The ‘sins’ of banks 

The Daily Times opened a current account for me in the Oba Akran Branch of First Bank in November 1984 after I signed up with the company as sub-editor. I operated the account for almost 20 years without knowing the branch manager. The man had no business with me because my account was almost always in four digits. 

The situation changed when Daily Times was about to be sold in 2003. The labour union insisted that Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE), the government agency mandated to sell ailing government companies, cannot sell Daily Times until it settled the salary arrears the company had accumulated.

BPE obeyed the union. That was how I got a cheque of N1.5 million from BPE for my outstanding salaries with the dying print media giant. That opened the way for my first encounter with the manager of the branch where my account was domiciled.

As soon as I paid the BPE cheque into my account, the branch manager placed a call asking me to see him in his office. Wondering what my crime was, I hurriedly honoured the invitation only to be confronted with questions about how I got N1.5 million into my account.

 I answered the manager’s questions with tepid disdain because I expected him to know that BPE was selling Daily Times and that to clear the coast for the eventual privatisation, BPE had to settle the salary arrears which the manager knew had accumulated for more than one year.

I was impotently angry that even as the cheque bore the name and logo of the issuer, the branch manager still bothered me with questions about the source of the money.

That was how rigorous banks were in those days when it comes to tracing the source of money deposited with them. Those days are gone and may be gone for a pretty long time.

Today, even as the law stipulates that no individual can deposit or withdraw anything above N5 million without the knowledge of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), billions of naira are frequently transferred from government accounts to individual accounts without EFCC being informed.

Abdulrasheed Maina, the jailed former chairman of Pension Reform Task Team (PRTT), stole N2 billion from the fund he was sent to protect. He deposited well over N1 billion in banks without anyone asking where the money came from. The banks opened fictitious accounts in the names of Maina’s relatives without their consent.

Anybody stealing government money today must steal in absolute connivance with banks managers. When someone steals government money, the bank manager gets his cut from it.

If a top civil servant or politician is stealing N2 billion, the bank manager gets N200 million and transfers N1.8 billion from government account into the personal account of the thief.

If the thief is transferring N10 billion from government account to his own, the bank manager gets N2 billion. The same thing happens when the thief is depositing huge cash accruing to government into his account.  

The bank manager knows that the thief cannot make 0.0005 per cent of the money he is depositing in his bank in his 35 years with government even if he was on salary grade level 17 throughout the length of his service.

However, the banker cannot stop the looter or alert the EFCC because of the lure of the cut he gets from the loot.

The looting of government treasury would stop the day banks managers are willing to alert EFCC about government officials looting government funds.

What bothers every stakeholder is that despite the wanton looting of government treasury with the proven connivance of banks managers, no banker is standing trial for conniving with a treasury looter.

Diezani Alison Madueke, a former minister of petroleum, gave a former managing director of Fidelity Bank the sum of $114 million which he converted into naira and used to bribe INEC officials to ensure that Jonathan won the presidential election of 2015.

Despite the massive bribery, Buhari defeated Jonathan in the election and the plot leaked. A number of those who collected the bribe were tried and jailed but the bank managing director who shared the bribe is enjoying the comfort of his home today.

He was not even compelled to refund the commission he collected from sharing the bribe. Managers of Nigeria’s dubious banks appear to enjoy an unwritten immunity that baffles everyone.

Banks are at the root of the naira’s disorderly retreat in the foreign exchange market which has taken the official exchange rate of the naira from N460 on May 29, 2023 to N1,560 to the dollar last week.

The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) allocates foreign exchange to banks for onward sharing to end users at a rate determined by inter-play of market forces of demand and supply.

A bureau de change (BDC) operator derided the CBN when it announced the new policy that makes banks the major sellers of forex to end users. The BDC operator boasted that they knew how to compromise banks. They went to work the moment the new forex policy of the CBN came to force.

Consequently, if the exchange rate in the banks is N1,490 to the dollar, BDC operators would bid it at the banks at N1, 490 allowing banks a margin of about N200 per dollar.

If a bank manager sells $1 million to BDC operators, he goes home with N200 million without lifting a pin. Banks hoard forex and sell to the highest bidders. That is what makes banks managers stupendously rich.

The CBN can make them accountable for their crimes if it insists on transparency and accountability. The banks should be made to submit extensive details of those they sold forex to with a view to determining where the money goes. That is the only way to instill discipline in our lawless bankers in a desperate bid to stabilise the naira.