Summary of the first report
Whiteplains British School prepares students for pre-school, primary school, secondary school, Advanced and University Foundation Studies. It also offers Cambridge-accredited one–year A’ Level, Cambridge Traditional two–year A’ Level and University Degree Foundation courses. The school is listed as one of Nigeria’s centres of Edexcel Academic Qualification. As a provisional member of the Council of British International Schools and the New England Association of Schools and Colleges, WBS runs both Nigerian and British curricula.
Seated on a land mass of 4.5 hectares in Abuja, Whiteplains British School has two campuses, a stadium size football field, two standard swimming pools, professional basketball courts, a leadership training centre, separate air-conditioned hostels for male and female students, science laboratories and libraries, ICT hub, language labs, an auditorium, a dance studio, music club, entrepreneurial club, environment club, taekwondo/karate court and art exhibition hall showcasing the works of prodigious students. The school was enlisted as one of the three venues in the 2017 Toyota Nigeria Dream Car Art Contest.
In March 2017 the school put on exhibition a surveillance drone, online store, digital crossword puzzle, prototype of a social networking site and other digital products developed by its students.
In 2013 First Bank approached the college with a loan offer. Proprietor Francis Nwufoh said it came like a harmless gesture, but with the benefit of hindsight, it is now clearly a Greek gift. He wished he never accepted it.
Barely a month after the toxic loan was given; everything Whiteplain had built since inception almost came crashing down. Dreams turned to nightmares as a money war turned into a bitter legal battle that will soon shift from the courtroom to the street, culminating in a takeover manoeuver that saw agents of the bank mounting a blockade with the help of a detachment of policemen.
The twist in Whiteplains’ affairs with the bank was so paralyzing, the school became unable to meet its basic financial commitments, which taking its tolls on the entire school management resulted in what can be described as an exodus of teachers.
Despite inflows from tuition and other fees into the school’s account with First Bank, the college was cut off from funds to meet even the most basic of obligations. For months, the motive for the bank’s action remained a mystery.
Concluding part of the story
A letter from Whiteplains British to First Bank dated 27th May 2015 conveys the school’s astonishment in the bizzare twist of events that were everything but what it bargained for when it accepted the loan offer.
The school lamented non-payment of staff for four months, no money for food and provisions for boarders, no money for day-to-day running of the school and non-payment of electricity bills which not only had plunged the school into darkness but was also agonizing the students most of whom coming from wealthy homes never knew what it was to be in darkness.
A month earlier on 22nd April 2015, the school had sent a similar letter to the bank complaining thus:
“The children resumed since the 19th of April 2015 and up till date, no money has been released for feeding the children in the hostel. This should have been handled as emergency. The situation is very serious!!! In the third paragraph of your letter you reminded us to undertake to pay all school fees into First Bank without suggesting how we should be getting money for day to day running of the school since you have placed all our accounts on lien. … The school is made of human beings and some issues need to be handled immediately without waiting indefinitely for approval from the (bank) headquarters as claimed. In the issue of the last light (electricity) bill, the school was disconnected for close to one month before the approval came in from headquarter.”
Over time, dozens of protest letters were sent to First Bank by Whiteplains. Going months without salaries, some of the teachers resorted to begging parents for money – an act against the school ethics. On 26th May 2015, a Mathematics teacher, Akpan Monday Peter tendered his letter of resignation. Before him a female teacher, Juliet Nnadi, had tendered her resignation letter on 21st April 2015. Other staff members that resigned included Mr Moses Samuel and Ms Vivian Njoku,
The hide and seek game between the school and its banker culminated in an episode narrated in a petition the Nigeria Police on26th July 2018. Titled “PETITION AGAINST ONE MR.BOLA OLOTU FOR CRIMINAL INTIMIDATION, WRONGFUL CONFINEMENT, TRESSPASS AND MISCHIEF, Whiteplain complained against the said Bola Olotu who is a receiver to First Bank. The petition reads in part:
“To our greatest surprise, one Mr. Bola Olotu brought in armed thugs on Sunday 8th July 2018 to the (school) premises, forcefully chased out our students, staff and security personel and sealed the main entrance and pedestal gates with cement and blocks, threatening to attack anyone who attempts to come near the premises. The action has caused colossal damage to our property building, livestock and training equipment.”
