In the name of money

Casmir Igbokwe

First published August 30, 2009 

The following cars are for sale: Mercedes ML350 2006 model, N2.1m; Toyota Prado 2004 model, N1.5m; and Toyota Highlander 2005 model, N1.4m. Lexus GX470 2005 model is N1.6m while a Honda Accord I-VTec 2004 model goes for N1.3m. Some 2000 and 2002 models go for between N500, 000 and N800, 000. 

 I am not a car dealer. But I considered these prices fantastic. And so, I called 08037575099 to make enquiries as the advertisement published on page 12 of THISDAY, August 24, 2009, stipulated. The man who picked the call said I should apply for allocation to the Customs Area Controller, Federal Operations Unit, Customs House, Federal Secretariat Building, Bodija, Ibadan.

 I discussed this with a few of my colleagues who were excited and wished to apply as well. Not wanting anybody to beat me to this mouth-watering offer, I quickly sent my application through THE PUNCH office in Ibadan. There is no need telling you the one after my heart. But my wife, a woman with eyes for good things, preferred the Highlander.

 The following day, my colleague in Ibadan called from the office of the Public Relations Officer of the Customs. At first, he thought I made a mistake as there is no Customs office at Bodija, Ibadan. Besides, the Area Controller is in Lagos and not Ibadan.

 To clear my doubts, he gave the phone to the PRO who emphasised that the advert was not from the Customs. In the recent past, he said, some people had actually come to collect some cars after certain payments in the banks only to discover that they had been conned. He noted that any such advert from the Customs would have the agency’s logo as well as the name and phone numbers of the officers in charge.

 Just as I was trying to figure out what was going on, I got a text message on my MTN phone. It reads, “You are a winner of (N1, 000, 000 & a free ticket to the W/CUP). Visit (WWW.YELLOFIFA.COM) immediately for verification: code: 462070 (expires after 24hrs.)”

 I know that many people might have fallen victim to this scam. For one, it looks genuine because the message comes with no particular phone number. All you see on your screen is MTN NG. When I called the Corporate Services Executive of MTN, Akinwale Goodluck, to sound him out, he simply said, “It’s those boys (swindlers). They have come again. We have done everything possible to stop them. But they keep formulating new tricks.”

 This same quest to obtain money by tricks is partly behind the current loan crisis in the banking industry.  Sequel to the recent sacking of the managing directors of five banks by the Central Bank of Nigeria over non-performing loans, some big players in the crisis have regaled us with further explanations, outright denials and some comic relief.  

 For instance, the former MD of Union Bank, Barth Ebong, received his spiritual director in detention penultimate Saturday. The former MDs of Intercontinental and Oceanic Banks, Erastus Akingbola and Cecilia Ibru, had been active prayer warriors before the crisis. But while Ibru has surrendered herself to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission after some days of hide-and-seek, Akingbola remains at large.

 Among those contesting their debt profile with the banks, I find the denial of the Director-General of the Nigerian Stock Exchange more interesting. In an advertorial in some national dailies last week, Prof. Ndi Okereke-Onyiuke said she was “not a debtor to any bank worldwide.” This looks more like what I see in business cards of traders at Alaba International Market, Lagos. Something like, “Okwy ventures worldwide limited.”

 Like a woman in the dock, she declared, “In the public interest, I, Ndi Okereke-Onyiuke, solemnly declare that I do not owe any bank in Nigeria or abroad. As a thoroughbred professional, I earn a monthly salary from The Nigerian Stock Exchange and so do not engage in any business whatsoever; therefore, I do not need to borrow money to finance any business…”

 In any case, it’s not a sin to borrow money to finance business. It becomes a crime when the borrower has ulterior motives. From what I have gathered, for instance, some of the debtor companies are not registered with the Corporate Affairs Commission. Some, which started with a capital base of about N1m less than a year ago, got a loan of over N2bn. (See our cover story today.)

 The questions are: Why would a bank approve this type of loan? What collateral did the companies provide? What is the credit history of these companies? Does this not smell like an advanced 419?

 This is why I find the ethnic colouration of the CBN’s action amusing. In spite of the obvious lapses in the conduct of some of these banks, some individuals are ready to swear by Ogun that the CBN Governor, Sanusi Lamido, is only interested in northernising the Nigerian banking system.

 I don’t think this is the correct picture. The tragedy of our situation is that whenever an individual or a group is in trouble, they employ different tricks to divert attention. We seem to have been condemned like Sisyphus to keep rolling a stone up a mountain. The more we try to solve our problems, the more we meet stumbling blocks on the way.

 But we shall not relent because the more we allow some of this perfidy, the more the civilised societies see us as a people whose only business is obtaining by tricks. The sanitisation should go beyond the banking industry.

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