“CBN, AMCON, NDIC subsiding 10 big boys N1 Trillion Bad Loans with public funds”
By Our Reporters
The kicker of this story is indebted to William Kurt Black’s investigative best seller, “The Best Way to Rob a Bank is to Own One: How Corporate Executives and Politicians Looted the S&L Industry,” According to its blurb, Black’s book is “expert insider’s account of the savings and loan debacle of the 1980s” in which Black – an American lawyer, academic, author, and a former bank regulator – “lays bare the strategies” that corrupt CEOs and CFOs – in collusion with those who have regulatory oversight of their industries – use to defraud companies for their personal gain…It fully reveals how hundreds of bankers in the savings and loans sub-sector of the United States (U.S.) banking system “took advantage of a weak regulatory environment to perpetrate accounting fraud on a massive scale.”
Dr. Black might as well been writing about Nigeria’s money deposits banks in the hands of their managing directors (MDs), chief executive officers (CEOs) and Directors in the last 25 years or thereabout. In the period, no fewer than 45 banks in the country have been shut down and put under liquidation (see table) by the Central Bank of Nigeria CBN), with trillions of naira in depositors money and shareholders’ funds lost forever, no thanks to their very owners, directors, board members and managements who granted huge, unsecure loans to themselves, their companies, family members and friends or just whoever caught their fancy.
The huge panic withdrawal, which trailed the news in July that the CBN has sacked the board and management of Skye Bank is testament to the thin trust the banking public has in country’s financial system. As then Governor of CBN, the straight shooting Emir of Kano, HRN Muhammadu Sanusi II, stated the obvious when he said Nigerians would have preferred to keep their money in good, old piggy banks than deposit funds with the banks but for the safety of such cash kept at home. But as the trillions of naira lost to banks ran aground by insider abuses perpetrated by defunct bank owners cum management and the trillions of bad loans sitting on the books of all operating banks in the country today show, the Nigerian bank customers only take their hard-earned money to the banks because they are the lesser of two evils.
And going by the abysmal records of failed financial institutions in the country from the 90s till date, the biggest danger posed to depositors’ funds in the banking system today is from the bankers themselves, their MDs, CEOs, directors and managements in particular. The palpable apprehension this ironic situation generates in bank customers’ collective consciousness is signposted by the need for frequent confidence-building bulletins the CBN issues to the media. In a statement issued to explain its take-over of Skye Bank, for instance, the CBN said that the bank has for far too long failed to “meet minimum thresholds in critical prudential and adequacy ratios, which has culminated in the bank’s permanent presence at the CBN Lending Window. In particular, Skye Bank’s Liquidity and Non-performing loan ratios have been below and above the required thresholds, respectively, for quite a while.”
Concerning the Skye Bank development, an online newspaper, PREMIUM TIMES wrote: “While the CBN did not disclose what the “required threshold” was, an inquiry by PREMIUM TIMES revealed the apex bank asked the bank’s management to raise a minimum of N50 billion.” PREMIUM TIMES “investigation showed that efforts made by the bank to raise the fund proved abortive because its capital base had been decimated by inside credit, which are non-performing.”
A list of 100 chronic debtors out of 12,744 published by the Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON) shows that Skye Bank is individually owed a total of N16.46 billion. The bank is jointly owed N104.80 billion with four other banks – Zenith Bank, First Bank of Nigeria, Union Bank and the defunct Intercontinental Bank.
Aiming at the root cause of Skye Bank’s wobbling towers, the CBN announced the removal of the chairman of the board of Skye Bank Plc, Mr. Tunde Ayeni; other non-executive directors of the board; its managing director, Mr. Timothy Oguntayo; deputy managing director, Mrs. Amaka Onwughalu; and two other executive directors of the bank. In anticipation of their removal Ayeni and Oguntayo tendered their resignation a day before the CBN announcement.
According to another report by THISDAY newspaper, “Ayeni who had by 2014 bought up considerable shares in Skye Bank and fought his way to emerge as its chairman, preferred a more malleable CEO to run the bank. As members of the board, Ayeni and other directors borrowed heavily from the bank with most of the loans going bad.
