Press Release

•January 13, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Nearly two months after his mysterious disappearance, President
Yar’Adua (or a talented thespian) inexplicably elected to address the
country via the BBC. Yet, no one can independently verify the
authenticity of the voice that assured worried Nigerians that “I am
getting better.”

As his cowardly army of supporters declare victory and accuse the
press of incendiary sensationalism, many pertinent issues must be
addressed.

First, there is no proof that the quavery voice we heard on radio
belonged to the president and even if it were his, the whole affair is
dubious unless the BBC can provide evidence that it was recorded two
days ago.

Second, members of the president’s cabinet are guilty of high treason
and must be tried immediately. For two months, they have lied to their
fellow citizens. Curiously, they have continued to award contracts to
their cronies while they take advantage of the vacuum in Aso Rock.

Third, the BBC cannot be trusted. And as long as the Crown continues
to support Nigeria’s Northern elite, the BBC must be viewed with
suspicion. This mouthpiece of imperialist Britain has been involved in
numerous scandals ranging from fraud to ethical lapses. In spite of
its so-called independence, it is funded by the British public trust
and is first and foremost a propaganda machine. It is absurd that
British media organisations are so influential on the African
continent. Even if he was really the one on tape, why must our
president break his silence this way? What happened to the local media
who are the custodians of the people’s trust?

Full Disclosure.

The citizens of Nigeria deserve to know the truth. In my campaign
against the larcenous Erastus Akingbola and his fellow goons in the
financial sector, I argued for full disclosure from the banks. This
phrase has now become a mantra. So why does a president that expressly
supported the reforms in the banking sector fail to reveal his true
medical condition?

Enough of this dangerous obscurantism! The president must allow the esteemed members of the Nigerian press to visit him and communicate their findings to the Nigerian people.

Dayo Coker is a blogger and economic analyst.

What happens to the AFC?

•October 4, 2009 • Leave a Comment

The African Financial Corporation, which was created by Professor Soludo and modelled after the International Finance Corporation, seems to be in a quandary of sorts. The organisation suffered a big embarrassment when it was named as a debtor in the CBN’s “name” and “shame” campaign forcing its Andrew Alli, its wonkish boss to evade the media during its Annual General Meeting.

Soludo has added to the AFC’s problems by resigning as its chairman, which he held by virtue of his position as the governor of the central bank. And it seems that Sanusi L. Sanusi, the new Governor wants nothing to do with the AFC as its true nature is still mired in mystery. Andrew Alli’s attempts at lobbying Sanusi through the influential King’s College Old Boys Association – to which both men belong – doesn’t seem to be working.

The two men were guests at the Calabar Festival where Donald Duke played the role of middleman. While Andrew Alli tried to start a conversation, the unsmiling Sanusi remained inscrutable.

Atuche goes out in style

•October 2, 2009 • Leave a Comment

THANK YOU

Dear PHBeings,
Nine years ago, we began a journey with dreams in our eyes, hopes in our heart, and belief in our capabilities to build an institution that would add value, even with the then crowded market.
Together, with your collective support we created and nurtured what today has become a recognisable icon in the nation’s financial services sector. Some of you will recall with nostalgia the historical trajectory of our Bank that has risen from nothing to emerge as Nigeria’s most innovative bank.

I sincerely thank you all for the support, co-operation and team spirit that has enabled us to come this far. As in all things however, there is a time to say GOOD BYE.
As I bow out today from the Bank, I earnestly urge each and everyone of you to keep the PHB passion aflame so that the height, the Mount Everest which we envisioned
shall not only be accomplished, but shall be surpassed and we would have created an institution that would outlive all of us.

In the course of my stewardship we took decisions which affected all of us in different ways but they were in the best and overall interest of the Bank.
As I conclude my Bank PHB tour of duty today, I not only wish to sincerely thank all you great PHBeings for supporting me and rising up to the demands of our
franchise, but also to ask for forgiveness from those who felt offended by my actions or inactions.
I urge you to extend cooperation and support to the change in leadership that will result from my exit. Quite honestly, I believe that the emotional issues are far outweighed by the future outlook which I consider bright.

I owe thanks and appreciation to the Board, which provided wisdom and counsel I couldn’t have done without. To members of my executive team for their advice, encouragement and all that I learned from them.
But most of all, I want to thank you, the employees, the heart and soul of this great institution. You are the number one reason for the successes we have achieved. Accept
my appreciation for your commitment and focus to our vision, including your dedication to customers which is the objective of our business.

If the mark of a truly high-performing organization is to grow, evolve, and improve, I dare say we’ve done that to a remarkable degree. Yet the next challenge will still require
you to redouble your effort especially in the face of competition.
Even as I bow out at this moment, I wish you and members of your family the best and enjoin you to remain steadfast on the path of integrity and professionalism, business focus, Innovativeness and indeed possibility thinking which we have espoused over these years.

May God Almighty bless us all and Bank PHB

FA

Francis Atuche
Former GMD/CEO
Bank PHB

Understanding The Nigerian Banking Sector Part II

•September 26, 2009 • 3 Comments

August 14, 2009 and the raging debate

On Friday, August 14, 2009, a bow-tied and bespectacled Fulani prince convened an extraordinary meeting and sacked the executive directors of five Nigerian banks. The television footage made for gripping prime time drama. One could hear a pin drop as the funereal Governor of the Central Bank solemnly ended the careers of his former colleagues. He calmly looked into the flashing cameras as he listed the executive directors whom had been affected.

With those softly-spoken words, Mallam Sanusi Aminu Lamido Sanusi became the most polarizing figure in Africa’s most populous country. By midday, it became Sanusimania as the privileged digerati and news hungry Diaspora crowd joined in the debate. That evening, the largely unemployed roadside analysts nearly came to blows as they argued and passed around copies of PM News.

The cold war between the bourgeois and the masses ensured that the news was received with glee among the lower classes. The wave of schadenfreude was plain for all to see. For the ordinary man on the street, this was a fitting end for the “criminals” who had colluded with kleptocratic politicians. As I wound down my car window to pick up the popular evening tabloid, a swarthy man dressed in a dirty suit bashed his tattered briefcase against a wall and said to no one in particular, “Let him sack all of them.” It was a truly visceral sight.

