By Dele Sobowale
“Laws are like cobwebs where the small flies were caught and the great [and rich] break through.” Francis Bacon, 1561-1626.
“The law in its infinite majesty forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets and to steal bread.” Anatole France, 1844-1924.
(VANGUARD BOOK OF QUOTATIONS, VBQ, P 120).
- AMCON AND THE CURSE OF THE NIGERIAN ELITE
Professor Pat Utomi in his recent book WHY NOT? Had written at length about how Banking Consolidation under Professor Charles (now Chukwumah) Soludo had ruined Nigeria’s banking sector for decades to come. Utomi had faulted what I later named Con-Soludo-tion (because it turned out to be a costly scam) largely on the grounds that imposing a “one size fits all” policy was not advisable. I totally agree with Pat because there is no fast growing economy in the world that has adopted that straight jacket approach to its banking sector.
While most of the critics of Con-Soludo-tion were not opposed to creating mega-banks, we were apprehensive that the implementation was a prescription for disaster. Calamity came to the Nigerian banking sector soon enough. Con-Soludo-tion began in 2005; by 2008 several of the “Titanic” banks – Intercontinental, Oceanic, Afribank, BankPH etc were belly up.
Apart from the issues raised by Utomi and others, I had another query. The timeline was too short for most Nigerian banks operating at the time to meet the N25 billion capital minimum without cutting corners. More time was required. But, the Governor of the Central Bank was in a hurry. He probably never heard of the saying that “too much haste makes waste”. If he had, he would have slowed down a little bit instead of rushing the country into the banking crisis which is still stifling our attempts at rapid economic growth. About sixty per cent of the banks in 2004 would have had to increase their capital by 300 to 500 per cent to qualify to remain in business in 2005. Forced and ill-advised mergers occurred and the results have been devastating.
According to a comedian, “Doctors bury their mistakes”; apparently, so do Central Bank Governors. When a major banking crisis became inevitable Soludo created a cemetery for banks to bury their mistakes with public funds. It was euphemistically called Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria, AMCON. It was a swindle officially approved by Soludo’s CBN. According to the current Managing Director of AMCON, Mr Ahmed Lawan Kuru, “more than N3.3 trillion [of public funds] was invested” to rescue irresponsible and criminally minded bank officials whose banks would have collapsed. What AMCON calls “assets” would be regarded as “junk” by objective assessors of the items. Regular fliers on Arik Airline and AERO CONTRACTORS can testify to the absolute deterioration of their planes. The idea that anybody would pay good money to acquire those scraps is self-deception at best and fraudulent, at worst. Yet, those airlines stand proxy for all the other wrecks ACON has gathered from the debtors to the reckless banks.
On Monday, June 10, 2019, the DAILY INDEPENDENT published an interview with Mr Kuru which should tell every right thinking person why AMCON has made no progress in collecting on the debts owed to the organisation. According to him, “Out of the N5.4 trillion obligations we have, only 350 obligors account for more than 80 per cent of our total exposure. So, 350 obviously are not small businesses and it cuts across all the sectors.” Just in case you don’t understand what Mr Kuru has just announced permit me to interpret it for you.
Ten years after Soludo got us into this mess by creating AMCON, a mere 350 obligors are sitting on N4.32 trillion or fifty per cent of this year’s budget, of funds belonging to all Nigerians and they are not in a hurry to pay. Rumours have it that some of our richest billionaires are involved in this scam and they are hoping for debt forgiveness. People flying about in private jets have taken the banks for an unpleasant and unpatriotic ride and the rest of us – 198 million Nigerians – are already paying dearly for it; we will pay more dearly for their indiscretions.
The worst part of the whole fraud is the conspiracy of silence which pertains to it. Every AMCON MD had refused to disclose the names of the unpatriotic Nigerians and their partners in crime at the banks. The Ministry of Finance, which is privy to the information, is not talking. Aso Rock which has the list is also as silent as an Egyptian mummy. Nigerians are suffering; poverty is destroying every fabric of our society; yet top government officials are determined to protect 350 obligors who are running our lives. No President of China or Prime Minister of India will allow that to happen. It can only happen here in Nigeria – where talk is cheap; even presidential talk.
- “Great men keep their words.” President George Bush, Snr, 1984.
President Buhari declared 4000MW electric power supply “unacceptable” on May 29, 2015. He also promised that “We will not allow the situation to continue”. For the first six months of 2019, the power supply per day has averaged less than 3,500MW. On May 29, 2019, the Nigerian President did not address the nation. On June 12, 2019, he did without once mentioning the power situation – perhaps out of embarrassment. But, you cannot for long hide the truth – especially one generally known. This article is being written on June 24, 2019 and there has been power failure six times before two in the afternoon.
Presidents can employ Ministers of Propaganda and call them Information Ministers; they can add Senior Special Advisers (Media) who would swear on their mothers’ graves that black is white. But, one million liars in government cannot make corn to grow where none had been planted. Nigeria became poorer from 2015 to 2019 because the power supply which was insufficient for Nigerians in 2015 has not increased despite 20 million Nigerians added in the four years. The nation had fallen behind in power output per capita.
- The Fantastic 53
Early in his tenure, the President promised to publish the name of the 53 corrupt Nigerians who made away with trillions of naira badly needed for development and which could have reduced our debt burden considerably. Four years ended without that promise being redeemed. The first month of the second term ended a few days ago. The 2019 Budget envisages additional debt of N2.3 trillion. The promise to name the corrupt people has apparently been quietly forgotten. Fellow Nigerians must now pay for the crimes of the “fantastic 53” – the untouchables who can embezzle public funds abd get away with it. Indonesia will never allow that to happen.
Leadership of a small group of people or a great nation of millions still entails prescriptions and promises. The led expect the leader to suggest the remedies for their problems and to keep his promises. Then, they wait for results. A situation in which a major promise is made and not kept erodes trust in the leader. That is what has happened with the promise to increase power supply which had not been kept forcing the President to remain silent and his former Minister of Information to lie shamelessly by stating that “APC has fulfilled all its promises.” No nation has ever become great on account of the propaganda and lies of its officials. This is what we have at the moment.
Those in the corridors of power and the financial elite have combined to slow down the economic and social development of Nigeria and the leader cannot muster the will to name and shame them.