By Bisi Lawrence
Those who know about these things vouch that they had seen it coming for quite some time. They assert that the state of our banks’ health had been a source of disquiet despite the recapitulation “festival of propriety”.

That exercise did indeed leave us in an air of euphoria, which we all breathed deeply with joy, in the assurance that all would now be well with our banking system. Now adequately funded, nothing could go wrong with our banks any more.

That was thinking of the proverbial man in the street, like you and me, and then WHAM! The sudden change in the topmost hierarchy of five banks in the country doused the flame of our assurance.

I wonder if that confidence had been allowed to run away with our sense of normal, good practices which the sacked bankers were accused of breaching. The main default was in the management of loans, in which there was a spate of scandalous instances.

You wonder how professionally run banks could have so severely hamstrung themselves to a degree that turned around to make them, the creditors, eventually insolvent. An expert characterized most of the loans as being mismatched – that is, they were long-term propositions in a situation of short-term investments.

The banks were not yet “failed banks” in the classic sense of not being able to respond to their depositors’ demands, but it was clear from the profile presented to the public that they were on the edge of the precipice. The entry of the Central Bank was therefore timely and appropriate.

As it is, the Apex Bank has injected funds into the kitty of the banks that would make them meet the adequacy of their responsibility to the public. It may have shaken the confidence of the depositors to some extent, but it should also properly reassure the nation as a whole about the competence of the man at the helm of the CBN.

The timely action has saved us one of the most ugly and unsettling sights in commercial transactions – a run on any bank.

I witnessed one very early in life. I believe it was the first time it happened in the country. That was the failure of The Farmers’ Bank in the early forties. One day, my elder sister was a prosperous young nurse, the next day she was as broke as a smashed plate.

A host of angry bewildered and pathetic people milled around the gate of the bank manned by serious-looking policemen. Many people simply could not believe what was going on.

“What do they mean by saying they can’t pay us our money?” they asked in disbelief. Many women sobbed piteously; men, elderly men, shed tears. But the money was gone. My sister had taken up the payment of my school fees, but had to return that responsibility to our old man.

Added to the pitiful spectacle I had witnessed, I was thus personally shaken by the experience. I must have been about ten years old, but it stayed with me.

It left me with a very conservative attitude to my banking transactions.
Later on, we witnessed several banks going under in Nigeria. A memorable one was The Pan Bank. As an advertisement stunt, the management had contracted the best footballers in the country on its staff.

There were, among other notable names, Teslim “Thunder” Balogun, Dan Anyiam “One-way” Ntephe, “Baba” Shittu, “Small Montana” Sulaimon, and the man who borrowed the name of the outfit like a mascot, “Pan Lawal.

They were beautiful to watch on the field. The bank became very popular. People went to the park to see them on Saturday, but went somewhere else to save their money on Monday. Pan Bank went and was followed by Standard Bank, and later on came Agbonmagbe Bank.

By then, the populace had learnt to accept it all with considerable equanimity. But it would appear that these were not really bad banks, but they were only badly managed.

Already, there would appear to be an appreciably long queue of investors eager to fill whatever gap has been left by the five banks affected so far. Some of them are said to be from foreign countries. Others are described as some of those who lost out in the re-capitalization exercise.

Things would be back to normal then in no time. However, there may be an unsavoury sequel to all this if post-investigations disclose incidence of self-interest as being responsible for any aspect of the problem which almost cost the depositors what could have amounted to colossal losses. Then watch out for that malodorous matter to really hit the fan.

Disdained and disrespected

Mrs. Hilary Clinton, Secretary of State of the United States of America, is a babe in the woods of diplomacy after all. Her swing through the Far East and Middle East left a trail of expectations largely unfulfilled. But then, with the age-old turmoil between the Arabs and the Israelis, and what with the North Koreans breathing out nuclear smoke all over the landscape, that was really a difficult terrain.

She knew how not to behave in those parts: Speak tenderly to the Arabs and hold them at arm’s length’ but address the Israelis sternly and keep firm the traditional embrace. But Africa is another kettle of fish.

While in the Congo, she almost blew up over a question involving what she felt the opinion of her husband, the former President Bill Clinton, would be about simple matter.

She tersely replied that she was the Secretary of State, not her husband. that really was not so serious, although it was given a field day by the media in her country. What showed her off as a diplomatic toddler was her remarks about Nigeria as an example of bad leadership in Africa. that was an “unfortunate” statement.

