How Ifeanyi Ubah Swindled Me of N21bn - Cosmas Maduka
For the past 38 years he has operated quietly behind the scenes, only visible in the press when absolutely necessary and in that space of time, he has built the Coscharis brand from an upstart with little or no capital into a colossus with tentacles spread across major auto luxury brands – Range Rover, BMW, Ford, Jaguar, etc. And with a reputation that opens doors and access to mega funds both locally and internationally, Cosmas Maduka was on a roll.
According to him, it took hard work, sweat and focused determination, in the process, riding through rough times with a dogged tenacity to get to the very pinnacle of business success. Maduka appeared to have all going for him until one bright summer morning when fate chanced a meeting between him and Mr. Ifeanyi Ubah, chief executive and founder of Capital Oil and Gas Industries Limited in an aircraft. It is not unlikely that he will curse that day forever going by what he knows now. It set the stage for the biggest mistake of his business life. As is often the case with that element called trust, one party is left bruised and bloodied while the other party has run away with the loot.
Maduka is a wounded man right now having been dealt a fatal blow by his own kinsman, he calls his ‘kid brother’, Ifeanyi Ubah. It is a business deal between them that has gone sour and a usually careful Maduka is left holding the short end of the stick.
The contrast between the two principal actors in this unfolding saga in age and lifestyle couldn’t be more stark. While Maduka, who is in his 50s lives an austere and modest lifestyle unimpressed by the grandeur of riches, Ubah, who just turned 41, is fascinated by the grandeur of wealth and lives an ostentatious lifestyle with the full trappings of money and power – private jets, luxury cars, multi-million dollar homes scattered across the big cities of the world, lavish parties, etc, are all prefixes to his name.
It is like a fairy tale, a well scripted Hollywood movie that will make Anajemba and Emmanuel Nwude’s celebrated fleecing of a Brazilian Bank, Banco Noroeste of Brazil, between 1995-1998 of $242 million look a like child’s play. Only this time, all the dramatis personae are Nigerians including the bank. It is indeed a riveting story of trust and betrayal. Shaka Momodu and Davidson Iriekpen interviewed him at his Mazza Mazza office on how the business deal was struck and how it went from promise to bust. Excerpts:
Give us the genesis of your business relationship with Ifeanyi Ubah of Capital Oil?
I am sure you know who I am and what I do for a living. I run Coscharis Group, which is a company I nurtured from ground zero. I understand what credit is all about. I know what supplier credit is all about. I built an unprecedented credit standing in this country. Worldwide all my suppliers deal with me on a negative pledge open account including Ford, BMW, Land Rover and Jaguar. I don’t pledge anything for them to ship consignments to me. I sell and pay between forty and seventy days - it is not something I picked on the streets, I worked for it. That was my life’s ambition to get to a point where I could somehow be independent. This very good credit standing that I built got to a point that the American government guaranteed my goods coming here. Everything I buy from America is on credit. No other Nigerian company had got that. That is to say the Sovereign Nation Guarantee – that the US EXIM Bank will pay my suppliers in the US. Usually they will give you this guarantee if a local bank co-signs but nobody co-signed my own. They used Coscharis as a pet child in exhibitions in South Africa and the whole of sub-Saharan Africa. I am the highest single buyer creditor with the US EXIM Bank and attained this for over 10 years. They have used Coscharis as a model on how you can grow your business using US EXIM Bank facilities.
By the same virtue, banks in Nigeria have extended the same terms of credit to me. I borrow on a negative pledge. First Bank borrows me on a negative pledge, Fidelity borrows me on a negative pledge, UBA borrows me on a negative pledge, Zenith, GTB and all the banks basically. If you put it this way I have what you can call unlimited resources because the main inhibition for a businessman is capital but when you have capital there is a wide scope of business you can get into.
Let’s go back to how you got into business relationship with Ifeanyi Ubah…
I am coming to that just let me give you some background to my business. How did all this start? The Japanese were my mentors. I know from dealing with the Japanese that they understand what commitment is all about: that when you make a promise that you cannot keep, you take your own life. Before fundamentalists started committing suicide, the Japanese had been committing suicide long, long ago. If a Japanese man makes a promise that he cannot keep, he takes his life. Somebody who has been an AGM in a bank joined me 18 years ago and the exchange rate went from N20 to N80. On the 30th of every month was the day we made payment to our supplier, and if we did not make that payment we would lose N100 million, which was a lot of money for me then. But the guy said no, no, no, we would explain that this it is a national problem and that the devaluation was on television. However, I said ‘Please we cannot internationalise a local problem. We had agreed to pay on the 30th. The supplier did not do business with the Nigerian government when he agreed to do business with me, so we can’t defer payment because of the exchange rate.’ He was shocked because I told him that if I needed to sell everything I had to meet that commitment, I will. That is my strength.
