Bank tremor and radio frequency freeze

Casmir Igbokwe

First published August 16, 2009 

Last week, the Niger Delta women reportedly threatened to go on a special strike. At a roundtable to discuss the problems of the region, the women, at the instance of a group called Gender Action Group, expressed disgust at the plight of the region 53 years after white men discovered crude oil at Oloibiri.

 They advised the Federal Government to exchange every weapon surrendered by militants with jobs, scholarships and other forms of development. Failure to do this, they threatened, “women will have to surrender their pots, pans, buckets of pepper, grinding stones, mortar, pestles etc, as weapons of their warfare.”

 Since we are in a season of strikes – lecturers’ strike, lawmakers’ hunger strike and now women’s strike – I was also tempted to down tools this week. Not that I’m on a negotiation table with anybody, but the speed at which bad news develops and spreads in Nigeria got me sad and confused.

 Last week alone, there was the cancellation of the sale of 2.3GHz radio frequency by President Umaru Yar’Adua. Just as I was ruminating over this and Hillary Clinton’s clincher about corruption and transparency in Nigeria generally, the news came that 14 Nigerians are on death row in Libya for murder, armed robbery, and 419. On top of these were the removal of Bauchi deputy governor from office; the blowing up of  the gas plant in Delta State by suspected militants and the removal of five bank managing directors by the Central Bank of Nigeria.

 At the bottom of all this is lack of transparency. Take the issue of the cancelled 2.3GHz licences, for instance. The Minister of Information and Communications, Prof. Dora Akunyili, had literally cried her eyes out, saying the sale of the frequency did not follow due process. The Nigerian Communications Commission, which supervised the sale, believed it followed due process. At a point, it became a battle of supremacy between Akunyili and the Executive Vice-Chairman of the NCC, Dr. Ernest Ndukwe.

The battle latter shifted to the press. Columnists, opinion writers and sundry analysts wrote for and against the two combatants from Anambra State. In the heat of the problem, I noted on this page (see “Akunyili, Ndukwe and the sale of a radio frequency”, June 21, 2009) that the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Michael Aondoakaa, should have interpreted what the law says and advised the President on what to do. I wondered the quality of advice the A-G was giving to the President and called for the direct intervention of the Presidency to halt the problems trailing the sale of the band.

Aondoakaa did advise the President afterwards. Media reports indicated that he posited that the NCC did not breach any law on the sale of the frequency. Hence, according to Aondoakaa, the transaction should be upheld.

In spite of this advice, the President cancelled the licensing of the band. The Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Olusegun Adeniyi, said, “Having carefully reviewed official reports and representations from stakeholders, and after availing himself of competent advice on the recent licensing of the 2.3GHz Spectrum Band, President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua has come to the conclusion that the letters and spirit of the stipulated rules and guidelines were not adequately complied with.”

Which competent advice did Mr. President avail himself of? Certainly, it can’t be Aondoakaa’s. Why he is still keeping him as the A-G leaves much to be desired. This same A-G in August 2007 wanted the anti-graft agencies to get his approval before prosecuting any suspect. That did not work out. He had also wanted to merge the EFCC with other anti-graft agencies. That also failed. He played some ignoble roles in the prosecution of former governors Orji Uzor Kalu of Abia State, Peter Odili of Rivers State and James Ibori of Delta State. Ironically, he bases some of his actions on the “rule of law.”

Mrs. Clinton summarised our problems in her remarks when she visited last week. She faulted our anti-corruption crusade, spoke of the need for transparency in government and urged Nigeria to learn how to tackle corruption and enthrone good governance from Botswana. Rather than heed her advice, the principal functionaries of our ruling party dismissed her with a wave of the hand.

It is dishonesty on the part of those condemning Clinton when it is glaring that Nigeria is tottering. And it is this sort of attitude that has almost undermined the banking industry. Most Nigerians know that all is not well with some of our banks. Some of these banks were busy gathering fake awards from some institutions abroad. They made noises about these awards, but loathed any form of negative mention in the media. It was when the new CBN Governor, Sanusi Lamido, came on board and directed that an audit of these banks be done that the fowl’s rump became exposed.

The outcome of that was the sacking of managing directors of five banks – Erastus Akingbola of Intercontinental Bank, Cecilia Ibru of Oceanic Bank, Sebastian Adigwe of AfriBank, Barth Ebong of Union Bank and Okey Nwosu of Finbank.

There is wisdom in Sanusi’s statement that it’s not a crime to make a loss, but that it’s criminal to lie about it. It’s better, he told bankers, to disclose truthfully that they made a mistake than to deny that there was a problem.

For any individual or organisation that cherishes credibility, this is the right path to follow. And until we resolve to do this, there may not be any end to troubled banks, a troubled nation and incessant strikes of different hues.

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