Nigeria lists bank debtors, threatens legal action

August 19, 2009

By Nick Tattersall
LAGOS, Aug 19 (Reuters) – Nigeria’s anti-graft police have given defaulting debtors of five banks rescued in a $2.6 billion bailout, including some of the nation’s most powerful tycoons, a week to organise repayment or face arrest and asset seizures.

Farida Waziri, chairwoman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), set the deadline hours after the central bank published a list of the banks’ debtors and warned they would face legal action if they did not pay up.

“She has given them one week to bring in their money to the commission or they risk arrest, prosecution and losing their assets all over the country,” EFCC spokesman Femi Babafemi said on Wednesday.

The central bank’s list of more than 200 firms, individuals and state bodies contains stockbrokers and local oil and gas firms as well as larger companies, including conglomerates Transcorp and Dangote Industries and fuel distributors African Petroleum and Oando Plc.

The names listed as directors and shareholders in some of the defaulting companies reads like a roll-call of the great and the good of Nigeria’s corporate aristocracy.

It includes two of the country’s best known tycoons, Aliko Dangote and Femi Otedola — the only Nigerians on the latest Forbes billionaires list, worth $2.5 billion and $1.2 billion respectively — as well as Ndi Okereke-Onyiuke, director-general of the stock exchange and chairman of Transcorp.

Aigboje Aig-Imoukhuede, the group managing director of Access Bank, is also listed as the director of a firm owing more than 16 billion naira ($107 million).

“It has become necessary to use this medium to request the following defaulting customers of the affected banks to pay without further delay their indebtedness, failing which the banks will take all appropriate legal actions to ensure repayment,” the central bank said in a statement.

“These are the largest debtors and the CBN will continue to publish the list of defaulters on an on-going basis.”

The central bank last Friday injected 400 billion naira ($2.6 billion) into Afribank, Finbank, Intercontinental Bank, Oceanic Bank and Union Bank and sacked their chief executives.

The banks had notched up bad loans totalling 1.14 trillion naira ($7.6 billion) and the regulator said lax governance had left them so weakly capitalised that they posed a threat to the banking system in sub-Saharan Africa’s second biggest economy.

The naira was broadly stable at around 158.30 to the dollar on the interbank market on Wednesday, although volumes remained low with foreign counterparties nervous about trading, while the stock market fell 2.6 percent with only five of more than 200 stocks notching up gains.

Corruption, lax regulation and weak corporate governance have long been top of the list of concerns for foreign investors in Nigeria. Analysts say the move by Central Bank Governor Lamido Sanusi, who has been in the job just two months, could be the start of a major change in the business landscape.

The sacking of the senior management of the five banks sent shockwaves through the corporate establishment. The regulator said the institutions would be run as going concerns until new investors could be found to recapitalise them.

Published on the central bank website, the list of debtors includes the governments of oil-producing Delta state and the southeastern state of Ebonyi, the judiciary of Bauchi state and the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning.

It names Peter Odili — former governor of Rivers, the richest oil state in the Niger Delta, who last year secured a “perpetual injunction” against arrest by the anti-graft police — as owing 189,123,712 naira ($1.26 million).

Odili governed Rivers, which has an annual budget of well over $1 billion and where most of the estimated 5 million residents have no power, clean water or access to functional schools and clinics, for eight years until May 2007.

But the amount he is listed as owing is dwarfed by the debts of the largest defaulters.

Local oil and gas services firms Ascot Offshore Nigeria Limited and Rockson Engineering Limited — whose directors include J.I.A. Arumemi-Ikhide, founder of Nigerian airline Arik Air — are listed as owing Intercontinental Bank 45 billion and 37 billion naira respectively.

Transcorp is listed as owing Union Bank 31 billion naira.

The EFCC said on Tuesday it was seeking 19 banking executives for questioning. It said three had already been brought in while the others were “watch-listed” to try to stop them leaving the country.

Analysts say criminal charges could be brought if executives are found to have falsified accounts or breached share price manipulation rules by setting up subsidiaries as vehicles to trade their own stock and push the share price higher.

Nigeria’s Guardian newspaper said one of the sacked chief executives, former Intercontinental boss Erastus Akingbola, had won a reprieve from a federal high court allowing him to challenge his removal by the central bank.

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