Having said that, now to your question: four years ago, when I had my 50th birthday celebration, one guy that I can call my kid brother, because we are from the same place, and he is much younger than I am, Ifeanyi Ubah, attended. Before then, I had met him once on a flight coming from Abuja. I was in Business Class and he sat by me and introduced himself but given that he is much younger, we never really had anything to do with each other and we were not in the same kind of business like Ibeto, Gabroson, Innocent, and all of those. These are people who grew up with me and we know each other. I never really met him or had anything to do with him. I only just heard about him in passing. So, I didn’t take him seriously or call him. During my 50th birthday, he attended, but just like many other people, during my book launch, I never still met him one-on-one because I was on the high table and he just waved and left. Last year, around May, I think, I was sitting on this table (pointing at the table in his office) and my phone rang and it was him. He said he needed to see me but I said that I was busy and asked why he wanted to see me. He said he had some difficulties he would like to share with me and needed my counseling. I encouraged him to go ahead that I was listening. He said that he was indebted to Union Bank of Nigeria and they are trying to close in on him and he didn’t know what to do.
What advice did you then give him?
I told him maybe you have mismatched your funds like taking short-term funds for a long-term project. I said if I were him, I would sell whatever assets I can, strip and pay my debts. There was no need to hold on to assets while the interest is building up. ‘Pay your debt and start all over again,’ I advised him. He said that there was one company Acadia, which was interested in buying his company for $200 million. And I said sell it. It is not easy to find people who buy other people’s business and if you really found a buyer, my candid advice was that he could sell it even if it is just N2 million it left him with. I said I had started a business once and things went down for me and I carried scales, and people laughed at me. But I told them don’t laugh at me as it was premature. Watch and see what happens in five years. And I always tell people, what happens inside you is more important than what happens to you. If the spirit in you doesn’t sink you, then you can start all over and learn from your mistakes. He said okay, but asked if I could come and see his place. I said okay I’ll think about it, later I told my wife and asked her to go with me. To be very honest, I was very fascinated by the things I saw at his facility because that was my first time there. Then he took me in a boat to show me his truck jetty and drove me all around these places and told me he was making over N1 billion on a monthly basis from the three boats that berth at his jetty, and that he was the only person that had a place where three vessels could berth. He climbed up the first floor and showed me the back of the place and told me that many of the well known big players used only one jetty but he had three jetties. Then he played tribal politics by saying that all the Yoruba people had ganged up against him to kill him because they were not happy that he, an Igbo man, could come to Lagos to own this waterfront and that was why they were ganging up against him to try to destroy his business. Then I asked him, what was really the issue? He said that actually the Managing Director of Union Bank at the time, Mrs. Funke Osibodu, used to be his consultant and that he paid her to help turn around his company. And like a doctor-patient relationship he opened up to Funke because he had to give her facts so she would be able to work. So Funke got all the facts about his company, the weaknesses and the position of the company. Then, during the banking system restructuring, Funke was now appointed to run Union Bank and the bank was already trying to extend some credit facilities to him. But Funke went and blocked it, and not only did she block it, she sent someone who he thought was also coming to restructure his credit but he turned out to be a receiver to come and take over his assets for the money he owed Union Bank. I asked how much he owed Union bank, to which he responded, N40 billion. Then I enquired to know what he had done with this money? He said he was building structures while other people where trading and there was no money he owed that he could not pay back, adding that if I looked I could see three people from NNPC and others bringing vessels here. He added that when he took this money, he did not see the bank restructuring coming. So I asked to know what exactly he wanted from me. He said he wanted to start trading and asked if I could assist him.
How long have you been on the Access Bank board?
I have been on the board of Access Bank for many years and I used to own over 25 per cent of the bank before Aig (Aigboje Aig-Imoukhuede) and his team came in. So, Ifeanyi asked if I could assist him in getting our bank to borrow him money. I told him that his business is not properly structured and that I cannot see systems and processes in place that will give a bank confidence to borrow him money. I also told him that the A-Z of his company lies on him. I said I run Coscharis and in the last 20 years, I haven’t signed a cheque. I said we are entrepreneurs. We could build businesses but we need to employ managers who understand and have in-depth knowledge of other things to be done. I told him it is inappropriate for his company to depend solely on him especially on decision making – that means nothing gets done unless he’s around – and I asked him, what happens if something happens to him or he could not be found?
