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A probe into Cadburys attempted probity


November 23, 2006/guardian



The on-going controversy over the true state of affairs at Cadbury Nigeria Plc started with a news release despatched by the multinational company to a select group, including the media.

The release, signed by its Public Affairs Manager, Mr. Kufre Ekanem stated: \"Cadbury Nigeria has announced the discovery of evidence of an overstatement in its financial position for the current and prior years.

According to a public statement by the company\'s chairman, Dr. Uduimo Itsueli, \"we have appointed independent accountants, PriceWaterhoouseCoopers, to further investigate this matter and report fully to our board on its findings.\"

This situation was discovered in the past few weeks following an internal review. Our company will continue to operate and trade as usual and, in line with our corporate governance standards, we have informed all our stakeholders including the stock market of this development. The investigation may last a few weeks and we will provide further details when the investigation is concluded.\"

Itsueli added, it is important to stress that this situation has arisen out of an internal review. We have received confirmation of Cadbury Schweppes continued commitment to Cadbury Nigeria and we request the understanding and support of all stakeholders.

One week after, however, there are several questions begging for answers from the company over its confessed financial malpractice\'s. Interestingly, the company\'s public affairs manager seemed not willing to speak on the issue beyond the disclosure in the advertised release.

When The Guardian visited the multinational company on Friday, he was said to be preparing for a meeting and could therefore not attend to visitors. Two attempts to speak to him on the phone were also fruitless. The programmed response to the calls were: \"I will call you later\" but he never did.

The Guardian\'s resort to speak with the Managing Director, Mr. Bunmi Oni also failed, as he was said to be absent from work.

Indeed, a visit to Oni\'s Ogudu Government Reservation Area (GRA) house revealed that he has travelled out of the country.

Industry analysts, friends of Oni and other stakeholders who spoke to The Guardian made some useful disclosures, even as they raised several posers.

To an industrial analyst, the fact that Cadbury\'s chairman was quoted in the release rather than Oni suggested that Oni might be involved in the issue at stake \"if not, why is Oni out of the work and out of the country,\" he asked.

A stakeholder, however, countered: \"I am privileged to know and I want to tell you that there has been a kind of power tussle on the company\'s board since the company\'s current chairman took over. The consequence is what we are seeing. Oni is the target. But why should anyone want to destroy a name and reputation that took someone several years to build? he asked.

Gratifyingly, unlike others, the Registrar of the Chartered Institute of Personnel Management of Nigeria (CIPMAN), Mr. Funso Korode offered to speak without being anonymous.

According to Korode: \"While not pre-empting the findings of on-going investigation of the company\'s accounts, I have no doubt in my mind that Oni will not be involved in any unethical conduct.

Oni as a former president of our institute with whom I have related very closely, stands out taller than ordinary height on matters of ethics, integrity and corporate governance.\"

Yet another industry analyst stated: \"If Cadbury is sincere, why not say it as it is rather than using rue words to cover up a gross misdeed. I mean what is meant by an overstatement in the financial position? What are the figures involved? If this information could not be released there was no point issuing a public statement in the first instance. They should have waited to conclude their investigations before raising unnecessary public anxiety.\"

As it were, time will tell. Ekanem was reported to have said that the investigation would be concluded before the middle of next year. Efforts to get the company\'s auditors - Akintola Williams and Co to speak on the matter were also fruitless.

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