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SETRACO OWNERSHIP CRISIS: LEBANESE PARTNER, SAID FAYEZ KHALAF PLOT TO FREEZE COMPANY’S ACCOUNT EXPOSED

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Shocking details of the questionable financial dealings by the Lebanese partner of Setraco Nigeria Limited (SNL), Engineer Said Fayez Khalaf, which were allegedly calculated to shortchange his Nigerian partner, the late Alhaji Inu Umoru, have emerged.
They form the grounds of the suit instituted by the family of the late construction mogul against Engineer Khalaf.
In a related development, Khalaf and his proxies have allegedly made moves to obtain an ex-parte order to freeze the bank accounts of SNL in order to disrupt the company’s businesses and operations, moves that the management was said to have urged the judiciary to reject. The management, as learnt, would want Khalaf and his proxies to approach the court by way of a Motion on Notice.

One of the questionable financial wrongdoings that have emerged concerned the subcontracting of civil engineering works to one of Engineer Khalaf’s shell entities, Foundation Tech Limited (FTL).

According to the record, FTL has received contracts up to the value of N1, 167,000,000:00 and USD10, 620,785:00 through a non-competitive bidding process with payments made through dummy names.

Khalaf is also alleged to have assigned contracts won by SNL to other companies in which he has interests without the consent of the board of SNL and also without proceeds shared with SNL.

Listed among the other entities are Setramech/Levant Construction Company Limited and Rockbridge Construction Limited.

SETRACO

Khalaf is said to unilaterally fix a charge ranging from 7-15% of contract fees on all revenues (including unearned revenue like mobilization for awarded contracts) of SNL as “service fees”, thereby earning double compensation for his role as a director.

According to the claim before the court, the total of such fees earned from February 18, 2008 to July 6, 2015 when it was discontinued, following the intervention of the son of the late Chairman, Alhaji Inu Umoru, who is the new chairman, Engineer Abu Inu Umoru, amounted to approximately USD27 million.

Another sore point was the use of SNL’s assets to realize the objectives of Engineer Khalaf’s other business interests without paying for such use. Cited as an example was Sunrise Estate Development Limited being one of such entities that enjoy a pre-financing privilege from SNL and which today exceeds N1.2 billion with some of the certificates past due by over five years.

It was claimed that SNL got four road contracts from the Kwara State Government from 2004 to 2012 totaling a contract sum of N8.43billion, which were seconded for execution to Setramech/Levant without the knowledge of the partner, Alhaji Inu Umoru (deceased). Khalaf was accused of deploying SNL’s funds, equipment and personnel in executing these contracts.

When one of the Nigerian staff members started asking questions about how the expenses were to be reported, Khalaf ordered that Setramech/Levant personnel be made signatories to the SNL’s GT and Diamond Bank accounts opened for the projects, thus keeping the SNL personnel in the dark; but records have it that Khalaf was the sole beneficiary of the proceeds of the contracts.

According to available records, the initial funds amounting to N779m spent on the first two contracts by SNL were never recovered back to the coffers of company.

Going by the claims before the court, SNL built a metallurgical fabrication workshop at Mpape to aid in the production of formwork and other ancillary fabrications, but that Said Khalaf floated a company then called Global Equipment Solutions (GES) Limited and instructed that the new company should take over the assets of SNL workshop in June 2009.

According to further claims, the value of the workshop (aside the building) was N82.6 million, and that without revaluation of the assets and consent of Alhaji Inu Umoru, Khalaf caused SNL to cede the entire workshop to GES at a paltry sum of N54 million.

Furthermore, it was claimed that GES started fabricating for SNL without a contract but forwarded debit notes at will without proper accounting procedures.

SNL, as claimed, paid N2.53 billion to GES from 2009 to 2017 for mostly unverifiable jobs; in addition to the claim that the liquidated GES in 2017, when SNL’s financial situation could no longer support the pilfering, sold all the equipment including the restaurant furniture and fittings, which had nothing to do with the workshop, without paying their net indebtedness to SNL, which is currently in excess of N379 million.

