Tuesday, 19 June 2012 / John Omachonu & Onyinye Nwachukwu / BusinessDay
Embattled Societe Generale Bank Nigeria (SGBN) Limited is to commence operations under a new name, Heritagebank, following approval by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), which says the bank has met the financial requirements for returning to business.
BusinessDay learnt that International Energy Insurance (IEI) plc, which has Ifie Sekibo, as executive vice chairman is a major shareholder with the Sarakis having about 10 percent in the new bank.
BusinessDay investigations reveal that Societe Generale Bank, owned by the Saraki family, will come back, operating as a regional bank with N10 billion capital requirement, five years after its licence was restored to the owners through an Abuja Federal High Court judgement.
However, the fate of Savannah Bank, which likewise got its licence back through the same court judgment in 2009, is still uncertain, as the management is yet to get credible investors and neither has the CBN acceded to requests for forbearance by the owners. BusinessDay further gathered that the CBN is considering the option of extending the June 30 deadline to both banks to recapitalise.
Tokunbo Martins, CBN Director of Banking Supervision told BusinessDay that the apex bank has approved Societe General Bank as fit to return to business. “They had a recapitalisation and restructuring plan which we approved, so they are progressing along those lines and they have almost concluded, so hopefully, they should be opening their doors to the public very soon. I don’t know how soon, but most of the things that they need to do from our end are more or less 80 percent completed.
”You know that the banks have been categorised. Now we have the regional banks, which require N10 billion capital, there are also those that play nationally, which have been given N25 billion minimum requirement, but in the case of SGBN, I think they want to play regionally,” she noted.
Martins could not confirm whether the CBN would consider extending the deadline for Savannah Bank in case it failed to meet the June deadline. She said: “Usually we give them deadlines but when they run into problems, we are also cognisant of the harsh operating environment and all that, so when they come to us complaining that these are the problems they are having, sometimes we might extend those deadlines”.
Umaru Ibrahim, managing director of the Nigeria Deposit Insurance Corporation (NDIC) told BusinessDay recently that the banking sector reforms would not be complete without resolving the two banks’ crisis which has attracted negative comments, particularly on the appropriateness of the seeming silence by the regulatory authorities.
Speaking with BusinessDay on the sideline of a recent road show by the Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON) in Lagos ; Ibrahim said the authorities were worried over the continued delay by both institutions in coming back to business, but added that their proposed action plans for coming back would have to be acceptable and approved by the regulators.
The CBN revoked the operating licence of Savannah Bank in February 2002, while that of Societe Generale Bank Plc, was revoked on January 16, 2006. The NDIC and CBN handed over Savannah Bank to the owners on June 9, 2009, with a promise of ensuring a speedy conclusion of the necessary processes for re-opening the bank to the public.