June 15, 2024

• Threatens to challenge sale of Union Bank, Polaris Bank

The recent sale of one of the oldest banks in Nigeria, Union Bank and a bridge bank, Polaris Bank Nigeria Limited, by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON), has been described as another transaction that may have been in default of due process, transparency and accountability.

More importantly, in a country where the unemployment rate stood at 33.3 per  as reported in the last 2020/21 National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) report, there are concerns that this may lead to more potential job losses in the financial sector.

In a communique issued at the recently-held National Executive Council (NEC), by members of the National Union of Banks, Insurance and Financial Institutions Employees (NUBIFIE), the workers lamented that their job security has been threatened, stating that there would be massive sack when the buyers eventually take over, even when they claim they would retain them.

Already, stakeholders in the financial sector have queried the acquisition of Union Bank (a bank of over 100 years of existence) by a bank of slightly less than 10 years in existence (Titan Trust Bank) given the entrenched and established capacity of Union Bank across the country, including its offshore branches.

The union said it was studying all options on the sale of the two banks and would be prepared not only to defend the rights of workers, but also challenge the entire process in a competent court of law to demand for equity, justice and fair play, as well as protect the voiceless majority.

NUBIFIE National President  Anthony Abakpa, who insisted on the right thing to be done, said the union was prepared to defend the rights of members in any eventuality.

He said whoever came onboard at Polaris Bank must be prepared to treat existing staffers with utmost care, guarantee their job security and continuity, which is the only way of ensuring industrial peace and harmony across the entire banking system.

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Abakpa, expressed regret that workers, who were stakeholders ,were not informed either directly or through their union representatives about the sale of the bank in which most have served and are still serving for most of their prime years.

Unfortunately, he said they were not recognised as important enough to be informed about the sale of their workplace.

He said while the union, as a stakeholder, ought to be consulted or be formally informed about any impending sale or acquisition of the bridge banks, it was incumbent to know what was going on during any of such exercises.

He said the union recognised that it was less entitled to determine or select from among prospective bidders, who ultimately got the pie, it has the responsibility of knowing and insisting on due process, fair and inclusive, as well as open and transparent process, conducted in line with global best practices of fair competition.

He said the NEC-in-session, having reviewed the sale of the two banks, observed that many salient questions were left unanswered.

He said the union, having also taken into cognisance, the huge amount of taxpayers’ money sunk into Polaris Bank to the tune of over N1 trillion, could hardly come to terms, nor comprehend the manner in which a deal of such magnitude could be executed without public awareness or visibility.

Abakpa expressed the union’s concern that such manner of transaction with N50 billion paid and the rest spread over 25 years was more likely to be viewed as patronage and could hardly elicit public confidence, which such a bank needed now.

According to him, when ethical values are undermined and standards compromised, credibility of such transactions becomes suspect and people gradually lose faith and confidence. He added that if not resolved in a transparent manner, it would ultimately pave way for another round of distress.

“Another question being asked was whether AMCON was allowed the free hand in the exercise of its statutory responsibility as vested on them by Section 34 (a) and (b) of the Principal Act 2021 as amended, in carrying out their role in the entire process of the sale of the bank as required of them by the Act. This is very important for a transparent management of the entire fixed and movable assets of Polaris bank.

“Our concern as a union is that any transaction of such magnitude conducted in a cavalier manner devoid of consensus from all stakeholders, including workers and the ordinary day-to-day depositors, amounts to abuse of power and privilege, which is likely not to be sustainable in the long run. Reflection on historical perspectives on matters like this one ought to guide our conduct so we do not abuse trust,” he said.

On what becomes of the acquisition of Union Bank, especially its offshore branches in London, Europe and Africa, General Secretary of NUBIFIE Ishiyaku Sheikh said: “Obviously, in a decent society where rule of law and adherence to regulations are respected, regulatory authorities in some of the offshore countries would most likely not allow a bank, which has not met the requirements in terms of its cognate profile and institutional experience to acquire or buy the offshore branches.

“The union continues to wonder, if the intention was to salvage a supposedly weak bridge bank and build it into a sort of strong mega bank, then where were the other banks with demonstrable, solid track record of excellence and institutional experience?”

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