The THISDAY report added: “A source from the bank confirmed that Ayeni’s indebtedness to the bank stands at over N30 billion while another non-executive director, Mr. Festus Fadeyi, owes Skye Bank about N98 billion… In addition to the insider lending, Skye Bank is also believed to be heavily exposed to the oil and gas sector…”
According to other reports, the CBN has followed up on its Skye Bank intervention and its findings point to “how many chairmen, Managing Directors (MDs) and Executive Directors of Nigerian banks, often in connivance with criminal masterminds…diverted huge sums of money into personal use. So far, the investigation has revealed shameful truths about the nation’s bank chiefs and how many were found to be responsible for their banks’ major financial woes. Besides masterminding several fraudulent internal and external transactions, many bank Chairmen, MDs and EDs are owing their banks outrageous loans which have turned into bad debts. These loans are not serviced by the bank directors nor do they have any intention of refunding the scandalous sums they borrowed from their banks.”
Ayeni and his Skye Bank co-travellers-director have their predecessors in the failed banks of the 1990s and the first decade of the new millennium. For instance, many depositors and shareholders of the defunct African Express Bank Ltd (Afex Bank) lost it all to the criminal insider dealings of that defunct bank’s chairman, directors and management. It is a classic case of bankers flaunting angelic sainthood to cloud their genetic crookedness.
The face of vice at the failed African Express Bank Ltd, in liquidation since January 16, 2006, is its Vice Chairman, Sir Emeka Offor. According to Nigeria Deposit Insurance Corporation (NDIC), Offor and his companies – Chrome Oli Services Limited, Chrome Consortium Nigeria Limited, Choffan Communications Limited, Nimek Investment Limited, Dextron Engineering Limited, Atlantic Engineering Construction Limited and Chrome Energy LLC – took loans to the tune of a staggering N9.2 billion from the African Express Bank.
In court documents filed against Offor and his companies, NDIC provides a breakdown of the N9.2 billion loans as follows: Chrome Oil Services Limited, N4,002,867,407.45; Choffan Communication Ltd, N4,771,220, 825.35; Nimex Investment Ltd, N13,681, 316.56; Chrome Consortium Ltd, N56, 633.41; Dextron Engineering Ltd, N239, 145, 510.60; and Atlantic Engineering & Construction Company Ltd, N125,824, 906.63, these being the amounts “due and outstanding to African Express Bank (in liquidation).”
Despite its relentless pursuit of the klieg lights-hugging self-acclaimed successful businessman – read government contractor – the chances of NDIC recovering the bad loans from Offor is next to nought, if recent reports by online whistle-blowing website, saharareporters.com. According to Saharareporters, Sir Offor has lately fell on hard times, no thanks to the seismic defeat of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the 2015 General Elections, hitherto the ruling party whose powerful leaders Offor hobnobbed with for 16 years, and under whom he was able to buy the Enugu Electricity Distribution Company, despite being indebted to the liquidated African Express Bank.
In any case, the NDIC has reportedly entered into a pact with Offor to cut his N9.2 billion bad loan to N1 billion, which the businessman claimed he has been paying back “diligently” before a federal high court. Debt-recovery experts faulted the basis of “this fraudulent loan plea-bargain”, alleging “possible complicity on the part of NDIC officials who negotiated this massive loss of tax-payers money to a man whose business assets in Nigeria and elsewhere are estimated to worth between $5 billion and $8 billion, more than enough to cover his indebtedness to the defunct Afex Bank “if the NDIC is really serious about recovering this deliberately incurred debt.”
In all fairness, Offor is not alone in the brazen, conscious scheme of owning a bank in other to rob it in Nigeria. The siphon of public and depositors money from some Nigerian banks into the pockets of their owners is a Nigerian version of a criminal enterprise known as “Ponzi Scheme”. The liberalisation of the banking sector in 1980s to attract Nigerian entrepreneurs into ownership of local banks truly opened the industry to elite of privileged Nigerians who had connections to the high ranking military rulers at that time.
It is no secret that almost all bank licences issued were handed to groups comprising of money bags regardless of source of funds and high ranking military officers retired or serving. Since some these new bank owners did not have experience in banking or financial services business, it soon became obvious that their motives and interest were for personal enrichment using their banks as vehicles to plunder public treasuries and steal depositors money.
This is what led to the current situation well framed by the latest outcry of Managing Director, Asset Management Company of Nigeria (AMCON), Ahmed Kuru: that “10 big boys” hold the Nigerian economy to ransom.
In a recent news titled “10 ‘big boys’ hold economy to ransom, owe AMCON N1tr”, The Guardian Newspaper reports that just 10 so-called “big boys”, many of who have shareholding interests in banks, currently owe bank loans to the tune of N1 trillion. Instead of paying up, according to the reports, the debtors are playing games at the courts by using alleged corrupt and pliable judges to frustrate the Federal Government’s efforts to make them pay up.