The other claims, among many more, are as follows:

· That Said Khalaf incorporated over 25 different companies within and outside Nigeria in the last 41 years to do business solely with SNL without informing his partner and without approval of the board of SNL. The total sum, owed by these companies to SNL with verifiable evidence, is in excess of N4.0billion while those with inconclusive evidence are in excess of N5.0billion

· That he (Khalaf) engineered a kangaroo technological support deal by which he claimed to be rendering technical support via Setraco International Holding (SIH) to SNL; and, that the deal was non-existent on ground but only on paper with a view to siphoning SNL’s funds to Lebanon.

· That through the deal, SNL supposedly owes about N3.5billion. This is outright fraud.

· That bank accounts were opened in the name of SNL in Bank of Beirut and Lebanese Swiss Banks in Beirut, which only Engineer Khalaf and his family members/surrogates operate without accountability. All signatories to the accounts are Lebanese and non-resident in Nigeria.

· That bank statements of account are never sent to Nigeria at their instruction but only excel worksheets from the Lebanese Finance Director to the Chief Accountant for reconciliation purposes; and, that the implication of this is that drawings from the accounts are shrouded in secrecy.

It would be recalled that having failed in their alleged ploy to stop bankers and vendors from doing business with the company, Khalaf and his proxies issued a public notice in ThisDay, The Guardian, Daily Trust and The SUN from 17th to 22nd September, 2019, claiming to be majority shareholders and that they shall not take responsibilities for any liabilities created by the current management of the company because of the ongoing litigations in Court.

The management’s disposition to their action was that it was clearly sub judice.

A top source in the company said “Unfortunately, they have yet again failed woefully to achieve their objective.”

The source confirmed that “their (Khalaf and his proxies) next cause of action is to go to a remote court to procure an expert interlocutory injunction restraining banks in Nigeria from doing business with the Company.

“Since the implication of such an order will have devastating effects on the activities of the Company, the management urges that no Nigerian Court should entertain such a bizarre request except it is coming by way of a Motion on Notice.”

“The fact is that the other stakeholders in SNL, aside the shareholders, are much more numerous and far more important to be ignored by some aggrieved shareholders who are hell bent on killing the Company because they can no longer carry out their dubious and fraudulent activities.”

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Oyedepo, Mbaka: A Terrible Day for Religion(Must Read)

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It was a terrible day for religion in Nigeria this past week as the overseeing Bishop of the Living Faith Churches, David Oyedepo, and the man at Adoration Ministries, Enugu, Fr. Ejike Mbaka, made various gaffes in their sermons that caught the attention of Nigerians. What might have been more tragic about these statements was that these popular charismatics ministers may not have realized the mistakes in their statements. Instead their followers have stood with them, while the pastors utilize age old silence to subdue their critics who have drawn their attention variously to these matters.

David Oyedepo, while ministering to members of his church at Otta, Ogun State, spoke of the growing rumour among Nigerians that an impersonator has taken the place of Muhammadu Buhari, the Nigerian President, at the nation’s seat of power in Abuja. To lend credence to his position, Oyedepo quotes Olatunji Dare article of 27th November, 2018, titled “Buhari’s Double”. Oyedepo, reading from a script, said:

“This disturbing information came from the Nation Newspaper of Tuesday, 27th November 2018, written by one Olatunji Dare, exploded with ‘authoritative assertions’, he said, claiming among others: That President Buhari had died in the U.K. in 2017, whilst he was undergoing medical treatment. HOW? That the entrenched cabal in Aso Rock had procured ‘President Buhari’s double’ in Sudan and pressed him to serve as Nigerian President. What? That the representatives of the ‘Jubril’ family having discovered the gigantic swindle, suddenly showed up in Abuja and demanded to be compensated with power-sharing arrangement at the Federal level in perpetuity plus 50% of Nigerian oil revenues for 10 years in the first instance.”

What the Bishop read was precisely what Mr. Dare wrote. What the revered minister failed to see in the write up was the satire in the whole piece. Olatunji Dare had been discussing the matter of Nnamdi Kanu and his propagating of the “Buhari Double” rumour. Mr. Dare, in his bid to make Kanu’s position sound even more ridiculous, went further to say that the family of Buhari’s impersonator, Jibril, were blackmailing the Nigerian government on the whole matter. Dare made up the satire to make Kanu’s position sound preposterous. This is what David Oyedepo read to his congregation as news!

