AMCON’s relentless war against perilous debtors
The Assets Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON)’s the latest onslaught against greedy, well-connected debtors who are trying to get away with grave economic crimes against the nation seems to be entering a new stage. The Corporation under the quietly determined Ahmed Kuru is doing all it can to stop them. And the pace is heating up. AMCON has taken over assets belonging to eight of the debtors in just 21 days.
The assets taken over include those of billionaire oil and gas businessman Festus Fadeyi who borrowed N240 billion from the defunct Skye Bank; Emmanuel Ugboh who owes N1.6 billion borrowed from Zenith Bank and FCMB in 2011; Umaru Baba Abdullahi who owes N400 million borrowed from Union Bank also in 2011, the late Rev. Olajide Awosedo who owes N9.8 billion borrowed from at least nine banks; Ike Nwabuoku who owes N1.4 billion borrowed from Keystone bank, Emmanuel Obi who owes N500 million borrowed from the defunct FinBank and others.
As with AMCON’s previous actions against high profile debtors, the seizure of the assets was quickly followed by sponsored media commentary accusing the Corporation of high handedness and failure to comply with due process. But any Nigerian who loves this country should ignore these false and unsubstantiated claims. These nation destroyers deserve no sympathy.
As patriots, we should not allow their shenanigans to distract us from the awful track record of these persons and the high cost the nation is paying for the over N5 trillion they are owing various banks due to their greed, dishonesty, and mismanagement of the loans they obtained. Many families have lost their entire savings and businesses have shut down as a consequence of their failure to deploy the loans they obtained with integrity and professionalism. They have contributed to poor economic outcomes for the country including joblessness and poverty. AMCON deserves credit for its tenacious focus on protecting the country’s interest.
One doesn’t need to look far to see the damage being done by the stubborn debtors. In May this year, feeling the pressure of diminishing returns from crude oil sales, the Federal Government was forced to review the 2020 budget downwards from N10.59 trillion to N10.51 trillion. In light of shrinking earnings from crude oil sales and the global recession caused by the COVI-19 pandemic, the Buhari administration decided to find alternative means to finance the country’s pressing needs in infrastructure, defence and economic empowerment, among other key sectors. If the N5 trillion owed by AMCON’s debtors were available to the treasury, there would have been no need to borrow to finance the budget. In fact, there would be more money to deploy into other sectors that have a direct impact on the quality of life of Nigerians. It is unconscionable that a small group of people will sit on N5 trillion and live their best lives while the vast majority of Nigerians wait for the tiny crumbs that fall off their tables to survive with.
For those unfamiliar with the facts of AMCON’s war against stubborn debtors, this position may appear too strong. But the reality is that, for over a decade, the corporation has been battling them to get our monies back. Established in 2010 to stabilise and revitalise the financial system after the 2008 global meltdown, AMCON has deployed several tactics to retrieve the debts. The Corporation has published the names of the biggest chronic debtors. It has sued and re-sued some. It has granted conditional amnesty to the debtors. It has resorted to Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) and engaged Asset Management Partners to focus on certain categories of debtors.
“These are men and women who go to banks, borrow monies with no intention to pay and in the process bring down banking institutions. It takes a lot for a bank to fail. AMCON just rescued Skye Bank with an investment of nearly N1trillion. In a decent society, those who are responsible are supposed to be held accountable.” Kuru said when the bad bank was set to publish the names of its top unrepentant debtors.
The corporation has only been able to squeeze out about N1.1 trillion from these debtors despite its best attempts. The frustration of this was captured succinctly by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo who said “I think the time has come for us (Federal Government) to set some examples with some of these top debtors of AMCON, which…will serve as a deterrent to others.” The VP made this statement during the inauguration of the inter-agency committee made up of AMCON, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU), the ICPC, Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Nigeria Deposit Insurance Corporation (NDIC), and the Federal Ministry of Justice tasked with coming up with strategies to recover the debts owed the government.
Dissatisfied that after all the tactics it deployed, it was only able to claw back only a fraction of the total debt owed by these unrepentant debtors, the corporation sought and got the backing of the executive, the legislature and the judiciary to amend its enabling law. This effort culminated in President Muhammadu Buhari signing the new AMCON Act into law in August 2019. The new Act has given AMCON more powers to access the financial details of debtors and when necessary, place their bank accounts under surveillance. AMCON was also enabled to establish the location of debtors’ funds at home or abroad, to advise the government to deny contract awards to such individuals or companies and place bank accounts belonging to debtors under surveillance, which it could not previously do.
It is safe to say that the new Act appears to have given AMCON a new lease of life, judging by the speed with which it is taking over assets of obligors who have refused to pay up. Between January and June 2020, AMCON took over the business and assets of Alhaji Buba Galadima and his company Bedko Nigeria Limited for the N900 million the politician owes, AMCON also seized several multi-billion naira properties in Lagos belonging to 12 debtors who owe the Nigerian government N8.4 billion; asked a Lagos court to grant it access to seize the accounts of former All Progressives Congress (APC) governorship candidate in Delta State, Chief Great Ogboru, and his firm, Fiogret Limited, over an alleged N784 million debt; secured the approval of the Court to arraign Ifeanyi Ubah and his Capital Oil and Gas Limited over the fraudulent value of assets tendered to offset N132 billion owed the corporation; obtained a court order to freeze all bank accounts belonging to Sprawling Nigeria Limited, and its two directors, over a N243.9 million; among other moves targeted at recovering public funds in the hands of unashamed recalcitrant debtors.
Of course, AMCON’s mandate is much bigger than its admittedly important war against debtors. Its initiatives positively affect the common good in many other ways. Delta Steel, Aero Contractors, Skye Bank, Arik Air among others are names of companies that AMCON has taken over and which are at various stages of stabilisation and sale to buyers. As a result, over 20, 000 jobs have been saved in the process. In the banking sector alone, AMCON saved some 11, 000 jobs.
Now that the coronavirus pandemic has battered the global economy and Nigeria is only beginning to understand how deeply it’s been affected, every kobo and source of income for families that the Managing Director of AMCON, Mr Ahmed Lawan Kuru and his team can recover from debtors will be much appreciated, and Kuru is aware of this. In a recent interview, he said “even within the lockdown, we have recovered between N5 and N10 billion. There are some people that are still meeting their obligations and there are assets that were forfeited that we have sold. So, even within this period, money is still coming in.”
Truly, AMCON deserves public support and encouragement. It is not difficult to understand that with every failed bank comes the loss of jobs which exacerbates poverty, hardship, and other negative social consequences. Every Kobo withheld from the common purse by entitled debtors adversely affects Nigerians. Be it drugs in healthcare facilities, salaries for breadwinners in our homes, bad roads, poor power supply, jobs or security, the refusal of debtors to pay back monies they owe the government hurts all Nigerians except the debtors. That’s why AMCON deserves all the support it can get.
Paul K. Adegboyega is a policy analyst and writes from Lagos