The verbal sparring started the next day as Mr Sanusi single-handedly drove the news cycle and brought smiles to the faces of long suffering vendors. The country was already abuzz with conspiracy theories and very few people were still on the fence. “These Hausa cows will ruin our economy,” suggested one debater. “Forget the ethnic stereotypes,” another replied. “The man is the real deal.” “Nonsense,” proclaimed another doubter. “I knew that man had an agenda when I heard that he quit a lucrative job to go and spend six years in the Sudan. He is a Boko Haram jihadist.” “Have you actually read his essays?” a supporter countered. “Sanusi is a moderate Muslim who is even loathed by the Northern establishment.”

The battle lines had been drawn and six weeks after, the country is still divided into two camps. On one side are Sanusi’s supporters who argue that the financial sector needed a life saving surgery; on the other side are those that argue that it was an ill-advised action motivated by revenge, and part of a wider conspiracy. This group has been egged on by a lunatic fringe which suggests that Sanusi sacked the bank chief executives because they had supported Christian pilgrims and tried to encourage the growth of businesses in the southern part of the country. These loonies defend their echolalia with a Photostat copy of a “prophetic” edition of Vanguard.

“Name” and “Shame” and Barrister Jimoh Ibrahim

The CBN’s decision to release the name of debtors led to several strongly-worded advertisements in the newspapers. Most of the accused debtors argued that their accounts were performing and noted that they even had credit balances in other accounts. This is an untenable argument. After all, African Petroleum had credit balances with Access Bank and that didn’t stop it from being in the hock. Chief O.B. Lulu Briggs, whose wife Seinye Briggs was mysteriously missing from the list of detained Intercontinental Bank directors, claimed that he was not indebted to Union Bank because the loans were taken before he joined the company. I wonder if he would have said the same thing if the company had been sitting on huge cash reserves and the directors tried to prevent him from earning a dividend after he joined the board.

But Barrister Jimoh Ibrahim, the “Harvard-trained” lawyer provided most of the entertainment. Like his rivals Aliko Dangote and Femi Otedola, Jimoh Ibrahim was named in the CBN’s ignominious list of debtors. Although the three of them quickly disputed the CBN’s figures, it was the clownish Ibrahim who tried to turn a serious matter into a Broadway play. While Otedola and Dangote made moves to repay their debts, Ibrahim went to the press and announced that he would pay three billion and settle the remainder after the account had been audited. For years, he had cultivated the image of a black Donald Trump and was desperately trying to salvage his reputation. According to him, Oceanic Bank had initially waived some of the money and the CBN’s figures were dubious. He also could not resist taking a pot shot at his rivals. “Some people had their debts reduced by computer errors,” he cackled.

He later commissioned an advertisement where he listed Nigeria’s 24 banks and claimed that he was only indebted to Wema Bank and Oceanic Bank. It was almost hilarious. “Jimoh Ibrahim is not indebted to GTBank.” “Jimoh Ibrahim is not indebted to Zenith Bank.” And so on. But it turns out that Jimoh Ibrahim actually owes far more than the 8 billion naira he bandied in the press. It is only in Nigeria that a businessman who takes a loan of 14 billion and makes a public show of repaying 3 billion is treated like an all-conquering hero.

The strange case of Brunel Engineering

The management of Brunel Engineering and Consulting Limited placed an advertisement in some of Nigeria’s leading newspapers to counter the CBN’s assertion that it owed a tidy sum of N6, 935,006,115.89 to Afribank. The company stated: “The true state of affairs is that Brunel is currently executing the 105 Health Centre Project worth 19 billion naira for the Rivers State Government. Afribank Nigeria Plc, in partnership with Brunel for the execution of the project, has extended a revolving line of 6.25 billion towards the construction of the health centres guaranteed by an irrevocable payment order issued by the Rivers State Government in favour of Afribank. To date, the Rivers State Government has paid the equivalent of three billion four hundred million naira into Brunel’s account with Afribank as part payment for units completed. The 105 Health Centre project is still ongoing. Attached are some of the instruments of deposit. Against this background, Brunel cannot be said to have a non-performing loan with Afribank Nigeria Plc as claimed by the Central Bank of Nigeria.”

Brunel then went on to display two Afribank cheques, a deposit slip and the Rivers State Ministry of Health logo. However, a closer look at the documents raises serious questions since the cheques are made payable to Brunnel not Brunel. Is this a case of Evan(s) Enwerem style forgery?

The bonfire of the vanities

Greed drives the global financial services sector. The world’s moneymen, from the boiler room hucksters to the patrician Swiss private bankers, are motivated by fat bonuses and the sybaritic lifestyle that comes with being a successful shylock. So they are quick to devise ways of using mathematics and esoteric legal tools to extract gold from mundane instruments. The root of the current meltdown lies in the rapid growth of this so-called “financial innovation” industry. As more bankers got rich from repackaging everyday instruments as financial products, they created a quadrillion dollar bubble that would ultimately burst when the market became overheated.

The case of Nigeria was slightly different. After President Olusegun Obasanjo sold his soul to the devious Bretton Woods puppet masters and installed their disciples in key ministerial posts, smart foreign-based Nigerian investment bankers saw a great opportunity to become the lords of Nigeria’s new financial landscape. It was true that they were gainfully employed by big corporations and had imposing titles. But in reality, “Vice-Presidents” were a dime a dozen and many of them were trapped in cubicles fighting for limited openings with blue-eyed graduates of Ivy League schools. It would take time to crack the glass ceiling. So Osaze Osifo and company left their jobs and returned to the country of their birth.

They were pleased with what they saw. The mortgage sector was almost non-existent and insurance salesmen couldn’t even manage to convince salaried employees to take out policies. There were no credit derivatives and no structured investment vehicles. The Nigerian financial system was still light years behind that of the developed world and as a result of the rural-urban drift, some rustic folk had never been inside the four walls of a bank. But there was a stock market and even though it was still rudimentary, it presented that once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. So they raised funds and started their investment boutiques. It wasn’t so difficult. They had already acquired foreign accents and all they needed were posh offices and other accoutrements of successful professionals. The rest of them were snapped up by Vetiva, BGL, ARM and Afrinvest.

