Monday, April 19, 2021 3:37 am
Cosmas Maduka, Ifeanyi Ubah, N21 Billion Integrity Test, Simbo Coloring’s
By: Simbo Olorunfemi
Cosmas Maduka is a fascinating man. I got to know him in the early 90s. through some of the business magazines of that era and later Sunny Ojeagbase’ s Success Digest. His story is as intriguing as it is inspiring. Dropping out of school, after the death of his father, in ‘Elementary 3’ as he often says, starting out sleeping in a shop at Ebute Meta and building from there a multi-billion Naira Naira business, which now represents major international luxury brands, there is a whole lot to learn from him about building from the bottom.
One thing that has always stood him out, for me, even from back then, is that singular emphasis of his on the place of personal integrity. It is rather unusual to have a man in business, particularly at such high level, not just being so public with his faith, but trumpeting it as a foundation and pillar of his business. You won’t find that in any textbook, but for him, it would appear to be serving him well. Such is the man’s reputation that he claims to have access to unlimited credit from banks in Nigeria and abroad without the regular collateral.
It was such a shock to see Cosmas Maduka on TV( Channels and AIT) late 2012, boiling, furious and in palpable distress over business gone awry with Ifeanyi Ubah. It was the stuff for movies, as the amount in question, allegedly fleeced off him, interest accruing was a princely N21 Billion.
The story, as Maduka, was that of a man who got carried away, in spite of warning from several people and numerous red flags along the way. In spite of the negative reports he received about Ubah from Banks and Bankers, AMCON issue, allegation of involvement in subsidy scam, Maduka plunged in, head long, in a bid to rescue his ‘kid brother’ who he had only recently met.
By the time things which started smoothly went dramatically pear-shaped, on the table were a myriad of issues – missing or diverted consignments of petroleum products, possible diversion of over $200 million off letters of credit that had been opened to facilitate procurement, possible diversion of vessels and alleged subsidy fraud of over N4Billion, being payment received for products that were not delivered, as Bills of lading were in the custody of the bank. It was a mess. Maduka had, out of trust, put the Bank in which he was a Director, in a difficult situation, even if the dictates of CBN guidelines, both Bank and Direcor had erred. But here was a case of N21Billion debit, with over N300 million interest accruing and no clear path to redemption.
Ifeanyi Ubah came on TV, but didn’t quite address the substance. He didn’t agree that Maduka was in a position to have ‘helped’ him, as he only knew his Uncle as someone in pure water business and an agent to car manufacturers, compared to an Ubah, a giant in Oil and Gas business. He parried all the direct questions posed to him, claiming this was part of a grand scheme involving then Finance Minister, Dr Okonjo Iweala, who he threatened to sue in New York, Peter Obi, Aig Imokhuede. Something to do with his bid for Governorship in Anambra State. No real mention of this matter of N21 billion debt over which Maduka was primary obligor, as bank will not do business with Ubah, but one on which Maduka was able to get Ubah tied in as Guarantor.
Maduka had lodged a criminal complaint. He had approached courts here and abroad, moving to seize the man’s assets around the world. He also had with him a few of the other man’s property whose face value he put at about N3 Billion.
I remember Maduka promising then to see this to an end. That he cannot be alive and someone will make away with his money. He said he used to fancy himself who cannot fall prey to dupes and that if anyone succeeds in duping him, he ought to be congratulated. But on the N21 Billion, he promised that if a hole took in Ifeanyi, such a hole must be ready to take him in as well. Ubah too had said he was a Diesel engine, slow to start, but once it gets going, there was no stopping it.
I had thought then that we were indeed set for a titanic battle. But this matter seemingly fizzled out. I remember there was a report the following year of Maduka stepping down as a Director at Access Bank. The Bank reported it as him stepping down after a successful run of his tenure for 12 years. There were other reports that CBN wielded the big stick. The Bank was, for a fact, fined for overexposure to 3 Directors, Maduka inclusive.
But then, whatever happened to the N21 Billion? Did the 2 men make it into a hole and somehow got this sorted out? It was only last week that I stumbled upon this video in which Dr Maduka spoke about his greatest mistake in business. No prize for guessing, it was the Ifeanyi Ubah business.
I was stunned. Cosmas Maduka reported how the Board of the Bank had met and resolved that he could not be held liable for the debt, as he didn’t sign any documents implicating him and the letter of credit was not opened in his name or that of his company. But he thought things over. “.. I asked myself the strong question – Did the bank give this guy money because of his merit or did they give him money because of me? The answer was clear. Obviously, they gave him money because of me. And all my life, I have always preached integrity and I was subjected to this test. I called the MD of that bank and said ‘ Send me the paper’ and he sent in the paper and I signed it.”
Cosmas Maduka had 25% of the shares in that Bank. He sold it off and cleared the debt. He said, “I have the peace. I did not breach integrity.” He says, you never know who you are until you see what you can do. He says that his name, MaduaburoChukwu, means Man is not God.
What a Man! MaduabuChukwu!