He said thiings would be different because he could bring someone who would make sure the bank’s money is repaid as soon as the goods are sold. I said I would think about it and I said to him, ‘Ifeanyi look at me straight in my eyes and tell me if I assist you will you not let me down?’. He said if I assisted him he would not let me down. I also made him to promise me that if he gets the loan he would not embark on any capital project. After his promise I assured him that I would assist him in getting the loan. I then took Ifeanyi to Access Bank and called Aig-Imoukhuede and Herbert Nwigwe and introduced him to them as my kid brother and I pleaded with them to avail him some facility to be able to do business. Aig looked at me and asked if I knew Ifeanyi? I said I know him; he is Ifeanyi Uba of Capital Oil. Aig insisted that I did not know him. I said on my honour. Aig said I should not take any photograph with Ifeanyi, adding that if I’m taking pictures, I should not let him feature in it. Okey Nwosu said until he ends his career in banking, nothing would make him consider Ifeanyi as his client. So we left and I told Ifeanyi that there are so many uncomplimentary remarks about him. I asked him what led him to this? He admitted making some mistakes in the past and that he was a changed person. So I invited Aig to Ifeanyi’s jetty and tank farm but Aig refused to show up. I did everything to persuade him but he refused to go there. I invited Herbert; Herbert said he would not honour the invitation. They did not come and I felt if they had come to see his place, they would be more convinced and change their minds. Then Ifeanyi told me that some Yoruba competitors who have interest in the bank were among those ganging up against him.
Were these not early red flags that would have warned you to beware of him...?
Frankly, my emotion led me rather than my reasoning. I would say I fell for this because I felt truthfully that this guy cannot be this terrible. In fact, one of the remarks I heard somebody say is that, this is Fred Ajudua, Anajemba and Nwude put together. I felt that it was impossible for one person to have the attributes of these three people. I was optimistic that something good could come out of Ifeanyi and I decided that I would manage him and that he would be my responsibility. I would enter into partnership with him under Coscharis and Capital Oil. So they proposed a credit and usually our charter in the bank is that if a credit director has interest, the director will not be involved. Incidentally I was the chairman of the credit committee. So one day Okey called me. The board sat and turned down the loan, saying that they don’t want to deal with Ifeanyi Ubah. I said if they don’t want to deal with Ifeanyi Ubah not withstanding that I am involved, then I need additional funding in my account to fund 30,000 metric tonnes of PMS which is about $30 million. They said they could avail me the facility. So the board met under normal terms and approved the facility under Coscharis Motors Limited. The papers were prepared and I signed. I have never signed receiving any loan, but in this case, I signed. So I asked the bank’s board members why were they afraid to deal with Ifeanyi? They said because he had gone to AMCON and AMCON will close up with him and I said if that be the case what I would do is that as you open this letter of credit (LC), I would prepare a document for Ifeanyi to sign that he has sold this consignment to me. We asked him to dedicate a tank where our product would be separated from any other product he may have. Then we would call a manager like a receiving manager from an inspection agency. So we hired an inspection agency called Vibrant Venture to make the transaction responsible. The agreement was that when the LC is opened, Ifeanyi would nominate a vessel, inform Vibrant Venture, which will go with the vessel to offshore Cotonou to load the goods and bring the goods to the dedicated tank. As Ifeanyi pays us money, the bank would release the product to him and the payment of the facility (tank) will be from the proceeds of the product. So we started and opened the first LC and all this agreement we tidied up. I told them that even though I borrowed on a negative pledge, I would want Ifeanyi Ubah to prepare a document so that he should be my guarantor since the bank didn’t want to loan him the money. I want him to now be my guarantor so that if anything goes wrong, the bank can also go after him. So he signed as my guarantor. I became the primary obligor and he is guaranteeing me. It is important I make this point that I took him primarily to the bank to help him as my kid brother. I have unlimited resources that I do not need. I am not a greedy man. I live a humble life. I have no big programme. Three of my children are American citizens but I made all of them go to school in Nigeria here. My children went to UNILAG. My first son studied Economics; my second son also studied Economics. For their post graduate degrees, the first one has gone to UK and did his MBA. It is only for post-graduate that I allow them to travel. I said primarily you are a Nigerian and to be a true Nigerian you have to be indentified in sharing in her shame and in her glory. I go to LUTH for check-up. In fact, two weeks ago, I just finished my medical check-up at LUTH. So I don’t have a big programme. I just came back two days ago and I flew in economy class my ‘boom-boom’ will not stop. I have money to send my children to anywhere in the world to study. My salary slate is over N150 million on monthly basis. So I can live such a crazy lifestyle, but my humble beginning will not allow me. My Christian background and principle will not allow me. If not that, you cannot find a parking space around me. I would drive myself. Nobody drives me when I go to America. On top of that I will still ply motor bike in Lagos tomorrow if I have need to go anywhere and I am running late. I climb on my bike and ride myself. This is normal life for me. I said to myself if the ship of a state is sinking, anybody who could rescue it and does not, history would hold that person responsible. Ifeanyi cried out to me. The bank closed up on him. I saw his assets and I was fascinated and I said this is a money making machine, you just need to give this boy a lifeline. I thought many people misunderstood this guy and all we need to do is to guide him and channel him through the right path. It is also my belief that people who trust you are people who educate you. I felt I can educate this guy, let me place trust on him. I did this principally to help but when it involved taking such huge risk on the transaction in my name, I told Ifeanyi that I would like to share from the profit so that I would not be taking all this risk for nothing. So I asked “what makes you comfortable?” He said he would like to take 60 per cent of the profit and I told the bank to draw an agreement and he signed. I asked him if he could do me a profitability analysis for this transaction. He said from one vessel, one could make between N200 to N250 million. I asked the bank to do a profitability analysis and the bank told me I should put my mind at N150 million because exchange rate could fluctuate. I admitted that it would be an additional income to whatever I am doing.