“The stupendous wealth in the hands of the ‘10 big boys’ is mostly processed through these Ponzi schemes with regulatory agencies doing nothing,” said a source in the banking sector who pleaded anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.
The source accused the CBN, AMCON and NDIC of “treating these so-called big boys with kids gloves. It is often alleged in whispers among us bankers that the official bank inspectors of CBN, AMCON, NDIC enriched themselves in the process of chasing these big fraudsters-debtor as they should. NDIC should not offer bank looters 60 per cent of stolen money as write off against return of 40 per cent balance. This will send the wrong signal to Nigerian public and international communities that stealing depositors and public funds is a lucrative business in Nigeria. They should be made to pay up or forfeit their assets, shares ownership in public companies, real estate properties in Nigeria and abroad to settle their indebtedness to Nigeria’s commonwealth. In my view as an insider, I think they (CBN, AMCON, NDIC) are not doing enough to bring in the N1 trillion and as far as I am concerned, the CBN, AMCON and NDIC are unwittingly subsiding the N1 trillion bad loans taken by these so-called 10 big boys with public funds.
“I mean the CBN, for instance, has the statutory duty to prop up money deposits banks with credit lines from time to time, especially if they face liquidity issues. These banks need the N1 trillion in the hands of these big boys very badly now, especially with the effect of the TSA implementation. So why is the CBN, AMCON and NDIC, even EFCC, not chasing these people hard and in public too? To me, therefore if the CBN, AMCON and NDIC are not breathing down their necks to pay up, then it is subsidy by subterfuge.”
The Guardian wrote: “Efforts by the Federal Government at shoring up economic activities through debt recovery from individuals and organisations are not adding up. High-profile debtors are using the courts to mount blocks in the way of government.
“The Guardian learnt that at least 10 of such individuals, referred to as the “big boys”, are collectively owing the government about N1 trillion, which is about 17 per cent of the N6 trillion 2016 national budget.
“The Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer, Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON), Mr. Ahmed Kuru, told The Guardian that these “big boys with big jets” had perfected the art of going to court to stop the debt-buying agency from taking possession of their assets.”
The Guardian report added: “According to him (Kuru), court processes could take up to 10 years, as debtors are willing to go to any length, including getting to the Supreme Court, in delaying suits filed against them. “Obligors in court just want to buy time to continue to live with their lifestyles, which is more important to them than paying up their debts,” he noted.
“Kuru, who declined to disclose the identities of the big boys, because he did not “want to fight them on the pages of the newspapers” since the cases are still on-going, however, vowed that AMCON would recover every penny owed government.
“President Muhammadu Buhari has repeatedly accused the Judiciary of frustrating his fight against corruption, especially in prosecuting high-profile cases. He has continued to challenge judicial officers to remove every obstacle inhibiting the successful prosecution of such cases.”
It continued: “Speaking specifically on some of the factors impeding AMCON’s debt recovery efforts, Kuru said: “We have three major challenges – one, AMCON’s ability to perform depends on the state of the economy; we are talking about recovering money from businesses, so the state of the economy is very key. That is a challenge. We’ve started seeing some traction, businesses have started seeing some progress and some of them are picking up, that is also a challenge.
“Two, the judicial process. People rush to courts and the constitution gives them the right to do so, and that also slows us down. Three, the AMCON Act does not transfer ownership of the Eligible Bank Assets (EBA) directly to AMCON. We have to go through the legal process to convert those assets to ourselves. That in itself is a challenge.
“In getting the “big boys” to pay their debts, the AMCON boss said: “It is not easy because they have perfected the art of going to court. They are scared of fulfilling their responsibilities; they are the ones that can easily personalise the issues and official function of debt recovery; they believe that people must have a motive for doing what they do. Clearly, if you’re not listening to what they want, you are opposing them. So it has not been easy. But I can tell you also that we are determined, and the government also is very determined that these monies have to be recovered even if it has to lead to an amendment of the AMCON Act.”
An industry expert who spoke with The Dream Daily on condition of anonymity for fear of personal and career repercussions said: “These so-called big boys are buying time for themselves. They can see how others before now were let off so easily after taking billions of naira from their own banks, and nothing happened. They know that this government won’t be here forever. In fact, they know how to change government too; they are indeed big boys in the corridors of power; they can do and undo That is the kind of country we have, the kind of country we have made for ourselves, a country where you set up a bank and you know, ab initio, that you are only doing this to get depositors’ money and shareholders’ funds and squander it on frivolities like private jets, yachts, high-class prostitutes, expensive wine and so on. We should all cover our faces in shame.”
