SARAKI AND HIS BUSINESS EMPIRE

Date: 2012-11-14

Baba Oloye, as he was fondly called, the late strongman of Kwara politics, Dr Abubakar Olusola Saraki, although largely successful in politics, had sour experiences with his romance with business, especially banking. As promoter of the defunct Societe Generale Bank in Nigeria, SGBN, Saraki first had to engage in a legal battle for control of the new bank with a long time friend, Kotoye. He got the bank back but in 2003, the bank of which he was chairman was investigated by the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency, NDLEA for alleged money laundering.

An alleged shady deal between Societe Generale Bank and its chairman, Dr. Olusola Saraki, and 11 other shareholders of the bank including his wife, Florence, landed them in the dock of the NDLEA.

Prominent among the other 10 personalities investigated were Chief Olawale Ige, a former communications minister, Mr. Isiaka Ayinde, Dr. Ade Thomas and Chief Ebun Aderibigbe. The story was that the 12 individuals bought shares (rights issues) worth about half a billion naira from the same SGBN with the amount considered fraudulently sourced, illegally transferred and immorally deposited.

Later, SGBN was investigated by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) under Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, and its license was suspended. The license was restored last year, but till now, the bank has not restarted business.

Owing to his romance with the powers that be, the Saraki dynasty was an early beneficiary of the Babangida-era scheme that turned banking into a subsidised racket.  Banking licences were allocated to the well-connected, without the least regard to the "market forces."

The story was that like other banks, Société Générale bought U.S dollars from the Central Bank at a discount ranging from two to four naira per dollar and sold it to desperate customers for whatever it could make them pay.

After years of enjoying this subsidy, the bank collapsed, run aground by his son and the immediate former governor of Kwara State, Bukola Saraki, physician turned banker, and now a Senator of the federal republic.  Depositors’ funds running into tens, perhaps hundreds of millions   of Naira, including that of former Super Eagles captain, Austin Jay Jay Okocha, remained trapped in the bank.

The signs of insolvency were already palpable when, on being elected as governor in 2003, Bukola Saraki, with scant regard for propriety, moved the Kwara State Government accounts from the state-owned Trade Bank, said to be in distress, to the SGB, regarded as Saraki family bank, with the obvious intent of making the state government subsidise it.

Public outcry forced him to reverse course.  Many commentators were shocked that it took a public outcry to make him recognise that he had committed a flagrant conflict of interest.

Embattled Societe Generale Bank Nigeria, SGBN Limited was to commence operations under a new name, Heritage bank, following approval by the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, which said the bank had met the financial requirements for returning to business.

The CBN revoked the operating licence of Savannah Bank in February 2002, while that of Societe Generale Bank Plc, was revoked on January 16, 2006. The NDIC and CBN handed over Savannah Bank to the owners on June 9, 2009, with a promise of ensuring a speedy conclusion of the necessary processes for re-opening the bank to the public.

Early last year, the Nigeria Deposit Insurance Corporation, NDIC announced that SGBN and Savanna Bank were to commence operations in 2012. The Managing Director, Alhaji Umaru Ibrahim disclosed that efforts were being put in place to ensure that Savannah Bank Nigeria, SBN Plc and Societe Generale Bank of Nigeria, SGBN Limited were to start operation by 2012.

Umaru said during the 2011 Editors Forum in Lagos that by second quarter of the year in focus (2012), the two banks will start operations in order for depositors whose money has been trapped in the bank to get back their funds.

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