CBN may takeover Heritage Bank over debt to FG

The House of Representatives has threatened to direct the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to take over the ownership of Heritage Bank of Nigeria for owing the federal government more money than its entire share capital put together.

The lawmakers also threatened to issue a warrant of arrest for the Managing Director of Polaris Bank for failing to appear before the House to respond to questions on why the bank has not remitted the debts it owes to the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) amounting to over $32 million.

The Chairman of the Ad hoc Committee on Assessment and Status of All Recovered Loots, Moveable and Immoveable Assets from 2002 to 2020 by agencies of the federal government for effective and efficient management and utilisation, Hon. Adejoro Adeogun, who issued the threat at the resumed hearing frowned on the absence of the management of Heritage Bank at the hearing.

He said the bank will not be allowed to continue to play games with the National Assembly or feel too big to respond to invitations.

He said: “I need to send this message to Heritage Bank that we are not comedians here and we are not joking here. If Heritage Bank is owing Nigeria more than its share capital, we will not hesitate to ask the National Assembly to write to CBN to take over Heritage Bank. They cannot be owing more than their share capital, sit on it and feel too big to respond to invitations from the National Assembly. Clerk, you have to write them, giving them till Wednesday next week. That is the last time we are going to give them.”

Adeogun also frowned on the attitude of the management of Polaris Bank for not honouring their out-of-court settlement with the NNPC and paying up their debt to the government.

The bank had claimed that they have finished paying their debt to the NNPC with the last payment being the sum of about $32 million which they have instructed the CBN to transfer to the NNPC.

Reacting, the committee chairman said the CBN rejected the letter from the bank asking it to transfer the money from its reserve and therefore cannot be said to have paid the said amount.

He said: “You can’t take public funds and you are playing games with it. If you take somebody’s money and you claim to have paid the person, that person must receive the money. If it is not received, then it is not paid. You cannot be dragging us about that you have a case in the court of which we are not aware. NNPC that is supposed to have received the money said it has not received it.

“The Chief Financial Officer of NNPC is here to confront you with their own facts and then they are sending you. You can’t speak for your bank. If your bank continues with this level of unseriousness, I will issue a warrant for the arrest of your MD and I am being straightforward about that. We can’t be playing games.”

Responding to the claim by the legal officer, who represented the bank but failed to identify himself that the bank has tendered evidence of the payment, the committee chairman said: “You did not tender any evidence. You wrote a letter saying you directed CBN. Directing CBN does not mean CBN has paid the money. You directed CBN to use your reserve and if they make that payment, your reserve will fall below regulatory requirements. So, CBN has ignored your advice and they have not paid. There is a term of your judgment and you are supposed to be conforming to that term. You keep playing games as if you are bigger than the National Assembly and I have been patient with your bank. It has gotten to the time when we have to use the big stick.

“That money is supposed to be paid into the federation account to fund the 2022 budget, as you cannot continue to hold on to government funds. So, you have between now and Wednesday next week to appear here with evidence of your payment, not an instruction to CBN because that is not acceptable. We have to make sure that you pay that $32 million to Nigerians.”

The Chief Financial Officer of the NNPC, Umar Ajiya, who was present at the hearing, said the NNPC was yet to receive the payment from the CBN, adding that Polaris Bank is still owing them $32 million.