And time is a luxury the debt-recovery agency, AMCON, does not have. According to The Guardian report quoted above, “AMCON is expected to wind down by 2023, but in view of the slow and long legal proceedings, there is scepticism about the ability of the debt purchaser to conclude before the expiration of its tenure.” Therefore, except President Muhammadu Buhari moves now to extend the life of AMCON in perpetuity by seeking amendments to the laws establishing it, the country will just have to kiss goodbye to trillions of naira criminally looted by bankers and their cronies through phoney loans.
How CBN, NDIC AMCON ‘Indulge Bank Debtors’
While there has been a considerable buzz in the media by the CBN, NDIC, AMCON against bank CEOs, directors and other management staff over the debt debacle threatening to bring down the nation’s financial sector, stakeholders who spoke with The Dream Daily under strict condition of anonymity dismissed the seeming burst of energy at the CBN, NDIC and AMCON to fulfil their statutory duties to the Nigerian People as “window dressing”, “a play to the gallery to impress President Muhammadu Buhari, who everybody knows is passionate about changing our culture of corruption and impunity.”
“I hope the President is not fooled about this gra gra by CBN, AMCON and NDIC. He should order all of them to open up on debts in our sector (banks/financial services). In my view, and I should know because I have worked all my life in the banking, all of them, the CBN o, AMCON o, NDIC o, are all playing games. They are in the know about how this bank directors take these loans, how they collude with non-bankers to take loans when they know, ab initio, that the loans would not be paid back. The directors and bank management take their cut of the loans, feeble efforts are made to pay one or two instalment, and then suddenly they would say they loan has gone bad,” one of our sources said.
The source continued: “Then the racket moves to the next level – NDIC – where underhand negotiations are done in high secrecy to reduce billions of naira loans to pittance, which the debtors-big man is then asked to pay. If your debt is, let us say, N100 billion. If you negotiate very well and bring part of the ‘loot,’ the NDIC can reduce it to just 10% for you. The 90% debt write-off brunt is transferred to the tax-paying public, the Nigeria people, you and I who are working hard and are asked to go and bring our great, great, great grandfathers to access loans! These things happen. Of course it is illegal because where is the law that allows NDIC to do this?”
The source added: “The game also continues at AMCON, especially if the debtor reneged on the ‘arrangement’. Revelling in the ease at with which they are let off the hook by the regulatory authorities, these crooks sometimes just make one or two payments on the drastically reduced debts and call the bluff of the CBN, NDIC or AMCON, whoever, moreso when they have fulfilled the ‘arrangement’ to grease some palms od equally crooked regulatory officials. That is when you hear of CBN or NDIC or AMCON start the media circus of sacking bank MD and board, seal off one business premises or take one debtor-big man to court. The shenanigan is laughable because all will soon be calm and quiet if you the debtor-big man go back to ‘settle’ things the usual Nigerian way.
“They question you should ask yourself and this regulatory authorities is how does this happen in the financial sector? How, for instance does a bank chairman or director become so much indebted to his bank far and above the statutory threshold? Were CBN regulatory officials who are supposed to examine the bank’s books on honeymoon when that bank big man was taking these loans beyond what is allowed by law? Who authorised bad loans write-off or reduction for these bankers-crook? CBN? NDIC? AMCON? On what basis in law does a N100 billion debt becomes N1 billion, especially when many of these robbers-bank directors have known assets that the CBN, NDIC and AMCON can sell to recover the loans, instead of transferring the burden to the banks’ innocent shareholders, depositors and the Nigerian tax payer? These things don’t add up and you can say that the regulatory authorities are culpable in the whole saga. The CBN, NDIC and AMCON, especially, are indulging these people; they playing dice with public funds, which are used balance the books when loans go bad.”
Stakeholders pointed to past efforts to name bank debtors and recover bad loans, which regulatory authorities like the CBN, NDIC and AMCON failed to follow through. They recall, for instance, how in 2009 the Senate Committee on Banking, Insurance and Other Financial Institutions named former directors of 13 failed banks who were involved in insider credit abuse that led to the banks’ failure. The former directors of the failed banks collectively owed the failed banks N53.3 billion out of which the NDIC only recovered a paltry N4.722 billion as at then.
Former Minister of Science and Technology, Chief Ebitimi Banigo; former Minister of Information, Chief Dapo Sarumi; former Governor of old Kwara State, Alhaji Shaaba Lafiagi; an industrialist, Prince Samuel Adedoyin; businessman, Sir Emeka Offor; and former Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Chief Dubem Onyia, featured on that Senate Committee list.
