By Olaoluwakitan Babatunde
The Nigerian pension industry was agog last Monday following the arraignment of a former Member, House of Representatives, Nze Chidi Duru, on four-count charge of stealing, impersonation, conspiracy, and breach of the peace.
Also arraigned with him before the Chief Magistrate Court, Tinubu, Lagos by the police was a senior lawyer, Mr. Smart Iheazor.
The duo were alleged to have conspired and committed the offences on Wednesday, January 11, 2017, when they, in company of other suspects still at large, invaded the head office of the First Guarantee Pension Limited (FGPL), located at No. 65, Kudirat Abiola Way, Oregun Ikeja Lagos.
Drama and Intrigues
However, the duo’s arraignment before His Worship, A.A Adefulire, was not without drama. Lawyer to the accused, Chief Emeka Etiaba (SAN), had informed the Magistrate that Hon. Duru was at the verge of slumping in the courtroom. He explained that he was just discharged from the hospital in the same of Monday, January 16 that he was matched straight to court.
The prosecutor, however objected, insisting that the doctor at the police hospital, where Duru was admitted, duly certified him fit to stand trial. Adefulire then ordered the defendants to take their pleas.
It could be recalled that there were media reports at the weekend preceding the arraignment, that Duru took ill and collapsed in police cell.
However, when contacted by newsmen, the Police Public Relations Officer, Lagos State Command, Dolapo Badmus said: “Yes, he claimed that he fainted and we have well-equipped hospital. He is being treated; we will soon charge him to court”.
Sources close to the police said it is instructive that his ill health started when efforts by his lawyer, Chief Etiaba, in the company of Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN) and Duru’s associate, Hon. Chuma Nzeribe, to secure his release proved abortive as he was alleged to have previously been declared wanted by the police for allegedly jumping bail.
Duru was said to have tried to intimidate the police, warning them of the implications of flouting presidential orders, which he claimed he had, to takeover the PFA.
Besides, pension stakeholders were not also moved by what they termed Duru’s “sudden illness”.
The stakeholders, who spoke through the Centre for Humanity (CfH), a pro-pensioners Non-Governmental Organisation, maintained that “a crime against pensioners is a crime against humanity” and that Duru must be charged to court immediately.
The statement signed by the CfH’s spokesperson, Ngozi Ogbu, recounted alleged previous breach of bail. It said: “We readily recall that in 2012 the former Inspector General of Police (IGP), M.D Abubakar released Chidi Duru on bail, but only for him to vanished.
“The police declared him wanted in a gazette entitled: “Nze Chidi Duru ‘M’: Wanted by the Office of the Inspector-General of Police, Louis Edet House, Abuja” and marked CR: 3000/GP.SEC/MU/TB/ABJ/21/02/
“The gazette partly read: ‘The above named person is hereby declared wanted by the Nigeria Police on C.R.O Form 5, Issued by the Office of the Inspector-General of Police…. He is wanted for the offence of conspiracy, forgery, theft, and cheating. Method used in committing the offence is that suspect illegally diverted the sum of N20 Million Naira, which belong to First Guarantee Pension Limited’.
“We also recall that his brother, Ugochukwu Duru was declared wanted in the same gazette for the same offences.
“We wish to further remind the police that Chidi Duru was previously arrested by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) in 2011 in connection with alleged crimes against the First Guarantee Pension and shareholders. He was admitted to administrative bail in October 2011, with his relative, Mrs. Christie Chinyere Ekweonu, currently a Director at the Federal Ministry of Justice as his surety.
“But when Chidi refused to face his charges, the EFCC ended up arresting her around 10:15am on 11th May 2016 and detained her for some time.”
The stakeholders also alleged that although PenCom granted him a soft-landing through resignation in 2011 following indictment by its examination reports, he“used the opportunity of the reprieve to sue PenCom, thereby opening a floodgate of litigations currently before several courts, including the Supreme Court”.
“We advise the police and members of the public to ignore Duru’s theatrics and charge him to court immediately in the interest of justice and pensioners”, the stakeholders stressed.