The other gaffe that made the news in the past week was the one from Fr. Ejike Mbaka of the Adoration Ministries, Enugu. The revered Catholic Charismatic pastor did not conceal his love for money when he took the Nigerian president through his legendary caustic tongue. Mbaka said that he had prayed for the recovery of President Buhari and in return the President should have come to Adoration Ministries to “thank God”. He said no one cheats God and goes free. He warned that Buhari’s illness may return if the President did not come to him and offer thanksgiving.

While many where still in the dark as to the nature of the gratitude the President should offer, Mbaka embarks on a tirade of other political figures. He says that Peter Obi is stingy. That all he could offer his ministry was a miserly half a million naira. He said:

“(Gov. Dave) Umahi (of Ebonyi State) donated 1,000 bags of rice and 1,000 tubers of yam to us, but it meant nothing to me until he handed N10 million cheque to me and promised to build a project for the ministry. This is the type of gesture we require from Obi.”

At the end of the tirade, it was clear that pecuniary reasons were the factors that were engendering the latest statement from the popular Enugu reverend father.

These two incidents have quite unexpectedly revealed certain realities about popular figures in Nigerian religious life. Speaking on the incident, Bamidele Ademola-Olateju gave this advice on her Facebook wall: “…Good education is sweet! Read classics, great biographies & good fiction. You can’t achieve depth by reading; Rich Dad, Poor Dad…” She was saying, in other words, that if David Oyedepo was adept in reading, beyond the prosperity/faith jargon he writes, he would have recognized satire from what Olatunji Dare wrote.

The fact of the matter is that some of the least informed set of people in the country today are Pentecostal Pastors and their followers. Beyond whatever professional career they may be involved with, Pentecostals do not read anything but Prosperity/Faith theological books. At the end, they are usually wholly uninformed when it comes to dealing with other matters in the real world.

On the other hand, and quite unfortunately, Fr. Ejike Mbaka has revealed what many of us have long suspected is the underlying motive for his kind of ministry: MONEY. Mbaka spoke from the abundance of his heart, and since Catholic Charismatics are usually not the object of criticism in the religious sphere, he felt free to speak about the pecuniary undertone of his ministry. Unfortunately for him, he revealed too much.

In November this year, I was in Enugu to market my book Victor Banjo. My friends, who were taking me around to see the city, pointed out to me that Mbaka’s bottled water Aqua Rapha was the leading bottled water company in Enugu and environs. In fact it was initially named Healing Waters. But NAFDAC had a running battle with Mbaka and forced him to change the name, so that the public are not deceived to using the water for healing purposes.

Yet, the bottled water is all that Enugu folks drink. Why? They hold that Mbaka’s healing powers are in the water. Besides, the term “Aqua Rapha” is still “healing water” in Greek. That experience with Aqua Rapha remains the only let down to my wonderful experience while visiting the beautiful city of Enugu.

What is my point?

For too long we have centred our attention on Pentecostals and their use of God to make money in ministry. Very few people are commenting on Catholic Charismatics. The fact, as revealed in the latest Mbaka gaffe, is that there is practically no difference in all of them. Mbaka is in this thing for the money; just like his Pentecostal counterparts.

The lesson is simple: men’s hearts are revealed from the multitudes of the words they proclaim. The wise speak little so as to reveal less folly. The foolish utter it all to his own disgrace. It was a terrible day for religion in Nigeria with these various gaffes from David Oyedepo and Ejike Mbaka.

By: Deji Yesufu, the author of the book Victor Banjo. He can be reached on newdejix@gmail.com

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Fashion and Style

DUBIOUS DESIGNER PT 2 Encounter of another Bride-to-be With Maryam Elisha

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A wedding day is one of the biggest events in the lives of most ladies and they go to all extents to make the day a memorable one. From picking the right dress to whom to invite, details and timing is often of the essence.

For one soon to be bride, her dream wedding looks troubled, as the dress she ordered for her big day hasn’t arrived days to her wedding.

She claims that she ordered a wedding dress from Maryam Elisha (Rikaoto by ME), a popular Nigerian fashion designer on Instagram, but she never received her dress.

According to her, she sent Maryam Elisha $600 for the dress and later sent another $50 , which the designer requested as a charge for shipping.

