By Atek’ojo Usman-Ejima, Abuja
Located on expanse of land in the heart of Abuja, Nigeria’s Federal Capital Territory is Agura Hotels, a five star hospitality industry which was commissioned in 1986 with the Nigeria Ports Authority (NPA) as a core investor with 60% shares. Chief Maxwell Omeire Kanu, a traditional title holder who is the Chairman and Chief Executive of Mr. Omeire Pharmaceuticals and Fasel Services Limited has 20% shares, his heir apparent and the eldest son, Daniel Kanu of the infamous ‘Youth Earnestly Ask for Abacha’ campaign organisation with 10% shares; while10%shares of the hospitality industry was reserved. for future subscribers. No sooner than there was a twist of ownership with Chief M.O. Kanu, a minority shareholder became a self-acclaimed Executive Director and took control of the hotels. He repositioned himself, his family with his eldest son, Daniel Kanu virtually in-charge in day-to-day operations of the sprawling facility which has 156 guest rooms and conference halls of different capacities for well over 32 years. The perils of ownership and control made the management of the Nigeria Ports Authority (NPA) helpless, a situation that led to legal fireworks that lasted for 14 years.
As litigation was ongoing, the five star hotels enjoyed economic boom all those years with effective services to clients coming from across the world into Abuja, the nation’s capital to do business. What further lent credence to high level patronage of Agura Hotels was its strategic location opposite Nigeria Army headquarters and its close proximity to government offices. In Abuja, security is sacrosanct to visitors coming into the Federal Capital Territory, hence, Agura Hotels was the choice of visitors for accommodation. Back then also, were fewer five star hotels in the Federal Capital Territory, such hotels were, Nicon Noga Hotel, before it was changed to Transcorp Hotels and Sheraton Hotels and Towers. Agura Hotels was third ranking in high patronages by the high profile clients, thus, it enjoyed economic boom.
Before the Nigeria Port Authority management took over the facility, the Hotel at a point was like a glorified motel in the jungle due to dilapidated structures and poor services by staff under the former management.
What triggered litigation by the majority shareholders of Agura Hotels, CAPITALWATCH learnt, was the distortions in directorship of the Hotels by Chief Kanu who transmuted from being a minority shareholder into an Executive Director for life. His family was also promoted to life Directors, thereby made the Hotels, purely a family business. The infraction did not go down well with the Management of the Nigeria Ports Authority. The clear breach precipitated the NPA to seek legal option in quest of justice. While running the Hotel as a one man business, Chief Kanu did not account for proceeds from the Hotels for 32 years. He blatantly suspended the Annual General Meeting (AGM) of the Hotels board of Directors which was not in consonance with the provisions of the Companies and Allied Matters Act, 1990 as amended.
In the last 32 years of its operations, CAPITALWATCH, learnt, Chief M.O. Kanu neither called for the Board meeting of all directors nor paid dividends to shareholders of the Hotels. Though, the new board has frozen the accounts of the Hotel which were being operated by the former management, credible sources told this magazine penultimate week that the sum of N18.5 billion (Eighteen Billion, Five Hundred Thousand Naira) was embezzled by Chief M.O. Kanu in the last 32 years he managed the Hotels. The humongous sum of money embezzled by Chief Kanu, the source said, followed the forensic audit of accounts of the hotels by the NPA new management. In a litigation that lasted 14 years, the Federal High Court sitting in Abuja granted judgement in favour of the Nigeria Ports Authority as the owner of Agura Hotels. Given the legal judgement against Chief Maxwell Kanu, and Omeire Pharmaceuticals Limited; the Court further stated interalia, that NPA is also the majority shareholder of Fasel Services, a judgement that was registered with the Corporate Affairs Commission in 2017. In a statement issued by the spokesperson of the NPA, it said, ‘Nigeria Ports Authority has finally taken over Agura Hotels, Abuja.
The statement further said: “Arising from the board meeting of the hotels held on the 20th September, 2017, the NPA Management stated that it has assumed full control of the establishment with its Managing Director, Hadiza Bala Usman as Chairman while Chief Michael Kayode Ajayi has been appointed as the interim General Manager of the hotel.” “The new board of the Hotel pointed out that an approved forensic audit of the Hotels be carried out immediately while the head of Finance of the Hotel steps down handing over all relevant financial instrument of the company to the newly appointed General Manager.” “In addition, the Board directed that all bank accounts hitherto operated by the previous handlers be frozen while new accounts be opened to enable swift and continuous operation of the Hotel”, the statement added.
Despite unaccounted huge revenues in those years, Mr. Daniel Kanu, the son of Chief M.O. Kanu who co-managed the operations of Agura Hotels had at the twilight of his exit from the hotels claimed there was N1.5billion liabilities, while asking the new NPA led management to pay. Reacting to the N1.5 billion demand, the new management, headed by the interim General Manager, Chief Michael Kayode Ajayi, who queried the rationale behind such claims, explained that there was an end to an era of fraud and mismanagement of public resources by a single individual, adding that somebody who singlehandedly managed Agura Hotels for 32 years without accountability cannot turn round to claim liabilities. “Can you imagine how Chief Kanu and his family operated Agura hotels for 32 years and upon court judgement sacking them, his son, Daniel Kanu claimed there was outstanding debt of N1.5 billion to be paid?” “What happened to the proceeds of the Company in the last 32 years he was in-charge without interference from anywhere despite that he was a minority shareholder?”, he queried.
Moreso, Chief M. O. Kanu management of Agura Hotels allegedly sold part of the plots within the complex to his son, Daniel who built a private office complex popularly known as ‘glass house’. The agreement between the management of Agura hotel and Daniel Kanu involving the said plot and as reflected in the certificate of occupancy gave the beneficiary (Kanu) 70 years occupation of the plot.