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ALSCON: Ending a Deadlock

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Save for the recent amicable resolution, Akwa-Ibom-based Aluminium Smelter Company of Nigeria (ALSCON) located in Ikot Abasi was a thorn in the flesh of Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE).

Its nightmares were shared by other stakeholders, the host community and feuding core investors locked in legal battle with the Federal Government over ownership dispute. To them, ALSCON was a burden that must be expeditiously resolved.

The Journey

ALSCON was incorporated in 1989 with the Federal Government of Nigeria, Ferrostal of Germany and Reynolds Incorporated of America as shareholders on an equity holding of 70 per cent, 20 per cent and 10 per cent respectively.

The company was established with clear cut objectives to utilise and enhance the country’s gas reserve and discourage gas flaring in the Niger Delta.

Its broad terms include establishing a self-reliant aluminium factory, provide employment to Nigerians and impact technical and develop trained technical manpower, to conserve and earn foreign exchange by meeting local aluminium demands, and aid the development of aluminium downstream industries.

Hitherto, the firm was under the purview of Ministry of Industries until 1991 when it was handed over to the then Ministry of Mines, Power and Steel to manage.

The plant, designed to produce 197,000 metric tonnes of aluminium ingots and billets per annum, commenced production on October 15, 1997.

Failed Privatisation

ALSCON enjoyed uninterrupted production, hitting production target before a snap on June 6, 1999. The major factors that accounted for production pack up included irreconcilable differences between Ferrostaal and Reynolds, lack of working capital, insufficient gas supply and non-dredging of Imo River among others.

To break the jinx and restart production, ALSCON was listed in the 2nd phase of the privatisation programme in the Privatisation and Commercialisation Act of 1999.

In September 2002, the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE) commenced the privatization process and requested for core investors to express interest in acquiring the Federal Government’s shares. Five companies expressed interest in acquiring the firm. They were ALCOA Inc. of America; Glencore AG of Switzerland; UC Rusal of Russia; ALCAN of Canada and Ferrostaal AG of Germany

After the due diligence, only UC Rusal and Ferrostaal submitted technical and financial bids. Ferrostaal was, however, disqualified by BPE for submitting conditional bids.

This left UC Rusal as the only qualified bidder and the process was therefore aborted.

The process was restarted in 2004. BPE invited interested companies to bid for ALSCON majority stake of which only BFI Group and UC RUSAL satisfied the initial pre-qualification requirements.

BFI Group emerged the preferred bidder with a bid price offer of $410 million, while UC Rusal was disqualified for submitting a conditional bid.

However, BFI Group failed to meet the deadline of July 8, 2004 for the payment of 10 per cent of the bid and was therefore disqualified. Consequently, BPE reopened negotiations with UC Rusal on the basis of a negotiated sale strategy (otherwise known as willing-buyer-willing-seller).

UC Rusal won the FGN equity as core investor and the transaction was approved by the National Council on Privatisation. BPE subsequently handed over ALSCON to UC Rusal at a bid price of $250 million with $120 million out of the total sum set aside for the dredging of Imo River.

Legal Battles

In September 2004, the core investor-BFI Group, dragged BPE before an Abuja High Court for overturning its victory and handing over ALSCON to UC Rusal.

The Federal High Court decided the case in favour of BPE, but BFIG appealed and also lost at the appeal court. BFI Group then took the case to the Supreme Court.

However, in between the period, UC RUSAL commenced production in 2008, but insufficient gas supply to the smelter as well as staff agitation due to non-payment of the balance of their terminal benefit amounting to N2.3 billion constituted a major challenge among others to the smooth operation of the plant.

On July 6, 2012, the Supreme Court revoked the sale of ALSCON to UC Rusal and reinstated BFI Group as preferred bidder for ALSCON.

The Supreme Court ordered inter alia (1) “An order of specific performance is hereby decreed directing the Defendant/Respondent (BPE) to provide the mutually agreed Share Purchase Agreement for execution by the parties to enable the Plaintiff/Appellant (BFIG Group) pay 10% of the accepted bid price of US$410 Million (i.e. the sum of US$41Million) within 15 working days from the date of execution of SPA in accordance with the agreement dated 20/5/2004 and 90% bid price shall be paid within 90 calendar days.”

