Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida was Nigeria’s military dictator from late 1985 to the last quarter of 1993. His regime ended the 24-month military dictatorship of General Muhamadu Buhari. Babaginda’s regime would enter its twilight days with his cancellation of a presidential election victory by Moshood Abiola.
Now, most Nigerian commentators associate Babangida with a vast network of patron and clientele politics oiled with official funds — a tool of retaining power borrowed from feudal rulers in northern Nigeria.
Babangida was also liberal with the use of military executions of opponents labelled as “coup plotters.” On Monday 7 September, 2009 Babangida endorsed a widely held view by Nigerians that: the “problem of Nigeria is from people like me who have ruled the country.... We have exhibited lousiness in all aspects which has had a negative impact on the growth of the country”. What was important about the statement was not its lack of originality. It seemed to endorse two recent ferocious decisions by President Umaru Yar’Adua’s government which have been labelled as tsunamis.
That endorsement is useful in the face of those who are wounded by the earth-shaking decisions and are fighting back by invoking accusations of religious and ethnic persecution to intimidate the government from implementing its decisions.
The backdrop to Babangida’s self-shaming was a series of paid advertisement by the management of the Intercontinental Bank urging Nigeria’s president to help the bank to recover loans from debtors who had considered themselves “sacred cows” and refused to repay loans.
President Yar’Adua obliged with such sudden rage and force that the Group Managing Director of the bank, Erastus Akingbola, was immediately reported to have fled the country to safety from arrest in Britain.
It would appear that the leadership of bank had adopted a tactic that it hoped would deflect attention away from the “lousiness” in its own style of corporate governance in the banking sector. The dramatic exposure of that “lousiness” to the general public would run from August 14 to September 8, 2009 during which the media alternately cited the chief hunters of offending bankers, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, the newly appointed Governor of the Central Bank, and Mrs Farida Waziri, the head of the anti-corruption agency, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC.
On Tuesday September 8, The Daily Trust reported one case of corporate “lousiness” as follows: “Alhaji Shehu Badamasi, the owner of Tanzilla Petroleum Nigeria Limited took a loan of 14 million Naira (Sh725 million) from Intercontinental Bank with no collateral, (with) which he was going to ship crude and come and pay (sic). Fourteen million Naira is a lot of money anywhere in the world.
He took the money to buy the crude, which he sold and never came back but diverted to Dubai and bought property”.
Intercontinental Bank also apparently granted a 12.8 million Naira loan to Rahamiya Oil and Gas which the company refused to repay. The company also owed 17 billion Naira (11.3 million dollars) to Bank PHB in loans.
The most tickling case was that of Oceanic Bank giving out a loan of 116 billion Naira (Sh6 billion) to a woman who was serving as the “nanny” to a son of the chief executive of the bank. The lucky “nanny” was declared as a wanted person by the EFCC. Not to be let out of this bonanza an Indian national, Patrick Fernandez, had borrowed 23 billion Naira (Sh1.2 billion) from what the EFCC calls “a consortium of banks” and was not inclined to repay the money.
A total of 747 billion Naira (Sh39 billion) is what the Central Bank called “un-performing loans” or debts those who owe Nigeria’s top five banks have failed or refused to repay.
The Governor of the Central Bank had taken the dramatic measure of announcing the dismissal of the chief executive officers of five banks, namely: Finbank, Afribank, Oceanic Bank, Union Bank and Intercontinental Bank. All five banks owned 40 per cent of bank assets in the economy, and their expected collapse would be disastrous for those with funds inside their vaults.
The Central Bank also immediately injected 400 billion Naira into these vaults. The anti-graft arm of the federal government immediately arrested both the top executives and other senior management staff. The spectacle of these arrests and their being charged in court provided a titillating spectacle to an audience that had become inundated with television and print media pictures of top bankers awarding themselves accolades of being declared “banker of the year” and “Africa’s leading banks.”
They also routinely declared huge profits in an economy weighed down by massive unemployment and collapsing industrial plants.
In several instances chief executives of banks paralysed traffic on urban roads as they travelled accompanied by blaring police sirens and chains of police jeeps.
As they troop into courtrooms, their spectacle invokes a familiar title of a play by Ola Rotimi, namely: Those Whom the Gods Will Destroy, they first make mad.
Professor Ali Mazrui’s dictum that “monarchical tendencies” infect African politics had apparently invaded the world of governing money.
Newspaper headlines continue to scream out the latest total of debts recollected by the EFCC.
On Wednesday September 9, the figure had reached a mere 70 billion Naira (Sh3.7 billion). Apparently, panic at the prospect of serving prison terms has shaken pockets of debtors across the land.
As Mrs Farida Waziri put it, “People who don’t want our problem are returning the money”.
The silent beneficiaries are the eleven other banks whose offices have yet to be hit by the new governance tsunamis.
They are also learning that out of a president of few words may come volcanic redemption for a people used to hiding their pain and despair about bad governance in their country behind the words: “work is not killing me” (aiki da godiya), when asked how they are faring with daily existence.
Typical of Nigeria’s affairs in which government officials strut about and knock each other about while the public merely looks on, life goes on.
One thing does buzz among the public - that feeling that something good is coming out of Nigeria.
Abuja-based Okello Oculi comments on African issues
Africa Insight is an initiative of the Nation Media Group’s Africa Media Network Project