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Why Buhari fired AMCON MD, Mustafa Chike-Obi

The removal of the Managing Director of the Asset Management Company of Nigeria (AMCON), Mustafa Chike-Obi, by President Muhammadu Buhari Tuesday was prompted by alleged cumulative offences committed by the former MD and his team, administration insiders and former members of the company’s board have told PREMIUM TIMES.

“The president has been inundated by complaints about the politicisation of AMCON by its leadership and the lack of transparency in the disposition of assets,” a presidency source said.

“The President had to act to halt the drift in the organisation, and restore efficiency and independence to its operations.”

This newspaper also learnt that the Ahmed Joda-led Transition Committee reported to the President that it observed lack of transparency and competitiveness in the way the company disposed of assets.

“The establishment of AMCON has been a central part of the reform agenda,” the committee said in its report. “Critical attention should be taken to ensure efficiency in its mandate.”

It then identified “lack of transparency in disposition of assets” as the key challenge facing the company, and recommended that Mr. Buhari take measures to ensure divesture of AMCON’s assets are “carried out in a transparent and competitive manner”.

AMCON was set up in 2010 following former CBN governor, Sanusi Lamido’s banking sector intervention, with the objectives of buying up Non Performing Loans (NPL) from the banks, re-capitalising them, and finding buyers to run them in a transparent manner.

Being the largest financial institution in the country today, with assets valued at about N5 trillion, insiders say AMCON was almost unilaterally run by Mr. Chike-Obi, who was said to consistently took orders only from former President Goodluck Jonathan, while he was in office, routinely bypassing the company’s board as well as key regulators such as the CBN which has a 50 per cent stake in the business.

The former AMCON boss’ running battle with the CBN and Ministry of Finance, the two joint owners of the company, repeatedly triggered friction among officials and occasionally grounded the company’s operations, insiders say.

Mr. Chike-Obi’s traducers also accused him of being engaged in non-transparent and non-competitive sale of assets of some troubled companies, a charge he repeatedly denied but which his critics repeatedly tabled before the President.

In June, a lawyer, Ajibola Aribisala (SAN), raised alarm that AMCON deliberately sold Delta Steel Company at N28billion as against the N33billion offered by a Chinese company, China Polaris Technologies Company Ltd, despite the latter’s offer to pay immediately.

While urging President Muhammadu Buhari to cancel the deal, the lawyer said there was fraud in the deal as the company that purportedly won the bid, Premium Steel & Mines Ltd, was only incorporated when the bidding was already in full progress on December 14, 2014.

Mr. Chike-Obi, PREMIUM TIMES learnt, was also accused of shady financial deals with debtors, politicisation of decisions, flagrant disregard of the principles of corporate governance, contempt of the directives of the regulatory authorities, among others.

“The former MD’s involvement in financial scandals, flagrant abuse of power, disregard of the management board decisions are some of the reasons Mr. President sacked him,” said a source familiar with the president’s decision and the operations of the company.

“Whenever CBN or Ministry of Finance drew his attention to any misdemeanour, his excuse was that he was not an ordinary MD of a bank, and so could not be under the supervisory power of the CBN,” the source, who requested not to be named, said.

Another source, a former board member, said Mr. Chike-Obi always had the ears of ex-President Jonathan, and that he was in the habit of disregarding the directives of the Ministry of Finance and the CBN, citing “presidential directive” or “order from above”.

“There were several shouting matches between him and board members,” the source said. “He subjected several board members to verbal abuse and he made it impossible for board members to oversight his activities. He carried on with a lot of swagger, telling whoever cared to listened that he had presidential cover.”

He always looked down upon members of the Board of Directors of the company, and sidelined them in taking crucial decisions demanding their inputs.

“Some of us made sure the President became aware of all this, and we knew that we the change in the leadership of the country, his days in AMCON were numbered.

“Now that he and his team have been removed, I think the company can now be repositioned.”

In his response to the allegations, the former managing director denied the alleged rip-off in the sale of Delta Steel, saying the decision was taken after the approval of the Federal Executive Council, AMCON board and CBN.

“Haba! Everything about Delta Steel was discussed thoroughly at exco, board and approved by CBN,” Mr. Chike-Obi told PREMIUM TIMES.

“It is [people with] selfish interests that are peddling that garbage. There are board and exco minutes and CBN letters to prove this.”

Mr. Chike-Obi did not however respond to other allegations bordering on arbitrariness, highhandedness, among others.

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