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Board Chairman of ECOBANK Group to step down

The board chairman of  ECOBANK Group, Kolapo Lawson is to step down as chairman by December 31.

According to a statement from the bank, Mr. Lawson would handover to André Siaka, the Board’s Vice Chair, who would take over as interim Chairman. The bank over the past months has been hit by allegations of bad corporate governance which has led to investigations by authorities in Nigeria and Togo.

Ms do Rego  a former director in charge of risk and finance at the bank last month accused  Kolapo Lawson, the chairman, and Thierry Tanoh, the new chief executive, of attempting to sell off non-core assets at “well below the market value”. She alleges that she was asked to write off debts owed by a real estate company Mr Lawson chairs and to manipulate the bank’s 2012 results to improve those of 2013 when Mr Tanoh was confirmed as CEO – all allegations the bank’s spokesman, Jeremy Reynolds, denies.

She also questions procedures surrounding the approval of a 1.14m dollar  bonus to Mr Tanoh for 2012. This, she claims, is 935,967  dollars above what it would have been under his contract and for a period when he was CEO-designate. Other senior managers had bonuses cut.

Mr Lawson denies he made any attempt to have debt written off and repaid the 1.6bn naira, 10 million dollars  his family real estate company owed to Ecobank last month, when it became due after prior restructuring.

Jeremy Reynolds, Ecobank’s spokesman, said Mr Tanoh’s bonus was raised “with approval from the governance committee”. He said that Ms do Rego had been suspended from her position earlier in August and said of her letter: “The bank takes the allegations very seriously but they are without any foundation.”Mr Lawson has been Chairman of Ecobank since 2009. He was a director of Ecobank Nigeria from 1989 to 1997 and of Ecobank Togo from 1990 to 1993.

Commenting on his decision, Mr. Lawson said: “The last few months have seen huge pressure on the organisation, and on me personally, in the media. These have culminated in allegations, which are untrue, made to the Nigerian SEC on issues of corporate governance.  During this time, I led constructive discussions on the need for independent review of these allegations.  The board has now taken the necessary decisions to appoint independent parties who, I am confident will investigate these allegations and review our corporate governance with the utmost professionalism. In order to give total credibility to these reviews, I have decided it would not be appropriate for me to be the person leading this process.  The Board has assured me of its commitment to seeing these investigations through and I will continue to monitor this as an interested party. I am very conscious of the uncertainty that current media speculation has cast over the institution.  I therefore wish to take the necessary steps to bring this to an end.  As the head of such a respected global institution, I must act when there is even the slightest perception that the interests of that institution might be at risk.  I therefore step aside as Chairman of Ecobank Transnational.”

Speaking on behalf of the Board, Mr. Siaka said: “Kolapo Lawson has been a loyal servant of Ecobank for very many years and has played a major part in shaping the successful organisation we know today. His family is inseparable from Ecobank and Kolapo’s contribution to Ecobank is second to none: over twenty years, as a director of Ecobank Nigeria, of Ecobank Togo and of ETI, he has made a truly outstanding contribution to this great pan-African company.  He has our very sincere thanks for all of his hard work and commitment, his leadership and his good company.