These Gordon Gecko wannabes found willing allies in their less sophisticated Nigerian counterparts who had had clawed their way to the pinnacle of the banking sector through sheer determination and abundance of street smarts. Men like Tony Elumelu, Jim Ovia and Aigboje Imoukhuede were already top executives but they wanted more. When Professor Soludo announced his banking consolidation reforms in 2004, they knew that it was time to make their move and the investment bankers helped them draw up plans while they regaled them with amazing tales from Wall Street and The City.

These forays into the capital market were highly successful and the banks were shocked by the success of their plan. It was unbelievable. Traders left their businesses and started buying stocks and copies of Stockswatch. It was crazy. Complete strangers would accost you at stock brokerages and start gushing about the wonders of the capital market. The bankers took full advantage. As stocks reached stratospheric highs, they held on to the share certificates and embarked on countless public offerings.

That was the beginning of the problem. With more money came recklessness. Since these were mostly small banks that had made a quantum leap into the big league, they really did not know what to do with all this cash. Even after taking huge bonuses and “settling” their investment analysts, there was still too much money left and they did not want to tie it up in long term projects.

And since they had hired people based on pulchritude, personal connections and their clout with government officials, it was difficult to generate useful ideas internally. So they called their expensive analysts and sought advice. “We think that this is the time to take big risks,” suggested the former Wall Streeters and City bankers. “Do you know that George Soros made a billion pounds in one day betting against the pound? You have to take big risks to make big money”. And the benighted bankers gleefully nodded their heads in agreement.

They thought them how to manipulate the market and triple their market capitalization. But somewhere along the line, some of the bank executives began to show incipient signs of madness. Corrupted by money, they began to have delusions of grandeur. Their influential spiritual advisers told them that God wanted them to take over Africa. They believed the spin and drew up plans for an invasion of the Dark Continent. The rational directors who mustered the courage to object were publicly reprimanded or forced to resign. “The Lord wants us to be the biggest bank in Africa by 2020,” declared a certain chief executive at an extraordinary board meeting.

So in their quest for regional domination, they shelled out millions on banking licences and set up shop in Ghana, The Gambia and Cameroun. Despite its serious problems, FinBank inexplicably purchased an Islamic Bank in The Gambia. These bankers blithely forgot that the money could be used to set up refineries in Nigeria and solve the perennial curse of petroleum importation. They never bothered to consider the benefits of coming together to finance energy projects. No, it was better to open branches in banana republics. But then, this was a time of great foolishness.

The wonderful life of the Nigerian bank chairman

Sanusi Lamido Sanusi should have sacked the chairmen of the five troubled banks as there is no good reason for retaining their services. The term, chairman is the most misused title in the lexicon of Corporate Nigeria. A couple of entrepreneurs draw up plans for a company and then select a respected public figure to act as the “chairman”.

But the archetypal Nigerian bank chairman is no better than an expensive bronze statue adorning an ornate boardroom. He is usually an old retiree, almost senile and completely oblivious of the goings-on at the bank which he chairs. He is paid a huge sum for simply donning a starched dashiki and showing up at meetings. He flashes a megawatt smile for the cameras and drops one-liners about the bank’s performance even though he can no longer make sense of the figures in the beautifully-bound booklet.

In order to reform the Nigerian banking sector, there must be a new set of rules for selecting bank chairmen. A cursory look at the five banks shows that fossilized bank chairmen contributed to their descent into hubris. It is unfortunate that Dr Raymond Obieri who had the experience necessary for the job chose to get involved in insider loan abuses. He should be in Kirikiri.

Atedo Peterside, Gbenga Oyebode and Umaru Mutallab are examples of proactive bank chairmen who can still contribute to the growth of their respective institutions and it is much easier to prosecute them when their banks are found guilty of fraud. A chairmanship should not be a sinecure reserved for influential traditional rulers and retired businessmen who sign off on financial statements without reading them. What is the point of paying them for doing nothing?

Apostle Hayford Alile is a case in point. As a former Director-General of the Nigerian Stock Exchange, he should have known that something was amiss at Oceanic Bank. But he was also a sect leader who was probably too old to be bothered with accounting matters. It is no surprise that his name showed up on the debtor’s list recently released by the Federal Mortgage Bank. You cannot have your cake and eat it. If you get paid handsomely for “chairing” a company, you must be prepared to share in the blame.

Mrs Ibru and Sons Plc

The ascendancy of Mrs Cecilia Ibru’s two sons showed her nepotism. Oboden was the crown prince, while Obaro was a dissolute hophead. In addition to being the bank’s biggest beneficiary of insider loans, Oboden spent 1.5 billion naira of Oceanic Bank’s money on a second-hand Sikorsky helicopter at a time when the bank was already having liquidity problems. He was probably tired of the infuriating traffic and needed a chopper to take him to working lunches at ritzy restaurants.

However, Oboden’s excesses pale in comparison to those of his brother, Obaro, a junkie who spent a considerable portion of his time at rehab clinics and expensive hangouts. After a stint as the Chief Marketing Officer of Oceanic Bank, the drug-addled Obaro was given the official designation of General Manager, MD’s office. This unbelievable job description allowed the feckless scion to earn a hefty salary for doing absolutely nothing. Despite his long absences, Mrs Ibru promptly moved her son to the Human Resources department in 2008. Under his management, Oceanic Bank’s human resources department was accepting huge bribes from prospective job seekers to join its overpaid workforce. The absence of a meritocratic structure definitely contributed to the bank’s problems.

And in spite of its claims of building a stronger Nigeria by supporting small and medium scale businesses, Oceanic Bank was notorious for exploiting local entrepreneurs. Prospective loan seekers were forced to take out exploitative policies from Oceanic Insurance and burdened with other ridiculous management charges.

Stealing in the name of Corporate Social Responsibility

Four months ago, Oceanic Bank announced the launch of its Oceanic Football Talent Hunt, a revamped version of the controversial Football Challenge with Fash. The first show offered prizes of over N15 million in cash, 20 brand-new cars and a Honda CRV Jeep. Six of the cars were set aside for winners of the raffle draws in the six zonal trial centres, while 14 were reserved for the players that would constitute the winning team known as Fash FC. The first series of the program, which was hosted by the flamboyant ex-footballer, John Fashanu ended in acrimony after he was accused of pocketing a 25 million donation from Alhaji Aliko Dangote.

