AMCON plans to sell Keystone Bank to ‘powerful northern group’, officials say.

Some senior officials of the Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria are voicing strong opposition to the planned sale of Keystone Bank Ltd., PREMIUM TIMES can report.

The disquiet comes as the state-owned asset management company is set to announce new owners for the bank, which is the last of the three nationalised financial institutions yet to be sold, PREMIUM TIMES learnt.

The disturbed officials say Ahmed Kuru, the chairman of AMCON, has concluded plans to hand over Keystone to a coalition of powerful Northern interests, disregarding extant takeover provisions of AMCON in the process.

Barring any last minute changes, a firm linked to former Vice President Atiku Abubakar and Umar Modibbo, MD/CEO of Sigma Pensions Limited, may emerge the new owner of Keystone Bank with its nearly 160 branches, PREMIUM TIMES understands.

The two influential Nigerians are allegedly being represented by the firm which our sources said did not participate in the bidding process, in a clear contradiction of basic public asset sale requirements.

Following a commercial placed for the bidding process by AMCON, 13 companies submitted their expression of interests. These did not include the firm which AMCON is now set to sell the bank to.

The deal could also see Nigerian taxpayers lose billions of naira if allowed to stand. This is because AMCON is reportedly in talks to sell the bank for about N25.1 billion, representing only a fraction of the approximately N200 billion that AMCON paid to purchase the bank’s bad debts in 2011.

This is despite the fact that some of the companies that participated in the bidding process offered more than the amount and had core banking expertise, PREMIUM TIMES learnt.

The Keystone Bank, previously known as Bank PHB, was among the three banks nationalised by the CBN in 2011, after failing failed a stress test conducted by the apex bank.

The two others, Mainstreet and Enterprise Banks, had been handed over to other stronger banks in the industry by AMCON more than a year ago.

The delay in announcing new owners for Keystone, PREMIUM TIMES learnt, is not unconnected with the internal squabbles among the management of AMCON.

The members, who spoke strictly on the condition of anonymity, said Mr. Kuru sidestepped laid down requirements for asset sale to ensure Keystone is ceded to his cronies.

“It is very clear that all caution was thrown to the wind as a result of a grand plan to disqualify very strong and reputable intended buyers in order to allow the cronies and business associates of the Managing Director take over the bank,” a senior AMCON official said.

Mr. Kuru was appointed by President Muhammadu Buhari in August 2015, and the board members said the sale of Keystone could dent the administration’s much-avowed anti-corruption war.

The opinions being widely held across the country that the president has a sectional agenda will also be put to test by the outcome of the sale, a source said.

The concerned officials wondered why AMCON would sell a bank of Keystone’s magnitude to a firm that has no requisite expertise in banking and financial management.

“It is an open secret within the banking sector in Nigeria that the sale was arranged for this powerful northern group whose promoters do not have the required banking experience, thereby raising questions about the supposed independence of the international advisers of AMCON in the sale of Keystone,” one official said.

Mr. Modibbo could not be reached for comments.

The AMCON chairman, Mr. Kuru, was as at the time of publishing yet to respond to an email enquiry sent to him.

Mr. Atiku’s spokesperson, Paul Ibe, said he had no prior knowledge of his principal’s involvement in the controversial transaction, but still suggested that the opposition to his principal’s role by some AMCON officials might have been politically-motivated.

“I am not aware if his Excellency is interested or is involved in Keystone Bank. But even if he is, does that disqualify him? Is it because he’s a former Vice President and an APC chieftain? Hasn’t he run businesses successfully? Created jobs? Delivered dividends to shareholders? Paid taxes?

“Who are those internally? Who are the people? Is it politicians who are mischief makers hiding under the cover of internal people?” Mr. Ibe said.

When told that the sources are actually top officials of AMCON, Mr. Ibe said he would rather take the questions by email. An email forwarded to him was yet to be responded to as at the time of this report.

Now that the Senate has thrown out the Grazing Bill, what next? – Adeeko Ademola

The Senate yesterday stepped down three bills on the controversial issue of grazing in the country.

They are: “A Bill for an Act to Provide for the Establishment of Grazing Areas Management Agency and Other Related Matters 2016”, sponsored by Senator Rabiu Kwankwaso (APC, Kano Central); “A Bill for an Act to Provide for the Establishment of National Ranches Commission for the Regulation, Management, Preservation and Control of Ranches and Connected Purposes 2016”, sponsored by Senator Barnabas Gemade (APC, Benue North-East); and “A Bill for an Act to Control the Keeping and Movement of Cattle in Nigeria and Other Related Matters 2016”, sponsored by Senator Chukwuka Utazi (PDP, Enugu North).

The Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, said the Senate lacked the constitutional authority to legislate on the issues.

In as much as I would have loved that we find a lasting solution to the issue of animal grazing in Nigeria in the national assembly, I’m also of the opinion that the state governors do have a huge part to play in resolving the crisis that follows destruction of farmlands by Fulani herdsmen and their livestock.

As I have always opined that the Grazing Bill is dead on arrival basically because it does not address the fundamental questions raised by the victims of the herdsmen versus farmers carnage.

