Let me disclose from the outset that Nze Chidi Duru is my friend.
I met him for the first time sometime in 1999 through a mutual friend who is now late, Tony Anyanwu, who represented my Federal Constituency, Ahiazu-Ezinihitte Mbaise, in the House of Representatives between 1999 and 2003.
Both Chidi and Tony, vibrant young lawyers, had won their elections and were waiting to be inaugurated when Tony and I went to see him in his law office in Lagos.
Upon inauguration in early June 1999, Duru became one of the stars of the National Assembly (NASS) of the Fourth Republic, bringing his erudition and huge intellect to bear on lawmaking.
Such was his contribution that he was appointed chairman of the very powerful and strategic House of Representatives Committee on Privatisation and Commercialisation between 1999 and 2003.
So exceptional was he that he was nominated by the British government as one of 14 outstanding leaders in Africa and attended the Africa Future Leadership Pilot Programme in Manchester, United Kingdom.
For a man who believes so much in capacity building and that politicians should have a “second address”, when he left the NASS in 2007, he attended several management courses, including the Chief Executive Programme at the Lagos Business School; Competitive Strategy and Value Creation Course at the University of Navarra, Barcelona, Spain; and the Privatisation, Regulatory Reform, Corporate Governance and Management of Political Economic Reforms at the John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University.
He also ran his businesses here in Nigeria.
Until last week, I had not spoken with him for about a year. So, I was alarmed when I read a story online on Wednesday with the headline “Pension Scam: Ex-Rep, Hon. Chidi Duru, goes into hiding as EFCC comes after fraudsters.”
I called him immediately and the story he narrated shocked me.
The whole crisis has to do with the First Guarantee Pension Limited (FGPL) which he founded.
Duru said: “The licence of the First Guarantee Pension Limited was given to me in recognition of the work that one did bringing to fruition the Pension Reform Act of 2004.
“Fola Adeola, who was then the chairman of the Steering Committee of the National Pensions Committee, was so excited and so pleased with the hard work that was done in bringing this into fruition that one was encouraged to consider the possibility of also being a player in the industry.
“I applied and was granted a licence as one of the players in the Pension Fund Administration (PFA) industry and the name of my company then was First Guarantee Pension Limited.
“Eventually, I brought together 37 shareholders to be able to promote First Guarantee Pension as a business.”
Unfortunately, that seems to be his mistake.
For five years, the company struggled but the tide turned in 2010 when it became profitable, paying its first dividend in 2011.
With that came the envy.
On February 23, 2011, the National Pensions Commission (PenCom), the industry regulator, released its annual report which categorised FGPL as the most improved PFA in 2010.
Surprisingly, one month later, the same PenCom on March 22, 2011 wrote the board of FGPL that it would like to undertake a target examination of the company.
The target examination report PenCom presented to the board in June 2011 was critical of the way the company was being run, asserting, among other issues, that the chairman should not have occupied the post because he had insignificant shares.
But the board reasoned that the chairman, who had well over N20 million worth of shares, could not be said to be a chairman with insignificant shares.
In any case, the company’s article and memorandum of association didn’t provide for a share qualification to even be on the board not to talk of a share qualification to be the chairman.
FGPL questioned the report and brought to the attention of PenCom that under the Pension Reform Act, such a report from the regulator will be submitted to the directors, and the directors are bound under the law to submit the report to the shareholders.
It is the responsibility of the shareholders to vote on it and whatever is the outcome of such a vote becomes the decision of the company.
But PenCom would have none of that. The management of FGPL sued PenCom to court.
On August 11, 2011, Justice D.U. Okorowo of the Federal High Court, Abuja issued an ex-parte order restraining PenCom from implementing the target report pending the hearing and determination of the substantive suit.
PenCom demurred and four days later, precisely on August 15, 2011, dissolved the board of FGPL and appointed an interim management.
Outraged shareholders petitioned the then Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mohammed Bello Adoke, who wrote two letters on August 18, 2011 and September 8, 2011 to PenCom telling the regulator to obey the orders of court and revert to the status quo.
None of that was done.
