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ABLACS, its beginning and journey so far …..

The Association of Banks’ Legal Advisers and Company Secretaries ABLACS) was established out of an initiative to forge a common front to issues affecting the industry as a whole. Following the receipt of a letter from the Federal Inland Revenue Service (“FIRS”) several banks where the Commissioner for Stamp Duties of the FIRS asked each of the banks to provide evidence of payment of ad valorem stamp duties on various categories of documents listed in the letter for the period 2011 to 2015 and a newspaper publication by the FIRS dated 1st December 2016, Mrs. Sola Fagbure, Company Secretary/Legal Adviser of Citibank Nigeria Limited reached out to colleagues across the industry who were General Counsel and Company Secretaries of their banks on the need to hold a meeting to discuss how to address the issues. That meeting took place on 1st June 2017 at Citibank Nigeria Limited’s head office at Kofo Abayomi Street, Victoria Island, Lagos.

The meeting discussed the main agenda extensively and agreed on a number of actions to resolve the issue. The meeting also discussed other matters of common concern in the industry including the directive of the Central Bank of Nigeria for banks to impose a stamp duty of N50.00 on each deposit into the account of bank customers and a couple of litigation on the issue as well as frequent requests from the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to banks to freeze customers’ accounts and the cost of complying with garnishee orders.

The meeting was attended by 18 persons from 14 banks and ended with a resolution that the platform should be sustained as a permanent forum for addressing common legal issues in the industry. Sterling Bank Plc hosted the next meeting two weeks later and subsequent meetings were held monthly at different banks through 2017.

Eventually, a decision was taken to formally inaugurate an Executive Committee for the Association and the first Executive Committee was elected at a meeting held at Union Bank of Nigeria Plc on 16 August 2022. The following officers were elected into the Executive Committee of the Association:

  1. Chairperson – Mrs. Sola Fagbure (Citibank)
  2. Vice Chairperson – Mr. Kehinde Dawodu (Ecobank)
  3. Secretary – Mr. Sesan Sobowale (Union Bank)
  4. Assistant Secretary – Mr. Femi Aiyegbusi (Sterling Bank)
  5. Treasurer – Mr. Tony Ibekwe (FCMB)

One of the immediate tasks of the Executive Committee was to implement the decision to formally register the Association as a Legal entity. A Committee was set up to draft a Constitution for the Association and a number of very accomplished legal practitioners who had served in the industry at one point, or the other were nominated to serve as Trustees of the Association. All the nominated Trustees comprising of Mr. Yemi Adeola, former Company Secretary/Legal Adviser of Citibank Nigeria Limited who was at the time Managing Director/CEO of Sterling Bank Plc, Mrs. Abimbola Izu, former Company Secretary/Legal Adviser and later Executive Director of Skye bank Plc (now Polaris Bank Limited), Alhaji Tijjani Borodo, former Company Secretary of First Bank of Nigeria Holdings Plc, Mrs. Angela Omo-Dare, Country Head of Legal Services at Stanbic IBTC Holdings Plc and Mrs. Nkechi Nwosu, former Company Secretary/Legal Advisers of Diamond Bank Plc accepted the nominations and agreed to serve as the pioneer Trustees of ABLACS.

With the support of the Law Firm of Aluko & Oyebode, which provided legal services pro bono, the Incorporated Trustees of Association of Banks’ Legal Advisers and Company Secretaries (ABLACS) was registered by the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) on 4th May 2018 with Registration Number CAC/IT/NO 110718 as a corporate body.

Mrs Sola Fagbure

CitiBank Nigeria Ltd

Mr. Kehinde Dawodu

EcoBank Nigeria Plc

Mr. Sesan Sobowale

Union Bank Plc

Mr. Femi Aiyegbusi

Sterling Bank Plc

Mr. Tony Ibekwe

FCMB Plc

On 31st January 2020, at a meeting hosted by Heritage Bank Plc, the second Executive Committee of ABLACS was elected into office. This Executive Committee was inaugurated on Saturday, 6th June 2020 at an induction ceremony (held virtually due to the Covid-19 pandemic restrictions) and comprises of the following officers:

  1. Mr. Sesan Sobowale (Chairman) – Head, Legal Services, Union Bank of Nigeria Plc
  2. Mr. Sunday Ekwochi (Vice Chairman) – Company Secretary, Access Bank Plc
  3. Mrs. Cornelia Utuk (Secretary) – Head, Legal and Company Secretary, Coronation Merchant Bank Limited
  4. Mr. Johnson Lebile (Treasurer) – Head, Legal and Company Secretary, Wema Bank Plc

Mr. Alawusa Adewuyi (Legal Adviser/Company Secretary of FBN Quest Merchant Bank) was elected Assistant Secretary, but he left FBN Quest at the end of April 2020. That position was left vacant until June 2020 when Mrs. Tolulope Adetugbo, Mr. Adewuyi’s successor as Company Secretary/Head, Legal was approached by the Executive Committee and agreed to replace Mr. Adewuyi as Assistant Secretary in line with the Bye Law of ABLACS.

