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Yar’Adua, Mutallab And The Banks


“Mutallab, the one that just retired as Chairman of First Bank? What about him?”

“No,” my young friend replied, “his son. Oh, you didn’t read our story yesterday? The Guardian On Sunday had the most apt headline on the matter: ‘Mutallab, The Man Who Shamed Nigeria’. Editor, you didn’t read it? The boy attempted to bomb an American airliner over the US city of Detroit. The plane was travelling from Yemen.”

Of course I didn’t read the story-didn’t even want to read it in the first place. I was in the village and just wanted to shut myself out of the hurly-burly of city life and the deluge of ever-depressing news and information that define that rather dreary daily life. But the phones kept ringing…I could never observe from the sidelines!

My first reaction to the Mutallab story was to get angry, because it completes a triumvirate of very untoward developments that have made life and living in Nigeria one sad, ugly undertaking, in the past few months. First, CBN Governor Lamido Sanusi came with his precipitous, ill-advised intervention in the nation’s banking sector, in August last year, under the guise of carrying out ‘reforms’ but, wittingly or unwittingly, ended up bringing the nation’s perennially crisis-ridden economy finally to its knees. Second, our ailing President, Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, on November 23, jetted out of the country for medical treatment in Saudi Arabia, where he has been ever since. But, while the country wishes him well, with citizens lighting candles to pray for his recovery, the President appears loathe to reciprocate: nearly two months after he left a power vacuum in his country, a bed-ridden President Yar’Adua is yet to be persuaded that he should formally hand over power to Vice-President Goodluck Jonathan to act as President pending his recovery. To many, it would appear a simple constitutional, patriotic step to take but Umaru Yar’Adua and members of his so-called kitchen cabinet would rather create a constitutional crisis than do what is right. And, you ask, in whose behalf and interest does a president hold power? In the people’s or his own behalf?

Now, enter Farouk Abdulmutallab. As if the assault already unleashed on our political and economic foundations by the power elite is not enough, this misguided young Nigerian, in a grotesque rebuke of his privileged upbringing and chilling demonstration of unbridled religious hate, selected December 25, a Christmas Day, to blow up an American airliner over Detroit-but for some divine intervention! So, in a space of less than six months, three men with immense influence in the political, economic and religious spheres have, among them, taken actions that have, to put it mildly, put Nigeria on edge.

But, perhaps, apart from Abdulmutallab’s, we could have avoided the needless crisis into which

President Yar’Adua and Sanusi’s actions have plunged the nation. Yes, we probably couldn’t have done much about Mutallab’s recourse to Islamic fundamentalism as a way of life. His is a disease of the mind, an attitudinal, emotional problem that is not easily amenable to any empirical solution. How are we to understand (much less help him) why a rich boy, living in a #2m flat in the best part of London would hate people of other faith so much as to want to die killing so many of them? If we could prevent the terror that a man with Mutallab’s mindset is prepared to unleash, as God helped to prevent the one he planned for the Northwest Airliner over the American city of Detroit, how could we prevent the personal tragedy of a young life on the bend?

But President Yar’Adua and Lamido Sanusi could have spared us this political and economic standstill we are now witnessing. It is embarrassing that Yar’Adua is so insensitive to our yearnings for progress that even in his sick bed, he would rather cling on to power than take a simple, constitutional step of letting his deputy act as president until he has sufficiently recovered from his sickness to return to work. It should worry Mr. President and or members of his so-called kitchen cabinet, the hawks as Ohan’eze Secretary General Chief Nduka Eya has labelled them, that Nigerians now see him as one who is so spiteful of them that he would rather the country stands still while he is indisposed than take steps to make the country move forward in spite of him.

To quote Chief Eya, the Ohan’eze Secretary General, “we claim to be following the footsteps of the United States from where we borrowed this constitution and democracy but unfortunately, we do terrible things.” If former President George W. Bush could properly hand over to his Vice-President, Dick Cheney while going in for a non-life-threatening surgery that took only 48 hours, why is it so difficult for the inner circle of Aso Rock to see the wisdom in getting President Yar’Adua, who has been out of the country for almost two months now, to properly hand over to Vice-President Jonathan, pending the president’s recovery from the ailment that has kept him in a foreign land all these weeks? It says a lot about the mindset of some power brokers in this country that they would even let the court adjudicate on an uncomplicated matter as getting the Vice-President to be sworn-in as Acting President to fill a power vacuum created by the absence of an ailing president. It is, indeed, shameful.

