Monday 5 February 2024

Uncovered! How Ex-Bank Of Industry MD Olukayode Pitan Was Arrested, Detained

On 19 October 2023, the presidency announced the appointment of Olasupo Olusi as the new managing director and chief executive officer of the Bank of Industry (BOI).

In that announcement, presidential spokesperson Ajuri Ngelale said Mr Olusi’s appointment followed the voluntary resignation of his predecessor, Olukayode Pitan.

Mr Pitan’s sudden departure surprised many clients of his bank and some players in the nation’s financial sector, especially given that his second term of five years only began on 27 May 2022. But because Mr Pitan’s exit happened at a time when President Bola Tinubu was busy ousting appointees put in place by his predecessor, some people speculated at the time that Mr Tinubu possibly requested the BOI CEO to voluntarily step down so he (President Tinubu) could put his own man in that position.

There was no official disclosure or media report of any other undercurrents that triggered Mr Pitan’s resignation.

But more than three months after that episode, PREMIUM TIMES can now, for the first time, report the circumstances that led to Mr Pitan’s departure from the nation’s oldest, largest and most successful development financing institution.

Our findings indicate that the drama culminating in the banker’s exit from the bank began suddenly and unfolded quickly. The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) had, around the period, received intelligence alleging mismanagement of public funds by the leadership of BOI, then led by Mr Pitan. After days of discreet investigations, EFCC operatives moved against Mr Pitan on 16 October 2023. That day, he was arrested in Lagos and flown to Abuja, where he was interrogated and detained.

The banker remained in detention until 18 October, when the anti-graft agency granted him administrative bail. The following day, 19 October, the presidency announced Mr Pitan was resigning and that he was being replaced by Mr Olusi, a former World Bank economist and development finance expert.

Neither the government nor Mr Pitan disclosed that some transactions during the banker’s leadership at the 60-year-old real sector lender were being scrutinised by the EFCC and that, on that account, he had either offered to resign or compelled to do so. In the press statement announcing his resignation and appointment of a replacement, Mr Pitan was not accused of any wrongdoing.

More than three months after Mr Pitan was released on bail, no charges have been brought against him, and the EFCC appears reluctant to disclose details of the financial matters for which he is being investigated. When contacted Tuesday, Dele Oyewale, the head of media and publicity at the anti-corruption agency, promised to run a check and revert to this reporter on the case status. He has yet to do so as of the time of filing this report. He also has yet to respond to subsequent calls and text messages sent to him.

However, those familiar with the matter said that while in detention, Mr Pitan was questioned over BOI’s handling of a $750 million loan the bank got in 2018 from foreign banks to support small and medium-sized businesses across the country.

The loan was arranged by the African Export-Import Bank (Afreximbank) and sourced from a syndicate of 16 lenders, including Afreximbank itself, the ECOWAS Bank for Investment and Development, British Arab Commercial Bank Plc and four Nigerian banks based in the UK. The facility was granted at a single-digit interest rate for five to seven years.

The loan was arranged to enable the BOI to bridge the funding gap for MSMEs, estimated at N700 billion, Mr Pitan told journalists during Afreximbank’s 25th Anniversary and annual general meeting in Abuja in 2018. He also said the facility was meant for companies operating in the creative industry, manufacturing and gender-based businesses to help reduce the unemployment rate in the country and create wealth for small and medium-scale entrepreneurs. The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) guaranteed the loan, which was disbursed to beneficiaries through commercial banks.

]This publication learned that the EFCC is now scrutinising the handling and disbursement of the loan following allegations of sharp practices by some whistleblowers. The informants, our sources said, claimed that rather than promptly disburse the fund to beneficiaries, some BOI officials initially placed it in fixed deposit accounts and earned returns before passing it to the CBN on maturity.

Our sources said about 130 private accounts linked to the matter were being investigated. At the same time, Mr Pitan was also questioned about the source of a certain N211 million traced to his Guaranty Trust Bank (GTB) account.

When PREMIUM TIMES contacted Mr Pitan this week, the banker declined to provide details of his encounter with the EFCC and the issues that led to his arrest and detention. He, however, denied any wrongdoing in handling the $750 million loan. “All foreign proceeds into BOI are transferred to CBN,” he said. “The proceeds of the $750 million were paid into CBN in full. CBN has repaid Afreximbank in full as the loan has expired.”

When asked to respond to concerns on the loan management under his watch, Mr Pitan said, “I want you to know I will never engage in the type of activities false information peddlers who don’t mean well for me and the bank are feeding you.”

In response to a question about a particular N211 million in his account, the top banker said he was “a senior member of staff and eligible to various facilities including mortgage loan etc.”

BOI’s Head of Corporate Communications, Hadiza Olaosebikan, declined to comment for this story when contacted by PREMIUM TIMES. “I’m sorry I can’t answer any questions,” she said by telephone.

However, an official of the bank, who asked not to be named because he is not a spokesperson for the organisation, told this reporter that the $750 million loan was not mishandled in any way. “What happened was that when Tinubu came, his people wanted to remove Pitan from office at all costs and put their own man there,” he said. “So they came up with that allegation and got the EFCC to harass Pitan out of office. The man was forced to resign which is unfortunate.”

But Mr Pitan said he was not forced to step down. “Mr Pitan resigned voluntarily from BOI,” he told this reporter. “His letter of resignation was accepted. The official communication from FGN confirmed that.”

The man Pitan Olukayode
Mr Pitan was appointed managing director of BOI in May 2017 by former Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, who acted as Nigeria’s president when then-President Muhammadu Buhari vacationed in the UK. Mr Buhari reappointed him in March 2022 to serve a second tenure of five years.

Mr Pitan is an ordained pastor at the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG), in charge of Region 51 (Tabernacle of David) of the church, headquartered in Ajah, Lagos.

During a banking career spanning over 30 years, he was an executive director at Unity Bank and an executive director at FSB International Bank Plc.

He was also chairperson of the Association of Nigerian Development Finance Institutions and the director representing West Africa on the Board of the Association of African Development Finance Institutions.


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