Former presidential aspirant, Mallam Saleh Gambo; ex-Lagos State commissioner, Chief Remi Adiukwu-Bakare; her husband, Chief Stephen Bakare; Senator Chris Adighije; Senator Mike Ajaegbo; Chief S.O. Bakare; Chief Great Ogboru; Sir Victor Odili; Mr. Paul Achimugu; Mr. Adeyeba Adekunle Johns; Chief C.M. Ibeto; Alhaji Abbati Aminu Saleh; and Ibrahim Aminu Saleh among many others, also featured in the list.
The Dream Daily Tests Out The Claims Against CBN, NDIC, AMCON
In the time-honoured fine tradition of objective journalism, which this newspaper subscribes to, The Dream Daily indeed approached the CBN, NDIC and AMCON each with three separate Freedom of Information (FoI) requests, which would have absolved these public institutions of alleged culpability in the debt problem in the banking sector.
In an FoI request dated August 16, 2016 addressed to Governor, CBN, Mr. Godwin Emefiele and received on the same date by CBN officials at the apex bank’s headquarters, this newspaper applied for copies of the following documents from the CBN: “a list of all banks in liquidation in Nigeria between January 1, 2000 and January 31, 2019”; “records of CBN reports on each liquidated bank from January 1, 2000 to January 31, 2016”; and “records of insider abuse at each liquidated bank, including bad loans and debts incurred on each liquidated bank’s books by its Management Staff, Directors and Board members, etc, before liquidation.”
However, the CBN refused access to this information as requested by The Dream Daily under the FoI Act. In further violation of the FoI Act, the apex bank did not furnish this newspaper with a notification of denial as required of the CBN and all public institutions by Section 7, Sub Section 2 of the FoI Act 2011.
Moreover, in a shocking disclosure that reveals the insular regime that the Governor, CBN, Mr. Godwin Emefiele, appears to have set up at the CBN, which also shows how out of touch the government bankers is with the Nigerian People, CBN officials told a member of staff of this newspaper that “you cannot follow up on a letter here. We don’t allow that. Go and wait for our reply.”
In any case, the CBN reply did not come to this newspaper’s FoI request made to the CBN; neither within the 7 days of The Dream Daily’s application as required by Section 4 of the FoI Act, 2011 nor as at the time of going to press.
Similarly, this newspaper’s FoI request to the managing director of/chief executive officer of NDIC, dated August 15, 2016 and received at the NDIC national headquarters in Abuja asked the corporation to make copies of the following documents available to The Dream Daily: “a copy each of all unpaid loans and debt owed to all liquidated banks by such bank’s management staff, former directors and companies through which the debts were incurred covering between January 1 2006 and January 2016;
“A copy each of assets under seizure by the NDIC through court order between January 1 2006 and January 2016 from directors and other management staff of liquidated banks in Nigeria; and
“A copy each of legal cases mounted by the NDIC to seek seizure/forfeiture of assets of debtors-directors and management staff of all liquidated banks in Nigeria between January 1 2006 and January 2016.”
Like the CBN governor, the NDIC Managing Director, Umaru Ibrahim, denied the FoI request as required by law. Despite repeated follow up at the corporation’s office, the NDIC, like the CBN, did not provide this newspaper of a notice of denial, a violation of Section 7, Sub Section 2 of the FoI Act 2011.
And to Managing Director, AMCON, Ahmed Kuru, The Dream Daily made the following FoI requests on August 16, 2016:
“All records of non-performing loan assets purchased by AMCON from inception till date;
“Records of all assets which AMCON recovered from management staff, directors and board members of all banks currently in liquidation;
“Up to date records of assets of management staff, directors and board members of all liquidated banks pursued by AMCON since inception and those still being pursued for seizure by AMCON through court cases.”
Suffices to say that AMCON, like the CBN and the NDIC, refused to furnish this newspaper with the information requested, threating with levity the FoI Act, 2011.
The reader is invited, therefore to make up your own assumptions on the claims of culpability made against the CBN, AMCON and NDIC by stakeholders and other sources who spoke with The Dream Daily in this investigative story and draw your conclusions on the truth or otherwise of the allegations of regulatory authorities in the banking sector working in cahoots with criminally-minded banks-owners and powerful but fraudulent people in the country to run banks down with illegal, non-performing loans, only for the long-suffering Nigerian tax payers to pick up the tap through government’s use of public funds to pay depositors of failed banks or bailing out tottering banks looted by their owners-manager. It is a cobweb of criminality screaming for several severe swat of the Change brooms from President Muhammadu Buhari.