“Our students are missing their summer classes as we speak. We therefore call on the Police to intervene on this matter to ensure that the school remains open for normal school operations to continue in line with the court judgment as attached.”
Following this petition was another dated 20th August 2018 to the same Police Command. It was titled ARREST OF ILLEGALLY MOUNTED POLICE OFFICERS BY FIRST BANK OF NIGERIA. It reads:
“The above-named institution (Whiteplains British School) hereby request for the immediate arrest of three security personnel currently at our secondary school gate due to the illegality and the operation of First Bank of Nigeria in violation of court order (photocopy attached).
Yet another petition from Whileplains’ lawyers to the Inspector General of Police gives a more detailed account of one of many invasions of the school by agents of the bank. Dated 10th April 2017 the petitioners said that:
“Precisely on Friday, 7th April 2017, while the Parents Teachers Association (PTA) meeting of the school was ongoing, Mr Bola Olotu stormed the school premises with 3 trucks of heavily armed military police who began chaining and and locking up the main entrance gate of the school, driving away all the parents and students inside the school and pasting the said judgement on the school premises. All attempts to reason with them proved abortive as they kept saying they were there to take over possession of the school further to the ‘judgement’ of the court. Also on Saturday, 6 April 2017, the said Mr. Bola Olotu and his cronies went about painting the wall of the school premises with indiscriminate markings as if to depict that they intend to sell the school.”
The petitioners added that following what they called the shylock antecedents of First Bank, the school has no recourse but to protest the “ill-willed attempt to scuttle the business operations” of the school. They pointed out that none of the court judgements empowered “Mr. Bola Olotu and his cronies to storm the school like a warfare scenario neither was he or FBN given the express orders to chain or lock the main entrance of the school, chase or traumatize parents, students and staff.”
First Bank’s defence before House of Representative panel of Inquiry
During the trial Whiteplains British School and (proprietor) Dr. Francis Nwufoh told the Federal High Court Abuja that because First Bank was holding unto the C of O which Guarantee Trust Bank gave to First Bank upon liquidation of the earlier loan, Whiteplains and Dr Francis Nwufoh were handicapped in using the C of O to source for funds to liquidate Whiteplains’ indebtedness to First Bank.
Consequently the court ordered First Bank to give Whiteplain and Dr Francis access to the property so it could be sold and proceeds used to liquidate indebtedness to First Bank.
First Bank alleges that upon receipt of the original CoC, Dr Francis Nwufoh became evasive and non-committal to giving First Bank a time frame to sell the property and repay the loan as ordered by the court. The bank said it was compelled to apply to the Chief Registrar of the court for enforcement/execution of the said judgement. The Registrar wrote to the Police “for compliance with the part of the judgement that had to do with the Police.”
First Bank also said the judgement was executed “in the late afternoon of 7th April 2017 when the school had vacated. Its lawyers denied that the bank invaded the school with truckload of armed policemen who disrupted the school activities and traumatized pupils, teachers and parents.
On post judgement application on forgery, fraud and super-imposition of signature, the bank said it was after delivery of judgement on 18th November 2016 that Whiteplains filed a motion asking the court to set aside the judgement on grounds of fraud.
Whiteplains is claiming that First Bank forged and super-imposed the signature of a dead man, late Mazi Dr L.C Ibe who is one of the directors of France Lee Nigeria Limited on the Tripartite Deed of Legal Mortage execution.
But the Bank countered that the execution part of the tripartite deed “was cunningly omitted from the exhibited Tripartite Deed of Legal Mortage in Whiteplains originating motion before the court.”
It said” late Mazi Ibe was not part of the signatories to the tripartite deed and as such his signature did not appear on the deed, neither could the same have been forged.
It added that “the court in its ruling on 29th June 2018 held that there was no forgery or fraud on the tripartite deed. The court added that since Whiteplains was aware of the existence of the tripartite deed and never raised any issue of fraud and forgery; doing so after judgement was delivered was an afterthought.
“Dr Francis Nwufoh in his petition to the EFCC dated 11th May 2018 alleges that his signature and that of his wife were forged on the tripartite deed. “This was more than one year since after delivery and execution of judgement. Having been aware of the alleged forgery of his signature and that of his wife, how come he never from the inception of the suit in 2015 brought this fact to the attention of the court.”