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Tuesday, December 7, 2021

First Bank ‘too big and strategic’ for one individual to own ~ Emefiele

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First Bank Nigeria Limited, the country’s oldest financial institution, is too big and strategic for one individual to own outright, says the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) governor Godwin Emefiel on Tuesday.

Emefiele, who spoke at the end of Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) meeting in Abuja, described First Bank as a domestically important bank in Nigeria, if anything happens to the bank that means something is wrong with Nigeria’s banking system.

“First Bank is so big that one person cannot own it,” Emefiele told Journalists at the briefing on the outcome of the MPC two days meeting in Abuja.

He noted that the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the capital market regulator is responsible for issues relating to shareholding and that the regulatory bank is in contact with the commission on the FBN issue.

“As it affects the running and operations of the bank, we (CBN) will take preeminence in ensuring that the right things are done,” Emefiele said.

First bank is very relevant to the Nigerian banking sector because it is the oldest bank in the country — it was established in 1894.

He expressed happiness that citizens are in a scramble to acquire First Bank’s shares.

“First Bank remains the oldest bank in Nigeria. It is the most aggressively domestically important bank in Nigeria,” Emefiele said.

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“If anything happens to First Bank, it means something has happened to the Nigerian banking system. That is why we are taking our guidance about how to get the bank afoot seriously.

“Six years ago, like I said, because of an aggressive buildup of non- performing loans, the share price of First Bank was about N2. We took it up. Then, everybody was running away from the shares of First Bank.

“We have cleaned the balance sheet now, people are seeing that the money making machine, First Bank, is back on its feet. They are on the race for profitability. They are now competing for the shares of First Bank. Why should I quarrel about that? I am happy to see that they are competing for the shares.

“Naturally, returns are sent to CBN about individual shareholder. And of course, if our position is not in tandem with that of SEC, we will talk to SEC about it.

So far, I think we should take the position of SEC as the regulator of the capital market because regulating share price and ownership is the sole responsibility of SEC.

“We would not want to override SEC on these issues but we will continue to work with them. We have a very good relationship with them.”

There have been controversy over the person with the single largest shareholding of the country’s oldest lender between two businessmen, Femi Otedola and Tunde Hassan-Odukale.

While Otedola recently acquired 5.07 percent shares of the bank, report also showed that Hassan-Odukale, the Leadway Insurance owner was credited with the ownership of 5.36 percent stake in the bank.

However, SEC is yet to take a position on the struggle for power in the bank as of date.

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