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the throbbing point

I have just passed through one of the periods of my professional life when I feel genuinely proud of a co-worker – I prefer that word to colleague in this regard.

The gentleman in question, Gabriel Omoh, a dyed-in-the-wool professional, scored what I would call a “world scoop”, and it took no less than a stalwart in the practice of journalism, and a true veteran himself,  Aba Saheed to also proclaim it as such. Aba Saheed, I should add, writes for another newspaper. To stretch a congratulatory message to another publication therefore speaks of the highest standards.

When the Vanguard published the news, some two months ago, about the impending thunderbolt that would strike all of five banks in a row, it seemed like just another of those speculative narratives. Today, it has become a masterstroke of investigative reporting. What makes me so proud of my co-worker is the accuracy of the report and its in-depth presentation.

But then, what else should one expect of the Vanguard, even if I say so myself who shouldn’t! Gabriel Omoh, who heads the Business Desk, frequently presents himself as the butt of some of his colleagues’ jibes during the editorial meetings when they fail to fully understand where he is coming from. But he never loses his good humour while driving his point home.

However, a point that still throbs behind the din of the alarums of arrests and arraignments, is this frightful suggestion that a group of people might have seen it coming and planned to take advantage of it. The very thought of such a dark scenario gives one the creeps. But the whole picture highlights the fact that, even if some sharp customers were waiting for these accused “super bankers” to take a fall”, no one really pushed them.

They seemed to have played straight into the hands of their adversaries by themselves. It looks bad, really bad – “ghost” clients, non-performing loans, huge funds given out without the wisp of a collateral. It is almost incredible. These banks have been literally run into the ground, it would appear, and not when our backs were turned either. It was all happening right here before our eyes, though not many of us would seem to have seen it. Those annual reports were so reassuring.

To track back a little and wonder about that “throbbing point” – is it really likely that some faceless “mafia” had actually been waiting, or even working, in the wings for the downfall of these banks, or any other bank, for that matter?

And did the fact that Vanguard saw it coming – the way the Business Editor showed it coming – incur the resentment of some parties? And if so, who would such parities be, and what would be their objective in the matter? It is important that we now ask these and other questions about what at first appeared so simple and straightforward but ironically seems to be gathering some moss of complexity even as it rolls on.

One wonders, for instance, why Vanguard was the only newspaper of its class that was excluded out of the CBN Governor’s entourage to London.

Was it because the national newspaper seemed to have opened the cage too early for the bird to fly out? Who was thus discomfited? Of course, the CBN Governor was free to use his discretion as to the choice of the composition of his entourage.

But in this case, discretion seemed to have boiled over into discrimination – and that even the almighty CBN Governor, as a public servant, may not casually permit to colour his decision in the spending of public funds, which is doubtful.

The Vanguard has continued to pursue its meritorious duty as the presenter of objectives of facts to the public and may soon become used to being dropped from the list of those qualified, or selected rather, for official trips organised by the apex bank.

The necessity of the trip to London has, in itself, been questioned. We understand that the purpose was to vend the suspended banks abroad.

Sanusi gave that impression himself last weekend and based on the allegations he had published of the banks not being properly run, and since their administrative and executive panels had been dissolved, what better option was there than to hand them over to those who are ready to acquire and restore them to good health?

But then the reason for the expedition was later changed to the dissemination of information about the situation, and the task of re-assuring those who might be interested about the future of the banks.

Of course, the latter explanation is less plausible and might have been substituted to smoothen the wrinkles on the faces of those who might have been inclined to believe the veracity of that “throbbing point” which we mentioned earlier… that a group was already in place and straining to take over the banks by fomenting a breakdown in confidence between them and their depositors.

A televised world conference right there in Abuja could have reached a larger audience. That would have been actually more re-assuring than a junket to London. As it happened, the background to the event and the projection of developments in the BBC coverage were based on the report from their Nigerian correspondent here in Nigeria.