  1. ii) “An order for the Defendant/Respondent to accept payment of the 10 per cent of the bid price from the appellant within 15 days from the date of signing the Share Purchase Agreement (SPA).”

iii) An order of Perpetual Injunction restraining the Defendant/Respondent (BPE), its servants, agent, privies, management or howsoever called from inviting any further bidding for the sale and acquisition of ALSCON in violation of the contract between the Plaintiff/Appellant and the Defendant/Respondent and/or from negotiating to sell, selling, transferring or otherwise handing over ALSCON to any person or persons in violation of the contract between the Plaintiff/Appellant and the Defendant.”

The transaction for the core investor sale of ALSCON to BFIG was terminated after the expiration of the deadline of March 18, 2013 given to them to sign the SPA and pay 10 per cent of the bid price as ordered by the Supreme Court. BPE reinstated UC RUSAL again as the core investor in ALSCON.

Meanwhile, BFI Group has again gone back to court to compel BPE to reinstate them in ALSCON and the court has ruled in their favour, but BPE has filed an appeal and the case is yet to be determined.

As a result of the uncertainty created by the Judgment and the delay to resolve the case, UC Rusal and ALSCON has been suffering grave damages, as most developmental projects at the smelter have been put on hold. ALSCON/RUSAL is incurring enormous losses having to maintain the plant and staff without being in operation. Consequently, the company retrenched most of the workforce in order to minimise losses.

Finding a Solution

To navigate the firm from the shores of protracted crisis, Minister of Mines and Steel Development, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, and the BPE worked assiduously to bring the firm back to its feet. BPE sent a memo to the Vice President, Prof Yemi Osinbajo, to invite the parties with a view to reconciling them. Several mediatory meetings were held, some at the ministerial level to explore both administrative and political approaches to resolving this impasse to enable ALSCON realise and optimise its potential to the benefit of the nation.

At the meeting of the NCP held in August 2017, the council approved an out of court settlement to resolve the lingering dispute between the FGN, BFIG AND UC Rusal through mediation with the active collaboration of Ministry of Mines and Steel Development.

Subsequently, BPE provided the SPA to BFIG for execution in compliance with the order of the Supreme Court and asked BFIG to provide a business plan as required in the SPA and to execute the SPA within a period of seven days as contained in the judgment of the Supreme Court.

Again, BFIG failed to execute the SPA as ordered by the Supreme Court and could not meet the terms of the transaction by close of business on Tuesday, October 3, 2017 (making it the 3rd time the company has failed to meet terms of this transaction), indicating lack of good faith to resolve the impasse.

The renewed Share Purchase Agreement was signed during a brief ceremony at the Ministry of Mines and Steel Development, Abuja, witnessed by Fayemi; Minister of State, Hon Abubakar Bawa Bwari; Director General, Bureau of Public Enterprise (BPE), Alex Okoh; Russian Ambassador to Nigeria, Nickolai Udovichenko; CEO/Member of the Board of Directors UC Rusal, Vladislav Soloviev; Managing Director ALSCON, Dmitry Zavyaiov; and Head of Legal, UC Rusal, Piter Maxsimov.

Speaking at the event, Fayemi said President Mohammadu Buhari was keen on seeing to the conclusion of the agreement as soon as possible so that the company could get back on its feet and Nigeria and Russia can strengthen the historical partnership between the two countries.

The Drector General, BPE, Alex Okoh, in his remarks, commended the efforts of Fayemi and his commitment in ensuring the success of the negotiation.

The BPE boss said he was optimistic that the remaining issues would be resolved both on the legal side as well the technical and production issues, adding that government still retained 20 per cent equity in the firm.

Ambassador Nickolai Udovichenko, who led the Russian Government delegation to the event, thanked the Nigerian Government for resolving the impasse, while also lauding the efforts of the minister. He described the development as a new beginning for the two countries.

On his part, The traditional ruler of Ikot Abasi, His Royal Majesty, Edidem U.J Ntuk Obom XII, urged the Federal Government to do everything possible to ensure that ALSCON is revitalised so that economic prosperity of the town could return.