Sources close to Oceanic Bank said that the bank’s former chief executive, Mrs Cecilia Ibru was so miffed about this revelation that she decided to terminate the deal between the bank and Black Sea, Fashanu’s production company. Oceanic Bank eventually appointed Austin “Jay-Jay” Okocha as the face of the second edition of the program at a well attended ceremony in Lagos. The bank also incorporated a separate company, Oceanic Football Promotions Limited headed by Charles Mekwunye, an ex-employee of Obasanjo Farms and one of the executive directors sacked by the new CBN governor.

At the event, I saw two shaggy-haired, unkempt young men take the stage and thank “Mummy” Ibru for giving them an opportunity to “make it in life”. As the diffident young men spoke in halting English, they listed the great prizes they received from the first edition and how their lives had been transformed.

However, there was no mention of a football contract or trials with a professional football club in spite of the three thousand naira that they paid to enter the show. After showing them on television going through some drills, the finalists were rewarded with gift prizes and supposedly given jobs with Oceanic Bank. On May 3, 2009, Eric Dufegha, one of the winners of a Kia Car, granted an interview to The Daily Trust’s David Ngobua. According to him, “We were given N1M naira each and jobs in Oceanic bank. So as I am talking to you, I am a staff of Oceanic Bank. We don’t go to work every day but they understand that we are footballers. We are paid our salaries as and when due.”

This incident demonstrated Mrs Ibru’s utter disregard for corporate governance. What kind of chief executive allows a publicly-owned company to employ unqualified people as a means of promoting a dubious football academy? What if all the winners are totally incompetent, uneducated urchins? Would Oceanic Bank still make space for them in their banking offices or continue paying them even when they don’t come to work? What has playing football got to do with getting a job in a bank?

Football academies are not about gift prizes and jobs. They are facilities that identify talented youngsters and train them for a period of time with the aim of developing their skills and transforming them into competitive sportsmen. Most academies collect fees and are supported by other organizations such as state governments and nonprofit organizations. The age for admission is usually between 6 and 18 and applicants are only admitted when they have undergone successful trials and met several other criteria. It is not an all-comers affair and most clubs have their own academies. They are designed to help talented kids become professional footballers. In reality Fashanu and Oceanic Bank initiated a lottery where they raised money from donors, skimmed desperate youths of their cash and still managed to convince gullible Nigerians that they were doing something for the society.

Oceanic Bank is simply exploiting the fact that many Nigerians are poor and mad about football. That is why the bank had instituted what could be termed a “football beauty pageant” where people buy a “scratch card” in the hope of winning great prizes. How many footballers were produced by the first season of the program? I remember watching an edition of “Fash FC” where I saw a grotesque 28-year old man as one of the finalists. Is it realistic to expect a football club to consider hiring a 28-year old that has never played professional football? After using the program as a means of diverting 400 million, Cecilia Ibru still had the nerve to steal money from inner city youths. Okocha or no Okocha, John Aboh must do the right thing and give the kids back their money.

A time bomb in the microcredit sector

There are already signs of trouble in the microcredit sector. Conceived by Obasanjo as a way of replicating Mohammed Yunus’s successful Grameen Bank model, the principals of these microfinance banks got sucked into the vortex of the stock market madness and diverted depositors funds to the stock exchange. Some of them didn’t have the faintest idea of the idea behind microcredit. Rather, they were offering loans to customers to buy electronics and furniture.

The crisis has already claimed the scalp of Simon Akinteye, the flamboyant former chief executive of Integrated Microfinance Bank who was accused of colluding with Dr Doyin Abiola to disenfranchise one of the company’s largest shareholders. It is worth noting that the same IMFB won the CBN’s award for the best microfinance bank in 2008.

At First Call Microfinance Bank, promoted by Ochuko Akposibruke and Standard Alliance’s Bode Akinboye 800 million of depositors’ funds have vanished into thin air. Sanusi should make this sector a priority before it implodes.

Tunde Lemo should be properly investigated

During Professor Soludo’s tenure, grave allegations were levelled against Tunde Lemo, a CBN deputy governor by Mr Adebisi Omoyeni, his successor at Wema Bank. Although he was eventually cleared by the CBN, it is important for the new CBN Governor to properly investigate the circumstances surrounding the controversial takeover of Wema Bank by the new core investors, SW8.

SW8, which was registered on August 28, 2008 with a share capital of 10 million, hastily acquired majority shares in Wema Bank in the twilight of Soludo’s tenure. According to Mr Omoyeni, who was also an unethical bank chief executive, Lemo, his predecessor at the bank plunged the institution into a crisis when he approved questionable loan facilities totaling 8 billion and then used his influence at the CBN to get Omoyeni removed.

Jeremiah Omoyeni is not a saint. He briefly served as Ayo Fayose’s deputy before being tapped to run Wema Bank. In spite of the bank’s problems, he granted huge bonuses to himself and sidelined the other members of the board. But there is something about his persistence that suggests that Lemo was also guilty of mismanagement at Wema Bank.

Given Professor Soludo’s flexibility and passion for politics, the new CBN leadership should reexamine this case and lay the matter to rest once and for all. After all, Soludo decided not to prosecute the CBN employees that stole 400 million a few months ago. A tainted deputy governor sends the wrong message to the financial community.

The problem with ACAMB

ACAMB, the Association of Corporate Affairs Managers of Banks, is on a roll. After Sanusi L. Sanusi publicly pledged his support for the organisation, its executives have embarked on questionable visits to the CBN’s top brass. They popped up in Abuja where they presented Tunde Lemo with some gifts. They have also organized a successful seminar on the role of corporate affairs in the banking sector.

The only problem is: these individuals are a bunch of liars. ACAMB was founded to deceive the Nigerian public and should be scrapped immediately to restore some dignity to the corporate affairs departments of banks. It is no coincidence that most of ACAMB’s leading lights are employees of the five troubled banks who were guilty of deftly manipulating the media.

