Despite the claims by Access Bank that they are one of Nigeria most trusted bank; an ongoing investigation by Transparency For Nigeria has revealed that beyond such adverts being displayed lies a battle currently on, between them and their ex employees.
Impeccable sources who spoke to our reporters detailed how the merger between Access Bank and the defunct Intercontinental Bank Limited (IBL) caused most of them to leave their jobs, while some were forced out by the Access bank former Group Managing Director, Mr. AIG Aigboje Imoukhuede in a military fashion.
According to our sources, in August/September 2011, the management of Intercontinental Bank Plc (ICB) established a gratuity scheme for all staff that had been in the employment of the bank for five (5) years backward, (i.e. staff that had been in employment of the bank since October 2006 and earlier).
This scheme we gathered gave all the beneficiaries a certain amount of money duly communicated to each of them by the then Head of Human Resources, Abila Amos, via a computer generated URL which only the beneficiary can access. While this was on, there were rumours of IBL merging with Access Bank, which agitated the staffers, who as fellow bankers are aware of the brutal management style of Access Bank. As time click daily, the rumors became truth, prompting most of the bankers trying to tender their resignation letters.
This option was considered to enable them collect their gratuity and move on with their lives. “The reason for this was that we knew the characters of Access Bank management team that they would cancel the whole arrangement immediately they move in (if they win the bid that was on going at that time)”, stated our reliable source.
The option of resignation never went down well with ICB management who feared that the staff leaving in droves will affect the merger talk. To forestall the situation and protect both the staff and the bank, some steps were taken in September 2011:
1. Set up a Board of Trustee, with initial members chosen in their personal capacities who are to act in the best interest and on behalf of the beneficiaries. Their responsibilities and powers are contained in a document called “Deed of Appointment”, where it is stated inter alia that they are not to take instruction from ICB management or “any successor-in-title” of ICB. And that they are to act in accordance with the Law of Trusteeship of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. The document also limits the membership of the board to between 5 and 7 persons and also vested the responsibility of filling any vacancy that may exist in board of trustee membership (in case of resignation of any member of the board) to beneficiaries who are otherwise called members of the scheme.
2. The gratuity scheme was thus moved to three Pension Fund Managers, via: Crusader Sterling Pension, First Trustees Nigeria Limited and NLPC Pension Fund Administrators Ltd. This was done to demonstrate to beneficiaries that the fund is already earned by them and that no successor-in title of ICB should intermeddle with the fund within legality confine.
3. There is also a carefully drafted document executed by the pension managers which contains how the funds should be managed and also compels them to take instruction from the board of trustees only among other things.
As soon as this steps to secure the fund and make sure that no successor-in-title is allowed to tamper with the gratuity fund; the ICB staff had their mind relaxed and set to work normally.
Access Bank Comes In With Military ‘Operation Just Cause’
One month after ICB made efforts to protect her staff, October 17, 2011, Access Bank management entered the premises of ICB to solidify the merger arrangement. We gathered that their initial arrangement was to run the two entities for six (6) months separately before actual merging of the two entities. But the desperate Access Bank management twisted the whole scenario and immediately commenced actual merging of the entities the moment they moved into ICB premises.
Knowing the amount of gratuity involved, they promptly introduced a kind of programme alien to all ICB staff the in the name of “Operation Just Cause”- “OJC”.
“The programme is such that only ICB staffs are allocated accounts at a particular date and the total funds in those accounts must not dwindle, neither must it be stagnant, but it must only grow. If the funds reduced, the staff earned negative, if it stagnated the staff earned zero and if it grew, the staff earned positive. This exercise did not separate between marketing and non-marketing staff. A date (known only to the Access Bank management) was set to take a snap shot performance of all employees”, confided our source
In a Gestapo style of leadership, on January 27, 2012 all ICB legacy staff that scored negative on OJC parameters as at December 2011 were sacked without prior notice in what they call ‘cutoff day’, which experience showed that customers withdraw money during the yuletide. The affected staffs were asked to report to various locations to collect their disengagement letters. At those locations were heavily armed security personnel.
“On that same date, the Group Managing Director of Access Bank, Mr. AIG Aigboje Imoukhuede called a meeting of the remaining ICB staff at EKO Hotels and Suites and told us that anybody that wishes to resign can do so within 7 days and that the bank will pay such employee severance package. And that after the 7 days, the opportunity shall be withdrawn.
Looking at the hostile disposition of the Access Bank Management team many ICB legacy employees who were not sacked relied on the GMD’s promise of severance payment and resigned their appointments believing that they can forge a meaningful future for themselves using their respective gratuity funds (for those that qualified for it) and the severance package promised the GMD”, said a source
As a Machiavellian bank, we gathered that Access Bank induced the Board of Trustee to sign-out the gratuity funds to them.” As a matter of fact, our gratuity fund was used by Access Bank to settle the severance package promised by their GMD. In essence the fruit of many years of toils and labour that staff who qualified for the gratuity scheme (which the management we worked for valued and compensated us for) was taken away with impunity, by a management team who never cared for us.” bemoaned a dependable source
Attempts were made to get Access Bank to pay the over 2000 staff of ICB who either resigned their appointments or were sacked, but all efforts fell on deaf ears. Documents available to us reveals that this ‘fraud’ which took away the staffers gratuity is worth N7 billion. A source within the top hierarchy of Access Bank revealed to us that the bank will never pay the money, as such is too big to dispense with. “Journalist, that money can cause the bank to lose stability if they pay. Only the court can force us to pay them, and it will even be gradual, not once”, he confided
The staff decided to go to the National Industrial Court (NIC) having sought audience with other regulatory bodies, with none of them ready to pay due attention to them. We gathered that the regulatory bodies who contacted Access Bank to appear before them were immediately compromised and the case dropped.
Surprisingly the court ruled that the Board of Trustees are agents of a known principal and not Trustees as they were appointed to be!
“The way the judiciary – National Industrial Court (NIC) – is twisting the case shows obviously that many secret arrangements and understandings are at play. Because it cannot be understood why a learned judge will rule on a case like this, without fair and just consideration to terms and conditions underlying the documented relationship” said a source. Their refusal with the Judgment led to their request that the case be transferred to another Judge.
In another court hearing on November 8 2013, the Current Judge presiding on the case ruled that the Board of Trustees appointed to manage the gratuity scheme were agents despite the fact that they were given the power of trustee as contained in the Law of Trusteeship of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
According to documents at our disposal, the ruling we gathered do not apply to the circumstance surrounding the creation of the gratuity scheme and appointment of the Board of Trustees who were saddled with the responsibility of managing the scheme. When Transparency For Nigeria contacted the Public relations department of Access Bank by mail, they promised to get back to us, but never did as at the time of filing in this report.
Meanwhile the case has been appealed, and a complaint letter has been written to the president of NIC by the counsel to the staff members which caused NIC to take the case away from the judge that gave the ruling. The court is yet to release any information about the new judge