Northern hawks eye NICON

  • Sunday, September 16, 2007 - By LOUIS IBA
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The on-going threats to take-over the management of NICON Insurance Plc might not be unconnected with a fierce lobby by a business cabal in the northern part of the country to have a majority shareholding, which would also ensure a possible take over of the assets of the insurance firm.

A technical committee recently set up by the Federal Government to verify the capitalisation claims of the 69 insurance and two reinsurance companies operating in the country had recommended that the Minister of Finance should put in place an interim management committee to take over the running of NICON.

But contacted at the weekend, NICON's Group Managing Director, Mr. Jimoh Ibrahim denied there was any such move by a mafia, reiterating his earlier statement that recommendation by NAICOM (insurance regulatory agency) remains an as "an empty threat" that can hold no water given a court injunction restraining the take-over of the company.
However, competent sources told Sunday Sun that the cabal from the north are mounting pressure on the Presidency to expedite action on the report of the technical committee.

The powerful interests were said to be amazed by the turn-around of the NICON in the last one year "for an organization that was almost written off".
The thinking of the cabal is that if the Presidency acts on the report, NICON could be re-placed on offer for the highest bidder and this time the cabal stand a better chance of winning the bid.

Following the complaints raised by stakeholders about the way NAICOM under the former Commissioner for Insurance, Chief Okechukwu Chukwulozie, handled the last recapitalisation exercise, a probe panel chaired by the Chairman of Niger Insurance Plc, Alhaji Bala Zakariya’u, was set up by the former Minister of Finance, Ms. Esther Nenadi-Usman, to review the exercise.

The report of the panel led to the sack of the former Commissioner and the setting up of a technical committee headed by Zakariya’u as well to verify the claims made by the operators. The committee submitted its report to the Minister Monday and it was rumoured that the committee recommended that government should set up an interim management committee to take over NICON Insurance owing to the fact that they were restrained by court from looking into the books of the company.

Interestingly, under Ibrahim, NICON has in the last one year improved in terms of performance, clearing a backlog of claims amounting to over N3billion owed pensioners to the admiration of industry watchers.
In the last three weeks, for instance, some of the companies and institutions whose claims have been settled include the Nigerian Railway Corporation (N358.3million); Petroleum Training Institute (N400 million); Council of Legal Education (N150million); Federal Road Safety Corps (N100million) and the National Theatre (N45million). A feat seen as signs of NICON's recovery under Ibrahim.

Ibrahim-led management has invested heavily in manpower training, as well as in information, communications and technology to ensure that the company meets global best practices and standards.
Already, Ibrahim announced that the reconciliation of accounts of companies with outstanding pension claims was on-going, promising that by the end of 2008, the management of the insurance firms targets a zero claims and liability position.

Speaking earlier in the week on the recommendation of the technical committee, the NICON boss said he remained unshaken and sees a bright future for NICON.
His words: "Let me also say that nobody can take over NICON Insurance having been duly purchased by us without refunding our money to us because again we have a court injunction stating that nobody can take over the running of the affairs in this place", the Group Managing Director stressed.

"It is an empty threat. Let me state clearly that nobody can set up an interim management committee for NICON Insurance and the reason being that we have another injunction restraining the government, Ministry of Finance or National Insurance Commission (NAICOM) from setting up any interim management in this company." he added.

Ibrahim drew the attention of the Minister of State for Finance, Mr. Aderemi Babalola to a subsisting interim injunction granted by the Federal High Court sitting in Abuja restraining the Attorney General of the Federation, Minister of Finance, Bureau of Public Enterprise (BPE) and the Inspector of Police or their agents or privies from taking over or interfering with the day to day running of NICON Insurance pending the determination of a motion on notice before by the court."

He also clarified that the interim order also restrains NAICOM from interfering with the running of the company under any guise, disclosing that the Finance Minister has since filed an appearance on the substantive case before the court where it confirmed that NAICOM is its agent, adding that this particular order restraining government from interfering that was granted by the court as far back as June 1, 2007 is different from the one restraining the technical committee from taking actions against the NICON Insurance.

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