It might have passed muster in far away Washinton, her seat of office. But to say it virtually on the doorstep of Nigeria could have caused an international incident, if we had not all been turned to prime victims of self-flagellation by our guilt feelings. Yes, we haven’t returned a creditable score sheet after so many years of independence and in the midst of golden opportunities; and yes, it is a healthy sign that we do not cover our shortcomings with any unworthy alibis.

But a wise Yoruba adage advises that you do not count a man’s toes to his face, if he only has nine. Hilary Clinton owes us some respect, even as a failing – not failed – nation. We will yet recover from our ills. America was not built in four decades. Nigeria will survive.

The riposte of David Mark, the Senate President, concerning our entitlement to the kind of democracy we have in this country, is apposite and laudable. I wish there were more voices raised in resentment of the subtle disdain of President Barack Obama, followed by the open disrespect of his Secretary of State.

Now twice said

They are still dying from Swine Flu all over the world. The way it is going, it will definitely not leave Nigeria out of its lethal itinerary. It is not my wish that the scourge should visit us. I am rather expressing the desire that we should not allow it to catch us unprepared should it hit us, as it is likely to.

We do not seem to know our status as a nation with regard to this dreadful pandemic. Our health authorities are yet to make a definite statement about any preparations we may have made against it – if any. We cannot wish it away by merely ignoring it. that ostrich mentality simply won’t work.

There is still no definite drug for it, though the Chinese, as usual, seem to have something up their sleeves. There is a drug that was popular in both the United states and Europe called, Tamiflu, but which, itself, has not been given a clean bill of health. One hopes it does not eventually find Nigeria as its dumping ground following its non-acceptance as a complete remedy.

So, what are we doing in the meantime? Waiting for Godot? Remember how we dilly-dallied about the global meltdown, and how we wouldn’t come out openly when it began to impact viciously on our economy. Some of the current problems of our commercial banks are even traceable to it.

The way it should have worked out was that some entrepreneurs borrowed heavily to buy stocks in the “market”. The idea was for the investments to appreciate so that they could be traded at a profit. But the meltdown soiled the script when the shares fell past their purchase value and the speculation was damaged beyond repairs.

If we do not tackle this world-wide health hazard of the Swine flue with all seriousness now, it is human lives that would be damaged beyond repairs. A word, they say, is enough for the wise. Let it be on record that we have said it twice.

The blessed month

Ramadan is here with us again. It marks one of those religious observances whose effects are spread over the entire populace, not minding religion or class. The fasting period of thirty days, or so, is considered one of the Pillars of Islam.

It lasts from sunup to sundown, every day, and you should try it at least once, even if you are not a Muslim. It is indeed an exercise in self-discipline and is on all fours with the ritual of self-denial which permeates several religions.

When I was young, I had some Muslim relatives with whom I spent the night in order to partake of the early breakfast which begins each day’s fasting. I would then disappear to “do my own thing” until nightfall when it was time to break “our” fast.

I would re-appear and shamelessly partake of the goodies of the day. My kinsmen did not mind, although they kidded me about the undeniable porousness of my fasting. I wish that type of tolerance had persisted and is nationwide. I wish the goodwill of Ramadan could stay the course throughout the year.

My friend Kunle

Kunle Oyeshiku is my oldest friend. We were at the CMS Grammar School, Lagos, together as classmates. He was the one younger than I was in class. Our friendship was made closer by the fact that our elder brothers were also in the school, and so we were identified as Oyeshiku Junior, and Lawrence Junior.

That gave us a feeling of being special. Our brothers were also friends, being great swimmers, but our family ties went back farther than that, as I shall soon reveal.
Kunle was a cricket nut at school.

I was not. I preferred football which he also played, and we were both goalkeepers. The sports we both had in common, however, was table tennis. Even after we left school, we would get together for evenings on end, and knock the ball around at the Onikan Community Centre.

It was only natural when I was going to get married that he should be my best man. But it was only fitting that it should be so because my father had been thus at his parents’ wedding fifty-two years earlier.

Kunle is the best cricket reporter Nigeria has ever produced. He did so much to popularize the sport until age boweled him out. You cannot but love my friend, Kunle. He is a man of sweet disposition, a “gentle” gentleman whose feelings for his friends usually lie too deep for words. A superb human being.
Time out.

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