It was beautiful and simple as all truly great swindles are”, O’Henry, 1862-1910. (VANGUARD BOOK OF QUOTATIONS p239). Banking consolidation introduced by Professor Soludo, shortly after becoming Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, should actually be called Con-SOLUDO-tion.
It was a great swindle as a result of which millions of Nigerians, including traders, teachers, pensioners, accounts holders with banks, were lured into the capital market to buy shares from con men and women who Soludo praised continuously until Sanusi blew the whistle on the monumental scam in 2009.
Today, shares which sold for N70+ and N50+, while Soludo and the banks conspired to deceive us, are on offer for N10 or less. Millions of Nigerians lost trillions – while Soludo’s friends (Directors and Chief Executive officers of the banks) literally stole depositors and shareholders funds.
Yet, in his reply to Okonjo-Iweala’s, admittedly self-serving rejoinder, after claiming credit for everything which went well as a result of Con-SOLUDO-tion, he did not once mention the trillions lost by shareholders, the bankers now facing prosecution or the one who had been convicted – and, after plea bargain, kept half the loot.
He also failed to recognize that he left 25 banks he told us were healthy. But, today, Intercontinental, Oceanic, BankPHB, Afribank, no longer exist. Yet all these were banks whose MDs were winning awards as “Bankers of the Year”. So when Soludo lists all the awards he won, he deliberately omitted to reveal to the readers that the accolades came before the truth about the banking catastrophe was known to the whole world in 2009.
Two such testimonials illustrate how Soludo bends facts to suit his self-exculpation. He cited one from Obasanjo in December 2004, and another by Yar’Adua in May 2009. Consolidation policy, requesting banks to have a minimum of N25 billion paid up capital, was announced in mid-2004 and the banks were given up to December 2005 to raise the capital. There were approximately 73 banks in operation in 2004; by January 2006, when “Con-SOLUDO-tion” took effect there were only 25 left.
Thousands of bank employees lost their jobs and many remain unemployed till today. Depositors with the banks which failed to qualify were also adversely affected. But, reading Soludo’s indictment of Okonjo-Iweala and his self-congratulatory submissions you would not find a word about these calamities. Obviously, Obasanjo’s comments in December 2004 could not have been referring to Consolidation which had not been concluded.
Similarly, Yar’Adua’s comments were for understandable reasons very diplomatic. The late President had made up his mind to replace Soludo, an Igbo, with Sanusi, a Fulani. In a country where ethnicity is very sensitive matter, Yar’Adua did not want to antagonize Igbos twice – by replacing “their” man with “his” man and adding insult to injury with harsh criticisms. At any rate, even Yar’Adua did not know the disaster Soludo had been covering up at the time.
It was after Sanusi blew the lid off the can of worms that the late President knew the extent of damage Soludo and “his friends” in the banks had inflicted on the nation. The unwary reader, not being aware of the sequence of events would be tricked into believing that the two former Presidents endorsed “Con-SOLUDO-tion. That is a blatant lie.
Meanwhile, was everybody praising Soludo? That again was not true. Atedo Peterside of IBTC was the most prominent among those who thought that Soludo had borrowed a good idea, consolidation, from abroad, but he was too hasty in its implementation and there was the possibility of a major banking crisis in the near future. Atedo was not alone. Let me remind readers and Soludo of a series, which was published in VANGUARD in 2009 titled BANKING CRISIS –THE ROAD TO HELL.
Below is reproduced the opening paragraphs of that essay. In July of that year, while Soludo was still CBN Governor, I had raised alarm about banking supervision and the conspiracy of silence between CBN bank supervisors and the banks. In plain language, every single one of CBN bank supervisors, at the time were corruptly enriching themselves and were ignoring bare-faced fraud being perpetrated by the Directors of the banks – led by the MDs. Please read on.
The real truth about the banks became known, as my article suggested, after Soludo was removed and the conspiracy of silence was exposed. Whether or not Soludo personally gained from the grand larceny is unknown. But, his entry into the race for Governor in his state and the money involved in that venture leave room for skepticism.
However, irrespective of whether he benefited, directly or indirectly, or not, the result was devastating to the banking sector. Unfortunately, Soludo mentioned Dangote and Arik among the beneficiaries of “Con-SOLUDO-tion”. It would have been better if he had not done that; because he had merely pointed to what can be described as an apt summary of what “Con-SOLUDO-tion was all about.
Robin Hood, our childhood fictional hero, and occupant of the Sherwood Forest, robbed the rich to feed the poor. Con-SOLUDO-tion robbed the rest of us to feed the extremely wealthy – who quickly became his friends, then. It was a cynical swindle and nobody, with a conscience should be proud of that performance.