The story of Jimi Lawal: See the Man Gov. El-Rufai appointed as Special Adviser on investment

He was the former managing director of the now defunct ‘wonder bank’ Alpha Merchant Bank who was convicted massive bank fraud in absentia in Nigeria, divorcee in the United States of America, believed to be wanted there for tax matters he was consultant to the same Malam Nasir el-Rufai, in his days as Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja. Lawal’s embrace by Aso Rock, during the Obasanjo era throws up questions on the sincerity of the president and his aides about battling corruption. Not many homes in Nigeria, have fully recovered from the bitter memories of the agony the mismanagement of Alpha Merchant Bank, under Lawal, wrought. One instance was the sad story of Chief Michael Omisade, former chairman of the National Bank of Nigeria and director at Alpha. Omisade, co-founder of the bank with Lawal, whose law chambers undertook the task of incorporating the bank, suffered from stroke in the aftermath of the distress that hit Alpha in 1993.Jimi Lawal
The tragedy swept away the multi-million naira investment of the lawyer in the bank and threw him into an indisposed state from which he never recovered. He died so ill and wretched and so was the story of several other victims of his criminal act.
Those who managed to survive wallow in anguish, rendered helpless to pick up the pieces of their lives while the scar remained permanent and has refused to heel.
El-Rufai was said to have worked with Lawal some years back at Alpha Properties. When ei-Rufai became minister of the FCT, it was payback time for an old friend who needs to be rehabilitated haven squandered the money he stole from Alpha Merchant Bank while in sojourn in America. El-Rufai made Jimi Lawal his consultant on land matters. His exploit in Abuja resulted in a N1bn stormy scandal that rocked el-Rufai’s tenure as FCT Minister.
Shakiru Olajimi Adebisi Lawal crept into banking and national prominence in 1988 when he became the managing director of Alpha Merchant Bank and within seven months of operation, he posted a magical profit of N7m. There and then he became industry toast, hailed as the whizz-kid the Nigerian Banking industry has been waiting for. The ‘turn-around expert’ who would engineer the much needed change the industry needed, as at that time, from the grips of some first generation banks that have stagnated the industry.
No sooner had the story of Lawal’s ingenuity made headlines that his streaks of scandals followed and since then, he never knew peace. Barely two months after Alpha took off, on 4 August 1988 specifically, two of its shareholders fired a petition to Abdulkadir Ahmed, then Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, alleging forgery against Lawal. The shareholders, A.O. Ilori, a lawyer and I.O. Odefisayo, a chartered accountant, in their letter titled, “Fraudulent Practices at Alpha Merchant Bank Limited”, accused Lawal of falsifying the information in his curriculum vitae that he submitted to the CBN and the Federal Ministry of Finance. In the CV, the Alpha boss claimed to be a Master of Business Administration, MBA, product of the City University Business School, Barbican, London. He also wrote that he was a Departmental Manager at the Foreign Exchange, Bills/Credits Department of the Union Bank in London. The petitioners declared that Lawal did not possess an MBA from City University, neither was he a manager at Union Bank. The banker, they stated, was a mere supervisor at the London bank, a position that did not qualify him to be approved by the CBN as Executive Director in any bank in Nigeria. “The obvious implications of these fraudulent practices,” Ilori and Odefisayo alerted, “is that the CBN has not only been deceived by Jimi Lawal in approving his appointment as an Executive Director on the basis of the purported qualifications and working experience, but it further constitutes a fraud on innocent shareholders at whose expense Jimi Lawal has taken benefits by way of remuneration and perquisites of office.”el rufai
From another end, a suit also came against the erstwhile Alpha Bank managing director. Jide Zaid, a lawyer in Omisade Chambers, headed to court to file a suit against Lawal, alleging forgery and threat to his life. This suit confirmed the talk abroad then that all was not well between Lawal and Michael Omisade, whose chambers did the incorporation of Alpha Merchant Bank. Omisade, a source told TheNEWS, expressed fears about the future of the bank when he found out that “Lawal was not what he smoothly talked him into understanding he was.” As Ilori and Odefisayo earlier did, Zaid also proceeded to tear Lawal’s CV apart. Omisade’s chambers, on 10 August 1988, wrote to Alhaji H.T. Ashiru, Principal of Muslim College, Ijebu-Ode, which Lawal claimed to have attended between 1970 and 1975 and bagged seven papers in the West African School Certificate examinations, for confirmation. Ashiru’s prompt response gave the lie to Lawal’s claims. The Principal wrote: “Mr. Shakiru Olajimi Adebisi Lawal attended Ijebu Muslim College, Ijebu-Ode, and was in Class Four in 1975. In fact, we discovered that he repeated the class in 1975 and was advised to withdraw at the end of the session in November 1975 when he was unable to gain promotion to Class Five. In another letter dated 12 July 1988 by Omisade Chambers to Mrs. A.A. Fashina, then Principal of King’s College, Lagos, her reply was: “We have carefully gone through our records and discovered that at no time was there any student by name Shakiru Olajimi Adebisi Lawal. Moreover, I wish to confirm that King’s College has never run a part-time programme for either WASC or HSC course.” Lawal had claimed in his CV that he did a part-time HSC programme at King’s College, Lagos, from 1976 to 1977 where he obtained four GCE “A” Level passes. From City University School, London, where Omisade Chambers had written to concerning Lawal’s claim of an MBA came another disclaimer on 21 July 1988. Kate Adam, Course Secretary for the school’s evening MBA programme, wrote back to state that although Lawal had begun the university’s part-time MBA degree course in September 1983, he was not awarded an MBA because he withdrew and did not complete it. When Zaid also requested from Union Bank in London to clarify Lawal’s status while he worked there, the feedback was another shocking expose: “Mr. Lawal was employed by this branch as a Supervisor (Documentary Credits) from June 1984 to August 1986, and not a departmental manager. Supervisory positions are not on the senior management cadre of this bank nor of the bank as a whole.”