CBN’s Sanusi may have brought this same sense of indispensability and self-righteousness to bear on his own job as CBN boss. He is like the person the Igbo call Eze Onye Agwanam (the king that listens to no advice). For weeks now, a group which goes by the name Renaissance Professionals, has been publishing in the papers what it considers to be the ‘missteps and contradictions’ in the CBN Governor’s effort to ‘sanitize’ the banking sector. Made up of knowledgeable corporate watchers and banking insiders who appear to have a lot of facts at their disposal, “the group,” according to a recent publication on their activities, “has questioned the rationale behind the banking ‘sanitization’, criticized the management of the banks by the interim CEOs, pooh-poohed Sanusi’s actions as lacking in altruism and transparency, among others.”

For instance, in a publication Thursday last week titled ‘It’s anything but sheer genius!’ the Renaissance Professionals noted that “the N420bn allegedly injected into the banks by the CBN was a loan forced on the banks-which did not need it in the first place-and payable in seven years at 11 per cent interest…Since, as reported in the media in the wake of the crisis, the banks did not need more than N100bn, the bail-out loan amounted to no-contract loan, which makes the CBN governor guilty of the same crime for which he is persecuting the ex-CEOs: granting loans without security.”

What, then, could have informed the CBN’s insistence that banks take more than they actually needed to shore up the alleged shortfall in their liquidity ratio, the Professionals queried. Why force loans on banks that don’t need them?

Those who have followed one’s arguments regarding Sanusi’s banking sector ‘reforms’ these past few months would agree that the position of the Professionals on the matter tallies with mine; namely, that this whole exercise is unnecessary, nothing more than a populist appeal to the sense of outrage of a people so abused over the years by their corrupt, selfish leaders that they are prepared to believe the worst about such leaders, irrespective of whether the accused are guilty or not. Like the Professionals, I insist that if there was any need at all to ‘sanitize’ the banks, that imperative was destroyed the moment Sanusi mounted the rostrum to tell the people what he had to do and to bask in the applause that followed. In particular, I like the part about what Sanusi’s counterpart in the UK, Mr. Alistair Darling, Chancellor of the British Exchequer, did when confronted with a similar situation.

According to the Professionals, Mr. Darling, when “confronted with the challenge of stabilizing the British banking sector in the wake of the global financial crisis in the last quarter of 2008, decided that a better approach was to handle the situation quietly, obviously in order not to undermine public confidence in the country’s banking sector.” They also quoted Darling as saying in an interview with The Telegraph, UK’s best circulating quality newspaper:

“There were many days when I knew that unless the Bank (of England) was making covert interventions such as the SECRET loans of £61.6 billion to HBOS and the Royal Bank of Scotland, then literally banks would have had to shut their doors and cash machines would have been switched off. People should be in no doubt that the world banking system was on the brink of collapse in October 2008…

“It was irksome to have people sniping at the edges, saying: ‘You should have done this or that’ when I couldn’t disclose what I was doing. I couldn’t have said: ‘By the way, the banks are about to collapse, but I’m doing something about it’, BECAUSE THE VERY ACT OF SAYING THAT WOULD HAVE BEEN DISASTROUS”. Darling’s counterpart in the United States Mr. Ben Benernke is also celebrated across the world for his sober, ingenious handling of the financial crisis in America.

Not so for Mallam Sanusi whose pronouncements on the health of the nation’s banks did more to destroy confidence in the banks than whatever liquidity problems the banks ever had. At every conceivable forum-from Moments With Mo, a TV talk-show, live audience programme, to a grand appearance at the World Bank/IMF meeting in Istanbul, Turkey, the CBN governor, in ever trying to justice his intervention in the banking sector, has continued to make statements that tend only to erode local and international confidence in the sector. Any wonder, then, that the banks are only declaring losses and sacking massively, are neither receiving substantial fresh deposits nor lending from what is available, hence the obvious stultification of our economic growth? Just what is the new thing that has come from Mr. Lamido Sanusi after the fanfare that came with the sack of some bank CEOs and boards in August last year?

The truth is that the fate of a nation cannot be tied to the fate of any individual or group, no matter the political consideration. For me, therefore, the solution to the current mess lies in the relevant authorities, indeed the National Assembly, rising above some primordial sentiments to do what is right and good for the country.

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