Take the case of Emeka Anaeto, the corporate affairs manager of Intercontinental Bank. After Sanusi removed the executive directors of Intercontinental Bank, The Punch asked him for information concerning the affected directors but he refused. The Punch eventually had to rely on old data that caused great embarrassment to two former executive directors who had been forced out by the imperious Erastus Akingbola.

But the same Emeka Anaeto was quick to mastermind a scathing attack on the CBN Governor and Atedo Peterside after their town hall meeting in London. While some corporate affairs executives do not associate with this devious organisation, ACAMB’s usual practice of hosting media executives to sumptuous dinners presents a conflict of interest that must be checked. Why must they try to influence journalists?

Those “Save and Win” lotteries

For years, Nigeria’s leading retail banks have wooed customers with sweepstakes and lotteries. First Bank, Union Bank, UBA, Bank PHB, Skye Bank, Intercontinental bank, Oceanic Bank, Afribank and company have all engaged in this unethical exploitation of customers. Intercontinental was notorious for rigged lotteries that produced hundreds of winners. Diamond Bank claims that it is giving away 50 million naira to “lucky” customers. But banks are not casinos and this practice definitely raises ethical questions.

GTBank and Zenith Bank must be commended for refusing to indulge in this unethical practice. GTBank has been exemplary in this regard and this could explain why it has managed to build a dedicated retail banking base through innovative customer service. Peter Igho, the Director-General of the Nigerian Lottery Regulatory Commission must do his job and force banks to apply for lottery licenses if they want to continue this nonsense. The Consumer Protection Council and other advocacy groups must also get involved and monitor these so-called “promos”.

Analysis

Professor Chukwuma Soludo remains a genius, a great economist who was adept at crunching numbers and evaluating empirical data. He will always be remembered for his consolidation programme which probably saved the banking industry from total collapse. But Soludo is also an opportunist and a social climber who repeatedly exhibited serious lapses in judgement. As a professor at the University of Nigeria in Nsukka, he skipped whole semesters to consult on lucrative foreign jobs only to return just before the examinations and set nearly insoluble questions for hapless students. During his time as the CBN governor, he also employed many of his “brothers” from the Buccaneer confraternity.

Like many great academics before him, he became a different person once he joined the government. He was easily dazzled by the trappings of power and the intrigues of cloak and dagger politics. Like another controversial central banker, the Delphic Alan Greenspan, he loved the company of power brokers and political grandees. Perhaps it had to do with his hardscrabble youth when he had to succeed in the face of massive odds. Perhaps it had to do with his political ambitions. Perhaps he was just a bullish alpha male who thought like an investment banker. Whatever the reason, he allowed a lot of madness under his watch and there will always be a big question mark hanging over his notable achievements. Hopefully, the “Soludo Solution” will work in the murky world of partisan politics.

It is now obvious that the new Governor is bent on instilling a new regulatory ethos and excise the cancer in Nigeria’s banking sector and he has remained unfazed in the face of implacable opposition. And in spite of the relentless pressure from a motley crew of lobbyists and operatives who have trailed him from London to Calabar, he has remained guarded with them and circumspect when dealing with the media. However, the antics of gonzo journalists and rabid attack dogs should not force him to embrace obscurantism, which is bad for the general public.

His choice of highly experienced executive directors for the five banks shows that he is serious about ending the era of one-man banking. Luckily, the replacement chief executives have been largely successful in calming frayed nerves and it appears that retail customers have refrained from hitting the panic button. But vested interests will do their best to stymie his efforts and if Dora Akunyili could miss a bullet by inches for daring to take on the peddlers of fake drugs, Sanusi must understand that he has embarked on a very dangerous mission.

It is been a busy month for the top M&A lawyers as Rand Merchant Bank circles the landscape like a peregrine falcon. The Nigerian banking crisis has played right into its hands and its boss Sizwe Nxasana can’t believe his luck as he already had plans for Nigeria before Sanusi shook up the sector. It is now a matter of time before the First Rand Group makes a bold entrance into the Nigerian financial services sector. Given the bank’s history of supporting capital projects, it might be a good thing for an industry that has ignored the vast potential of this great country of ours. Perhaps, The First Rand Group will be bold enough to invest in a functional local refinery and independent power projects. Separately, Aso Savings and Loans, appears to have Finbank in its cross hairs. The financial services firm has been eyeing a banking license for some time and this crisis is a heaven-sent opportunity for it to move into retail banking.

“Full Disclosure”

There are too many secrets in Nigeria’s banking sector and Sanusi must lead by example in the campaign for transparency. First, he should publicly declare his assets in order to quell any doubts concerning his motives. Second, he should put all his shares in a blind trust to ensure that he is not guilty of a conflict of interest. This information must be publicly accessible for record purposes. The same goes for all the new chief executives and executive directors. Nigerians also have the right to know the salaries of all individual bank chiefs especially the new ones that have been chosen to replace the fallen five. Executive compensation is a serious global issue and Nigeria’s case should not be different. This information should be part of regulatory filings and available to all and sundry. It would be great if Sanusi would use this opportunity to inculcate a culture of transparency in our banking sector. As the great Italian poet Dante once said, if you give people light, they will find their own way.

Understanding the Nigerian Banking Sector Part 1

•September 11, 2009 • 2 Comments

PART 1

UNDERSTANDING NIGERIA’S BANKING SECTOR  PART 1

The Soludo Era.

After the banking consolidation exercise reduced the number of Nigerian banks to 25, Professor Charles Soludo became a national hero. He was hailed as a practical genius who translated abstruse economic phenomena into reality, a man who easily vanquished the stodgy and connected grey eminences that had tried to resist his reformist agenda.

As the masses sang his praises, the canny bank chiefs who had succeeded in saving their institutions knew that they had to embrace him in order to protect their empires. To seduce him, they levied themselves 2 million naira each and hosted him a superlative 50 million naira “dinner”. He was initiated into the luxury life.

Soludo, the hyper-intelligent economist soon morphed into a dapper dresser who wore Savile Row suits and expensive Rolex watches. He became very close to a privileged group of bankers who became the de facto rulers of Nigeria’s financial sector. The tough talking regulator lost his sense of impartiality.

