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HealthPlus Crisis: Leo Stan Ekeh, Serial Entrepreneur Denies Involvement

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Mr Leo Stan Ekeh, Zinox Chairman

The Senior Special Assistant (SSA) to the Zinox Chairman, Leo Stan Ekeh has cleared the air on the controversy surrounding the troubled Nigerian healthcare firm, HealthPlus and the alleged involvement of Mr Ekeh, in the company’s crisis with its investors, Alta Semper, a private equity firm.

The clarification was made public in a detailed statement signed by Barrister Reginald Obiakor, Mr Ekeh’s SSA on Legal Affairs.

Specifically, Ekeh, who disclosed that Mrs Bukky George, the embattled CEO of HealthPlus, had first reached out to him to mentor her on the 31st of March 2020, revealed that his only offence was advising her to settle her misunderstanding with her investors in order to save her business and to avoid damaging the growing investor confidence in Nigerian startups and nothing more.

‘‘Mr Ekeh feels extremely sad that he has to publicly explain his business relationship with Mrs Bukky George, founder and CEO of HealthPlus and her investors – Alta Semper. She is a respectably married woman, a mother and a sound entrepreneur. But it is critical that we set the records straight for the benefit of posterity. For the records, Mrs George had first contacted Mr Ekeh via a text message at 4.13 am on the 31st of March 2020, introducing herself and requesting a time to call him.

‘‘He replied her at 8:45 am and asked her to call at 10 am. She called and they spoke. She told him how she has followed his very successful digital entrepreneurial story for years and would like him to mentor her. She also requested that he assists her finance her importation of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) with well over $1m and that she could share the profit with him 50/50. But Mr Ekeh wanted to know a little more about her business before committing funds and she spent about 30 minutes, telling him her life history.

‘‘Impressed by her narration, he had told her she was a miracle child and that God has destined her for greatness. Indeed, Mr Ekeh was excited to assist her to make some funds available to support her business. The Zinox Chairman is well aware of the challenges faced by women entrepreneurs in Africa, how they are marginalized by the system. His mother, wife and two daughters are all entrepreneurs, though successful, he feels their pain.

‘‘Mrs George passed across her Chinese contact and Mr Ekeh forwarded it to his consultant in China. The consultant came back a few hours later to inform that the company Mrs George was looking to do business with was into agricultural trading and was not worth more than $250,000. Over the next two days, Mr Ekeh had spent over three hours, speaking to various contacts in Nigeria and the US on her behalf. In the end, he had discovered no PPEs existed. It would have been a disaster. However, owing to the due diligence he carried out, Mrs George did not lose any money and she thanked him for investigating it.

‘‘A few days later, Mrs George requested a loan of N2bn to support her business in meeting growing demands during the severe months of the COVID-19 pandemic and promised to pay back. She claimed God sent her to Mr Ekeh after she failed to secure assistance from some well-known Nigerian Yoruba billionaires (whose names we have decided not to mention at this point). At this stage, he had asked for the configuration of her investors because you cannot extend a loan to a corporate body without a Board resolution. It was at this point that she mentioned her PE investors – Alta Semper and the issues she was having with them.

‘‘The Executive Management of Alta Semper are well known to Mr Ekeh because they wanted a partnership with Konga after the company announced the launch of Konga Health in June last year. They wanted to plug into Konga’s advanced technology infrastructure, regional warehouse network, digital logistics and CBN-licensed payment system.

‘‘In fact, her investors are at home in Mr Ekeh’s UK home and he was comfortable with the integrity and quality of the funders of Alta Semper; even as he noted that they had huge resources to fund HealthPlus without relying on bank loans. Consequently, Mr Ekeh had told Mrs George it would be difficult for him to extend or guarantee a facility to her, owing to the issues she was having with her investors as he needed to secure his investment. He assured her that her investors as majority shareholders have all resources she needed to turn around the company and he knew them very well but thought their investment was in MedPlus Ltd.

‘‘Immediately after that call, Mr Ekeh had put a call through to the CEO of Alta Semper to ask why they were not funding HealthPlus. The CEO had poured out their frustrations with Mrs George, stating that even to secure a meeting, she wouldn’t pick or return their calls and expressed how disappointed they were at the development. She assured Mr Ekeh that they were willing to invest more money in the business, only if Mrs George would respect the terms of their engagement, and that they needed more comfort with respect to corporate governance issues, etc. Further, she pleaded with Mr Ekeh to help intervene since Mrs George seemed to be close to him and respects him a lot.

‘‘After extracting this commitment from them and speaking with their big boss in Manhattan who is globally known, Mr Ekeh had spent over a month unsuccessfully trying to convince Mrs George on why she should find a middle ground with her investors in order to save her business as they were majority shareholders. He had also advised that the current impasse with them has the potential of damaging investor confidence in other Nigerian startups.

Embattled HealthPlus CEO, Bukky George

‘‘However, Mrs George had remained adamant and insisted that she was heading to court.