Marked No. 12/02/2017, the charges were read out by the court Registrar as follows: “That you, Nze Chidi Duru ‘M’, Smart Iheazor ‘M’ and others now at large, on the 11th day of January 2017, at No. 65 Kudirat Abiola Way, Oregun, Ikeja, Lagos, in the Lagos Magistrate District, did conspire among yourselves to commit felony to wit stealing and thereby committed an offence punishable under section 409 of the Criminal Laws of Lagos State of Nigeria, 2011
“That you… did steal (3) three office files, (1) one HP Laptop valued at the sum of 250,000 (Two Hundred and Fifty Thousand Naira) property of First Guarantee Pension Limited (FGPL) and thereby committed an offence punishable under Section 285 of Criminal Laws of Lagos State, 2011.
“That you… did conduct yourselves in a manner likely to cause breach of the peace by wilfully and unlawfully invading First Guarantee Pension Limited (FGPL) offices with an intent to forcefully takeover the management and assets of the company and thereby committed an offence punishable under Section 111(d) of the Criminal Laws of Lagos State, 2011.
“That you…, with intent to defraud, did introduce yourselves as Vice Chairman/Secretary, respectively, of First Guarantee pension Limited (FGPL) and acted same in an attempt to takeover the management and assets of the company and thereby committed an offence punishable under Section 378(1) of the Criminal Law of Lagos state, 2011”.
The accused, however, pleaded “not guilty”.
No Bail on Self-Recognition
Counsel to the accused, Emeka Etiaba, urged the court to grant his clients bail on self-recognition.
He argued that the two accused were senior lawyers, adding that Duru was also a two-term Member of the House of Representatives, while their alleged offences were bailable offences.
The prosecutor, however, objected to the bail on self-recognition. He argued that both men should be given to sureties. The Magistrate deferred to the prosecutor and granted the accused bail in the sum of N500,000 each with one surety each in like sum.
The case was thereafter adjourned till March 9 and 10, 2017.
The previous leadership of the National Pension Commission (PenCom) under Mr. M. K. Ahmad, sacked the Board of FGPL and set up an Interim Management Committee (IMC) pursuant to Sections 88 (2), 20(i), and 21(j) of the Pension Reform Act 2004 (as it was then).
The regulatory action followed alleged findings of the various routine and special examinations carried out on FGPL in the years 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011, exposed persistent infractions and unhealthy corporate governance practices, which put FGPL at serious risk.
Those indicted and sacked along with Duru, who chaired what he called “Executive Committee” of the company, were Chief Orlando O. Ojo, the former Chairman of the PFA and one Mr. Derrick Roper (representing the interest of Novare Holdings (Pty) Ltd of South Africa) over violations of the Code of Ethics and Business Practices as well as Code of Corporate Governance for Licensed Operators issued by PenCom, the provisions of the Pension Reform Act (PRA) 2004 (at it was at the time), and other laws of Nigeria.
PenCom also accused Duru of obtaining N30 million worth of shares with cheques, which values could not be traced to the account of the PFA.
Although he reportedly resigned vide a letter to PenCom dated July 21, 2011, he subsequently reneged and sued PenCom and some of the lawsuits, including his own appeal are pending before the Supreme Court, and some in the Court of Appeal.
Pension Funds Intact
Despite the alleged invasion, the Interim Management (IMC) of FGPL, has assured customers that funds accumulated in their Retirement Savings Accounts (RSAs) were intact.
Addressing the press last Sunday, the Chairman of the FGPL’s IMC, Comrade Isa Aremu and the Managing Director, Chima Akalezi, assured “clients that the incident has no impact on the pension funds under management of the PFA, which remains safe and secured in the custody of our Pension Fund Custodian (PFC)”.
They carpeted Chidi’s action as criminal and “specifically an act of contempt of pending court processes”.
The company stated that the “desperate efforts to confiscate the personnel files of his siblings currently facing criminal investigations, lap tops, official vehicles and physical demand for money to pay his hotel expenses was disgraceful conduct by the former legislator”.