AMCON plans to sell Keystone Bank to ‘powerful northern group’, officials say

Some senior officials of the Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria are voicing strong opposition to the planned sale of Keystone Bank Ltd., PREMIUM TIMES can report.

The disquiet comes as the state-owned asset management company is set to announce new owners for the bank, which is the last of the three nationalised financial institutions yet to be sold, PREMIUM TIMES learnt.

The disturbed officials say Ahmed Kuru, the chairman of AMCON, has concluded plans to hand over Keystone to a coalition of powerful Northern interests, disregarding extant takeover provisions of AMCON in the process.

Barring any last minute changes, a firm linked to former Vice President Atiku Abubakar and Umar Modibbo, MD/CEO of Sigma Pensions Limited, may emerge the new owner of Keystone Bank with its nearly 160 branches, PREMIUM TIMES understands.

The two influential Nigerians are allegedly being represented by the firm which our sources said did not participate in the bidding process, in a clear contradiction of basic public asset sale requirements.

Following a commercial placed for the bidding process by AMCON, 13 companies submitted their expression of interests. These did not include the firm which AMCON is now set to sell the bank to.

The deal could also see Nigerian taxpayers lose billions of naira if allowed to stand. This is because AMCON is reportedly in talks to sell the bank for about N25.1 billion, representing only a fraction of the approximately N200 billion that AMCON paid to purchase the bank’s bad debts in 2011.

This is despite the fact that some of the companies that participated in the bidding process offered more than the amount and had core banking expertise, PREMIUM TIMES learnt.

The Keystone Bank, previously known as Bank PHB, was among the three banks nationalised by the CBN in 2011, after failing failed a stress test conducted by the apex bank.

The two others, Mainstreet and Enterprise Banks, had been handed over to other stronger banks in the industry by AMCON more than a year ago.

The delay in announcing new owners for Keystone, PREMIUM TIMES learnt, is not unconnected with the internal squabbles among the management of AMCON.

The members, who spoke strictly on the condition of anonymity, said Mr. Kuru sidestepped laid down requirements for asset sale to ensure Keystone is ceded to his cronies.

“It is very clear that all caution was thrown to the wind as a result of a grand plan to disqualify very strong and reputable intended buyers in order to allow the cronies and business associates of the Managing Director take over the bank,” a senior AMCON official said.

Mr. Kuru was appointed by President Muhammadu Buhari in August 2015, and the board members said the sale of Keystone could dent the administration’s much-avowed anti-corruption war.

The opinions being widely held across the country that the president has a sectional agenda will also be put to test by the outcome of the sale, a source said.

The concerned officials wondered why AMCON would sell a bank of Keystone’s magnitude to a firm that has no requisite expertise in banking and financial management.

“It is an open secret within the banking sector in Nigeria that the sale was arranged for this powerful northern group whose promoters do not have the required banking experience, thereby raising questions about the supposed independence of the international advisers of AMCON in the sale of Keystone,” one official said.

Mr. Modibbo could not be reached for comments.

The AMCON chairman, Mr. Kuru, was as at the time of publishing yet to respond to an email enquiry sent to him.

Mr. Atiku’s spokesperson, Paul Ibe, said he had no prior knowledge of his principal’s involvement in the controversial transaction, but still suggested that the opposition to his principal’s role by some AMCON officials might have been politically-motivated.

“I am not aware if his Excellency is interested or is involved in Keystone Bank. But even if he is, does that disqualify him? Is it because he’s a former Vice President and an APC chieftain? Hasn’t he run businesses successfully? Created jobs? Delivered dividends to shareholders? Paid taxes?

“Who are those internally? Who are the people? Is it politicians who are mischief makers hiding under the cover of internal people?” Mr. Ibe said.

When told that the sources are actually top officials of AMCON, Mr. Ibe said he would rather take the questions by email. An email forwarded to him was yet to be responded to as at the time of this report.


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