Lawal’s claim of being 31 years old when he emerged Alpha’s managing director could not but also come into dispute.
The controversial banker was born in September 1959. Effectively, he could not have been more than 29 years when he became Alpha’s MD in 1988. This was a year shy of the 30 years minimum age requirement that the CBN prescribed for anybody aspiring to be managing or executive director of a bank. Like Salisu Buhari, the then 29-year- old former Speaker of the House of Representatives who lied about his age so he could contest election as a Rep, Lawal apparently upped his age to fool the CBN. However, unlike Buhari who honourably resigned as Speaker only one month into his reign when TheNEWS exclusively blew the whistle on him, Lawal got away with the fraud and ruled Alpha as MD for five years, from 1988 to 1993 when the bank went under. When this magazine met with Lawal about a month ago at the NICON-Hilton Hotel, Abuja, to comment on the sundry allegations against him, he would not field answers. The only strand of defence he clutched on to was his acquittal, in 2004, by a Federal High Court, Lagos, on three counts of criminal offences (banking malpractices) for which he had been convicted by Zone 2 of the Failed Banks Tribunal on 19 March 1996. Lawal, with Chief Udensi Ifegwu, a non-executive director of Alpha Merchant Bank, and two other managers of the bank were found guilty of running Alpha Merchant Bank aground through unethical banking practices. Narrating Lawal’s unenviable odyssey at Alpha Merchant Bank would significantly impact on properly understanding the confines of his acquittal in 2004. The judgement of the Failed Banks Tribunal that indicted him may have been set aside for “lack of jurisdiction,” by the Federal High Court, Lagos, but the burning issue of the malpractices that led to the crash of the bank and the unmitigated sufferings of its depositors cannot but subsist. Lawal, it would seem, had a clear idea of what he wanted to do with Alpha Merchant Bank when he set out to establish it, with some others, in 1988. But, although there were early warning signals from Omisade to the CBN that Lawal was perfecting some designs that were clearly detrimental to the health of the bank and its depositors, the former managing director was shrewd enough and well-wired to ward off all challenges. It was not until 1995-1996 when the sordid deals at Alpha were exposed at the Failed Banks Tribunal that an aspect of Lawal’s improprieties was exposed. According to the facts of the charge, No. FBFMT/L/ZII/IC/95, Lawal conspired with Udensi, a major shareholder in the defunct bank, to perpetrate some underhand deals that eventually contributed to sinking the bank. Both Udensi and Lawal later jumped bail and fled the country to avoid trial. They were subsequently tried and sentenced to terms of imprisonment in absentia.
By 1993, Alpha Merchant Bank had totally failed in its operations and it collapsed. The bank was unable to fulfil its obligations to its numerous customers and shareholders. Lawal and Udensi were also believed to have ploughed depositors’ money into the AlphaSofitel, a hotel project which eventually flopped. In all cases of the numerous transactions that pushed Alpha Merchant Bank over the precipice, Lawal did not carry along the bank’s shareholders. While Alpha Merchant Bank was going down, the former banker was secretly building a honey nest for himself and his family in the United States. Through a stock account at Paine Webber INC., in New York, he acquired several high-yield stocks from Microsoft, Coca-Cola, Citigroup, Union Carbide e.t.c. Lawal resettled in Atlanta, Georgia, with his wife, Francesca Wachukwu and his three children. In the USA, he purchased a mansion at 1870 Childress Drive by way of lease-to-buy in 1996, using a front named “Dirk Twine”. He settled down to operate a travel agency, Pax Travels Inc. According to court documents, Lawal started Pax Travels with $50,000. He was also president of Concept Property Development Corporation, a company he claimed in court documents never traded before it was liquidated.
-With excerpts from Sahara Reporters.

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