How a N44bn fraud is causing ripples at First Bank

Nigeria’s oldest financial institution, First Bank recently named a risk guru as Chief Executive Officer and now it is becoming clearer why the banking behomoth is focusing more on controls after it was reported that a staff made away with a whooping forty four billion Naira over a two-year period.

The immediate past Chief Executive Officer Adesola Adeduntan suddenly resigned from his job in April in a brief letter sent from Washington where he was attending the annual World Bank/IMF metings. “I have, however decided to proceed on retirement with effect from 20 April 2024 to pursue other interests,” said Adeduntan who joined the bank in 2014.

First Bank has never explained the circumstance of its CEO’s departure.
However, in his place, the bank named Olusegun Alebiosu as Managing Director and Chief Executive. Alebiosu was until this appointment the executive director, chief risk officer and executive compliance officer since January 2022. Prior to that, he was the group executive/chief risk officer, a position he held since 2016.

Report of the fraud that was uncovered at First Bank has sparked considerable chatter on social media which began after a report by TechCabal and then amplified by one Ndusuisi Ekekwe, the lead faculty at Tekedia who said he always thought it curious and perhaps wrong the manner of the sudden leadership changes.

According to him, “today, we are hearing that one demon operated there for two years and cleared N44bn” after an employee at a Lagos branch allegedly diverted funds in a scheme that went undetrected for almost two years.”

Confirmation that the fraud had caused ripples in the bank came by way of a letter dated May 10, 2024 purportedly written to the Lagos state Police Commissioner.

In the letter, the bank said, “we hereby bring to your notice the discovery of fraudulent transactions into various transactions within and outside the bank and request your good offices to set up the machinery of investigation with a view to unravel the circumstances surrounding the said fraud and to get the culprits apprehended to face the wrath of the law.”

It was discovered that the alleged perpetrator made fraudulent transactions to his wife’s account domicled with another bank and from where the funds were then transferred to other beneficiaries totalling 34. Form here, the funds developed wings and flew into a total of 1,190 accounts in various banks subsequently.

In his comment on X, one Dr A. TuruMbe said the revelation brought to his memory a case 20 years ago when he worked with a bank on Ahmadu Bello way in Victoria Island, Lagos.

Another user of X claimed the money that was stolen “is from dispense error, it gets moved by the end of work day and transaction deleted. It has gone for about two years, what gave him away was the issue of submarine cable that affected telcos and banksd in April. The transaction piled up for those days.”

According to another commentator on X, “banks and other financial institutions need to have elevated risk management and fraud detection systems in place. The downside of evolving technology is that crooks will always want to exploit any vulnerability to their advantage.”
There have also been questions as to why this fraud went on for as long as it did. According to Nkwuda Chinedu, “there are much obvious questions begging for answers – is their system not automated? Is there no Maker-Checker in place as known traditionally in banking? Has the staff no supervisor and no audit for the period?”

Other commewntators have also asked to know how one staff can be left solely in charge of reversal funds where he would have unchecked access to move funds unchecked?
Mr Victor Frank in a comment on X, said, “the problem with the Nigerian government is evident in the banking sector. I cannot imagine how a whooping N44bn will be scattered around without triggering an alert.”

One bank customer on X said because the alleged culprit was stealing bank customer reversal, it was hard for the bank to detect and that this is why bank customers wait endlessly to have their transfers reversed and their bank accounts credited.

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