When we opened the first LC, I asked Ifeanyi when would he clear it? He said 38 days. I told the bank that the transaction would be cleared in 38 days. By 32 days, Ifeanyi paid fully for that first transaction. We opened another LC for $32 million, Ifeanyi said he would clear it in 32 days and in 28 days he cleared it and the whole procedures were followed. Whenever the LC was opened, he would call our inspection agent, nominate a vessel, then they would put somebody on that vessel and they would send me reports. Also when they are offshore Cotonou and when they are loading, and when they arrive and are discharging into the tank I was always informed. As he pays money into the dedicated account called Coscharis Capital Oil, the bank now releases the goods because they are the consignee. We did this six times and they all went well. The first LC was opened in June and when we were getting to October, Ifeanyi came to my office and said that there was going to be a deregulation and product was getting scarce and somebody promised to give him some goods. He brought some documents and said he wanted us to open the LC of a total of $286 million. The amount was too high and in fact this amount of money would exceed a bank’s single obligor. I have a subsidiary company called Sure Comfort and so I said to keep his single obligor open, the obligor would be opened in another one on the other separate name. I opened all the LCs and three of them were unconfirmed because I said we should get some of the cargoes so as to get their confirmation. He also explained that the permission he had would expire by the end of that month if he didn’t open the LC. So in order not to allow the LC to expire, I said we could open the LC only to add confirmation. At least the LC date would have exceeded the date of the expiration of that document. So we opened the LC and I asked him when he would clear it and he said 70 days. Of course the bank was happy and I was happy with what we have seen so far. By the end of November, we didn’t see any cargo. When we got to December he said there was deregulation and I should wait till January and that they would start selling that consignment which would have arrived. In January, I asked and he said the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) officials came to find out the quantity of product that was available, adding that he was not selling and nobody was buying because of the price differential. When it got to the second week, I said other people are trading, he said they were not buying because other people were waiting so that the price would come down. He said that the NNPC officials said they would come and check his tanks again before he starts selling. He was always telling me stories until we were in February. By the time it was March, I called the agent and the agent said the consignment never came. I called the bank, the bank said nobody has paid them. So I told the bank that I think something fundamental was going wrong. So, we invited Ifeanyi for a meeting. In the meeting, Ifeanyi wasn’t saying anything coherent or coordinated. So Herbert asked him straight ‘where are my goods? I have Bill of Lading since December the goods are supposed to arrive here in November’. At this point, Ifeanyi said he didn’t bring all the consignment. Herbert said: ‘What? You didn’t bring what?’ He asked Ifeanyi where the consignment was. His reply was that we should not worry he would pay, and that if he could not pay he would take his life. The bankers were mad and they said they wanted to call the police. I calmed them down and said if we escalate this matter we would not have anything. There is no collateral. This facility is in my name. Under prudential guideline I am a director, so there is no interest waiver. Let me manage him. My focus is on how to get this money. Let me follow Ifeanyi to see how we can get this money. I told him that since he doesn’t have this money to give me what did he have that he could give me? He said he has a land at Lekki that costs N1.4 billion. I said could I have it and he gave me the papers. Whatever he said he has, I was collecting because I was the one exposed to the bank and Ifeanyi was exposed to me. So if they escalate the matter it will fall back on me to pay. So I started collecting whatever collateral Ifeanyi said he had. I got information that made it obvious that Ifeanyi was diverting our money. I got information that Ifeanyi had bought one vessel for $75 million and before this time Ifeanyi was sleeping in NICON hotel when we started this business. Suddenly, he told me he bought a house in Abuja for $30 million and I asked where and he took me to the house. I told him that when I met him, he told me that he was broke and that he didn’t have anything. I asked him if it was part of my money that he was spending and he said it was not my money, and that he had the house before but was having security challenges. He said that he had bought the vessel before he met me and that those were the problems he told me he was having. I told him to give me the vessel as part of the collateral. He refused and said that he is giving it to the supplier to use for shipping goods. I told him that he owed me and that he could not be talking about new business when he