By Edozie Obasi-Eze
First Bank of Nigeria, has been described as too big to fail, even in the face of ownership crisis that has seen different people lay claim majority shareholding of Nigeria’s oldest bank.
The Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Godwin Emefiele, made the assertion on Tuesday, after the Monetary Policy Committee Meeting.
He maintained that the bank was equally strategic to the survival of the Nigerian banking sector.
His words, “If anything happens to First Bank, it means something has happened to the Nigerian banking system.
“That is why we are taking advice on how to get the bank afoot seriously.”
Recall that First Bank and its parent company have been in the news in recent weeks amid a tussle for control between major shareholders, notably Taiwo Hassan-Odukale and billionaire Femi Otedola.
Hassan-Odukale had gone public that his shareholding in the group (direct and indirect) stood at 5.36 per cent, in what the FBN Holdings hierarchy called “cumulative equity stake.”
That was shortly after the bank publicly declared Otedola’s shareholding (direct and indirect) stood at 5.07 per cent, which made him the highest single shareholder.
Several stakeholders, including the Nigerian Stock Exchange (SEC), the Pension Commission of Nigeria (PenCom), and now the CBN.
It is evident that Otedola quietly increased his shareholding in the bank, for which the top echelon of the bank does not seem comfortable.
Recall that recently, the PenCom clarified that funds invested by Leadway Pensure Limited in the shares of FBN Holdings Plc belong to Retirement Savings Account holders, and not a third party as FBN Holdings earlier claimed.
However, Emefiele made it clear the apex bank’s regulatory intervention brought First Bank to its profitable ways.
“Six years ago, like I said, because of an aggressive buildup of non- performing loans, the share price of First Bank was about N2. We took it up. Then, everybody was running away from the shares of First Bank.
“We have cleaned the balance sheet now, people are seeing that the money making machine, First Bank, is back on its feet. They are in the race for profitability. They are now competing for the shares of First Bank. Why should I quarrel about that?
“I am happy to see that they are competing for the shares. Of course, we all know that First Bank is so large that no single person can own it. In running the banks, they should see themselves as representing others.
“Naturally, returns are sent to CBN about individual shareholders. And of course, if our position is not in tandem with that of SEC, we will talk to SEC about it,” the CBN boss added.
Emefiele assured that with regard to the running and operations of the bank, the apex bank would take preeminence in ensuring that the right things are done.