The Supreme Court on Friday delivered a judgment that surprised quite a few people who had casually followed the case of Erastus Akingbola, former CEO and MD of the defunct Intercontinental Bank Plc.
According to the Supreme Court judgment reported by Nigeria News, Erastus Akingbola must face trial and prove he is innocent of the charges brought against him almost a decade ago by the EFCC.
For people who are not intimately connected with the case, the pronouncement by the Supreme Court jolted them to the realization that Erastus Akingbola is not yet free of those charges.
Because back in April 2002, a Federal High Court sitting in Lagos and presided over by Justice Charles Archibong had dismissed the case against the former bank chief for, according to him, ‘Lack of diligent prosecution’ by the EFCC.
With that Archibong’s judgment, people thought it was all over. After all, Nigerians have been down this route before. When a ‘big man’ belonging to the elite class is arrested for one crime or the other, the worst they get is the embarrassment of having to appear in court and plead not guilty to the charges brought against them.
More often than not, the case gets thrown out of court for one reason or the other even before getting to trial.
So people felt the case against Erastus Akingbola had run its course like cases like these usually end up.
Many people didn’t even realize the government appealed that judgment. And even for those who were aware of the appeal, they never gave the government a chance to overturn the judgment.
A brief background of the case would suffice at this moment.
In 2009, after persistent rumors that some banks in Nigeria were almost insolvent due to bad loans and extremely low liquidity, the Central Bank led by Sanusi Lamido Sanusi finally wielded the big stick.
The CEOs of five banks were sacked immediately. They were Sebastian Adigwe of Afribank, Okey Nwosu of Finbank, Cecilia Ibru of Oceanic Bank, Bath Ebong of Union Bank, and Erastus Akingbola of Intercontinental Bank.
A few months later the Managing Director of Bank PHB, Francis Atuche, was added to the list.
How did the banks continue doing business if the situation was that bad?
According to the CBN, all the banks relied heavily on borrowed funds from the apex bank to survive. Also, to cover up the fraud in bank balances, at the end of each financial year, they borrowed money from other banks to pad up their books to make it look like they were healthy when the auditors came to look at the banks’ books.
It was a complex operation. But the long and short of it was that the bank CEOs loaned money to themselves through proxies and to cronies without collateral. They became stupendously rich in the process.
It was on the basis of the CBN report that the EFCC dragged all the CEOs to court. To date, only Cecilia Ibru had been convicted. And this was only made possible because she pleaded guilty.
She is now a free woman after serving her jail term in a private hospital in Lagos.
All the others are still in court trying to prove their innocence.
The Erastus Akingbola case
Apart from Cecilia Ibru, no other case of the ex-CEOs attracted as much attention as that of Erastus Akingbola.
Perhaps, it was because he was a prominent pastor in one of Nigeria’s biggest Pentecostal churches, The Redeemed Christian Church of God.
After all, it wasn’t as if Intercontinental Bank was as big as Union Bank, but Bath Ebong wasn’t nearly as much in the news like Akingbola.
That said, like a typically rich Nigerian elite, Akingbola’s lawyers obtained injunctions after injunctions to frustrate, delay or have the case dismissed. They got their wish when Justice Charles Archibong dismissed the case.
The wheels of justice truly grind slowly especially if you have clever lawyers who are on first name terms with important judges.
It took the government six years through several courts and counter appeals to get the Supreme Court pronouncement.
As an aside but related to Erastus Akingbola, a London court had asked him to pay the sum of £654 million to Access Bank for the fraud he perpetrated while he was the head of Intercontinental Bank.
Access Bank had bought over Intercontinental Bank in the wake of the collapse of the latter bank. So Access Bank, in a bid to recover the money owed to them by debtors, asked the London court to compel Erastus Akingbola to pay up his debt.
It was possible for Access Bank to get that judgment in London because Akingbola had several assets in London including cash in some banks.
What Next for Akingbola
Long story short, he is going back to the High Court to start all over again.
It is interesting what the Supreme said about the judge that freed Akingbola. The court said:
“He constituted himself into a military dictator and this is regarded as judicial tyranny and a case of bias was established against the judge,”
As for Justice Charles Archibong, he was sacked the following year for his misconduct on the Akingbola case.
Justice Charles Archibong is a manifestation of the rot on the surface of the corrupt judiciary. Under that surface is a vast network of judges, judicial workers, and Lawyers working together to undermine the administration of justice.
Cleaning the rot in the judiciary is not helped by a bipartisan public who fail to see that most of the problems in the country can be traced to political and business elites going scot-free after raping the country.
That said, Akingbola Erastus is unlikely to be convicted any time soon. I’d wager a bet he would beat the rap. It is the corruption at work.