still owed. I asked him to give me the papers for the house and he refused. He gave me about seven barges and about five tug boats. All these I have and I made him to sign bill of sales that he has sold them to me. He told me he would pay this money. He said if he does not pay, he would take his life but that he made a mistake. I asked him what the mistake was. He did not explain. So the bank rattled him and he said he didn’t bring this consignment. He said that some of them were in London and the bank said they would go to London with him. So the accounting officer and the bank lawyer travelled to London with him to meet the vessel owner. When they got there, our company secretary confronted the man for the cargo, the 130,000 metric tonnes and showed him the LC. The man said he only had 60,000 and that he doesn’t know anything about 130,000 metric tonnes. Then we asked him why was he holding the 60,000. He said he was holding it because Ifeanyi owed him for freight of about 25 million. They asked for the papers and he presented them and on examination, they found out that the number of the vessels relating to the bank finance LC was about $12 million. They said they were ready to pay him the money if he would release the cargo. So they agreed they would ship the goods in 20,000 metric tonnes and the bank will pay them as it is supplied until all the goods are delivered. So in June, the first 20,000 metric tonnes came. The bank brought a buyer but Ifeanyi did not allow the transaction to take place. He said the bank should let him sell the product and put the money in the bank. It took him almost three weeks to sell a cargo the bank would have sold in one week. The money was put in the bank and the bank paid the other principal. While this was ongoing, suddenly N5.4 billion dropped into the account from the SDN which is the sovereign debt note of this consignment as if to say the consignment came. Aig said: ‘What!? This consignment didn’t come and this man claimed SDN on it? Do you know this is fraud and you are stealing money from the Federal Government?’
The account was N27 billion in debt before this new entry reduced it to about N23 billion at that particular time. Aig told him that he would report him to the government. He started begging that he should take it easy that all he wanted to do is to pay this Coscharis money.
Did he forge the document to claim subsidy for products he didn’t bring?
You know when the bank opens an LC, they give you a letter to show that they opened LC. The bank wrote a letter that we opened the LC. The fact that we opened the LC does not mean that the goods arrived. There are government agencies that are supposed to verify that the goods arrived. The only way for us to know that it has arrived is if our agent follows the goods to the point of arrival. All the other LCs went well because we have documented papers that the goods came. But for this one, our agent did not see this cargo, didn’t receive it.
Then they went and loaded the second cargo of 20,000 metric tonnes because we had paid the supplier for the first 20,000 metric tonnes and the second cargo arrived. So when this second cargo came, Ifeanyi said he would sell it. One week, he would bring N20 million another week he would bring N50 million. The last six weeks he brought only N40 million. He refused to let us sell the cargo we had in the tank to collect our money and he is not bringing any money and the bank is putting pressure on me because interest continues to grow. This account is currently about N21 billion. At 20 per cent, it is about N4.2 billion per annum interest rate. At 16 per cent, it is at N3.2 billion. So every month, there is over N380 million interest rate that keeps dropping into this account. So it is not something you have the luxury of ‘I would pay’. It is like you dig a hole and the more you leave the hole, it is getting deeper. I was putting pressure on Ifeanyi to pay and he wasn’t paying so I reported this matter to the Inspector General of Police (IG). I wrote a petition against him that one: he is an international fraud and he is a threat against the state. I’ve sued him in London over his worldwide assets. We’ve a got court order in London against those vessels. We’ve got two vessels in South Africa and the other ones he has removed the tracker and he is hiding but we are pursuing them. The vessels have to dock somewhere and once they dock we are arresting them. Ifeanyi’s business model is predicated on taking money through false pretence, staggered payment until he wears you out and he keeps the rest as his profit.
It still baffles us why you fell for his antics going by what seems to be his reputation since according to you the top echelon of the bank had very uncomplimentary remarks about this man?
Yes. Somebody could still ask me why I went ahead with this transaction because Okey Nwosu told me that Ifeanyi sold NNPC goods worth N5 billion and he didn’t pay and I said I do not know. He said again that ‘do you know Ifeanyi sold Uju Ifejika’s consignment worth N4 billion and he did not pay?’ I called Ifeanyi. I said Okey just told me that you sold NNPC goods and Uju Ifejika’s goods and you did not pay. I asked if it was true? He said ‘Yes and No’. I said ‘what do you mean by yes and no?’
