|Urhobo Historical Society
Sunday, September 06, 2009
'Sanusi Neither Considers the Economy nor Banks' Shareholders'
By Dr. Frederick Fasehun
I called this Press conference to review the Central Bank of Nigeria's recent action against some prominent banks, bank executives and their investors. Of the 25 banks that survived the mandatory N25 billion recapitalisation, the CBN Governor has declared five insolvent and incompetently managed. They are Union Bank, Afribank, Finland Bank, Oceanic Bank and Intercontinental Bank. The banks were said to have been owed bad loans totalling about N747 billion (about $5.1 billion).
Governor of the Central Bank, Mallam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, said he has injected N420 billion (about $2.6 billion) to bail out the affected financial institutions.
But many Nigerians like me cannot forget the fact that just last March, Vanguard Newspapers exclusively reported that some faceless interests planned to take over five banks. Initially, we took the story with a pinch of salt. But the benefit of hindsight has bestowed upon that Vanguard's report an uncanny degree of accuracy, because not only did it pinpoint the five target banks to be disgraced, it also identified the future CBN Governor that would undertake the job.
Now that the newspaper's prediction has materialised, the public will like to know if this whole affair were not a carefully scripted secret agenda. In the light of the newspaper's accurate prediction five months ahead, can we resist the urge to say that these banks and their executives were simply sitting ducks for a well-schemed frame-up."?
Apparently, this insinuates that the CBN has not told us the whole story. Our private investigations, for example, showed that the Federal Government itself owes Nigerian banks about N3.2 trillion (about $220 billion). These uncleared government debts certainly compounded the problems of the banks. The Government also owed local contractors over N1.5 trillion; many of these represent loan obligations these contractors have been unable to discharge.
So, does the government really have the moral right to cast stones? It would be wiser for the Federal Government to lead by example and first liquidate its own debts before pointing fingers at "fellows partners in debt." Maybe for all these unpaid government debts, the CBN should go ahead and hand over the Accountant-General, the Auditor-General of the Federation and the Minister for Finance to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) as well.
Curiously too, all the loans that the CBN has taken to the cleaners are private loans. What about the various bonds and loans that State Governments sourced from the capital market and the banks, why has the CBN not addressed them?
Moreover, what is wrong with borrowing? The United States is the world's biggest debtor with trillions of dollars indebtedness to virtually every institution including the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and even the United Nations. Its whole economy, like those of other developed nations is built on credit. This is because no nation develops or industrialises with 'cash-at-hand'. There is no way young men like Jimoh Ibrahim, Femi Otedola, Pat Utomi and Aliko Dangote employ the great number of people they have employed without solid bank backings.
Curiously too, we find that the five indicted banks are headed by Southerners. In view of this, we will caution the CBN to refrain from fanning the embers of Northernisation, which the Umaru Yar'Adua's administration appears to be pursuing since inception.
Sanusi has remained unapologetic and unrepentant of his ethnic chauvinism. In the past, he has said of the Igbos, in a newspaper article titled, "Issues in Restructuring Corporate Nigeria," that: "The Igbos themselves must acknowledge that they have a large part of the blame for shattering the unity of this country."
Having said that this nation must realise that Igbos have more than paid for their foolishness, he said in the same piece: "The Yorubas, , the greatest obstacles to nation-building, are the Yoruba Bourgeoisie, I say this also to underscore my point that until they change in this attitude, no conference can solve the problems of Nigeria. The country cannot move forward if the leadership of one of the largest ethnic group continues to operate, not like statesmen, but like common areas boys."
And on Afenifere he declared: "A Syllabus of Errors, , the problems of this country have a lot to do with the shift in power away from the Fulani to individuals like Babangida and Abacha, products of lower cultures. The Fulani of the North, proud of the history of the establishment in Nigeria - Ahmadu Bello, Murtala Mohammed, Aminu Kano, Shehu Yar'Adua, Shehu Shagari, Jibril Aminu. They are sad that other Nigerians do not know the difference in ethnic background between say, Murtala Mohammed and Ibrahim Babangida."
Information at my disposal also showed that the between January and April this year, all the banks borrowed N8.7 trillion from the CBN, the country's lender of last resort. That makes all the banks equally liable.
So, if the five banks under investigation borrowed only N800 billion out of the gross N8.7 trillion released by the CBN, which other banks owed or borrowed the balance of about N7.9 trillion? Why have they been spared? And why should the CBN deal with a general problem instalmentally? Let the CBN tell the whole world where its N8.7 trillion went.
The CBN Governor should have handled the present scandal administratively and internally. Financial markets are naturally fragile and sensitive and require the apex bank's reinforcement, and not erode confidence.
The CBN Governor should be temperate and mild, and his first line of action should have been to give the affected persons the benefit of doubt. After all, these executives have not been accused of personally embezzling the funds in question. It is rather unfortunate that the CBN is criminalising routine commercial transactions.
Granted that the Central Bank carried out an independent audit of the banks, it should have followed due process by inviting the bank executives to defend themselves about the result of such auditing. CBN should never have gone public ab initio.
Moreover, the steps taken so far raise fundamental questions. As the Federal Government has released N420 billion to the ailing banks, do we regard the injected fund as a loan to be repaid or a grant to prepare them for the government's virtual take-over? Where does all this leave the shareholders? Who protects the shareholders and their interest especially in a situation where the Federal Government goes ahead to fulfill its threat to bring foreign investors to buy the concerned banks? Would it not make more sense to accord shareholders first-line bids? Or is the Government saying that the country, with nationals in leadership positions at the World Bank and IMF, cannot get suitable Nigerians capable to run the banks profitably? Moreover, we wrested our economic independence from foreigners through such policies as the Indigenisation Act, is it wise now to sell ourselves back through the backdoor to new foreign interests? Or could it be that the foreign interests are masquerading for faceless Nigerians? The shareholders have been completely ignored in the whole process, when they should have been called to an emergency meeting where they would have democratically elected another Board.