The Stock Market Boom.

General Olusegun Obasanjo’s decision to work with Bretton Woods economists combined with soaring oil prices to draw foreign investors to the Nigerian financial sector. In addition to hedge fund managers who invested a small fraction of their portfolios in the growing market, ordinary Nigerians joined the fray when they realized that banking sector reforms had transformed the stock market into a veritable cash machine.

Growing investor confidence quickly led to a sharp rise in stocks and attracted the hoi polloi. Small investors rushed to the stock market in droves and sank their money in “high growth stocks”. The snake oil bankers quickly read the situation and drew up plans to further increase their capital base.

In order to achieve abnormal returns, they enlisted the support of stockbrokers who brazenly manipulated stock prices with the tacit support of the leadership of the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Nigerian Stock Exchange. A rash of public offers soon followed, leading to an exponential increase in stock market indices. Some states even compelled civil servants to buy shares, forcibly deducting the value from their salaries.

Clergymen told their congregations about the “miraculous wonders” of the stock market. As the unsophisticated “sheep” emptied their nest eggs into the Nigerian Stock Exchange, the bankers and their sidekicks got richer. Mid-level managers earned millions in bonuses as reward for ensnaring ignorant investors. The stock market became part of the national conversation. And there was no stopping the bubble as the new financial elite was born.

Greed and Recklessness.

As the money rolled in, the bankers immediately went on a spending spree. South African brand consultants were paid huge sums to design new logos, Indians got millions for software and overpaid managers were poached from rival banks. In little time, the banking tsars became delusional and started a turf war. They commissioned ostentatious offices and hired buxom bimbos to reinforce their marketing departments. These “happiness” officers were given huge allowances for miniskirts, contraceptives and expensive baubles.

The battle assumed a personal dimension as nouveau riche executives fought for prime real estate in Ikoyi and Victoria Garden City. Others rented Banana Island flats and joined expensive boat clubs where they flaunted their expensive curios. The gnomish Jim Ovia took over an entire street in highbrow Victoria Island where he built an imposing edifice and commissioned a flashy ATM galleria. His amazing architects delivered The Civic Centre, a ship-inspired building that came to define his expensive taste. He became a trusted confidante to Aliko Dangote and Femi Otedola, Nigeria’s richest men. Aig Imoukhuede, one half of the now infamous United Alliance, built a fortress complete with angry mobile policemen. Jeremiah Omoyeni, the banker cum politician, got a 450 million naira housing allowance for his short stay at the helm of the crisis-ridden Wema Bank.

Anthony Elumelu, Cecilia Ibru, Jim Ovia and Tayo Aderinokun commissioned private jets to take them around the world while Akingbola curiously started an FM radio station and announced that he would treat himself to a Rolls Royce on his 60th birthday. Prince Nduka Obaigbena, This Day’s flamboyant chairman became the cheerleader-in-chief as banks picked up the tabs for visiting global dignitaries at the newspaper’s exquisite “town hall meetings.” Vanguard raked in billions from its annual Bankers’ Awards.

Foreign praise singers also realized that there was money to be made and set off a craze for dubious awards. African Business, Business Initiative Directions, The Banker and EMEA Finance came calling, dishing out awards in exchange for cash. Renaissance Capital, led by the mercurial Stephen Jennings staked its claim and exchanged ratings for securities contracts.

As oil prices continued to spike, savvy local entrepreneurs became potential oil and gas traders. They drew up grandiose business plans and convinced bank chiefs to advance huge loans for the purchase of tank farms and refined crude. The bankers obliged and shared the “upfront” interest. “Oil and Gas” became the most important phrase in the lexicon of the Nigerian banker.

Some of the oil traders were not satisfied with their bulging bank accounts. Since real estate is the Nigerian’s true barometer of wealth, they went back to the bankers and drew up plans for an African Dubai. The bankers obliged and doled out more cash. Deals were sealed in posh country clubs as huge loans were given with utter disregard of risk management processes.

Foreign credit lines and unnecessary forays into the capital market meant there was just too much money to spend. Banks soon decided to have a taste of the apple and incorporated subsidiaries to market “luxury estates”. Lekki, Ikoyi and Abuja became the new Hamptons. Even foreigners began to complain about the skyrocketing prices of Nigerian real estate. “Expatriate Only” signs soon became de rigueur.

The Early Signs.

When the subprime mortgage crisis ballooned into a full scale economic meltdown, the foreign bankers knew they had to run. After all, the global banking system was on the brink of collapse. Indy Mac had disappeared and fabled Wall Street institutions such as Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers had imploded.

The Nigerian banks had no chief economists and were blissfully ignorant of the implications of the crisis. Akingbola, Okereke-Onyiuke and Soludo all publicly declared that the country’s financial system was isolated from the rest of the world. Most Nigerians continued to buy stocks not knowing that Peter Ololo and his fellow stockbrokers were using cheap money to prop up the stock market. This made it easier for foreign operators to exit the market at a premium. Firms such as Actis, the private equity fund, dumped its shares in UAC for 50 naira. By the time, the stock market went into a tailspin, it was too late.

Deconstructing the Fallen Five.

Erastus Akingbola

Some staffers of Intercontinental Bank have accused me of bias, claiming that I have personal scores to settle with Dr Erastus Akingbola. This is untrue. I have always believed that Erastus Akingbola was a crook and I owed the Nigerian public a duty to expose him. It is now clear that he was an exceptionally talented huckster who used his avuncular mien to shamelessly manipulate the public.

He frittered away the bank’s money on questionable “CSR” schemes designed to influence politicians and lay the groundwork for a future political career. In the week before the August 14 temblor, he instituted a 50 million naira scholarship scheme for Katsina natives in a clear attempt to lobby the president through Ibrahim Shema, the governor of the president’s home state. Akingbola also instituted a similar scheme in his home state, Ondo, where he was rewarded with the chancellorship of the state-owned university in a clear case of quid pro quo. As part of his national “save me from Sanusi” tour, Dr Akingbola finally ended up in Sokoto where his attempts to lobby an unsmiling Sultan fell flat.

