The chairman and publisher of LEADERSHIP Newspapers, Sam Nda-Isaiah, has petitioned the governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Mr Godwin Emefiele, to investigate Enterprise Bank and ascertain why it included his name as one of the bank’s defaulting debtors.
Consequently, Nda-Isaiah has dragged the bank to court, demanding damages of N5 billion. He has also sued Daily Trust together with the newspaper’s chairman, Kabiru Yusuf; editor-in-chief, Mannir Dan Ali; editor, Nasir Abubakar; a reporter, Daniel Adugbo, and a member of the newspaper’s editorial board, Monima Daminabo.
Mr. Nda-Isaiah accuses Daily Trust of serially defaming him and taking advantage of the Enterprise Bank publication to include falsehoods that were not part of the bank’s publication.
The All Progressives Congress (APC) chieftain also accuses the newspaper and its directors of lying about the involvement of the bank in Banana Republic in a way that will bring disrepute to his entire family.
In the suit which has his wife, Zainab, as co-plaintiff, and filed by his counsel, Dennis Afeobua, Mr. Nda-Isaiah is asking the court to declare that the publication of his name and that of his wife as debtors has greatly injured their reputations as respected members of the society.
Mr. Nda-Isaiah is further asking the court to hold that the publication of Daily Trust of Sunday, August 9, 2015, page 23, which portrays him and his wife as debtors, is malicious, vexatious, contemptuous and has injured their reputations.
The plaintiff is further asking the court to take judicial notice of the fact that Daily Trust has violated the ethics of the media profession by deliberately neglecting to balance its report by way of asking for his own side of the matter.
He, therefore, urged the court to restrain the defendants from further publishing the defamatory statement complained of.
In the statement of claim, Mr. Nda-Isaiah said that at the material time, one of his companies, Banana Republic Ltd, had a loan transaction with the bank to the tune of N80million.
According to him, N67.5million out of the N80million represented term loan to procure equipment for Banana Republic, and the sum of N12.5million as working capital for the company.
He argued that the company was a corporate body having a distinct personality from him and his wife.
The suit avers that “at no time did the 1st and 2nd plaintiffs respectively and personally and/or jointly apply for a loan facility of any category with the 2nd defendant; neither is the 1st and 2nd plaintiffs in any material form whatsoever, respectively or jointly, indebted to the 2nd defendant (Enterprise Bank).
“It was, however, surprising and embarrassing for the 1st and 2nd plaintiffs to find their names in a newspaper publication of Daily Trust of August 4, 2015, belonging to the 1st defendant which stated thus: ‘Former presidential aspirant on the platform of the All Progressive Congress (APC) Nda-Isaiah, and his wife, Zainab Nda-Isaiah, are on the Enterprise Bank’s list of loan defaulting customers.
‘Mrs Zainab Nda-Isaiah is the CEO of Banana Republic, which owes the bank N114.2million for a term loan/overdraft granted on 25th day of July, 2013 which expires on 24th July 2015.’
“From the above publication, it is obvious that the 1st defendant meant that the 1st and 2nd plaintiffs are either respectively, or jointly, indebted to the 2nd defendant.”
No date has been fixed for hearing in the suit.
Meanwhile, in the petition addressed to the CBN governor, Mr. Nda-Isaiah accused Enterprise Bank of impugning and defaming his hard-earned reputation by listing his name and that of his wife, Zainab, among over 500 customers said to be indebted to banks.
He said the bank provided an opening for Daily Trust, an Abuja daily newspaper, to achieve what it would love to do – to malign him – even when it was clear that it was the bank’s incompetence and unprofessional handling of the loan facility that delayed payment.
Specifically, Mr. Nda-Isaiah told the CBN that as a result of the incompetence of the account officers, the bank was falsely accusing Banana Republic Ltd, a food and hospitality company, which he promoters, of being indebted to it.
In the 13-paragraph petition dated August 11, 2015, the APC chieftain said he would not just sit idly and watch a public image and a brand which he built over the years “rubbished because of the incompetence and unfathomable motives of some people.”
He also attached documents and all correspondences with the bank showing timelines supporting his assertions in the petition.
“Even though owing a bank is not a crime, the fact that the term – ‘name and shame’ – was what the bank said it was doing, I have been defamed and they have given an opening to a newspaper house like Daily Trust (which cannot allow this kind of opportunity to pass) to further smear me and even add innuendoes that were not in the bank’s publication,” he said.
Explaining the bank’s unprofessional approach to the transaction of the loan facility, Mr. Nda-Isaiah said that in 2013, Banana Republic had approached Enterprise Bank Ltd for a loan facility for the expansion of the business into Maitama District, Abuja, and the construction of a five-star hotel in Guzape, Abuja, on a 1.4 hectare hilltop prime location.
He told the CBN governor that while the loan was promptly approved by the bank – because it was considered a good project, Banana Republic’s problem started when the account officers in charge “started behaving strangely and unprofessionally”.
He said, “Sometimes they even showed signs of incompetence. The breakdown of the approved facility was N67.5million for the purchase of equipment and N12.5million for working capital to operate the restaurant.
“Upon approval, our account manager opened an escrow account in our name without our knowledge and deposited N67.5million and started charging interests right away from July 25, 2013, on the entire N80million sum, without any form of notification to us.
“It was only several weeks later that we knew that this unusual banking practice had happened. We were not allowed to draw the equipment facility even though the bank had started charging us interest on the entire approved sum. The first draw-down of N18,647,500 in August was only allowed nearly one month after they had started charging interest on the entire loan sum.
“The next draw-down of N43, 372,500 in September 2013 was only allowed nearly two months after commencement of interest charges to us. The total sum we were allowed to draw from the N80million facility was only N61,920,000 even though the bank was charging interest on the entire N80million approved.”
Mr. Nda-Isaiah further noted that after the equipment had been installed, the bank refused completely “to allow the company draw down the approved working capital which was to be used to operate the restaurant. Various letters requesting draw-down were not even replied.
“When there seemed to be no headway, I then instructed the group managing director of our holding company to intervene, which he promptly did by travelling to Lagos, the head office of the bank,” he stated, adding that some of the bank’s senior management staff members were shocked to hear the details since they actually thought the facility had been fully disbursed.
Mr. Nda-Isaiah pointed out that “the failure of the bank to allow draw-down of the N12.5million working capital, which was part of the N80 million facility, complicated the dispute further.”
“Banana Republic informed the bank clearly that it was not going to pay interests on the amount that had not been disbursed. Even as I write this, Governor, the entire N80 million has still not been disbursed to the company but interest charges are going on,” he said.
“Because there was a dispute, we stopped paying money into Enterprise Bank as their practices became similar to a Ponzi scheme or, at best, a strange strain of voodoo banking.
“About three months ago when communication was re-established with Mr Lekan Busari, the head of the Abuja operations of the bank, it appeared that we were at last making headway. Because of that, we promptly paid in N5.6 million on June 3, 2015, into the account in good faith, pending the resolution of the dispute.”
Urging the CBN to investigate the matter, he said, “Enterprise Bank has impugned my reputation and that of my family. All my life, I have tried to be very careful. I have been an advocate of good governance all my public life and I am one of the architects of the change we currently enjoy as a nation, the struggle which started in 2002.
“I have built a public image and a brand which I cherish and protect jealously. I will not just sit by and watch such a brand rubbished because of the incompetence and unfathomable motives of some people.
“I am therefore suing Enterprise Bank. The bank is going to have its day in court and I promise to give the proceedings maximum exposure as they unfold. But I also request that you investigate my claims. I shall be available for further details,” he concluded.