Will Access Bank Continue Like This?


For close to 14 years, I have served Saturday Breakfast every Saturday morning without fail. I have written about my good times and my not so good times. I have celebrated love and happiness and have shared with you my moments of pain and sadness and even the deaths of colleagues, close friends and family members. I have dealt with issues related to the creative industry and have poured out my heart about Nigeria, our country, which continues to slip from bad to worse and is rapidly turning into a horror movie.

I have written about politics and leadership at home and abroad and how the actions of a few affect the lives of many. In the last few weeks, I have delved into the intricate matter of copyright, its twists and turns, a subject to which I have dedicated a substantial part of my life because of my strongly held belief that intellectual property will play a critical role in the future of mankind.

Today, it is with a heavy heart, a very heavy heart that I write this special edition of Saturday Breakfast. I do not celebrate the misfortune of anyone because in our life’s journey, each of us will meet our ups and downs. I cannot celebrate the death of anyone because some day, each of us will die. I have no idea when it will be my turn and how it will happen.

In Igbo land where I come from, to bury a child is considered about the worst thing that can happen to anyone. In my part of the country, a parent is not even allowed to see the corpse of his or her child. I can therefore imagine the excruciating pain that must come from an aged mother and father burying their cherished son, a daughter-in-law and a grandson, all at the same time. I therefore join the many who have extended their condolences to the Wigwe family of Isiokpo on the recent helicopter crash in California which resulted in the deaths of their son, Herbert, his wife and son. I pray that the good Lord will give them the fortitude to bear the loss.

I am however not a hypocrite or a sycophant who will pretend that there are no lessons to be learned from what has happened or that no big mistakes have been made. I have read many tributes and reviews in which the late Herbert Wigwe has been described as a great banker.

My understanding of banking is that it is really a very conservative profession. Bankers are supposed to know that the money they control does not belong to them. The money belongs to their customers who entrust their money to the banks to protect and return to them once the demand is made. Bankers are not supposed to exhibit a lifestyle which may suggest affluence or wealth or that the money in their hands is unsafe. For instance, a good banker is not to be seen at any party spraying money effusively. Unfortunately, Nigerian bankers are today struggling for celebrity status on Facebook and Instagram with Davido, Burna Boy and Flavour!

I am not so sure if it has become acceptable for a “great” banker in a poor nation like Nigeria, to be associated with sprawling mansions, private jets, chattered helicopter rides and very expensive Super Bowl tickets.

When I saw the repeated advertising of ‘Wigwe University’ on CNN, I was worried. My first question was: “Where did all this big money come from?”. My second was: “Why was the university not named ‘Grand University’, ‘Excellence University’, ‘Progress University’ or any of a thousand names that can be found in the dictionary?” Why not Isiokpo University or even Access University? I am in the creative industry and understand the pitfalls of unbridled self-promotion.

It is no longer news that in the past six years, I have been engaged in a never-ending battle with Access Bank over money belonging to innocent Nigerian musicians in Copyright Society of Nigeria (COSON) held by Access Bank. I was begged by bank officials to open the account. We did not borrow one kobo from Access Bank. We do not owe Access Bank one Naira. Till today, nobody has explained to me how COSON money became Access Bank’s money. Astonishingly, Access Bank has looked for every silly reason to hold on to our money, trade with it at no cost to the bank while the money rapidly loses value. If not for the deft management of its leadership, COSON would have been shut down and our staff dispersed into the labour market because of the treachery of Access Bank.

During the COVID 19 lock down, COSON distributed stipends in millions of Naira to its thousands of members across Nigeria. Just recently, we began distributing palliative royalties in millions to our members across the country to help them, in whatever way, to cushion the shock and challenges of the present Nigerian economy. We could not lay our hands on our members’ money at Access Bank to distribute to them. The beneficiaries of this distribution are not just the famous musicians you see on TV. Majority of them are struggling Nigerians. Some are widows whose husbands died as COSON members and some are orphans. That does not appear to matter to the people at Access Bank.

I have been to court at least 25 times because of Access Bank, sometimes on the witness stand, other times facing cross-examination by their big-time lawyers. Justice Hassan of the Federal High Court (now at the Court of Appeal) on February 6, 2019, struck out the frivolous suit which Access Bank was hiding behind, to seize the money belonging to its loyal customer. We thought that our nightmare was over. For where? Officers of Access Bank deployed every subterfuge imaginable and kept shifting the goal post, to hold on to the money belonging to COSON members. On May 4, 2022, Justice Yellin Bogoro of the Federal High Court ordered Access Bank to return the money belonging to COSON and its members and to pay damages to COSON for the “illegal and unlawful” freezing of COSON accounts. Did that Court Order move Access Bank? For where? For some reason, Access Bank behaves like it is above the law. We even had to demonstrate on the streets about our treatment by Access Bank.

What is happening in Nigeria is not banking. It is bare faced robbery. You may hear about the COSON experience because of the nature of COSON and its determination to recover its money. There are thousands of Nigerian individuals and institutions whose funds are trapped in banks and who will never get their money back and who lack the ability to complain. A lot of them are widows and orphans whose bread winners have died with their money left in banks. It is their money that Nigerian bankers are deploying in Ikoyi mansions, state of the art automobiles and celebrity lifestyles.

Why is there so much hunger in the land? One of Nigeria’s biggest problems is that less than a hundred unproductive people have cornered over 90% of the money in Nigeria by manipulating the system. Millions of Nigerians are suffering and scrambling for the crumbs. Why is the national currency in a free fall? For many years, some of our so-called bankers have just been engaged in the round tripping of the dollar. They buy foreign exchange at special rates from the CBN and sell it at the black market and in a few hours make obscene profits. The exchange rate goes up like an Olympic pole vaulter and inflation sky- rockets. Some of these people have more money than their states and have absolute contempt for the rule of law and if we must face it, have become serious security risks.

Did you notice how quickly Access Bank publicly announced a replacement for Herbert Wigwe? Wow! Does that not tell you that all the show is vanity?

In my battle with Access Bank, I have stated clearly that Access Bank may continue to operate without a conscience. They can go on ignoring the decisions of our Courts but the money they think they have made with their misbehavior will be phantom money that cannot be spent on anything good or enduring. In a meeting I once held with some of their representatives, a young man who is a senior member of staff in the legal department of the bank boasted to me that they have the resources to take COSON to the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court and by the time they are done, the COSON money will have no value anymore. What they may have forgotten is that there is the Court of the Almighty where no one escapes justice.

There are several gentlemen at Access Bank that I kept reaching out to, pleading with them to release the money belonging to COSON members that Access Bank has been holding for no just cause. One of them was Abdul Imoyo, Access Bank’s Media Relations Head. They all ignored my plea. Sadly, Imoyo died in December, a week before last Christmas. A month and a few weeks later, the tragic events in California happened.

I have never been to a juju priest before neither have I ever prayed for the death of anyone. I however worship the God of Justice and I am certain that if Access Bank does not change its ways and immediately lift the pain and suffering it has imposed on its customers including COSON members, the bank might think it is growing bigger but the God of Justice who is not afraid of anyone, will do justice. Have you ever witnessed a tiny pin burst a mighty balloon?

See you next week.

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