By Tony Momoh
FOR many years now, I have been speaking about what I described as Segmented Loyalty. I will tell you why I am calling it to service today. We are in a deplorable economic mess. Never in the history of this country have we had so much demolition, in peace time, of mountain peaks to the low level of plateaus or even valleys.
Five seemingly healthy banks that scaled the consolidation hurdle with flying colours, that have been in the forefront of winning awards from those who have a duty to monitor their health status; banks you would hesitate to associate any blemish with, all ofÂ a sudden being told they had been messing around with banking, with the finances of people who trust them, should trust them.
And not only that the banks are sick, but that those who have headed them, unarguably some of the biggest names in the industry, have been part of the mess. Even more, authors of the mess!Â So, in less than 48 hours after they left their offices to a meeting with the Central Bank at Abuja, the chief executives of Union Bank, Oceanic Bank, Intercontinental Bank, Afribank and Finland Bank were jobless. Not just jobless, they were slated to face charges to do with criminal handling of peopleâ€™s funds.
So soon after the shocker, the vocabulary is changing from reference to the biggest and richest men in the country to the biggest debtors the country has been harbouring. Those biggest debtors are not another group of people separate and different from the big ones who call the shots. They are the same. The names have changed. And something terrible is happening to us. We are, all of us, being deflated, like a balloon. And in panic, we take steps that will speed up our descent into the bottom of the pit.
If there is a problem, it should be addressed. But how is the problem. If I took a loan from a bank to run a company, how do I repay the loan if I am arrested and my company is shut down because all those who worked for me are said to be part of the problem of servicing the loan? Loans are loans because there are procedures for accessing them. And if, as seems to have happened, all the rules were breached, did that breach take place yesterday?
And if it did not, as facts seem to be showing with ongoing investigations, should we not have approached the matter more realistically? It is not realistic to throw the baby away with the bathwater, many argue. And I agree. But is it really throwing the baby away with the bathwater by exposing our banks to what some insist is public ridicule and international distrust? Not that I would have cared if that had been the only way out.
But how ruinous is that way, that route taken by Sanusi to tell Nigeria what is happening now so that we may not wake up tomorrow to discover that in spite of the consolidation, the bottom had been removed from under our financial system. Just like it happened with the stock market that crashed!
Having expressed my concern, I want to ask. At what time did the Central Bank know that untoward deals and dealings had been going on in our banking system? And if the answer is long ago enough to have been the time of Prof. Chukwuma Soludo, then we are in more trouble than we bargained for, for almost all the banks will suffer the fate of the five.
The drain on our resources is a done deal. The first casualty is our trade, and everyone knows that Nigeria is a country that refuses to grow anything, preferring imports of even those things it can produce and export. I can sense you lifting your eyes to the reserve from oil earnings.
And that is the worry because it is the bottom line of that account that the three tiers of government look at every month when they go to Abuja to share funds in the federation account. With lapping up the future in the present, a way of life we have refused to change to make government less expensive through restructuring so thatÂ political officeholders would do their jobs part time and earn allowances, it is a question of time, very short time indeed, before we begin to know that the house has really fallen.
First it was the political house through insensitive manipulation of elections. Now it is the economic house which would have stood if we had been watching how the United States has been going about putting the pieces of its broken economic pot together.
So, instead of doing what serious governments do, and instead of our people looking at the problem in the face and doing something about it, we are resorting to the routine of abusing loyalty, of taking cover under the very effective mantra that what is happening is happening because of whom I am or where I come from.
So Prince Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, is taking the hard decisions because he is a northern prince from the royal family in Kano and has an agenda of the Caliphate to execute!
Not only that, the North was shortchanged during the consolidation of banks and they now want to destroy the southern stranglehold on the financial sector and get the north to move in! Even more, Christians have been in charge and it is time that Muslims came in!
There was even a statement by one group warning that the ethnic nationality of one of those now confronted in court with manipulating bank deposits without collaterals would heat up the polity if those wanting to marginalize their group refuse to retrace their steps!
So, in abuse of segmented loyalty, during which we call everyone, rogue or priest, to the ethnic tent to defend â€œour ownâ€, we are calling primordial sentiments to duty – north versus south, Muslim versus Christian, et al.Â No, that should not work.
The questions are simple.Â Have we banks that have been operating in accordance with brief?Â If no, what is there to be done and how can it be done to ensure that the financial house does not collapse? If what has been happening, many of the debtors turning in billions of naira to meet their commitments to the banks, is the way our people know to honour agreements, then so be it.
The economic travails of Nigeria are part of the problem with Nigeria. We have a problem of discipline and we all are to blame.
We make laws that are obeyed more in the breach than the observance. Instead of standing against injustice, we accommodate massive indiscretions and say that God ordained what had happened and that if we cannot beat them, we should join them.
Injustice then becomes the order. But injustice is punishable by the Almighty that knows only justice, that is Justice. What is happening world wide is a material manifestation of mankindâ€™s spiritual indiscretions. Where is the proof of our obedience to the laws ofÂ the land when we look at section 14(1) of the Constitution which says,
â€œThe Federal Republic of Nigeria shall be a State based on the principles of democracy and social justiceâ€. In what we have been doing, whether it is political, economic or educational (has ASUU been persuaded to call off its strike?), where is the democracy and where is the justice?Â Let not this house fall. Please.