He said when he was building that jetty that NNPC owed him N800 million through put and they refused to pay for eight months and he got stuck in the process of building that jetty and Union Bank was closing up on him but as we speak now he had finished paying NNPC and they were even owing him N1.2 billion. I said what about Uju Ifejika? He said Uju did not do through put contrary to what the bank told me. He said Uju sold goods to him and he was supposed to sell the goods then pay Uju. He sold the goods and put the money in Union Bank and then wrote a cheque to pay Uju but Union Bank sat on the money and that is his problem but Uju now reported him to EFCC after he had paid Uju N1 billion and that he had given him some property to show that he is going to pay the rest. So I asked what was his plan to pay Uju? He said as he makes money from this transaction he is going to pay Uju and that he has cleared NNPC’s debt. This story appealed to me as a businessman. I am also a banker and I sit on the board of a bank. I know that if you are suspicious of a customer and he is delinquent he can pay money and you refuse to renew his credit. So the story he told appealed to something that I am used to. I just felt that this guy has been making mistakes and people just misunderstood him and I could play a role in his life. Actually, as I said earlier my emotions led me. When you get into sympathy with people you are not rational anymore. You could be empathetic in this case but not sympathetic. One other lesson that I have learnt which is unprecedented in my life is that I should have taken the time to call Uju Ifejika. I would have taken the time to call Funke Osibodu. If I had asked these people, I would have had the benefit of the different sides and would not have had anything to do with this man. I am an entrepreneur. When I wanted to do COJA, everybody said I should not do it and government would not pay and those cars would disappear. Nobody makes money without taking risk but one must take calculated risk. This is my 38th year in the industry and I’ve never heard that when you open an LC and someone goes abroad to cash the money when no goods were delivered. It is the first time I am witnessing this in my life. Where I saw risk was in the exchange rate and things like that. I never saw the risk of Ifeanyi stealing the goods. I did not know him as a thief.
I am from Nnewi. Cletus Ibeto is from Nnewi. Chikason is from Nnewi. Goodis is from Nnewi. Innocent is from Nnewi. I know my people can over trade and mismatch funds but we’ve never had record of stealing and not paying debt. I am doing this with my own brother from the same place who knows our welfare system where we support one another. I told Ifeanyi that I have heard so many bad things about him but your name is Ifeanyichukwu and my name is Madabuchukwu ‘man is not God’. All these people who are saying bad things about you, I want them to take back their words. Do not let me down. I thought I was talking to a human being but I didn’t know I was speaking to a beast incarnate and I am sorry to use these words. Anybody who has a soul would not do what Ifeanyi has done to me. I met this guy at the worst time of his life and gave him a lifeline. People go to church and pray for breakthrough and if you have this kind of breakthrough God has done one of the biggest things he will do in your life. If it was that exchange rate that went against him, you would not hear this story. If the vessel caught fire you would hear this story because there would be clear misfortune which people meet in business that you can relate to but this is a clear case of theft. Now he cannot tell the bank or the police where this cargo is and he cannot pay the money he owes.
Which means he didn’t bring the goods, but how did he cash the LC?
What we understood is that the manufacturer delivered the goods to the vessel owner. He connived with the vessel owner and that is why we have also gone to court against the vessel owner because the goods that were handed to the vessel owner was paid in a Capital Oil Jetty of Nigeria cheque to be discharged in a certain tank. That vessel owner has a responsibility to us based on the Bill of Laden. So the supplier really shipped the goods but Ifeanyi in connivance with the vessel owner sold the goods offshore and it never arrived at its contracted destination and that is why we have a case against the vessel owner.
How is this whole transaction and Ifeanyi Ubah’s failure to pay up affecting your business and reputation?
Reputation is what people think about you. Truly who you are is your character. To those who know me, this has no meaning. To be very honest some of my other business colleagues take losses like this. I could have lost this money in the stock market or other things. If Ifeanyi had misfortune in this business, on my honour I would stand with him. But when you rob me in broad daylight not even in the night then there is a problem. I want Ifeanyi to explain what happened so that I know if there could be sympathy for him but he could not explain. All he kept saying was that I will pay you, I will pay and that he has given me some collateral but he has not told me what happened to my goods. This is the question begging for an answer. If truly the goods sank in the ocean, we could claim insurance because it was fully insured. My belief is that Ifeanyi took this money and invested it in some assets or laundered the money and kept some of it abroad. In Ibo land we say you don’t eat something for a man that is alive. I am alive and not dead and the only way Ifeanyi can keep this money is if my life is taken but as far as I am alive, God willing, he will pay to the last kobo. I worked for and earned every penny I have today.
How do you see his lifestyle and how he is able to fund such a lavish lifestyle?
