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Nigeria’s bank-crashing billionaires’ cult

Earlier in January, Ahmed Kuru, the MD of the Asset Management Company of Nigeria (AMCON) – Nigeria’s bad bank – had cause to tell Nigeria’s…

Earlier in January, Ahmed Kuru, the MD of the Asset Management Company of Nigeria (AMCON) – Nigeria’s bad bank – had cause to tell Nigeria’s Senate that he has been seeing many of the ‘big boys’ whose bad and abandoned loans he was trying to manage, riding in private jets and yachts and generally ‘largessing’ like they have no care in the world. I never understood the idea behind a bad bank in the first place. Imagine some smart Alecs just owing trillions of naira in a bank, and many of them receiving presidential handshakes and national awards for being criminals who usurped poor depositors’ funds, and then one day, the monies that they owe gets written off to another bank waiting for taxpayers’ funds to be used in writing such loans off. Well, almost.
Many of the bad guys whose names and activities feature on the AMCON list of thieving debtors and ruiners of banks, were the ones who sponsored President Jonathan’s elections, and if that man had returned, their loans would have probably been written off today. It is all a game. Till today, these are the people that are revered in the public space. As a matter of fact, there is a pervading mentality among Nigerians that see debtors as very sophisticated people. The youth in Nigeria are firmly convinced that once they can lay their hands on fat bank loans, all their problems will be solved. In the US, they have a hatch open for such criminals; someone like Donald Trump has declared bankruptcy four times, making thousands of people lose money in some of his harebrained ventures – yet he retains his position as a multi-billionaire and may now become the leader of the world come November. This guy, Trump, is the patron saint of those who believe that bank loans, fake lives, glitz and glamour, and the corruption of the political process through the pocketing of politicians, is the way forward. And my, I think they are correct, if we are to judge by the present situation of things.
A Harvard Business Review article in February last year, titled ‘The Problem With Authenticity; Why it is Okay to Fake it Till You Make It’, basically justifies the fake life. It suggests that many times it is better to appear as if you’ve made it and hopefully then you will make it. But in the US, in spite of the bankruptcy laws which favour some, a number of people who collect and misuse loans – especially at the lower rung of the social ladder – soon find themselves on the streets, picking crumbs from dustbins. Let a Regular Joe mess with his credit and see how badly those who run those societies – those who lend to people – will come down hard on him. In Nigeria, the elite are taking the piss. It is a free-for-all, for anyone that knows any big man in any bank, or any of the smart boys – and girls – that manage to make it to the zenith of their careers in banks. Perhaps they misread the HBR article, for all of these guys who run these banks are always attending one ivy league course or the other.
I have often wondered what it is they learn from there. A recent article in the New York Times, held that Nigerians attend university at twice the rate of white Americans, and that 25% of the black people at Harvard, are Nigerians. Then you look at Nigeria and wonder what all that education has amounted to? What have we achieved with the education apart from using it to cheat the system and widen the inequality gap? Why has none of our overeducated whiz kids actually struggled to do the unthinkable and actually move the Nigerian economy forward for a change?  All we hear are these first class brains with impeccable CVs who borrow huge amounts of money and wreck banks, and their cohorts on the other side, with equally fantastic CVs, who dole out depositors’ funds at will, collect their own huge percentages of these loans upfront (signaling that the money will never come back), and wait until government pumps money into the same banks as bailouts! 
Greed gets in the way and compromises their good judgment. Maybe it’s desperation. Most just don’t believe that they could honestly struggle and make something of themselves. They see wealth simply in terms of money, ignoring the possibilities of growing wealth with one’s integrity. I recall in 2009 when I went to Harvard for a course, a video of Mother Theresa was shown to us. She once visited Harvard to deliver a speech, and the way she was welcomed, would make a movie star envious. Yet she had no money. She probably had only integrity, and lived her life, that others may have a better life. That, is original wealth, not all the houses in VGC, Victoria Island or Banana Republic (sorry Banana Island). Our boys – for most of them are men – have simply lost it. They are so carried away with the fancy things of this world. Their vaunted intelligence did not somehow hold up in that direction.
I am angry at this crop of bankers with all the news about bad loans and liquidity problems.  For it is actually difficult to lose money in banking. It is tough to lend money to an entity, and entirely take one’s eyes off the ball to the extent that the money totally disappears.  You have to make extra efforts to lose the kind of monies we are hearing about. And you wonder who and who sat in the credit committee meetings, and the board meetings, at which these loans were given out, and how in the world they agreed that it was alright to keep lending to bad entities, where in many cases a question of integrity hung over the obligor. The first consideration in credit is always CHARACTER. Most of the families who are sitting on all the loans in Nigeria, are headed by people of zero integrity.  Hear what Kuru had to say about the people with toxic loans in Nigeria;
“A situation where you have… less than 300 people, accounting for more than 80 per cent of the outstanding obligation of AMCON. That is very disturbing”.
We may complain on end about Nigeria’s public sector, and about the politicians, but this is a purely private sector problem. And in this matter, the private sector is more criminal than the public sector could ever hope to be. We thank God that Buhari will not kowtow to these criminals, but we hope a swift action, akin to what Abacha (yes Abacha), did in 1994 will take place so that we can press reset on the system. It is certainly not only Skye Bank directors who have technically wrecked their bank, but many of the banks are in different states of technical distress, not only because they are no longer allowed to sit on public sector money – which they criminally deprived the country of using for the provision of public goods, while they enriched themselves personally as well as top officials in the civil service – but because with the remaining part of deposits in their care, they played Russian roulette with their chums.Some of the top dogs in the banks have a standard practice whereby 30% of all loans come back to them. They agree with the obligor on this before the money is released. Of course, such loans never come back! 
To be continued.

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