In spite of making payments via a Bank of America transaction to the designer, the bride-to-be did not received her dress. After pushing for the designer to send the dress, the bride-to-be rather got blocked on Instagram and Facebook by the designer.

Out of desperation, the bride-to-be has shared details of her dealings with the designer with hopes that she can find answers or at least get her money back.

According to wikipedia, Maryam Elisha (born Maryam Rikoto Elisha) is a Nigerian model, beauty queen, and fashion designer. She founded the Rikaoto by ME fashion brand in 2009, two years after being crowned Miss Valentine. Elisha was also named one of the 20 most influential pageant personalities in Nigeria.

Also read: DUBIOUS DESIGNER:HOW MARYAM ELISHA SOLD CUSTOMERS WEDDING DRESS TO ACTRESS MERCY AIGBE

Elisha is from Kebbi state but was born in Kano state to a now retired police officer father and a businesswoman mother. She had her primary and secondary school education in Kano state before relocating to Lagos state to study English Language at the University of Lagos. After graduating from the university, she proceeded to the New Jersey Fashion School, in the United States, where she trained for eight months in fashion designing.

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Segun Agbaje: Using Fairs To Redefine Retail Banking

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segun Agbaje

Segun Agbaje, the managing director/CEO of Guaranty Trust Bank (GTBank), is not a popular man. To many, he is aloof, too strait-laced, not your typical run-of-the-mill Nigerian. As one of Nigeria’s foremost bankers, he has a reputation for running a tight and efficient ship, is unflinching in his pursuit and recovery of loans from the country’s systemically chronic debtors who have a sense of entitlement believing that they can borrow depositors’ funds without paying back, and does not give a hoot about those critical of his take-no-prisoners approach to banking.

In the media space, he does not seek publicity, he lets his work speak for itself, could not care less if his story or photograph makes the front page of the newspapers, limits his bank’s advertising spend to what he believes is necessary to market and promote GTBank to a wider audience, and through NdaniTV and Ndani Blog understands the power of the social media in reaching out to youths that make a larger percentage of Nigeria’s and regional demographic where the bank operates.

To me, Agbaje is the ideal banker. He is not my friend and we only interact sparingly and strictly professionally as the need arises. Yet, I cannot help but wish that we had more bankers like him in this country. If we did, fewer Nigerian lenders would have to make provisions for unpardonable impairment charges on bad loans given to delinquent debtors, fewer banks would engage in reckless insider lending that threaten their capital adequacy and liquidity ratios, more banks would recognise that they have a fiduciary responsibility to manage their customers’ deposits with care, and more banks would know how to sweat their assets in the most cost-efficient manner to make the most attractive returns to their shareholders.

In all the key parameters used in defining the size of banks, GTBank, among the five Tier 1 banks in the country, is not by any stretch of imagination the biggest. In terms of total assets, loans and advances, customer deposits, number of branches, and presence on the African continent and beyond, FirstBank, Zenith Bank and United Bank for Africa (UBA) stand head and shoulders above GTBank. By Nigerian standards, the “big three” could be called banking behemoths and are very difficult to supplant. Still, GTBank, with its cost optimisation strategy, asset quality and stability ratios, among others, has over time proved to be the most profitable bank in the country. Its stock has remained the bellwether in the banking segment of the Nigerian bourse for years, signposting the confidence institutional and individual investors have in the bank.

But this article is not about GTBank’s financial performance. Its annual and quarterly reports, including those of its peers, are public documents that can be readily accessed for in-depth comparative assessment. What I have found more interesting about the bank is its focus on corporate social responsibility (CSR) and interventions in key economic sectors targeted at strengthening small businesses through not-for-profit fairs and capacity building initiatives. For two years in a row, GTBank has solely funded and hosted its Food and Drink Fair and Fashion Weekends, making them social and tourist events that feature prominently on Nigeria’s social calendar.

That is not to say that the bank has not focused on other areas of CSR. Its 2016 annual report showed that GTBank spent about 58 per cent of the N449.62 million of its CSR funds on education alone while community development accounted for another 30.8 per cent.

