By Dr. Ugoji Egbujo
The Chatham house published a report on Nigeria a few days ago. The country has been raped by thieves. Nigeria has lost over 500 billion dollars since 1960 and 180 billion in the last 8 years. Nigerians aren’t shocked. The brunt of that plunder has lived with them.
The grotesque disparity between our enormous potentials and our unspeakable wretchedness has caused global consternation. Every government comes with vigorous promises to check the rot. But they all leave the people more hopeless than they met them. A few prosecutions will commence. A big politician will be convicted, once in a while. Even such scapegoats always get soft sentences in dubious plea bargains and presidential pardons.
The politicians get all of the little opprobrium. A certain group of persons always escape mention. They do not receive the curses helpless citizens sometimes manage to heap on politicians. No significant theft of public resources can happen without the criminal collusion of banks and their directors. The Nigerian banking sector runs on the ethos of the motor park. Banks are steeped in sharp practices and have made opportunism their own.
Unfortunately public complaints against them have been about trivia. The exploitation of young girls, and enslavement of their workforce by the imposition of inhuman financial targets. Those are petty immoralities. Ok, they once brought the country to near financial ruin in 2008-2009. They kept multiple books. Those are perhaps pardonable. Our banks cannot be immune to the erosion of values that has left our societal moral fabric threadbare. So that they are lazy but greedy is not strange. But even by our uniquely low standards their disdain for ethics is ridiculous.
Unhealthy rivalry leaves them with ravenous appetites. Weak regulatory mechanism complicates a situation of brittle ethical foundation. Those who follow rules rigidly, lose. The life of banks depend on public sector funds. To get them, you have to take off your gloves and deal under the table. Government agencies and government officials are courted at all costs. The banks sell devious schemes to entice and corruptly enrich government officials.
Yet these banks are run by saints. Their chairmen and directors are always at seminars all over the nation mouthing business ethics and global best practices. When they have stolen enough, they leave to become models of entrepreneurship. The legacy of filth and unscrupulousness they have left in the polity are never remembered.
Their partners in crime, the politicians, bestow national honours on them. They return to shed crocodile tears and bemoan the fate of the country. They helped politicians to steal and launder billions of dollars and cripple the country. They will be everywhere flaunting righteousness, engaging in ‘notice me’ philanthropy.
How the banks and their directors have remained unscathed and even irreproachable is baffling. Instances of naked criminal complicity abound. But the banks never get punitively fined and their directors never go to jail. The EFCC once charged Joshua Dariye for corruption and theft of public funds. It was alleged that a bank helped Dariye to pay a cheque boldly written in favour of Plateau State Government into a private account. A small bank official was sacrificed. The bank suffered no losses. The directors of the bank retained their sanctimoniousness. The regulatory agency did not penalize the bank.
In 2011, the petrol subsidy scandal broke. The nation had lost about 1.5 trillion naira to dubious fuel importation. A House of Representative Committee report was published. A Presidential Investigative Committee published another report. Marketers, officials of the DPR and PPRA and external auditors were all indicted. A close look at the fraudulent schemes employed by the marketers showed that the banks colluded with them in many cases. In all cases the banks saw the crimes and looked away. In some cases the banks played even more active criminal roles.
They urged debtor marketers to get into the scheme. They would fund and supervise the import of one cargo. They would let many of their customers use that single cargo and make multiple fictitious deliveries to the government. Then they will receive billions in subsidy payment for these customers. Not a single bank was penalized. Not one got a public rebuke.
The EFCC recently charged some INEC officials for electoral offences. It was alleged that 150 million dollars stolen from the NNPC was paid into an account in a bank. The Managing Director of the bank was instructed by the former petroleum minister to distribute the money as bribes to INEC officials. The suspects are innocent until convicted. However, some of the charged INEC staff have pleaded guilty in court. The bank, effectively, was used to undermine the democratic process. The managing director of the bank is being investigated. But there is nothing being done to deter other banks from engaging in such gross national security breach.
The EFCC alleged that hundreds of millions of naira was flown in cash into Ado-Ekiti in 2014. The money was meant to undermine the 2014 governorship election. Fingers pointed at Governor Fayose. An account belonging to Fayose was frozen. Governor Fayose publicly pleaded innocence. But he said something damaging about a bank. He alleged that the bank sponsored his election.
The bank issued a statement to deny the allegation. But some of its staff were shown on television kneeling before Fayose. Fayose claimed the bank officials tendered quiet apologies. The role played by the bank in the Ekiti 2014 election has not been investigated. Nothing has been done to stop other banks from gross electoral misconduct.
MTN learnt a hard lesson. A huge fine of about half a trillion was imposed on it two years ago. The company failed to comply with regulations for mobile registration. Their willful negligence left the country exposed. Telecommunication companies are now on their toes. The Banks have committed worse atrocities. The banks have fostered corruption and theft of public funds and impoverished the masses. The banks have undermined national security. Only telling fines will stop them. The time to block the conduit pipes is now.