If you look at when Ifeanyi celebrated his 40th birthday, he took over 40 pages in a newspaper which is quite unprecedented in this country. In each of the pictures he will put his hand like this and another one put his hand like that demonstrating the watches so that people could see different watches. Go and check those watches some of them cost $50,000 and some $80,000. From hindsight I know that he never made money. He is eating by stealing money from one bank then blackmail the bank and they write him off their books and it becomes his profits. He never borrowed money and paid back. He doesn’t know what it is to borrow money and repay loans. I have never borrowed money that I did not pay and I’ve never taken any risk that I cannot discount either. So this cannot kill me. Let’s be honest I cannot be alive and let him walk away with my money because he didn’t work for it so there is no reason I should let him go scot free with my money.
How much does he owe you now in total?
The total amount in question as of two weeks ago is N20, 986,000,000. The assets I have recovered from him if you sell those assets at their first value you would not get up to N3 billion. The only thing that is worth money there is the land in Lekki worth about N1.2 billion to N1.4 billion.
Having reported him to the police which is the first step here in Nigeria. You have instituted legal action in London. Why are you not taking legal action here?
The police are still investigating this matter. What the police need to know is where did he keep this cargo and where did he put the money. So they are doing forensic auditing to know where the money is because part of it is money laundering. Let me also make one point. I was on Channels TV this morning. I said to people who mentioned that they feel sympathy for Ifeanyi, can any of them trust Ifeanyi with N10 million? Can any of them trust him with N1 million? Ifeanyi said he made a mistake with Fidelity, Ifeanyi made a mistake with FCMB, Ifeanyi made a mistake with Zenith, Ifeanyi made a mistake and sold NNPC cargo, Ifeanyi made a mistake with Uju Ifejika, Ifeanyi made a mistake taking my N21 billion. It is a lifestyle not mistakes. It is the same pattern. When Uju gave him the first consignment he sold it and paid Uju and he gained her confidence and to get a larger amount and ran way. The same thing he did to me. If it was $30 million you would not have heard this story I would have found a way to write it off because this to an extent a distraction for me. I would like to remain focused and do my business. But he paid the $30 million and that was not what he was looking for. He was baiting for something bigger.
If this guy is a clean person, someone who has opened LC of $389 million in four months by now he would have gotten over $1.2 billion letter of credit for him. He could have legitimately become a billionaire. But he never made any legitimate money, he has always lived by stealing other people’s money.
He was arrested recently and released. Why was he released and not charged to court based on the strength of all these allegations and accusations?
He had to be released in the sense that the law is meant for innocent people. Only criminals hide under it to escape. When someone is arrested at that moment his crime is still an allegation because the case has not been proven in court of law. When the police do their investigation then they establish a case. Then they charge the matter to court. Only when you come against the state in terms of trying to overthrow the government or capital punishment is involved then you cannot be released on bail. So the police are doing their work and investigating the matter and by the time they are done with their investigation then they will charge him to court.
On what ground was he arrested, was it based on your petition or on falsely claiming subsidy for products he didn’t sell here?
He was arrested because of subsidy fraud not because of my petition. He had been arrested before I filed my petition.
How do you feel that your own kid brother has done this to you?
I feel betrayed and it is with great pain and heaviness in my heart that I’m telling this story. This is a story that people do not need to hear about. This is very negative news. I feel embarrassed and ashamed that somebody from my town who I regard as my kid brother could do this to me. I feel stabbed in the back. It is a great pain.
If you have the opportunity again will you continue to help people?
I would continue to help people but I will never allow my emotion to lead me. I will analyze people rationally. I want to say clearly that anybody I hear today has a character problem I don’t want to have anything to do with that person. This is an issue of character if Ifeanyi has any character he wouldn’t want this kind of a story to be told.
He did allege in the papers that you connived with Aig to take his N4.5 billion?
Somebody called me from Japan and said Ifeanyi said that I stole his N4 billion and took his money and connived with Aig-Imoukhuede to take his N4.5 billion and paid Sure Comfort. He is just trying to divert attention from the real issue which is the LC open to you where is the cargo?
He is alleging that you are conniving with Aig to take over his business?
What business does he have? Is his business worth anything to Coscharis Motors? What is he worth? If he had any honour I expected him to plea bargain to say I have assets in Dubai, I have assets in London please total it and take, let no one hear of this matter but he doesn’t understand the word honour. I tell people that if you lose money you haven’t lost anything. You can always make money back. If you lose life then you’ve lost something but the real loss is when you have lost character and integrity then you are truly bankrupt. Ifeanyi is bankrupt and has no character. He should be ashamed and embarrassed. I told the Igwe of our village about this matter I said he should invite him for a meeting. I told him to call Cletus Ibeto, call Chikason, call Enoch Gabros, and call Innocent. These are business people so they can ask Ifeanyi about this and let him tell them where my goods are. He told the Igwe that he didn’t do business with him that this is his business with me. He bragged that people in authority are protecting him and nothing can happen to him and if anything happened to him this country will come down. He is talking garbage.
