5 October 2012

Nigeria: CBN, AMCON and Bank Debtors


For the second time in three years, the Central Bank of Nigeria recently published the names of bank debtors, apparently in a bid to save the banking industry. This policy of "naming and shaming" is a right step in the right direction. By including the names of even people close to the corridors of power - and not excluding Cross River and Zamfara states -- the apex bank has shown that it has nothing to hide.

Although the list in CBN's circular of September 17, this year, was later edited - because the Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON) said the information published was dated - the objective of the original publication has not been violated.

The apex bank deserves to be commended for its audacity. Its directive to all deposit money banks to stop granting the 113 companies and their 419 (an interesting number) directors/shareholders further credit facilities until they pay up their outstanding debts to AMCON cannot be faulted. The sizes of the debts are just incredible.

We disagree with those who say that this policy is not healthy for the economy; in fact, it will have the opposite effect: for instance, it was shortly after the publication that some of the debtors stated paying. Others pledged to surrender their assets. With more money for the banks, we should hope for more credits to genuine investors at lower interest rates.

Debtors that have not started responding should do so in order to save their reputation and avoid prosecution in the courts.

Already, some of them have gone to court apparently to buy time, but it is up to the judiciary to avoid succumbing to the usual technicalities used by loan defaulters to evade justice. The list was published in the first place because the debts were not paid even after AMCON had purchased them at agreed prices. The money used to purchase the debts belongs to Nigerian taxpayers.

Each time a bank failed, millions of small shareholders as well as innocent depositors comprising artisans, market women, students and other small savers were left to lick their wounds, while the bank wreckers enjoyed their loot without any fear of the law.

This should not be allowed to continue. And that's why CBN and AMCON should be encouraged to further sanitise the banking industry. Publication of the debtors' list will help banks to stop those who borrow from different banks using the same collaterals. If bank credits are secured and debtors honour their obligations, the industry and the nation's economy are sure to soar high.

One huge advantage of the list's publication is that it has enabled Nigerians to understand the truth in Shakespeare's aphorism, "All that glitters is not gold". Discerning people now know that many of our "billionaires" are not really billionaires but big debtors.

To further discourage impressionable minds from using bad debtors as role models, President Goodluck Jonathan should carry out his threat to withdraw National Honours award bestowed on anyone later found to be undeserving of it. He will find names on the bank debtors' list that are also on the list of beneficiaries of the award.

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