Well-meaning Nigerians like me hope that the Federal Government does not produce a paradoxical result from this unilateral bank regularisation scheme. The entire episode smacks of an exercise designed to cut the nose in order to spite the face and this is dangerous.
The affected banks are employers of labour, having at least 5,000 branches and well over 100,000 people in their employ. In the light of this confusion, the employees' job security cannot be guaranteed. The agitated economy will provoke capital flight and inflict greater damage on the economy than whatever misdemeanours these bankers may have been accused of. Because many of these beleaguered bankers originally founded the concerned banks, their present travails can discourage future generations of investors.
Rather than sack the bank executives, CBN should have borrowed a leaf from other economies that have similarly bailed out their mortgage, stock-broking, banking and industrial institutions. President Barack Obama injected $700 billion into corporate America and allowed the executives to continue in office. The only debate was whether benefiting American executives should take a cut in their usual fat allowances in view of the injection of public funds. The debate is still going on. I entirely condemn the detention of the bank chiefs by the EFCC. They should be released to enable them work out creative and feasible modalities for revamping their banks and liquidating the offending loan facilities.
Banks may have problems but the CBN appears to have over-amplified the situation. The world over, financial institutions are going through a rough time. In Europe, Asia, America, Australia and other parts of Africa, banks have failed. This was what gave rise to the global economic meltdown. In fact, prior to the CBN exercise, the Nigerian economy was the envy of the world. And experts internationally commended the last administration and the banks for the foresight in recapitalising our banks. But if Nigerian banks fail now, the explanation may simply be that finally, the Economic Meltdown has caught up with our banking industry. How? Larger economies like USA, UK and Japan, most of whom have begun to look inwards for economic salvation, have forced their indigenes to reverse capital flight back home.
On the other hand, if this exercise was designed to please Mrs. Hillary Clinton, then we must point out that she has no way incited us against the rule of law. Like her, we all want an anti-corruption crusade, which we complained had become lukewarm and stale. But in hunting down these bankers, government has pointed the gun against wrong persons.
The CBN exercise is diversionary; it is insensitive; it is hasty, making respectable bankers and shareholders to become scapegoats unjustly. This is unacceptable.
Moreover, have we weighed the implications that this will have on our Re-Branding Project? Virtually, it has smeared the cr�me de cr�me of our economy - the Cecilia Ibrus, the Isyaku Umars, the Hyacinth Enuhas, the Raymond Obieris, the Chris Alabis, the Erastus Akingbolas, the Barth Ebongs and many more. This move indicts not just these bankers, but the public, the government, the shareholders, event he CBN. It tells the international community that even the best of us is a crook and a thief. And this is far from true.
Suffice to say that although some of these controverted loans are inexcusable, a lot of them would have performed if only government had delivered on key economic issues, including, stabilising the Naira, providing electricity supply, pushing through the amnesty deal to secure a viable bridgehead for profitable oil business in the Niger Delta, enhancing Nigerian's buying power by providing employment, ensuring good road networks, fighting corruption, resolving the crisis in the education sector, especially the ASUU strike and succeeding with the seven-point agenda.
On the part of the CBN, what needs its immediate attention are indices that will make the banking industry more attractive, more proactive and more productive, such as outlawing the use of young girls for marketing, taming the legal and administrative charges that usually balloon loans, establishing a regulatory framework for interests and stabilising the exchange rate.
In the present circumstances, the coercive organs of State should act independent of the CBN, which is wearing the toga of the aggrieved party. They way Sanusi speaks of confiscating assets, jailing people, etc, makes him the complainant, the investigator, the Judge and the enforcer. Such autocratic methods are strange to our democratic constitution.
The National Assembly, should as a matter of urgency, pass a motion requiring Sanusi to ensure that existing shareholders are given an opportunity to recapitalise the five banks within a timeframe of not less than 180 days. These banks are public companies owned by several Nigerians. They must not suffer double jeopardy. Their reemptive rights as existing shareholders, which is duly recognised by Companies and Allied Matters Act, Banks and Other Financial Institutions Act, Central Bank of Nigeria Act and the records of CBN must be protected and respected.
The National Assembly should pass a motion requiring Sanusi to follow due process and immediately revoke the removal order on any of the Executives who are not personally culpable. It is wrong to punish people who have not committed any offence. It is repugnant to equity, natural justice and good conscience to dismiss over 30 officers in one stroke without establishing individual responsibilities.
The National Assembly should compel Sanusi to exercise due care in all subsequent actions. The unnecessary drama and bravado accompanying the "reform" has caused a downgrade in Nigeria's credit rating and slowed down economic activity. We have seen other economies, which recently handle more complex and larger interventions in their banks in a more mature manner, without unnecessary costs on their economies.
In conclusion, let us remember that many of these bankers are well known locally and internationally by many institutions and many of them are advisors and consultants to nations and world financial establishments. Nigeria needs them for her own good. They may have made some erroneous judgements, but they do not deserve to be so summarily destroyed; for one experienced horse rider who falls is more valuable than a tenderfoot just learning the ropes. Consequently, we detest the rubbishing of these first-class bankers and we demand their immediate release.
If politicians have been allowed to learn from their own mistakes, bankers and the managers of our economy should not be crucified for making sincere errors in corporate governance.