Nigerian companies that have contributed to its robust economic growth and development. However, like any country, the country has seen its share of companies with a controversial past, marked by mismanagement, corruption, and other dark episodes. These companies, which have faced significant challenges and encountered controversies, serve as reminders of the complex business landscape and the hurdles that can arise in a nation striving for progress.
In this discussion, we delve into the histories of some Nigerian companies with dark shadows in their past, shedding light on the issues they faced and the impact these events had on their reputation and operations. It is important to approach these narratives with an understanding that companies can evolve and take corrective actions to rectify their past mistakes, seeking a brighter future.
Unilever (connection to colonial masters and the sale of Nigeria)
During the colonial period, Unilever, like many other European companies, played a role in the economic exploitation of colonies by extracting natural resources, establishing plantations, and creating consumer markets for their products. This involvement in colonial territories allowed these companies to expand their operations, accumulate wealth, and reinforce the economic power of their respective colonial masters.
Also, sometime around 1898, the Royal Niger Company, a company which became part of the United Africa Company in 1929 and later came under the control of Unilever during the 1930 sold its holdings to the British government for £865,000. That amount was effectively the price Britain paid, to buy the territory which was to become known as Nigeria. The Royal Niger company continued to exist as a subsidiary of Unilever until 1987, when it was absorbed into the parent company.
While Unilever’s origins are linked to the colonial era, the company has evolved significantly since then. Unilever is now a multinational corporation with operations in numerous countries worldwide. Over the years, the company has made efforts to address its historical connections to colonialism and has taken steps towards sustainability and social responsibility.
Oceanic Bank International (mismanagement and fraudulent activities)
Oceanic Bank International, one of Nigeria’s commercial banks, faced a major financial scandal in 2009. The bank was accused of insider abuse, mismanagement, and fraudulent activities. Former managing director of the bank, Mrs. Cecilia Ibru was sent to spend eighteen months in jail and forfeit over N150 billion Naira in assets and cash for fraud.
After Mrs. Ibru pleaded guilty to three charges related to negligence, reckless granting of credit facilities, and mismanagement of depositors’ funds, the Bank was placed under administration and later acquired by Ecobank, a rival bank, in 2011 However, in June 2014, Mrs. Ibru submitted a motion to the Abuja Federal High Court, seeking to overturn the acquisition of Oceanic Bank.
MTN Nigeria (Unregistered subscriber SIM)
In 2013, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) instructed all telecom operators in Nigeria to disconnect unregistered SIM cards by July 1 of that year. Failure to comply would result in a fine of N200,000 per remaining SIM card. MTN, a major telecom operator, disregarded these directives for over two years.
In October 2015, the NCC imposed a substantial fine of N1.04 trillion on MTN for not disconnecting 5.1 million unregistered SIM cards. MTN claimed to have received a 35% reduction in the fine, which the NCC denied, stating that only a 25% reduction was granted, resulting in an expected payment of N780 billion. Despite several deadline extensions, MTN failed to pay the fine by the specified dates.
There were allegations of a bribe given to a senior official in the presidency, although the accused official denied involvement. The presidency ultimately approved a reduction in the fine from N780 billion to N330 billion, raising suspicions. As of now, MTN has only paid a fraction of the total fine, with an initial payment of N50 billion in February 2016 and a few subsequent installments out of six.
Nigeria Airways (1993 Nigeria airways hijack)
During the intense protests against the annulment of the June 12 election in Nigeria, four young Nigerians named Richard Ajibola Ogunderu, Kabir Adenuga, Benneth Oluwadaisi, and Kenny Razak-Lawal carried out a remarkable act on Monday, October 25, 1993. They hijacked a Nigerian Airways Airbus A310,which was originally heading to Abuja, and diverted it to Niger Republic for about three days.
The individuals involved in the hijacking were eventually arrested. On the third day, when someone requested water, the authorities used this opportunity to deceive them. They disguised soldiers as food providers and brought an ambulance. Suspecting a trap, one of the hijackers called the plane steward to collect the food. As they were returning, gunshots were heard, prompting the hijackers to flee back into the aircraft.
However, they were pursued and apprehended inside the plane. The speaker of the account was injured by a gunshot and taken to the hospital, while the others were taken to the police station. They remained in custody until their release around 2001, during which time the regime changed from Shonekan to Abacha, and one of the hijackers named Jerry Yusuf was brought to Niger Republic.
Etisalat Nigeria (9mobile 2017 debt crisis)
Etisalat Nigeria (now 9mobile), a telecommunications company, faced a significant controversy in 2017 when it defaulted on a $1.2 billion loan. The debt crisis began when Etisalat Nigeria failed to meet its loan repayment obligations in 2013. Etisalat secured a syndicated loan of $1.2 billion (N377.4 billion) from a group of 13 Nigerian banks. The consortium included Access Bank, Zenith Bank Plc, Guaranty Trust Bank Plc, amongst others.
Etisalat was unable to fulfill its agreed debt servicing obligations to the banks. As a result, the banks reported the situation to the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), the regulatory body for the telecoms sector, as well as the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), the financial sector regulator. The banks demanded either the recovery of the loan or the takeover of the company.
In response to the crisis, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) and the CBN intervened to find a solution that would protect the interests of all stakeholders involved. The NCC and CBN facilitated discussions between Etisalat Nigeria, the banks, and other key stakeholders to resolve the debt crisis. Ultimately, a new board of directors was appointed to oversee the affairs of the company, and an interim management team was put in place. The company rebranded itself as 9mobile in 2017, marking a fresh start after the crisis.
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