It is about one year since Albert Okumagba passed. As the tributes flowed, my mind went back to the day I lost N3.2 billion in one transaction and the role he played.
Mai Mustapha was my boss at Habib Bank and he had sent for me. “Edgar we want to buy a lot of First Bank shares and we need a house with a heart that can do it.” I said “how much” and he said, “over N3billion” to which I then responded emphatically, “do not worry, search no more we will do it, just give me the mandate.”
He said coolly, “Come back tomorrow”. I went back to the office and didn’t tell a soul. I didn’t want the transaction jinxed considering that I was bringing in one of the biggest transactions ever as a young stockbroker.
I had just joined BGL one of Nigeria’s premier and largest investment houses at the time. I had worked barely two years in the company so a deal like this was pivotal to my development as a rising stockbroker. BGL was also a very successful high performing investment house with some of the greatest talents in the market.
From Tony Nwozor who was an oracle to Joseph Ashley who could read the market perfectly to Sunday Adebola who was a professor, we had talents. Wale Oluwo had just joined at the time and he came with an uncanny sagacity. Another stockbroker, Chinwe a young but very bullish investor was also on the team. We all reported to the wise Henry who to date I still reckon is one of the most gifted but undersong investment bankers ever.
The next day, I went with Henry for the meeting and the transactions were concluded and the mandate letter was issued. I came back into the office on a White Horse. The news had spread like wildfire, “Edgar had brought a N3 billion transaction.” Everyone sang my praises while some wished they were me.
Then Albert sent for me. He was legendary and lion-hearted, tall, handsome and likeable. His confidence was out of this world and you sank in front of him when he faced you. He was charisma itself.
“Oga,” he bellowed, “You have done well and you have a home in BGL. These are the kinds of men we need here because we are taking this market.” I was happy! He was my lord and I wanted to be like him. I even walked like him and tried to talk like him so this endorsement was worth its weight in gold.
Then the trades started. The traders started buying with Mr Nwozor leading a crack team of some of the most brilliant traders including the Adebola (the Whiz Kid) as they started buying strategically so as not to push price. A huge buy order like that can move the market, hence the need to use all the dexterity required. Mr Nwozor and his team were the best.
Back then, we did not have the technology that allows you close transactions within a day as you buy first (especially for an institution) while they will settle three days after. It was called T+3. So we needed to fill up the buy order ahead.
As we bought, the more experienced Henry came to the trading room. “Edgar when are they paying” as he sounded a note of warning. I responded to him assuring him, “No. Don’t worry, they are credible.” He said, “ok when we reach the N3b mark hold until they pay.” I responded in the affirmative.
As we hit the mark and crossed it, I called Mustapha. “Sir, we need to be funded,” and he said, “no problem come tomorrow which was the exact T+ 3.” By this time, the red flag had been flown. If they moved the funds from the bank, the next day, it will still take 3 working days. As mentioned, back in the day, banking transactions were not real-time like it is today. I started getting jittery and afraid that things could go wrong. At that point, Henry asked me again, “Edgar are you sure? If this doesn’t work BGL is gone.”
I knew what he was talking about. The transaction was just shy of our share capital of N3.5b, thus I feared if things go wrong, I could be the one to wreck BGL. As Henry spoke, I could see the anxiety in his eyes. I went home that day with my heart in my mind.
I love big transactions like this. I remember the N1.3 billion I brought in during the BGL private placement some years back. Big transactions drive adrenaline in a way you cannot imagine. But that night I could not sleep. I was worried, so I pondered again.
Mustapha was a veteran in the market and he also trained me at Habib, while he also represented some very credible interests. A cognate professional who was not prone to frivolity. He would not give me a vacuous mandate.
Despite the consolation, I stayed wide awake till 4 am until my security guard knocked on my door, informing me that there was a prophet outside who wanted to see me. I looked out at the balcony towards the prophet and he said, “come down I have a message for you from the Lord.” I did not know him and neither did I attend any “Aladura” church.
“Which message o”, I asked. But since I was already afraid, I went down to him to listen to his message.
“You are expecting a payment today but they will not pay, things will happen, but you will not be touched,” he professed.