‘‘Mr Ekeh had reminded her that no sensible person who wanted her progress would advise her to fight with her majority investors at the peak of her fortunes. To further make her see reason, Mr Ekeh had invited Mrs George to his office in Victoria Island on August 26, 2020, after her family’s COVID-19 challenge. She arrived alone at 11:41 am. It is important to state, at this juncture, that this was the first true physical meeting between Mr Ekeh and Mrs George. Again, his impression of her at this point was of a brilliant entrepreneur with a lot of positive energy.

‘‘Mr Ekeh had spent the next three hours, in the company of his wife, Mrs Chioma Ekeh, pleading with Mrs George to see a reason not to embark on a messy suit with her investors and the need to find an amicable solution that works for both parties. Mr Ekeh had specifically told her that entrepreneurs in Nigeria are disadvantaged and reeled out a lot of examples to back up his claims in the course of pleading with her. Ekeh had told her that the consequences of a fight with her investors would have a number of detrimental effects on her business including potential withdrawal of suppliers, pressure from bankers to recover any existing facilities and stoppage of future loans as well as the loss of trust from the global investor community on her brand and person.”

Furthermore, he had assured her that God, who had brought her thus far in business, would not desert her, urging her to apply common sense.

In the words of Mr Ekeh: ‘‘I promised to help her to the best of my ability for her to succeed. I confided in her that Alta Semper had earlier shown an interest in investing in Konga and would like to take advantage of its huge resources to scale at a very low entry cost across Africa and that because of this, I had also considered investing a little sum in their African vehicle. Alta Semper has huge investments in Kenya, Morocco and Egypt and I had advised them to add Ghana because of my interest.

‘‘As her mentor and as a mark of respect, I told Mrs George that I had asked the management of Konga to suspend further discussions with Alta Semper until they resolved their differences with Mrs George and HealthPlus. I even went as far as promising some incentives to HealthPlus, all in a bid to discourage her from fighting.’’

‘‘Mr Ekeh had ended the meeting by urging Mrs George to see the huge opportunities for her, the business and her family. He had further asked her to pray over the matter and get back to him on her decision. Two days after, she had written Mr Ekeh to state that she was going ahead with her course of action against her investors.

‘‘Thereafter, Mr Ekeh had acknowledged her response, even as he further implored her to reconsider her decision for the sake of her business. This was where Mr Ekeh had left the subject until our attention was drawn to the initial allegations from Mrs George that Mr Ekeh was involved in a planned takeover of her business. We had first dismissed this, only to learn that she had written a private letter to former President Olusegun Obasanjo – (a man who, as President, honoured Mr Ekeh as an Icon of Hope and pride to modern Nigeria on Nigeria’s Independence Anniversary on October, 1st, 2001) – which she had proceeded to circulate to the press before the former President even saw the letter.

‘‘It is also important to respond to the allegations that Mr Ekeh had appointed a certain Chidi Okoro to take over HealthPlus. Mr Okoro, whom Mrs George refers to, is a first-class business leader who is well known in the FMCG and Pharmaceutical sectors to Mr Ekeh for years. He is a brilliant Nigerian who has managed successful multinationals across Africa. Mr Ekeh had first referred Mr Okoro to a global Health Foundation who were looking for a proven hand for a research consultancy in Africa. The Foundation was keen to appoint a Kenyan before they took Mr Ekeh’s advice and appointed Mr Okoro for the role. A month later, they had called Mr Ekeh, expressing satisfaction with the choice of Mr Okoro and effusively appreciating Mr Ekeh for the referral. To set the records straight, Mr Ekeh was not informed or consulted when Alta Semper engaged him on a six months’ consultancy to turn around HealthPlus. He had only heard of it from reports in the media, contrary to the claims by Mrs George. Mr Ekeh is certain Mr Okoro, at his level, will not accept the CEO position of HealthPlus, after leading bigger multinationals.

‘‘In closing, Mr Ekeh feels highly embarrassed by some of the potentially libellous allegations made by Mrs George and believes that she has been very unfair to someone who had only meant well for her. He expressly authorizes her to publish for public consumption all emails and WhatsApp communication they had both exchanged.  Also, he pleads with friends and associates to allow Mrs George the respect and privacy she deserves as he has learned another lesson in his entrepreneurship pursuit. He also advises startups or those looking for investors to respect agreements entered into for global investors to have faith in the Nigerian economy.’’

 

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Vehicular Traffic: FAAN Advises Passengers To Get To Airports Early

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The Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) wishes to advise passengers and airport users, particularly those at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja to get to the airport early so as to complete their check-in procedures in good time and avoid the unpleasant experiences associated with missing their flights.

FAAN said Friday morning in a statement signed by Mrs Henrietta Yakubu, General Manager, Corporate Affairs that this advice has become necessary, as passengers are likely to go through a little delay at the entrance to the terminals, due to built-up vehicular traffic occasioned by an increase in passenger traffic being witnessed presently.

“The Authority will like to assure passengers and other airport users that all hands are on deck to ensure swift facilitation and reduce the congestion to the barest minimum,” Yakubu said in the statement.

 

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Africa Data Centres Confirms Building 10MW Data Centre In Lagos

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Even as South Africa is home to the largest concentration of data centres on the African continent, Nigeria has been described as a key African market, with the appeal of West Africa growing, and new developments planned for both Senegal and Nigeria.