The Grazing Bill seeks to allocate portions of lands all over the federation to herdsmen for grazing. Any critical thinking person should know that this move will but only further the escalation of the feud between herdsmen and host communities. Using constitutional powers to allocate lands to nomads in host communities cannot count as a just method to solving the crisis.

Creating a grazing route in 36 states of the federation is like favoring settlers with the ownership rights to lands over the indigents of a particular area and considering how deeply divided the Nigerian people are along tribal and ethnic lines, the bill simply seeks to institutionalize the existing tension between herdsmen and farmer which in turn tends to be more dangerous than what we presently witness.

For instance, allocating grazing lands to a Fulani man in a Yoruba land like Ekiti is not a move that will sit well with the original indigents unless of course it is a business transaction of which in this case, is not.

Apart from the land-grabbing outlook of the allocation of lands for grazing, we are simply seeking to elaborate an already over-bloated government. In a time of recession, when the government is expected to reduce the size of it’s operations in order to save cost, we are looking to pass a bill that seeks to establish a Grazing Route Agency which intends to have a secretariat in all 36 state of the federation and thereby incurring running costs in operation and staff remuneration.

In a corruption-ridden country like ours, we cannot afford to use tax-payers money to create avenues for corrupt practices. As the struggle to cleanse ministries, parastatals and agencies of corruption, it’s not advisable to encourage corrupt practices by creating unneeded and inconsequential government agencies.

What To Do:

It is a laudable move for the government to put into consideration the plight of the herdsmen but that should not come at the detriment of people with other sources of livelihood. Therefore, the Grazing method of animal husbandry should be replaced with immediate effect by Ranching.

Ranching is the practice of raising herds of animals on large tracts of land. A ranch is an area of landscape, including various structures, given primarily to the practice of ranching, the practice of raising grazing livestock such as cattle or sheep for meat, diary, skin or wool.

One of the major reasons why Ranching should be adopted over Nomadic Grazing is the elimination of the movement of animals from one part of the country to another thereby infringing on the rights of other citizens. Apart from averting crisis, research has also shown that animals that are ranched tend to be healthier than those that are being moved around.

In furtherance, ranching is a good source of revenue generation for state governments. Providing ranches in the 19 Northern States of Nigeria will go a long way in ensuring that cattle owners do not have to leave the state in search of vegetation for their animals thereby helping the government to keep tabs on revenue opportunities. For instance, if there are ranches in a state like Sokoto, the Sokoto Government can lease out such ranches to willing herders in exchange for money. Proper sensitization of herdsmen by the government can be carried out to give better understanding about the benefits that come with ranching.

SECURITY: Herdsmen over time, have always had dangerous encounters with cattle rustlers. Cattle rustling is the act of stealing cattle, which is made easy because of the nomadic nature of Fulani Herdsmen. Despite bitter encounters, the government have not been able to find a solution to cattle rustling and that is basically because it is almost impossible to provide security for an entity which happens to be on the move constantly. Animals that are ranched up in one location can be adequately provided with necessary security. The risk of being attacked and robbed in open fields will be greatly minimized because animals can be efficiently tracked and appropriately secured.

HEALTHCARE: As part of the benefits herdsmen will enjoy, ranches also enable animals to be tracked and properly given the needed medical attention. Government can set up veterinary facilities to ensure quality of animal production. This feature will be impossible if animals are being moved from one place to another in a nomadic method. In ranches, when animals need medical attention, all the farmer needs to do is to contact the closest veterinary facility to get help and because the veterinary personnel readily knows the location of the animals, response is swift and precise. Also, laboratories for animal medical researches can be set up to have a proper study of livestock in terms of behavioral patterns in comparison to weather, nutrition, climate and so many other factors. Such researches help in projections and provisions of certain inventions that may yet be beneficial to both farmers, animals and consumers of animal products such as leather, beef, dairy and other by products.

If government can generate funds from herdsmen by providing them with ranches, the outcome benefits of such collaboration is not quantifiable. From security, to healthcare, to improvement in livestock production, the benefits trump whatever benefits derived from the nomadic method of animal husbandry.

Since the Senate has stepped down the Grazing Bill and made it known publicly that finding a lasting solution to the issue of grazing is the sole responsibilities of State Governors, it is time the governors especially northern governors came together in a forum with sole purpose of mapping out plans to ensure the clashes between herdsmen and farmers come to a perpetual halt.

I have, in this piece made their job 50% easier. All the need to do is; do a little more research, fine-tune it and then implement.

Buhari’s Cabinet: President Meets Northern Power Brokers

President Muhammadu Buhari has met with key northern power brokers and close associates and loyalists over his proposed ministerial and Special Advisers (SAs)’ list.

The meeting with the northern leaders was to get their views on how to pick the best hands and brains that would help him run his administration. The meeting took place at Buhari’s private residence in Kaduna shortly after he returned from South Africa on Tuesday.

The meeting with the northern power brokers is coming on the heels of similar meetings with some former Presidents and Heads of State, including former President Olusegun Obasanjo, and former Vice President Atiku Abubakar.

Buhari had equally consulted with prominent people in the southern region, including the former governor of Lagos State and national leader of the APC, Bola Tinubu.

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