Is this threatening your position in Access Bank as a director?
It is a dent on me, no doubt but the only cause for concern is if I can’t pay my debt and I’ve never walked away from my debt. I have not taken a debt that I cannot discount so let nobody make a mistake about it. It creates some inconvenience for me and so what? But I wouldn’t let him go. I will hunt him to any hole he enters; I will enter that hole and I will claim to the last kobo. God is my witness.
Do you have confidence in our judicial system to get justice, because it seems he has the means to play the system?
Sure, I know. That is why he is bragging, he wants to go to court. Ibori did the same thing but Ibori is in jail. Incidentally Ifeanyi’s case has one leg offshore because he has contravened international shipping laws. If I don’t get him here, I will get him where people will not take bribes. Again, the world is watching to see what we do in cases like this because we can’t be telling foreign investors to come here and be creating anarchy for ourselves. If I enter your mouth I become meat if it is you that enters my mouth I eat you and the system is contented with that? This should not happen. The law enforcement agencies need to get Ifeanyi. Where is the money? Where is the cargo? They need to trace it because we are talking of N21 billion. If they let this guy to continue to rape this country like this then he is a threat to our nation.
Ifeanyi Ubah has recently been blacklisted by CBN; if it had happened sooner you probably would not have dealt with him…
Oh yes. The ban is a welcome development and should have been done much earlier. If this had been done earlier I would not have had to deal with him because it would have been a good warning sign. We also need to improve our judicial system because you can’t say you are going to court for 2-3years while interest is accumulating. This kind of case should get judgment in a month because it is a simple matter. Where is the cargo? The burden of proof is to show what he did with it because it never came and we didn’t get any money. The rightful thing should be done which is to confiscate all his assets to pay his debt. If he is allowed to get away with it we are killing the system we are trying to reform.
He owes so many banks. If any of them moves against him first to confiscate his assets, how do you then get your own money?
Don’t make the mistake. I did not finance land or building. In a tank where our agent is sitting there are about 56, 568,587.11 million litres of PPMC worth over N5 billion at first value which he refused us the right to sell and we have gotten a court order that he cannot take it. The ship owner still needs to tell us where our cargo is. So we will also attack the vessel owner for what they’re worth. I didn’t finance air or give him working capital. I financed a product. So I need to follow it to know where the cargo was discharged. If your possession gets missing and somebody puts it in his private part you have right to put your hand inside there because your possession is there and you need to get it. I am tracing all his assets worldwide where ever they are. He spends money crazily but you can’t spend N21 billion in eight months. The money is somewhere. We know he has some property in Dubai and Canada. We are tracing it through the right legal processes. There is no escape route for him and he knows that the game is up but these kinds of people don’t give up until you chain their hands and legs.
The interest that is running can’t you negotiate with the bank to put a seal on that?
There is no negotiation. This is a director’s related loan. Under prudential guidelines you don’t negotiate interest and it continues to run and Ifeanyi will pay both interest and capital. It is his loan. This has taught me a very bitter lesson. In life when you thought you have graduated nature will write a new subject for you. I used to call myself a professor. I used to say if anybody can dupe me I will congratulate that person. In 38 years, I’ve never heard that you open an LC and the cargo disappeared. I made a mistake with Ifeanyi and he made a mistake with me thinking he will collect my money and go free.
Immediately after your interview with Channels TV an elderly man appeared and said you have not reported to the Nnewi Cabinet?
Unfortunately he didn’t know what happened with the cabinet. I reported to Igwe of Nnewi the week this thing happened. Orji who is one of his nephews coordinated a meeting in Lagos. Igwe himself was willing to come. We have invited prominent Nnewi business minds but while Ifeanyi was in detention, Chisco who is my childhood friend and some other people had a conference and I told them the story and Ifeanyi was full with shame. So he said he would not attend Igwe’s meeting that he didn’t do business with Igwe that this is my business with him. Igwe had invited people and Ifeanyi didn’t attend. So the person that spoke this morning is not well informed. Obviously from what you saw he was there to polish Ifeanyi’s image and he was found in a difficult situation when he heard my story before he could say anything so he was put in a defensive situation. He basically told me when he came out that he was sorry and he didn’t know that this was what transpired and he is going back to the village now to let the Igwe know what has transpired. He said he was shocked to know all that had happened. This is the response he gave me.