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The Associated Press August 6, 2010, 11:48AM ET

Nigerian regulators fire stock market leader

Nigerian regulators have removed two leaders of the West African nation's beleaguered stock exchange, hoping to restore faith in a one-time darling of foreign investors.

The Nigerian Securities and Exchange Commission fired the director-general Ndi Okereke-Onyiuke and pushed Aliko Dangote, the nation's wealthiest man, out as president of the exchange. In a statement, commission leader Arunma Oteh said the moves came after "several allegations of financial impropriety and corporate governance lapses" in the market's operations.

"The allegations purport that the exchange is insolvent and may soon face bankruptcy and it will not be able to meet its financial obligations," Oteh said in a statement released Thursday. She said regulators would begin an investigation into the market's finances to determine whether it could cover its debts.

Okereke-Onyiuke, a prominent businesswoman who joined the exchange in 1983, could not be immediately reached for comment Friday. She previously had been investigated by the nation's anti-corruption agency after organizing a glitzy fundraiser in 2008 meant to drum up African support for the then U.S. presidential candidate Barack Obama.

No charges were filed, as officials investigated whether funds raised were sent to the Obama campaign in violation of U.S. electoral laws.

Oteh said the commission pushed out Dangote over a lawsuit challenging his presidency. Forbes magazines lists Dangote as the third wealthiest man in all of sub-Saharan Africa, estimating his net worth at $2.1 billion. His company, the Dangote Group, deals in sugar, cement, textiles and other commodities. He also recently was rumored to have an interest in the English Premier League club Arsenal, though he later denied pursuing a stake in the team.

A spokesman for Dangote said Friday that the billionaire had no comment.

The Nigerian stock exchange initially began as the Lagos stock exchange in 1960, the same year the oil-rich nation of 150 million people won its independence from Britain. Companies traded on the exchange range from oil firms to beverage makers.

As the nation emerged from a string of military dictatorships in 1999, investors looking for bargains in emerging markets across Africa began investing in Nigeria, despite concerns over rampant corruption in both public and private industries. But the bubble burst as a stock market crash sent equity prices down 70 percent from their high in March 2008.

The global economic downturn only added to the market's problems, as the federal government released a $2.55 billion bailout to five troubled banks.

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