The monarch said ALSCON was the life wire of the community, stressing that the company gave the community 24-hour power supply, employments and awarded scholarships to its students.

Last line

ALSCON’s journey has been a tortuous one, no doubt. However, it is reassuring to know it ended on a pleasant note with the hurdles, hitherto, stalling production uprooted, a new dawn sets in for ALSCON.

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This feature story first appeared on Newtelegraphonline.com by ABDULWAHAB ISA

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BUSINESS

John Abayomi denies ownership of Instablog9ja, threatens to sue Linda Ikeji

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John Abayomi, Online Editor for Punch newspapers, has threatened a lawsuit against the publisher of Linda Ikeji blog, Linda Ikeji, for publishing false and malicious story about him.Abayomi through his lawyer, Falana and Falana’s Chambers claimed that the publication with the headline, ‘LIB Exclusive: Meet the owner of Instablog9ja-John Abayomi’ has put his life and that of his family in danger.

In the letter delivered to the blogger on Friday, Ikeji was asked to tender an unreserved apology within forty-eight hours or risk legal action.

Linda in the said publication had claimed that ‘the owner of instablog9ja is John Abayomi, a former online editor of Vanguard news and current online editor of Punch’.

However, Falana said the statement is untrue and unfounded, but only calculated to lower Abayomi’s esteem and damage his reputation and professional career.

“Your publication has put him in the harm’s way, thereby endangering his life and the lives of his family members. It has also attracted a lot of negative reactions from members of the public including celebrities who has been eager to know the face behind the blunt and sarcastic blog because of the method of reportage”.

“Your mendacious publication was clearly actuated by malice in that it was deliberately done to portray our client as an imposter, a fraudster and a blackmailer”

“In the light of the foregoing, we have our client’s firm instructions to demand an unqualified apology together with a retraction of the libelous publication in the edition of your blog (Linda Ikeji blog) in addition to having the retraction published on Instagram.

“However, if you fail or refuse to accede to our client’s demands within 48 hours of the receipt of this letter, we shall have no option than to initiate civil proceedings against you at the Lagos State High Court without further recourse to you,” reads the letter which was signed by Chukwuma Onwuemene (ESQ.).

A reliable source has also rubbished reports that Abayomi was summoned to a meeting by his employers, Punch Newspapers, over Linda Ikeji’s publication.

“It is totally untrue. There was no such meeting. John is a top-notch professional and everybody close to him, including his employers, are aware that Linda Ikeji’s publication was completely untrue,” the source said.

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Diamond Bank wins Women’s Market Champions Awards

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Nigeria’s leading retail bank, Diamond Bank Plc has been awarded the prestigious Women’s Market Champion honours by the Global Banking Alliance for Women. This year’s Women’s Market Champions reflect the global nature of the Global Banking Alliance for Women’s work hailing from diverse markets and regions.

According to Vanessa Van Landingha, Manager, Branding and Communications Strategy, Global Banking Alliance for Women (GBA), Diamond Bank was selected as one of the 2018 awardees for its outstanding impact on Women development and providing them with holistic solutions that meet their needs.

“The awarded institutions are true champions of women, working to unleash the economic potential of the female economy,” GBA Chief Executive Inez Murray said. “Their engagement with the GBA network is essential to the work we are doing to economically empower women worldwide and contributes to the Women’s Market success of the entire membership.” Landingha said.

Commenting on the award, Karimot Tukur, Head Consumer Banking said; “This award lends credence to the work that Diamond Bank has been doing over the years to advance the cause of women especially in the SME and Financial Inclusion space. Our Diamond Woman proposition is designed specifically for women, by women and dedicated to the economic empowerment of women.”

Diamond Bank Plc is one of Nigeria’s leading commercial bank providing enhanced customer experience through innovation and technology. Regarded as a supporter of Small and Medium-Scale Enterprises through SME lending, capacity building, business seminars and workshops.

Recently, the Bank recorded a landmark funds disbursement of over N1 billion to small business owners under the cash flow-based SME lending scheme in partnership with the Women’s World Banking (WWB), and this has earned the leading financial institution ranked among the top five SME-focused banks in Nigeria in the 2018 KPMG Customer Service Survey.