The piecemeal approach to the sanctions of the five banks has also been frowned upon by various personalities in the world of our finance. It smacks of a selective dispensation in which the element of fairness could have played no more than just a little part.

The other banks that are yet to be probed would also have employed the fate of the suspended banks to clean up their houses. That is definitely not staging the play on an even field. And the strident protestations of some of the named debtors cannot be ignored, nor can the mild treatment they seem to have received in comparison with their creditors.

It is all degenerating in some areas into a right royal mess. The surprise is that there is not yet a pronounced run on any of the banks as might have probably been envisaged by those who had possibly been poised to make a grab at them.

At the same time, one can’t help wandering how much of a role the oft whispered “Northern Agenda” could not have played. Such an agenda, it is claimed, would include a re-establishment of the Bank of the North, or its forces, as a major player, having lost much clout in the re-capitalisation exercise a while back. In tandem with that would be the introduction of the “interest-free” Islamic Bank.

This appears to be a pet subject with the Governor of the Central Bank, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, and very well so. An Islamic scholar of his calibre would not mind to leave the imprint of his preferences on some aspects of his career, even so early in his tenure. And that is on all fours with the construct of a “Northern Agenda”. It is only natural for a man who admits that he is only a human being like the rest of us. And a Nigerian too, like the rest of us.

But I hear Sanusi says he is a “non-tribalised” or “untribalised” Nigerian, or something like that. I hear him! By that I believe he implies that “we are all the same”, or some such cant. He has perhaps not heard of the statement credited to one of the greatest Nigerians this country has ever known, Sir Ahmadu Bello. It was in an exchange between him and another eminent Nigerian of all time, Ogbuefi Nnamdi Azikiwe. According to oral tradition, Azikiwe at a meeting had told Ahmadu Bello:

“Let us forget our differences.” But Alhaji Ahmadu disagreed.

“No, let us understand our differences. I am a Muslim and a Northerner. You are a Christian and an Easterner. By understanding our differences, we can build unity in our country.”

We euphemize it and call it ethnicity. Good, but tribe by any other name is still the motive force that drives the vehicle of our national life today. Sometimes it moves it forward at a high speed. At other times, it puts it in reverse. Why do you think that even the most “untribalized” or “detribalized” or “non-tribalized” – or whatever – Nigerian, would still clamour to have the President of the nation come from his own State of origin, if not his real village? Tribe – pardon me, ethnicity – lasts the whole game through.

That fact is very well noted in our Constitution, in which a section deals with “Federal Character” to keep our natural instincts in check. All the same, the only passion above tribe in our country today is the acquisition of wealth quickly, and no matter how crookedly.

Sanusi has also declared that the steps he has taken so far are not personal but for the sake of healthy banking in the country. Among the questions that many people are asking now is whether those steps are the best, or only measures for improving the health of the banking industry in this nation at this time.

Granted that a lot of errors have been committed, some of them verging on downright crime, was the best step one that would normally erode the confidence necessary for the health of the system – the very confidence he is supposed to have rushed off to London to shore up?

The Central Bank Mogul, we understand, also says he feels sad about the plight of his former friends, that is, the bankers who are now in trouble. But a source implies that he is unlikely to “minimise” their pains. Even the tears of crocodiles must be mingled with more sincerity than that.

That point made about those who are ready to swoop on the crippled banks still throbs unceasingly. Because if events prove it to be true, we would have just passed through another phase of manipulation in our economic life.

We have run the sub-feature tagged, “My Friend” on this page only three times, but reactions seem to be pouring in. It would appear several of my readers also wish to express their admiration and affection for a dear one. They tell me, “You are not the only one who has friends, and you are not being fair.”

Okay! I agree that it is much, much better to say all those beautiful things about our friends when they are alive than wait until they die. In fact, that is part of the reasoning that started off the segment in the first place.

Please include a good picture of your friend in your contribution, which should not be of more than one third of a page, double-spaced. It should be of someone of the same gender with you, and you should be prepared for some editing. You will have a notice of one week before it is published. There is nothing like friendship.

Time out.

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