Old Polonius in Shakespeare’s Hamlet is right after all. He counsels his son, Laertes, who is about to embark on a trip to France. The old man says to his son: “Neither a borrower nor a lender be. For loan oft loses both itself and friend.”
In plain English, he is saying to his son don’t lend to or borrow money from a friend because if you do so, sooner or later you may lose both the money and the friendship. In the real world of legitimised money lending and money borrowing, this, apparently is what Lawal Karu, managing director of Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria, AMCON is about to do to his 350 or so odd friends or clients who are hugely indebted to the corporation.
AMCON has threatened to publish, in Forbes-like manner, the names of who’s who on the corporation’s debtors’ list. The idea is to name and shame them. This is a result of AMCON having exhausted all known tactics in the book to no avail.
What irks the AMCON boss most is the fact that these big men, and women too, who borrowed money from the banks and have failed or refused to pay back, have, by the virtue of the money they borrowed, found their way into public offices either as ministers, senators or governors. Some, he said, are even Pro-chancellors of universities that graduate students who have met the requirements of character and learning.
Karu, who was speaking at the July edition of the breakfast meeting organised by the Nigerian-American Chamber of Commerce, promised to do a full length television documentary possibly to depict the debtor-holic lifestyle of these “notorious and recalcitrant debtors” who have cornered for themselves more than N5tn of Nigeria’s money.
And, says Karu with evident bitterness, these VIP debtors technically called obligors, claim to be role models in the society. Karu’s promised blockbuster of a Nollywood-style documentary will show us the sickening life these debtors lead with other people’s money. Indeed, the vulgarity of it all, bordering on hedonism.
Not satisfied with the threat, Karu’s AMCON and its entire board took its battle plan to Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo for endorsement. The VP, endowed with the morality and holiness of priesthood, was equally and most appropriately horrified and scandalised by the enormity of the debt.
He promised not to let AMCON down in its hours of grave distress. From now on, government, the VP says, will not do business with the obligors. To ensure that this anti-debtor plan works with digital efficiency, the VP assured AMCON’s visibly angry debt collectors that government will deploy an equivalent of a special task force comprising relevant government ministries, departments and agencies to be supervised by his exalted office.
The battle plan? This eagle-eyed group of eminent civil servants, well known for their incorruptibility, will mount a barricade in all government offices. From such vantage positions, they can detect these VIP debtors who, for ease of identification, wear their badges of delinquency.
As to be expected, those manning the AMCON fortress will not allow these characters anywhere near the sanctified vicinity of government offices, the Villa being no exception.
Karu says some of the debtors include ministers and National Assembly members. But it would amount to a breach of protocol not to allow distinguished senators or honourable ministers to gain access to the seat of power. But the VP’s anti-debtor guards will not be swayed by such niceties unless it can be proved that the current crop of ministers and distinguished senators are not among those who have, to use Karu’s words, “manipulated their way to emerge as members of the National Assembly, ministers, chairmen and women of big organisations and pro-chancellors of universities.”
One must vow for the current crop of ministers. Their screening by the Senate one must testify, has confirmed beyond all reasonable doubt that they are men and women of honour. Indeed, those who have sworn to abide by President Buhari’s dictum, carried over from first term, never to allow anybody to use his money to buy his way into public office.
This pre-eminent vow is even more valid during the Next Level. It is possible, therefore, that Karu, in a feat of righteous indignation, has failed to separate the wheat of the current dispensation from the chaff of yesteryears.
He must have been referring to the ministers of the First and Second Republics. Or possibly those who served in President Obasanjo’s time. Or, come to think of it, President Goodluck Jonathan’s years of the locusts when all the bad things happened.
But Karu felt exceedingly nostalgic. He remembers the glorious days of the banking hall at Alagbon Close where the money lenders and their bad debtors cooled their feet until they were forced to cough out the money they swindled, courtesy of the Failed Bank Act. At the time in question, banks were collapsing like dominos. And those who were reasonably suspected to have contributed to the distress in the banks were politely arrested and asked to recapitalise them.
And it worked. The fear of the Failed Bank decree was truly the beginning of financial wisdom. Prudence was restored and the banks were sanitised. But that was before AMCON. And that was before Karu.
But how did we get to this sorry pass?
The answer is simple enough. The banks no longer do banking business. They are more into deals. They don’t lend money to the needy. They give to those who don’t need the money, with the understanding that paying back is not obligatory. And when they don’t pay in time, they write off the loan as bad debt with all its dubious implications.
In this line of business, bad debt is good news for crooked bankers and their cronies. They know whom to patronise. They lend money to money doublers and swindlers and manipulators and insider traders. They use other people’s money to traffic in foreign exchange and make obscene profits.
Smartness is the name of the game.
When they are done with one bank, they move to another one. Haemorrhage is the medical equivalent of what they inflict on the banks. So the banks, totter and eventually collapse. And AMCON is called in as an undertaker.
Even with AMCON, these odd citizens still find their way. Government’s sanctimonious protestations fall on their unhearing ears. Why? Because they know that beyond these platitudes there is no action, and no consequence.
Until the coming of Buhari, some of these dubious businessmen bestrode the country’s business landscape like the colossus. Some of them have taken to their heels and some are lying low, studying body language.
AMCON must be given the legal teeth to bite. For now, it does not have the power of arrest and prosecution. It is therefore at the mercy of other agencies like the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, the Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission, ICPC. But these agencies have their hands full, to say nothing about the snail speed with which justice is dispensed in the normal courts.
Where people still place premium on conscience, AMCON’s sensational documentary on the men and women of no discernible repute sitting on the nation’s N5tn as if it is their entitlement, will jolt that conscience.
Perhaps, the Forbes-like list of the rich but infamous VIP debtors will do some wonders. It will help Nigerians to know those crooks, if there are any, who manipulated their way into public offices where they seek to inflict more wounds on the citizens by running the economy aground. Perhaps it will help to sanitise the entire system and make for more vigilance.
Perhaps, AMCON’s last resort will work. Perhaps it will not work. Whatever it is, we wait and see.x