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FCMB partners WSBI to boost financial inclusion, savings in Nigeria

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First City Monument Bank (FCMB) is set to substantially increase its support to agribusiness, its value chain and growth of the Nigerian economy after signing a Memorandum of Understanding with the World Savings and Retail Banking Institute (WSBI). The memorandum outlines a framework to deepen agency banking, financial inclusion and savings culture in the informal and agribusiness sectors. As part of the terms of the partnership, in addition to the stated areas of support, WSBI will provide technical oversight supervision on a regular basis to ensure the achievement of mutually agreed goals set by both institutions.

According to the memorandum, the project involves FCMB rolling out an integrated savings account – named ‘Kampe Account’ – to offer financial services under phase one of its plan to 150,000 unbanked and under-banked farmers across five states through agricultural agents operating under the bank’s agency banking proposition. The first set of states to benefit in this first phase are Kaduna, Kano, Nasarawa, Ogun and Oyo. The plan is to reach 2 million farmers across the entire nation by year 2023.

In addition to the financial support to farmers, FCMB plans to deploy its state-of-the art technology and mobile banking solutions to drive the project mainly in the rural and sub-urban farm settlements where most farmers are based. The bank will also organize capacity-building programmes for farmers aimed at facilitating their understanding of the sector and promote innovative ideas that would make the sector attractive, ultimately facilitating job creation that would in turn, impact on productivity and income.

Commenting on the grant from WSBI and the initiative, FCMB’s Managing Director and Chief Executive, Mr. Adam Nuru noted the development will revolutionize agribusiness – one of the various empowerment strategies adopted by the bank that is appreciated by stakeholders within and outside Nigeria.

Adam Nuru said: “Partnering with WSBI and harnessing the business model we have developed to drive it, under our Kampe Account, is built on a sustainable approach which ensures farmers can gain better access to finance and other resources needed to help them build successful businesses.”

Nigerian smallholder farmers have been at a disadvantage due to several factors including land fragmentation, inadequate farming equipment, broken value chains, poor access to finance and inadequate cash flow. Over the years, they have suffered from lack of essential services such as access to good markets to create low economies of scale, challenges in the promotion of agricultural productivity, hurdles in their bid to achieve increase in food security to improve rural livelihoods for engendering systematic growth out of poverty. FCMB and WSBI are optimistic that these challenges will be addressed.

Mr. Nuru added: “Farmers who benefit from this effort can and should make the best use of the opportunity. FCMB will continue to partner with WSBI to create opportunities that would ensure the realization of the personal and business needs of customers.”

WSBI Managing Director Chris De Noose concluded: “The Kampe Savings Project is yet another example of the innovative ways rural communities can flourish through mobile savings and beyond. Expanding banking access and agricultural services through the provision of mobile services to the farming community, which increasingly includes more women, can help knock out any doubt about the payoff that farming can bring.”

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MTN To Offer Nigerians Mobile Banking Services In 2019

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MTN Group will apply for a mobile banking license in Nigeria and launch a service there next year, its CEO said on Tuesday, further embedding the South African telecoms company in its biggest but increasingly problematic market.

“We will be applying for a payment service banking license in Nigeria in the next month or so, and if all goes according to plan, we will also be launching Mobile Money in Nigeria probably around Q2 of 2019,” Rob Shuter told a telecoms conference in Cape Town.

MTN, Africa’s biggest telecoms company, has faced challenges in Nigeria where it has been ordered by the central bank to return $8.1 billion which the bank said was illegally sent abroad, and in a separate case has been slapped with a $2 billion tax bill in Nigeria. It is in talks with the central bank about the $8 billion fund transfer.

The success of mobile money over in East Africa, pioneered by Kenya’s Safaricom, has convinced investors and the industry that financial services is the next growth area for telecoms to offset falling prices for basic services.

Shuter, who has led MTN since last year, also said the company would relaunch mobile money services in South Africa, two years after canning the service. The company has also bought a music streaming business Simfy, which Shuter said was “Africa’s leading music streaming business.”

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