I knelt down and said, “Baba pls noooooo. Who sent you o.” He said he had to leave that he came all the way from Agege on foot and he was going back. He had delivered the message
I stayed there in tears. My son, Etekamba came down he was about 5years old and didn’t understand what was going on. I went up, took my bath and went to work. Somehow, I knew the payment would not be made as I believed the message of the prophet was too precise to be a coincidence.
I sat on my chair and regretted the day I was employed. They should have left me, now I have brought my bad luck to end such a beautiful company.
Then, Henry called and asked Nwozor to follow me to Mustapha. We went and saw him. He was calm as he assured us that instructions had been sent and that payment would surely be made. He was waiting for feedback. Nwozor said we should go back since he had to trade.
As we entered our car, Nwozor was in a jovial mood but my gloom didn’t leave me. I just knew that something would happen. Then, a text came, I checked and it was Mustapha. “Edgar, sorry client has cancelled”, the text read I wasn’t shocked after all the prophet had told me what was to happen. I showed Nwozor the text and he screamed, “Edgar has finished BGL.”
Before we got to the office, the news had hit everywhere, with several employees holed up in clusters talking sheepishly. I was in tears and only a colleague, Flora, came to console me saying it is ok. “Don’t worry Albert will sort it out,” she encouraged. She kept saying “don’t worry Albert will sort it.”
Soon after, Thomas, who was in charge of internal control sent for me. He was my peer at work but that did not stop him from assuming control to summon me. This was a rogue as far as he was concerned. Within minutes they had set up a small panel to try me. Just like the way they try a coup plotter. It was the office upstairs, facing the stairs immediately after Henry and Chibundu’s office (if you were used to the BGL office at the time).
Thomas started asking me funny and almost stupid questions. I just looked at him wondering why he was wasting our time. Just sack me make I dey go. Just then, Wale sent for me. Wale Oluwo was a veteran and fearless individual. He said, “Edgar, pull in as many people as possible into this mess. This is the only way you will come out unscathed.”
I looked at him and for the first time, I had a glimpse of hope. He said, “let’s go see Henry.”
He told Henry in no uncertain terms, this boy is a marketer. He said, “His job is to go bring business which he had done excellently well. He is not a trader, he didn’t buy the stocks. He is not internal control who didn’t put any controls. So the internal control sat there and N3b left the system and he suddenly woke up.”
He asked, “Where are the board limits per institutional investor that was not adhered to?”
As Wale spoke I felt like kissing him. I could see my life coming back. He finally ended by saying, “Henry please let’s focus and see how BGL can come out of this wahala, Edgar has done nothing wrong”
Henry looked at me the way you look at a chicken who had just been saved from the jaws of a dog. He said, “go Albert is calling you.”
I entered Albert’s office passing through gentle Alex Ashi, Alberts PA. He was a nice and friendly giant. He said “Edgar don’t worry Albert will sort it. Don’t cry.” I responded to him saying, “thank you.”
Immediately Albert saw me. He stood up from his chair with a warm smile, “Oga why did your people do that to you?” to which I responded, “I don’t know.”
“Are they not Habib people,” he continued. I said “yes”. I told him they said their client cancelled on them too and that they were also confused too.
He put his hands on my shoulders and said, “We need these kinds of transactions. We need people like you. Get closer to Mustapha, we need him. Get me some more of those transactions. Well done.”
I left his office wondering what kind of person I had just met.
Albert remained calm when his company was about to be folded up. His confidence was infectious and true to Flora’s words, Albert sorted it.
So how did Albert resolve it?
Resolving it took some time, however, it did work. He immediately took a bridge from a bank and waited out the price movement. As we received dividends on the stock, the share price also appreciated within time. Once it crossed our average cost price, we sold and cleared the hole.
Lesser people would have been in a panic and looking to make scapegoats of people, especially me. But Albert saw the talent I had as a salesman and trusted that we would make money from the transaction. Had he fired me, a talent would have been lost. l went on to secure a N1.9 billion inflow in another private placement investment just a year after the event occurred.
As we remember Albert one year after, I must say that we will not see his type in this Nigeria in a long while.
Sleep well sir.