With Mrs. Cornelia Utuk leaving her position as Company Secretary/Legal Adviser of Coronation Merchant Bank Limited to pursue other opportunities outside the industry, Mrs. Adetugbo has been named substantive Secretary of ABLACS and a successor will be chosen to fill the position of Assistant Secretary in due course.

Achievements

Since that first meeting hosted by Citibank Nigeria Limited on 1st June 2017, ABLACS’ modest achievements include the following:

Joint defence of Suit No. FHC/ABJ/CS/911/2017 – Federal Republic of Nigeria & Anor Vs. Access Bank Plc & Ors.

We worked together as an industry to appoint joint legal representation and working with our external lawyers, we ensured that we presented the best case possible on behalf of the banks, obtained a favourable ruling and liaised with our lawyers to resolve all outstanding issues including the implications of the ruling and the Notice of Discontinuance filed by the Applicants against the CBN and Zenith Bank, etc.

ABLACS’ Strategic Plan (2020 – 2022)

Developed a 2020 – 2022 Strategic Plan for the Association comprising of the following pillars:

  • Create Platform for Efficient Service Delivery
  • Capacity Building
  • Recognition and Relevance
  • Leaving our operating environment better than we met it by spearheading necessary reforms to the mortgage perfection process in Nigeria starting with Lagos State and tackling the negative impact of abuse of the garnishee proceedings

Capacity Building Programmes

Between 2018 till date, we have organised the following programmes:

Seminar on Recent Developments in Labour and Employment Law in the Banking Industry held at the Chartered Institute of Bankers of Nigeria (CIBN) on Thursday, 2nd May 2019

Managing the Perfection Process in Lagos State in an Era of Covid-19 – A Dialogue with the Attorney-General of Lagos State and the Registrar of Titles held virtually on 06 May 2020

Webinar on Emerging Employment Issues for Banks in the Covid-19 and Post Covid-19 World, facilitated by Mr. Bimbo Atilola, an accomplished Law expert held on 15 May 2020

Training on the Legal Aspects of Digital Banking held virtually on 26 November 2021 facilitated by experts from the law firm of Jackson, Etti, & Edu and the Chief Digital Officer of Wema Bank Plc, Mr. Olusegun Adeniyi

Others include enlightenment sessions during ABLACS’ Quarterly meetings on several legal issues of relevance to the banking industry facilitated by leading experts from Andersen Tax, PriceWaterhouseCoopers, Aluko & Oyebode, Olaniwun Ajayi LP, etc.

The National Seminar on Banking and Allied Matters organised annually for Judges of superior courts of record by the Chartered Institute of Bankers of Nigeria (CIBN) and the National Judicial Institute (NJI)

Since 2018, ABLACS has participated in and chaired the Planning Committee for this very important platform for engagement with our judicial officers which continued to record impressive attendance from both the Judiciary and the banking industry

Collaboration With the Lagos State Government to Improve the Perfection Process in Lagos State

We are currently working on an initiative to improve the perfection process in Lagos State and have held a number of engagement meetings on this issue where we are building an important relationship for the resolution of issues affecting the industry with these key stakeholders

Legislative Advocacy

We have championed the inputs of the industry into several landmark legislations and legislative proposals and parliamentary hearings. These include inputs into the Banks and Other Financial Institutions Bill 2020, Amendment to the Companies Regulations 2021 made pursuant to the Companies and Allied Matters Act 2020, the Bill to amend the Bank Employees, Etc. (Declaration of Assets) Act, Cap 81, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2014, and response to the House of Representatives’ Committee on Capital Market’s demand for Management Letters issued in the course of the statutory audits of each bank, etc.

Advocacy Visits to Key Stakeholders

  • Honourable Chief Judge of Lagos State

  • Honourable Chief Judge of the Federal Capital Territory

  • Acting Registrar-General of the CAC 

  • President of the Chartered Institute of Bankers of Nigeria

  • Permanent Secretary, Lands Bureau, Lagos State

  • Registrar of Titles, Lagos State

Social events

We had our first Social Event on …. November 2018 hosted by Diamond Bank Plc and the second on 17 December 2021. These events are designed to foster personal interactions with colleagues across the industry and to build friendships and strengthen our relationships. The 2021 event received sponsorship support from Bank of Industry, Union Bank of Nigeria Plc, Unity Bank Plc and First bank of Nigeria Holdings Plc.