But it is GTBank’s focus on food, drink and fashion that have been the most impactful publicly, bringing together scores of promising, talented and recognised local and international chefs and food vendors, drinks makers and merchants, fashion houses, milliners, fashion accessory designers and leather goods makers in a dizzying, well-put together and well-thought out extravaganza that leaves the public yearning for more.

Both events, which are open to the public, have been attended by several thousands of people, including children, for two years running that have left attendees breathless and wondering how the bank manages to package the two fairs in areas where it has no competencies.

The trick, says Agbaje, whom I had to hound to open up on the success behind both fairs, is getting and attracting the best participants and controlling costs by getting the bank to work directly with the contractors who have to build the stalls, decorate the venue, create play areas and cooking classes exclusively for children, and provide the music, etc., during both fairs; no middlemen or consultants are used by the bank. For him, the fairs present an opportunity for GTBank to deepen its footprint in the retail banking space and increase its SME lending from 2 per cent of the bank’s loan book to 10 per cent over the next five years.

With time, he would also rather extend more loans to small and medium-sized businesses that are more impactful on the economy and achieve a loan recovery rate of 70-80 per cent, than pursue Nigeria’s so-called “big men” with woeful credit track records. Although he was demur about what it costs his bank to host both events, he was emphatic that making money at this juncture is not the overdriving objective, at least not in the short-term, but recognises the long-term benefits not just for GTBank but other Nigerian lenders.

Beyond this objective and given the magnitude of both fairs and their potential to grow into annual events that could attract millions from across the global, Agbaje’s vision is not one to be trifled with. Already, the GTBank Food and Drink Fair and the GTBank Fashion Weekend create thousands of direct and indirect jobs and referrals for hundreds of young Nigerians who have to build the stalls, decorate the venue, and provide the music, entertainment, security and other support services to make them a resounding success. And they have the potential to create even more.

Aside the suppliers, vendors and designers that make brisk business and achieve record sales during the fairs, the Master Classes included in both events are helping to build capacity and drive innovation in the creative industry that has proved to be a major magnate for Nigerian and African youths. By bringing them under one roof, GTBank has also provided a platform for shared services and given them the exposure that help these small businesses to grow and create more employment opportunities.

Without doubt, both fairs are worthy initiatives. But they could be better. In the last two years, GTBank has handled both fairs singlehandedly without support from other institutions and/or the Lagos State government, a direct beneficiary of the events and their spin-offs. In 2016, the food and drink fair alone attracted 25,000 people; this year, it attracted 75,000 people. I do not have the numbers for the bank’s fashion weekends, but I can imagine that the number of visitors will not be far off from those who attended the food and drink fairs.

Given the swelling numbers, both fairs have already started to cause traffic gridlocks on the days they are held. They are also attracting touts and hoodlums who mill around the roads leading to the venue and try to pounce on unsuspecting visitors as they alight from their cars or walk to the venue. On a positive note, big and boutique hotels, restaurants and food caterers on the Lagos Island experience an upsurge in occupancy rates and patronage by participants and the international media who have flown in to take part or cover the events. All these translate to more tourist dollars, taxes and revenue generation for the federal and Lagos State governments.

The import of this should not be lost on the federal and Lagos State governments.

They have to do more than just show a passing interest in what GTBank has started.

Given the potential for both fairs to become global destinations for tourists and visitors on the African continent, Lagos State in particular needs to improve on its infrastructure in and around the venue where both fairs are held. It must improve on traffic management and security to ensure that visitors can move about with ease and feel secure. According to Agbaje, in terms of support, the state government has not yet stepped up to the plate, nor has his bank sought for any. But he does acknowledge that with time, GTBank will have to reach out to Lagos State because of the interest both fairs are generating in terms of attendance and participation.

Right now, Agbaje appears to be satisfied with what his bank has accomplished in terms of bringing both fairs to the public’s consciousness. But do the federal and state governments understand the roles that they have to play in institutionalising them and ensuring that they outlast his stewardship in GTBank? Cities like Rio de Janeiro, London, Paris, New York and Melbourne that host major sporting, fashion, carnivals, music and film festivals every year, attracting thousands of visitors do not owe their success just to corporate sponsors but to the municipalities, state and federal governments that understand their roles and lend the required support to the private sector. As such, Lagos State needs to buy into the GTBank fairs as a public-private partnership that can and should work.

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