On June 18, 2012, the court ruled on the matter. In a 132-page judgment, the judge took umbrage at PenCom for acting above the law and ordered that the interim management be removed.
The court requested the commissioner of police in Lagos State, where the head office of FGPL is, and the commissioner of police in Abuja to help the board members take back their business.
But before then, on October 3, 2011, operatives of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) had swooped on Duru’s residence in Abuja and arrested him on the grounds that one of the company’s shareholders, Kashim Ibrahim-Imam, had petitioned the EFCC to implement PenCom’s target report.
The EFCC acted on the petition despite the fact that in August, the same Ibrahim-Imam and five other shareholders out of 37 had gone to a Federal High Court in Abuja, seeking an order of mandamus to compel the EFCC to investigate the target report – and the court threw out the application as an abuse of court process since there was already a judgment on the matter.
Yet, Duru was detained overnight. On October 4, 2011, his sister, Mrs. Christy Ekweonu, a director with the Federal Ministry of Justice; and Ken Nwanze, bailed him.
But, immediately after the court gave the full judgment in 2012 nullifying the target report and mandating PenCom to hand back the business to the original directors and shareholders, the police invited the shareholders to make a report on why they were disturbing the peace of FGPL.
The complainants suddenly became the accused. In fact, the police went a step further to prefer a charge against Duru before a Magistrate’s Court in Abuja bordering on theft and forgery.
But on March 28, 2013, the magistrate, after being presented with all the rulings on the matter, again threw out the case as an abuse of court process.
Then in January this year, a lawyer friend of Duru came to Lagos High Court and saw his name on the cause list.
Investigation revealed that the EFCC had actually come to Lagos on October 5, 2015 to prefer a charge on the same subject matter that has to do with PenCom target report before a High Court, without his knowledge.
Worried by the latest development, Duru now petitioned the current attorney general of the federation telling him that his office had already written two letters on the matter.
That was on March 8, 2016. On April 6, the AG caused a letter to be written to the EFCC demanding that they should bring the case file to his office for review. But even a reminder letter on April 22, could not sway the almighty EFCC.
Meanwhile, on April 11, Duru’s lawyer and that of the EFCC had argued on his preliminary objection. So, the ruling was fixed for May 11, 2016.
Unfortunately, the court didn’t sit because the judge was indisposed. The matter was adjourned to June 8, 2016.
But as he was leaving the court, he received a call from his sister who bailed him in 2012 saying EFCC operatives were in her office to arrest her in lieu of the brother who they claimed jumped bail.
But the law is very clear, you cannot arrest one person in lieu of another.
Even if as a surety, the most you can do is go to court, and get the court to issue an order for her to forfeit her bail bond. She was in EFCC custody from that day until Friday, April 20 when she was released.
Her offence? Being Chidi Duru’s sister.
How can a man who was in court to answer charges preferred against him by the EFCC be on the run?
While all these were going on, the interim management appointed by PenCom, which had been sacked by the courts, did a filing at the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) that neither had the directors approval nor the shareholders resolution restructuring the shareholding structure of FGPL where the shares of their South African partners, Novare, were removed as investors and treated now as deposit for shares and Duru’s shares were reduced by 50 per cent from N248 million to under N122 million.
Duru’s tormentor-in-chief, Kashim Ibrahim-Imam, was also purportedly elected as chairman of FGPL against subsisting court orders.
On April 22, Duru petitioned President Muhammadu Buhari, saying his life was in danger. He is yet to get a response from the Presidency.
In all these, his prayer is simple. “My appeal is that if it is found that there has been an infraction on our part, then let justice be done, but if it is found that we have not done anything wrong, and some other people have misused their powers and influence, let justice also be done.”
When I went to see him last Thursday, he was clearly traumatised and couldn’t believe that the system would allow this to happen to a law abiding citizen.
Chidi Duru is being persecuted. This is not prosecution. What bothers him most is that the EFCC is using a section of the media to brand him a criminal.
I have said this before, that it is immoral, in fact the height of corruption, for the EFCC to use the media to diminish a man whose business has been stolen from him, literally.