Otedola, Zenith Bank At Daggers Drawn

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* Fraudulent deductions running into billions at the core

* Unlawful withdrawals spanning several years

By David Maxwell 

As Nigerians groan continually over fraudulent deductions, unlawful withdrawals and other illicit activities on their bank accounts, many have expressed an array of opinions over the sudden discovery that even the bank accounts of the supposed high and mighty are not spared.

This shocking discovery came to the fore with the revelation of one of Nigeria s wealthiest billionaires and oil magnate, Femi Otedola, is currently involved in a legal war with Zenith Bank Plc, one of the country’s biggest commercial banks.

Efforts to settle the differences have proved futile even after a series of meetings between the technical teams of Zenith Bank and Zenon Oil, including a notable one one one meeting held on May 20, failed to yield any favourable resolution. The frustration was palpable, with insiders lamenting Zenith Bank’s lack of sincerity and signaling a pivot to a full-blown legal assault.

At the heart of the matter are letters of credit that Zenon claims deteriorated into a problematic loan acquired by AMCON. Zenon alleges that these were improperly opened after AMCON had already assumed control, a move considered highly unprofessional. Documents reviewed by various media outlets reveal that Zenon’s debt, pegged at N39 billion during AMCON’s intervention, was allegedly inflated to N49 billion by Zenith Bank, though a final negotiation saw AMCON settle the matter at N44.1 billion.

Adding to the turmoil, Mr. Otedola, along with several of his companies—Zenon, Seaforce Shipping, Luzon Oil & Gas, and Garment Care Limited—secured interim injunctions against Zenith Bank and its affiliates, preventing the bank from trading their shares or distributing dividends pending further court rulings. These legal actions thus exposed the profound mistrust and high stakes involved.

Seaforce Shipping’s scrutiny of Zenith Bank’s statements revealed what they described as “blatant fabrications.” They alleged that the bank falsely claimed Seaforce owed N5.9 billion as of February 2024, only to backtrack when confronted with evidence showing a credit balance dating back to 2018. This revelation fuels the broader narrative of alleged deceit and fraud perpetuated by the bank.

In a dramatic turn, responding to Mr. Otedola’s petition detailing unauthorised debits from Zenon’s account, the Police has summoned the Managing Director, MD, of Zenith.Bank. The letter from the police lays bare the core of the dispute: an unauthorised withdrawal of over N205 million in 2011, compounded by illicit letters of credit opened post-AMCON takeover. 

This summons adds another layer of intensity to the ongoing saga.

The unfolding drama shows that this is not just a mere financial disagreement, but a high-stakes battle suggestive of the power dynamics within Nigeria’s corporate and financial sectors. The resolution, whether through the courts, regulatory bodies, or public opinion, will undoubtedly shape the landscape of Nigerian banking and corporate governance for years to come.

For many ordinary Nigerians, this not only confirm their growing lack of trust in the country’s banking sector, but that it has exposed the fraudulent activities of Nigeria’s commercial banks.

Speaking to our correspondent, Abdulazeez Adejo, a prominent gold dealer at the Lokoja International Market, decried his repeated experiences with Nigerian banks: “When my nephew brought the legal tussle between Otedola and Zenith Bank to my notice, All I said was ‘so these things happen to the high and mighty too?’ 

“You see, if you talk to about ten traders in this market, at least seven of them will tell you how the various banks have been debiting their accounts without their knowledge. This has made me close my account with three of my banks because theirs is worse. Even the two I now operate, it’s only because they are not as bad as the other three, plus it is now very very risky to either carry or keep cash at home. Otherwise a vast majority of Nigerians would have stopped operating bank accounts.

“The situation is very discouraging but maybe for the big names like Otedola and his his big-time players like Zenon Oil, Seaforce Shipping, Luzon Oil & Gas, and Garment Care Limited now in battle with Zenith Bank, it would. exoose the rot in the banking sector and reduce the unilateral deductions from the accounts of the struggling customers.”

To many, Otedola remaining fixed on vindication would make many heave a sigh of relief from indiscriminate deductions from meagre and feable bank accounts and their holders.

“I think the outcome of this epic battle would mean justice for many ordinary Nigerians who do not have the means of even speaking up against the injustices metted out to them by the very banks they entrust their monies with,” Mama Oche, a trans border trader said.

For Hadiza Lukman, an unemployed graduate of Biochemistry from the Kogi State University, “this will bring to the frontburner the silent suffering of countless individuals who have been deprived of their dignity, respect and their source of living by a system that preys on the vulnerable and the oppressed.”

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