John Darlington is the former managing director of defunct Bond Bank that merged with other banks to form Skye Bank. In this interview, he talks about the formation of Bond Bank, what led to his arrest and detention, and eventual exoneration. Excerpt:
The Bond Bank dream
The dream started while I was working at Lead Bank. I was an asset to Olashore, who owned the bank. I was close to his friends who knew that I was a strong support for his son, Bimbo who was CEO of the bank. Unknown to me, whenever, Olashore went to the village at Ijebu Ijesha and later to Iloko to spend the weekend, which we can’t do now because the roads are bad, he used to tell Joseph Sanusi, who later became the governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), ‘Thank God for John Darlington. If not for him, I will not have a bank.’
The move to get a banking licence
So, when I turned up one day when he was the governor of the CBN and said, Daddy, ‘I want to apply for a banking license’ He said, ‘Ah! ‘Where will you find the money?’ I said ‘I have the money.’ He said, ‘Do you know the people?’ I said, ‘Yes’ but I lied.
The capital for a banking licence
When I went to him, the share capital of a bank was N500million. I knew where I was going to get the N500 million. I knew the people. It was clean money. I had the list of the potential shareholders with me but he didn’t ask for the list. If he had asked, I would have shown him. However, by the time I was ready to submit my banking application, the minimum capital requirement had gone up to N1billion. It was a stretch but I knew where I could get the clean money to meet up with the capital requirement. Again, by the time the licensing process began, the minimum capital requirement had been raised to N2 billion. By this time, I had resigned from Lead Bank; In fact, they kicked me out as soon as I dropped by resignation letter without my car or anything. I had to ask my secretary to bring my things home.
A timely help
On my way home after my resignation, I stopped by my opposite neighbour, my Egbon and a friendly gentleman, a man with style and elegance who looks out for me up till tomorrow. His name is Remi Makanjoula. I said, ‘Egbon, I need an office tomorrow morning.’ He obliged me without even asking what I needed the office for. I had a table. His office then, was a boutique Investment Bank. His house, a jewel of peace. So, I had serenity in the environment to work. All I did, was wear my ‘buba and shokoto’. I have a book, had my coffee and plenty of quality time to reflect. After two weeks, I told my wife, let’s go on vacation because I was bruised and I was tired over the unceremonious way I had left Lead Bank.
My quest for a banking license
It was tedious, it was rugged, it was challenging. I had no much savings but had some few investments in stocks and shares, which is the beauty of working in a bank. Take a loan, buy shares, and pay back. So, I went to Chartered Bank, and pledged my shares. They gave me six million overdrafts, which became a life wire for my household and myself. To cut a long story short, raising N2 billion became a problem. I got to a clean N1.2billion, but going beyond that became tough. I met a friend. He was the General Manager of LSDPC at that time and I shared my story with him. He said, I will take you to somebody and I think he will invest and he took me to meet the person that night on Isaac John street, Ikeja Lagos. I went with him and his contact introduced me to another fine gentleman. He said, talk with John, I have decided to invest N500 million in his dream and that was 25 per cent of N2 billion. I had N1.7 billion and that changed the story. But that money was an albatross. In life, if a young professional has a dream and he is looking for capital, please don’t take a capital at any cost. My counsel and advice is, ‘Let go of your dream today if you cannot vouch for the capital. That is if you want to do good business. ‘This is because dirty money will smell someday.’
Finally had the license
We got the license on the 29th day of July 2002 and that day remains remarkable in my life. On the 31st day October 2002, I received the original banking license after it was signed. On the 1st day November, 2002, Bond Bank opened its doors to the public for the business of Banking.
This is the license (showing up a copy of the original license and face lighting up) and it is still with me. The original license of Bond Bank is still with me. What a country! Under the consolidation guidelines of the CBN, the rule is return all consolidating banks license before we issue you the new one. How do you explain to Nigerians that 13 years after, I still have original license of Bond Bank.