Stephane Duproz, CEO of Africa Data Centres said of the West African region, “This region is hungry for digitisation and to pave the way for our hyperscale customers to deploy digitisation solutions to West Africa, Africa Data Centres’ construction of a 10-megawatt data centre in Lagos is well underway.”

The Lagos build marks a significant step forward in Africa Data Centres’ ambitious long-term strategy to digitise Africa.  The Nigerian data centre will form Africa Data Centres’ West African hub.

As interconnection remains a priority, the company will be adding it to its network of data centres, which at present includes Johannesburg, Nairobi, Cape Town, Harare, and Kigali.

“Our expansion into Nigeria marks one aspect of the company’s growth on the continent,” says Duproz. “In response to demand generated by hyper scalers, key cloud operators and multinational enterprises already making use of our data centres, we have purchased the Samrand facility in South Africa and our key build in Midrand is underway.

“These same clients, who have trusted us with their expansions into Kenya and other African territories, have expressed their interest in bringing digitisation at scale to West Africa. Our leadership and best practice in data centre operations have made us the obvious choice in their expansion strategies.”

The creation of a digital hub is the beginning of digital transformation capabilities for the region. Naturally, says Duproz, multinational enterprises will wish to be housed under the same roof as our hyperscaler customers due to the lower latency enjoyed.

As such, the combination of cloud providers and enterprises make these data centres marketplaces of the ecosystem – and, most importantly, he says, the base for the country’s digital and economic development.

Additionally, keeping African data on African soil is another key consideration driving the demand for local data centre facilities. “We are proud to be ensuring that African data stays in Africa,” he says.

Africa Data Centres has indicated that the Lagos build will spur the economy – creating job opportunities in various sectors.

“The stimulus effect to the economy of digitisation is well documented and Nigeria is ready for this technology boon,” says Duproz.

“Furthermore, our construction policy is to uplift the community as far as possible, employing local contractors and creating work opportunities within the communities we enter – so the job creation opportunities are realised at both grass-roots and high-tech levels.”

Having secured premium land in Lagos, Africa Data Centres has designed its latest data centre facility in line with environmental best practice, using grey, or non-potable water for cooling and utilising solar energy to offset its reliance on the grid.

“Digitising the continent at the cost of the environment is not a sacrifice Africa Data Centres is prepared to entertain. Our strategy encompasses empowering and uplifting the people, the environment and the economy,” he says.

In Senegal, the Morocco-based data centre company N+One, has said it is planning to build three data centres in the Senegalese capital Dakar.

Details of size and power density are not yet available, but it is understood that N+One has partnered with the Ministry of Digital Economy and Telecommunications, along with the General Delegation for Rapid Entrepreneurship of Women and Youth (DER/FJ) and the Digital Technologies Park of Senegal (PTN), as part of the country’s Digital Senegal plan.

The Senegal Digital Technology Park in Dakar was first announced in 2015.

Part-funded by the African Development Bank, the 25-hectare site aims to promote the country as a base for international technology companies.

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Network International Names Hany Fekry Regional President, Northern & Sub-Saharan Africa

Appointment of Regional Head will help drive greater digital payments adoption across Northern and Sub-Saharan Africa

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Hany Fekry, New Regional President, Northern & Sub-Saharan Africa, Network International

Network International, the leading enabler of digital commerce across the Middle East and Africa (MEA), has announced the appointment of Egyptian national Hany Fekry as Regional President – Northern and Sub-Saharan Africa.

In his new role, Fekry will be responsible for all aspects of Network’s acquiring and issuing business in Egypt and Nigeria, and for developing and implementing a comprehensive strategy to drive Network’s business growth and increase digital payments adoption in Northern and Sub-Saharan Africa.

Fekry joined Network in 2016 as Managing Director for Egypt and Deputy Managing Director for Africa, leading the company’s business development activities across the Northern and Sub-Saharan region.

Previously, he served as the Chief Commercial Officer of Emerging Markets Payments (EMP) Africa, which was acquired by Network International in 2016.

Fekry’s more than 20-year career has included developing business in markets including Egypt, Nigeria, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq.

Nandan Mer, Group CEO of Network International, commented: “Building an effective payments infrastructure requires a thorough understanding of the needs of a local merchant and issuer clients to address their pain points and build locally relevant payments solutions.

“Since joining the team in 2016, Fekry’s deep understanding of the opportunities and challenges in digital payments adoption across Northern and Sub-Saharan Africa has been instrumental in helping Network deliver customised and relevant solutions.

“I am confident he is the right person to strengthen our offering to clients, in addition to driving greater inclusion and building a stronger payments infrastructure in these fast-growing markets.”

Hany Fekry, Regional President – Northern and Sub-Saharan Africa, added: “This is an incredibly exciting time for Network, with tremendous opportunities to accelerate the positive trends in digital payments across the region and increase financial inclusions.

“I look forward to helping build a best-in-class payment ecosystem that will support local merchants and financial institutions, and positively impact the economies across the Northern and Sub-Saharan African markets.”

 

 

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