He didn’t show up for the historic August 14 meeting. Three days later, he had vanished into thin air. Nobody can underestimate the danger still posed by the highly influential Akingbola, who has been in the industry for thirty years. His case is not just an error in judgement. In any serious country, he would be the subject of an international manhunt.

Cecilia Ibru

Long before the stock market correction and the rapid fall in global oil prices, Cecilia Ibru had inexplicably shackled Oceanic Bank to a bilateral 175 million dollar five year loan from Merrill Lynch. This transaction was packaged by Osaze Osifo, a financial consultant and business partner of Andrew Alli, a CBN debtor who is currently at the helm of the controversial African Financial Corporation. A former chief executive of Oando, Osifo had made a killing in Nigeria’s GSM licence auction before joining the Oando triumvirate of Jite Okoloko, Wale Tinubu and Mofe Boyo.

The Slick Osifo had cultivated a friendship with Oboden Ibru, Mrs Ibru’s son and heir apparent, who doubled as the bank’s executive director and chief executive of Oceanic Capital. Osifo, Alli and four other principals needed additional capital for their investment boutique and through Oboden, Osifo’s company Travant Capital Partners was selected as the financial consultants for the transaction.

Oceanic Bank mismanaged this loan. In addition to heavily betting on real estate and petroleum marketing, the bank lent vast sums to the Delta State Government and other firms with ties to the powerful James Ibori. The bank also perfected numerous ways of diverting money through imaginary companies. One of such transactions involved lending millions of dollars to Meggitto Clothing for the purpose of exporting fabrics. This money vanished into thin air. We now know that there were other shady transactions such as the incomprehensible 19 billion naira loan extended to Nigeria’s most famous nanny.

Insiders say that the dim-witted Cecilia Ibru was hopelessly out of her depth at the helm of the bank. Surrounded by lackeys and relatives, she signed documents without reading them and gave loans based on her personal judgement. She relished being a mother figure and even though her staffers have kind words to say about her, they acknowledge that there was too much laxity with respect to management issues.

When it became apparent that Oceanic Bank was tottering, Mrs Ibru embarked on a number of questionable projects to raise money for her bank. These included an unethical 400 million dollar football reality program and a shady raffle in partnership with the Suru Group. It is a pity that the United Nations Global Compact did not do a thorough investigation before they named her to its committee on corporate governance.

Barth Ebong

Only a powerful witchdoctor could have known that Union Bank was in trouble. Long criticised for its horrendous customer service and aversion to technology, its chief executive was neither ostentatious nor publicity-hungry. As the oldest bank chief, he had a measure of gravitas which turned out to be a mask for incompetence.

With the benefit of hindsight, one should have guessed something was wrong with the big, strong and reliable bank when last year, in response to a campaign to force its chief executive to resign, the board moved its AGM to Maidugri, effectively disenfranchising the bulk of the bank’s shareholders.

Union Bank also stunned analysts when it agreed to underwrite half of Afribank’s overpriced public offer. Now it turns out that the dour Ebong also gambled heavily on high risk sectors. It is now clear that years of mismanagement had turned the bank into a corporate cadaver. So far, Union bank’s loan recovery efforts have yielded little fruit when compared to Intercontinental, Oceanic and Afribank. The authorities must also investigate how the trio of Nike Akande, Jite Okoloko and Festus Odumegwu ended up on the bank’s board of directors.

Sebastian Adigwe

Many analysts believe that Afribank’s current problems stem from its long standing relationship with African Petroleum. The bank was also heavily involved in financing Femi Otedola’s takeover of the petroleum marketing company and the huge debt added to its woes. Adigwe, who represented Afribank on AP’s board worked with Osa Osunde, an alleged front for Lucky Igbinedion to ensure Femi Otedola’s successful takeover of the oil marketing company.

It appears the real power was wielded by Osa Osunde who is widely rumoured to be a front for former Edo state governor, Lucky Igbinedion. Osunde eventually became the Vice-Chairman of AP and Chairman of Afribank. Apparently, the effete Adigwe was a figurehead who pandered to the whims and caprices of the bank’s powerful backers. A few weeks to the CBN action, Afribank took out paid advertisements congratulating Ogbueshi Uche Luke Okpuno on the completion of his imposing Abuja office. However, Ogbueshi Okpuno shockingly made an appearance on the CBN’s list. How interesting.

Okey Nwosu

FinBank raised more than 100 billion from its public offer and invested heavily in the oil and gas sector. The bank clearly had no long term strategy and one wonders if Mr Nwosu believed that oil prices would hit 400 dollars. A week before he was sacked, the suave Okey Nwosu approved a loan to Jevcon Oil and Gas. It was widely celebrated as a testimony of the bank’s devotion to indigenous operators in the maritime business. Amazingly, Jevcon shows up in the CBN list of debtors. Dr Onyung, Jevcon’s chief executive, has not issued any public statement to counter the CBN’s claims.

What was Mr Nwosu smoking?

Ndi Okereke Onyiuke and Musa Al-Faiki

Ndi Okereke-Onyiuke is an amazing creature, a corpulent buffoon who somehow clawed her way to the zenith of Broad Street while earning a dubious professorship. It is hard to understand how she kept her job after she publicly claimed that CNN and the Internet caused the stock market crash. While the NSE is a privately-owned organization, it is now clear that Okereke-Onyiuke has no business at the helm. For years, she has allowed the Exchange to be controlled by compromised acolytes and highly-placed insiders.

The case of Mallam Musa Al-Faiki is a cautionary tale. The former SEC DG was hopelessly out of depth during his five year tenure and did little to stop the widespread abuse in the market. Part of Mallam Al-Faiki’s problems was that he owed his position to Madam Onyiuke’s friendship with President Obasanjo. The vacillating SEC DG clearly did not want to offend his benefactor and when SEC staffers like Charles Udora, leaked their critical views to the press, he was always quick to issue a quick retraction.

The Talented Peter Ololo

Two years ago, one of Okereke’s aides told me about Peter Ololo, whom he simply called “Falcon”. The aide was starry-eyed as he described the powers of this mythical “Falcon”, who could effortlessly double the price of First Bank stock within a month. Today, Peter Ololo is in EFCC custody. He owes 88 billion.