How I was arrested
I was coming back from New York, searching for the best options that would give me the window to continue the quest, the dream and the vision we had for Bond Bank. I landed in London from New York, and they said there was no seat for me on connecting to Lagos. So, I said I would go into Abuja in the night. The only person I called was my company secretary. I said tell them in Abuja, I am coming in Sunday morning. Arrange for a car for me to go and freshen up. Get me a flight on Virgin Nigeria to get me into Lagos on a 10.00am flight. I did not know that my company secretary had sold me out, and I will tell you why they sold me. The man I said I met in Isaac John who invested N500 million wanted to be the biggest shareholder in Skye Bank and was pushing everybody into the group saying we should go and merge. My friend and brother who was the most visible shareholder in the board at that time went and met with other prospective shareholders who demanded for my contract with Bond Bank. When they showed him he said the contract is too strong. We would not merge with you if John is part of the merger. You guys go and take care of him. The only condition that that could void the contract I had with Bond Bank was the issue of integrity and at that time, there was a topical issue in town, Tafa Balogun and his issues. So they asked one of my executive directors to go and write a petition to EFCC that Tafa’s money, N1.2billion is with John Darlington and he indeed ill-advisedly wrote a petition to EFCC because they had promised they would make him managing director.
When I landed in Lagos, I was picked up by EFCC operatives from the airport. I thought it was a joke; I have never been to a police station all my life. The officer that came to arrest me is today my good friend and I admire him because he is a fine gentleman man. He took me to their office in the company of my wife. When we got to there, he said, ‘you are under arrest for laundering money for Tafa Balogun. I said, I do not know Tafa Balogun. Thank God Tafa is out now and alive. I do not know Tafa and I have never met Tafa. The EFCC later asked me and other board members who had also been arrested to start writing our statements. As I was writing, I was asking the company secretary to read and she was reading to show you how my mind was working not knowing she had sold out and that I was inadvertently arming the enemy against me. In the evening, the officer who arrested us called his superiors and asked if they could let me go. But his superior officers said No! You can’t release him. The officer then said, if I cannot release him, I would keep everybody. This document (showing us a document) is dated 23rd September. I was picked up on the 18th, and a board meeting was already fixed on the 19th of September, indicating that a script was being played out.
My pain and anguish
Headlines of Nigerian Newspapers on the 19th of September, 2005 all screamed ‘Bond Bank MD arrested by EFCC’. My life has turned around since then. Banking is based on character, name and integrity. You saw what happened recently in Fidelity Bank. The board defended and stood resolutely behind their MD. But in Bond Bank, my board trashed my name. You know what is most painful? Everything I tried to do ever since failed because each time I try to do international business, they do due diligence. They Google John Darlington, and my case with EFCC appear. I slipped into depression, because I was not a crook. I locked myself in the room. I just abandoned myself in the room.
Health issues, challenges, pain, frustration, anger
I was upset with myself. How did I end up here? I asked. Because I was in company of crooks, bandits, criminals. But after 13 years I have decided it is time to come out with my narrative and trigger off a conversation that will sanitize our Banking institutions. The EFCC could not establish any case against me. They combed and combed. I have shown you my contract. Three per cent of Bond bank’s profits was my bonus. My drive was to build a solid bank, deliver value and cash. I had a contract for 10 years and my last bonus at the end of ten years was to be my salary for life. I was sorted out as far as I was concerned but I didn’t know I was in bed with crooks and hooligans and time has shown they are all crooks and hooligans who ought to be spending time in jails.
In my church in the last two Sundays, you would have seen me dancing and rejoicing endlessly. You know why? In December, I woke up and my pain was gone, my frustration was gone, my misery was gone, that was when I healed and for the first time. I love banking but what is happening in banking is sad and painful. I think its time for us to start doing some restructuring of institutions. Central Bank needs to be restructured; it needs to go through a purge. My pain is, crooks used institutions to deny me my career, used institution to ruin me, what a country.
Why am I telling my story now?
My two sons are coming back home this year. They have been schooling abroad and are men in their own rights. I want them to know their father did not steal money; their father is a honest professional who was just unfortunate to be in bed with wrong people who were crooks. I will not conclude this interview without showing gratitude to some people who made a difference in my career. One of them is Joseph Sanusi, I will ever be grateful to this man of uncommon honour; of impeccable character that ensured due process was followed in the licensing of Bond Bank. I also owe eternal gratitude to late Oladele Olashore and his son Bimbo for the opportunity to cut my teeth in the banking industry. Not until Dr. Shamsideen, then CBN deputy governor, certified that the process had been completed was the license issued. The day Sanusi came to see me in EFCC cell that was the day I cried. I felt I betrayed him because he had hopes for that license but because of the thieves and rogues we ended up where we did. However, Bond Bank was a success. I ran a fine bank. Bond Bank was the first bank in the history of banks in this country that the Central Bank has allowed to pay dividends after one year of operation. You know why? I wrote off all my pre-incorporation expenses in year one. (Source: BusinessDay)