in NewYork, the minister highlighted the need to ensure Nigeria takes the lead in exporting global talents that are doing well across the world which will also drive a huge investment in training and also attracting more investment in talent exportation.
According to her, the initiative is in line with President Bola Tinubu’s Renewed Hope agenda to diversify the Nigerian economy, create sustainability opportunities and generate about 50 million jobs for the youths over time.
“NATEP is an initiative that will serve as a special purpose vehicle (SPV) to position Nigeria as a leading global hub for service export, talent sourcing and talent export.
“As part of our strategy towards achieving this, President Bola Tinubu whose agenda is job creation, we have initiated a National Talent Export Programme (NATEP) for Nigeria, which targets the creation of one million jobs across Nigeria with a target of five years in line with the theme of this year’s UNGA, which is rebuilding trust and igniting global solidarity, accelerating action on the 2030 agenda and the sustainable development goals towards peace, prosperity, progress and sustainability for all”, the minister said.
Uzoka-Anite further informed the large gathering comprising of world leaders and other giant tech companies across the globe like; Amazon, World Economic Forum, Microsoft group, Flour Mills Nigeria, Meta, Google and a host of others, that the global talent sourcing industry is valued at $620 billion as at 2020 and industry pundit have forecasted it will be valued at about $904 billion by 2027.
“Nigeria can supply top talents for the global service export and outsourcing business. With over 1.7 million graduates from higher education institutions entering the workforce annually, this will reduce the burden of unemployment and over-dependence on the government for jobs”, she explained.
The Minister further noted that NATEP was specially created to arrest the bottleneck facing the talent and service sector export industry, which will enhance competitiveness, and innovation, and drive sustainable development growth, empowerment and training through trade and value chain exchange.
She added: “Nigeria is ready to become a global hub for talent export, as the government is ready to take full advantage of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (ACfTA) to penetrate the huge continental market and target job opportunities.
“As a country, we have a significant value proposition for regional and global markets for the export of services. We will actively target Greenfield and brownfield job opportunities in the United Kingdom, Europe, China, Canada, the United States of America and a host of other countries”.
The Minister For Communications, Innovation and Digital Economy, Dr. Bosun Tijani, while addressing participants at the launch disclosed that launching NATEP was timely, adding that to drive the mandate for Nigeria to be positioned as one of the global talent export hubs in Africa and the world will see Nigeria benefit more in terms of generating huge revenue, digitalization of the economy, more robust data protection opportunities and also avert the massive brain drain within the youth demography.
According to him, Nigerians in the diaspora are doing great things in the tech world, adding that it’s time for Nigeria to benefit by making more money and develop other youths to maximize their potentials.
“With a youthful population and over 1.7 million graduates from higher educational institutions joining the workforce each year, Nigeria has the potential to provide high-quality talent for the Global Service export and outsourcing industry. We must first identify them, train them and make the world see the stuff they are made of. We will not only create jobs but also empower them with the basic skills of survival and pass them on to the next generation” Dr Tijani said.
The Disappointing State of Customer Relations Among Instagram Merchants
By Otunba Deoye Otukoya
In today’s digital age Instagram has become an indispensable platform for businesses to connect with customers and promote their products or services. With the increasing popularity of Instagram stores it is essential for merchants to prioritize good customer relations. However a prevalent issue that deserves attention is the lack of professionalism and poor communication exhibited by some Instagram merchants. Many customers have reported incidents where the merchants provide their phone numbers on their timelines but fail to respond adequately or display unpleasant attitudes when contacted. This article aims to shed light on this concerning trend and the implications it has on customers and businesses alike.
1. Accessibility Matters:
One of the fundamental aspects of ensuring good customer relations is the accessibility of the merchant. By voluntarily providing their phone numbers merchants convey the impression of being available and open to customer inquiries. However the reality often falls short of this expectation. Too frequently customers are left frustrated and inconvenienced when their attempts to contact merchants go unanswered for days or are met with dismissive responses. This lack of availability undermines trust and damages the overall customer experience.
2. Unprofessional Attitudes:
Another significant concern is the unprofessional conduct and negative attitudes displayed by certain Instagram merchants when interacting with customers. The success of any business hinges on creating a positive relationship with consumers. However some merchants who put their phone numbers out for public use have been observed to have a lackadaisical approach towards customer engagements. Instances of rude behavior impatience and unhelpfulness have been reported leaving customers feeling disrespected and discouraged from engaging with that particular merchant or even shopping on Instagram altogether.
3. The Ripple Effect:
The ramifications of poor customer relations go beyond individual experiences. When customers have negative encounters with Instagram merchants they are likely to share their frustrations with friends family and online communities. Word-of-mouth plays a crucial role in shaping a merchant’s reputation and negative reviews can quickly spread damaging the business’s credibility. Consequently merchants who fail to prioritize customer relations may find themselves losing potential customers and hindering their long-term growth prospects.
4. A Call for Improvement:
To address this issue it is imperative for Instagram merchants to recognize the significance of good customer relations and take proactive steps to improve their interactions with customers. Some crucial measures include:
a. Prompt Responses: Merchants should aim to respond to customer inquiries in a timely manner ideally within 24 hours. This showcases attentiveness and professionalism fostering positive customer relationships.
b. Polite and Respectful Communication: Merchants need to maintain a respectful tone even when faced with challenging or repetitive customer inquiries. Good customer relations require patience and understanding.
c. Training and Empathy: Merchants should invest time in training their customer support staff emphasizing the importance of empathy and effective problem-solving. Understanding the customer’s perspective can go a long way in providing satisfactory resolutions.
d. Feedback and Improvements: Merchants should actively seek feedback from customers to identify areas for improvement. This feedback loop can assist in refining their customer relations strategies and forging stronger connections with their target audience.
The alarming lack of good customer relations displayed by some Instagram merchants is a disheartening trend that affects both customers and businesses. By prioritizing accessibility professionalism and respect in their interactions merchants can foster an environment of trust and loyalty. Overlooking the importance of good customer relations may lead to a decline in sales and reputation. Ultimately developing strong customer relations on Instagram will not only boost customer satisfaction but also drive growth and success for merchants in the long run.
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