Like every smart businessman, he filled his firm’s board with power brokers such as Senator Tunde Ogbeha and Senator S.A Otegbola. Unfortunately, the indolent Nigerian press has not really scratched the tip of Ololo’s schemes. In addition to Falcon Securities, the disgraced accountant also controlled two active publicly listed companies, DEAP Capital Management and Trust and DVCF Oil and Gas Fund.

These companies were empty shells whose complex schemes were powered by insider trading and exploitative business models. If Mrs Waziri’s EFCC is serious about sanitizing the sector, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to question the chief executives of these two “fund management” firms.

Fit and Proper Person Test

Nigerian regulators must adopt a system of screening bank executive directors to ascertain that they are of sound mind and body. Private investigators should be hired to pry into their backgrounds and their educational and analytical skills must be evaluated by an impartial panel. People should not be appointed to highly sensitive positions because of ethnic politics and tenure. I believe that such as test would have shown that Mrs Ibru, Mr Akingbola and Mr Ebong were not suited to the task of managing their respective financial institutions.

The Case for a Financial Services Authority

Perhaps the CBN, NDIC, SEC and other agencies should seriously consider the idea of establishing a Financial Services Authority to supervise the financial sector. The head of this agency must be chosen through a transparent recruitment process that has nothing to do with ethnicity, religion and other petty considerations. If the head hunters conclude that no Nigerian is suitably qualified, the government should consider foreigners for the post.

During the stock market bubble, a shocking thing happened. Pyramid schemes, commonly known as “wonder banks” sprouted in droves and earned the patronage of even highly educated bank managers who allowed greed to cloud their judgement. While they were eventually closed down, the SEC and the CBN has still not resolved the matter. An effective FSA could have nipped this development in the bud.

Vanguard and the Northern Agenda.

Unbelievable!!! In what must be a contender for this year’s most stupid argument, Vanguard has backed its campaign against Sanusi with an article it published in March detailing a supposed plan by “anti-consolidation” forces to take over five Nigerian banks. I don’t understand why the Nigerian public is taking this rag sheet seriously when Sam Amuka-Pemu’s “tissue paper” newspaper does not even qualify to be called a tabloid.

Let’s look at the timeline. Vanguard published the article on March 23, 2009. At the time the article was published, those five banks were already heavily indebted to their peers at the inter-bank market and there were already concerns over their financial health. In fact, Dayo Coker was already on the trail of Erastus Akingbola and had released his findings to the press.

Their chief executives must have suspected that Sanusi would be a tough cookie and quickly dispatched their PR strategists under the aegis of ACAMB to plant the story. Of course, Vanguard’s moronic journalists played along and concocted this baseless story to distract the new governor. The article was meant to preempt Sanusi and force him into making a compromise but he refused to buckle under pressure. The Nigerian public does not understand that Vanguard newspaper is one of the biggest beneficiaries of the corporate malfeasance that pervaded the Nigerian banking sector. For years, the “newspaper” made a killing from the Vanguard Bankers Awards where a table for eight went for a whopping five million naira.

From a logical standpoint, this “northern agenda” argument holds no water. As the CBN Governor has pointed out in newspaper interviews, some Nigerian banks are controlled by nominees who are hidden behind legal documents. One does not have to be a chief executive to actually control a bank. It is possible that there could be individuals from the North that have designs on the banking sector but it makes no sense to speculate that a Northern “movement” is keen on hijacking the banking sector. And if Sanusi is a Fulani supremacist as his detractors have argued, then it is likely that non-Fulani Northerners are unlikely to support this purported plan.

Opinion and Analysis

I doubt that Sanusi Lamido will be successful in ridding the financial sector of the crooks that call the shots. My pessimism stems from the experiences of other reformist crusaders that have tried and ultimately failed to change the status quo in this dystopian conundrum called Nigeria. His job will be made harder by his colleagues at the central bank. They understand how the system works and may not be committed to his disruptive agenda.

Sanusi’s dalliance with the EFCC might reap short term dividends but anybody who understands the workings of Mrs Waziri’s EFCC knows that the agency is simply using this God sent opportunity to con Nigerians into believing that it is serious about the anti-corruption war. We must also consider the legal angle. Senior lawyers have told me that it is difficult to prosecute debtors when there is no evidence of fraud in the loan disbursement process. This explains why hardcore debtors such as Ike Okolo’s Aquitane Oil and Gas have ignored the EFCC and opted to hire legal heavyweights to defend them. In spite of the EFCC’s public relations blitz, other notable debtors such as the imperious Peter Odili have also headed to court.

The CBN “name and shame” tactic is yielding some results. The composition of the debtors list shows that there is a serious problem with Corporate Nigeria. Some of our most respected business leaders showed up on this list. I’m surprised that Alhaji Aliko Dangote and other respected Nigerian businessmen could brazenly decide to connive with these banks to short-change small investors and depositors. What if the banks had collapsed? The banks didn’t help matters with their dubious interest charges. They basically gave the millionaire debtors a good reason to stall.

Dayo Coker,
Policy Analyst
dayo.coker@gmail.com

GANI GOES HOME

•September 7, 2009 • Leave a Comment

A crusader meets his maker. Adieu Gani.

Will You Please Go Now?

•August 17, 2009 • Leave a Comment
Hanging out with the crook-in-chief

Hanging out with the crook-in-chief

I hope that the CBN has not forgotten that Nigerian bank CEOs are usually involved in the affairs of other companies in their respective “groups”. There is no point sacking Cecilia Ibru while she remains the Chairperson of Oceanic Insurance and her son Oboden holds the reins at Oceanic Capital. Ditto Erastus Akingbola and Barth Ebong. It is time for them to pack their bags and go. In addition, the CIBN must redeem its image and end Erastus Akingbola’s tenure as president.The same goes for the stock exchange.

These clowns must go. To borrow from the legendary Dr Seuss, “The time has come. The time has come. The time is now. Just go. … I don’t care how. You can go by foot. You can go by cow. Disgraced bankers, will you please go now! You can go on skates. You can go on skis. … You can go in an old blue shoe.

Just go, go, GO!”