By Mahmud Bello

In the last decade a maze of corporate infractions in one of Nigeria’s pension fund administration – First Guarantee Pension Ltd (FGPL) and the various interlocutory injunctions and malfeasance carried out by the erstwhile vice chairman, his wife, siblings and their spouses, had betrayed the trust of investors, stakeholders of FGPL and Nigerians in general, jeopardizing the payment of retirement benefits to pensioners. There is more to the debacle than meets the eyes following the different scenarios that have played out recently.

It is therefore not surprising that Chidi Duru has hyped his campaign of calumny against FGPL and its stakeholders to high heavens since the police charged him with alleged invasion of the head office of FGPL with thugs carting away confidential documents, laptops and files of his siblings to conceal his infractions. Even before his incarceration by the police and arraignment in a magistrate’s court in Lagos and Abuja High Court respectively for theft, impersonation, conspiracy and breach of peace, the former legislator had always allegedly used lies and media propaganda to twist the facts in public domain against the management of FGPL and the industry’s regulator. It is now a public knowledge that all the letters allegedly written from the DPR and AGF were supposedly written by his sister, a director then at the AGF office, Mrs. Christy Ekweonu and that most of the issues were mainly rehashed and re-invented stories in order to deceive the gullible public about the millions of naira plundered by him and his siblings.

It is also quite interesting to note that all the correspondences between the DPP, AGF and the regulator (PENCOM) are all in public domain already including the letters written by FGPL to the police, ‘the persons of interest’ story comprising all directors and shareholders including the examination carried out then by the regulator to ascertain the true position of the company and the recklessness perpetrated by Chidi Duru are all in the court of public opinions for all to see and also deduce the merits and demerits of the issue at hand as it relates to the issues currently and the anti-corruption drive of the present administration.

Among his many reckless actions as investigated by the target report are that Chidi Duru unilaterally manipulated the award of contracts to his wife, a trained architect and to several other organizations that acted as fronts for his nefarious activities, were unexecuted.

The companies as fronts, include Grand Towers Plc, BP Outsourcing Ltd and Genoou Concept; all searches carried out at the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) linked all the companies to him as the owner. He essentially ran and administered FGPL as a personal estate and fiefdom by employing the services of his younger brother, sister and assigned them roles they are not qualified for, enjoying very special status, salaries and unchallenged control of the company. Nze Duru had on several occasions caused FGPL to make payments for unexplained legal services to law firms undertaking his private services, while masquerading as though they were working for the company and the diversion of huge multi-million naira equity contributions by Novare Holdings Proprietary Ltd, a firm from South Africa as part of its investment in FGPL. One Mr. Roper attended board meetings without approval and without also initiating same with the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) of the change in management, while the said director was receiving a whopping sum of N20 million and other emoluments without approval from the regulatory authority.

However, questions begging for answers are: Why the assassination threats on the life of Comrade Isaa Aremu, the Secretary General of the National Union of Textile workers (NUTGTW) who was also a member of FGPL board, by the former legislator? Also the civil society and human rights community spearheaded by Comrade Tijani Dantijo, recently asked: Was it the people mentioned at FGPL influenced his involvement with the South African firm without due recourse to Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) and to defraud the shareholders?

They maintained that it was all about the cornering of funds meant for the company into his private accounts and that of his siblings. That there are a lot of mind-boggling allegations and weighty revelations, which cannot be swept under the carpet just like that. According to Dantijo, looking at the case critically from its merits, there is more to it than meets the eyes. Why is he so desperate to get back to the office now that the company has bounced back after change of management few years ago? What must have pushed him to constitute illegal ‘executive committee members’ and breaking into the office of FGPL early this year with armed thugs and carting away several confidential documents? He maintained that all these show glaringly that he is not fit to be given such a sensitive place to handle that deals with retirees’ pensions.

According to Chidi Duru the ‘persons of Interest’ story had been quashed by justice Donatus Okoronkwo of the Federal High Court, Abuja on August 11, 2011 and June 18 2012, respectively on allegations of short-changing the shareholders by withholding money given to him to buy the company’s shares. Duru said, “it could not have happened that any shareholder or investor in FGPL would have either given money to me personally, or to any other person to invest in FGPL because the guidelines enunciated by the regulatory organ is that every investment must be made in the name of the proposed, on the basis of which they now issued what they called ‘Approved in Principle (AIP)’ to our PFA after the (AIP), we were now given final licence.”

However, in the same vein, the “persons of Interest’ countered all his assertions as mere rhetoric and said that in order to protect over N100 billion worth of pension assets managed by FGPL, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) had invited the former legislator and a South African, Mr. Derrick Roper, representing Novare Holding Ltd, for diverting millions of naira of FGPL, a licensed pension administrator. Duru was also accuse of diverting N16 million being part of the equity contribution of Novare Holding, to another business without following due process and without board approval, collecting N20.5 million as executive allowance without board approval and diverting the company’s assets worth millions of naira. The ‘persons of Interest’ claimed to have indicted Duru and his collaborators of alleged forgery of some shareholders’ signatures on a document referred to as the “Shareholders Resolution,” which purportedly mandated him to negotiate with Novare Holding on behalf of other shareholders during the acquisition of FGPL’s shares by Novare Holdings, that some of the shareholders, who alleged that their signatures were forged, included former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Ghali Umar Na-abba, Austine Okpara, Senator Annie Okonkwo and Kashim Ibrahim Imam, and so many others.

The former presidential liaison officer and interim board chairman of FGPL, Alhaji Ibrahim Kashim Imam has described as fraudulent the claim by the former vice chairman, Nze Chidi Duru, that he (Duru) was the chief promoter of the company, saying Pencom saved the company from his financial recklessness and mismanagement. That Duru was out to destroy the company, but the regulatory body came to the rescue of the board, management, staff and retirees of the company.

Speaking to journalists recently, he allegedly described Duru as a “fraudulent Nigerian,” who betrayed the trust and confidence reposed on him, noting that it was surprising that Duru had not been sent to prison four years after all his fraudulent actions were investigated and established and subsequently indicted. Emphasizing that following his indictment, the company’s account was in red to the tune of over N385 million, but following the intervention of PenCom, an interim management was formed and the assets of the company had been grown now to about N140 billion with profit of N3 billion in four years. Duru accordingly was officially and legally sacked in 2011 during the tenure of M.K Ahmed as the DG of PenCom due to mounting pressure from management and shareholders, who were tired of his alleged atrocities, why now the desperation to come back at all costs from the backdoor after being indicted for financial recklessness? a shareholder asked.  The questions that keep coming up on the lips of everyone are: Why is he still roaming the streets free? Who are his sponsors? What are their selfish motives, and what are they out to gain? These questions and many more are yearning for answers. Everybody still wonders: Why can a single individual of his calibre be facing multiple charges and summons from across the land bordering on theft, conspiracy, fraud, forgeries, among others? Chidi Duru is also alleged to be a serial liar, swindler and fugitive which have become his trademarks for years. Indeed, Nigerians are looking to see how this financial recklessness of Chidi Duru unearthed by the board of directors, shareholders and the target report of the regulatory body, will play out while still having investors’ confidence in the Nigerian economy including the anti-corruption drive of the present administration.

Mahmud Bello is of Citizens Watch Advocacy Initiative (CWAI)

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