Bankers as crooks

Unfortunately, the story will remain the same with the reluctant attitude towards the criminal prosecution of bankers and the banks themselves. It is unfortunate that legal safeguards cannot be maintained because the money the banks spend taints the political process from beginning to end.

Godwin Emefiele, CBN governor

The “temporary” forfeiture of $153 million looted funds by the former minister of petroleum, Diezani Allison-Madueke to the federal government, once again points to the felonious nature of Nigerian banks and their executives. It is a crying shame that there are no sacred institutions in Nigeria. Actually, there are no institutions. Criminality seems the norm everywhere. Only a few are interested in building an enduring enterprise, company or the nation. Everyone else wants to “hammer”! Everyone wants to steal from the system. The shame that a woman is involved in this monumental heist and crime against the Nigerian state is crippling to those of us who wonder if anyone needs that much money. Especially if the money is not coming from genuine enterprise and honest contribution to humanity.

Nigeria’s financial system is not only corrupt in practice, it is corrupt by design. Nigeria banks are notoriously invested in short termism. They offer no real product and services to advance the real sector of the economy. They play and game the system. Their promotions and salaries are designed to incentivise unethical and criminal behaviour and anything else it takes to bring in deposits and generate profits. The banks, like other systems within the country, are a true reflection of the society. A society inflicted with a systemic corrosion of values. A society where the incentive system rewards fraudulent behaviour. Thus, there is no surprise when we get these kind of results because fraudulent behaviour begets social tragedy. The banking halls are vaults of reward for criminal behaviour and in the absence of deterrence and governmental refusal to prosecute, we can only expect more crime.

Nigeria cannot continue this way. What action is the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) taking on this issue? Will it continue to be business as usual?… The price of corruption is steeper than we realise. Every act of compromise has a deleterious effect on the country and it multiplies with grave consequences.

The deep-seated cultural and ethical failures involved in the transfer of money from the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) on behalf of Ms. Diezani Alison-Madueke confirms the lack of respect for law, regulation and the public trust by banks. At every turn, we continue to see bank executives, who have no respect for financial laws and regulations, who are not worthy of public trust, and are culturally and ethically impaired at a very profound level. Unfortunately, the story will remain the same with the reluctant attitude towards the criminal prosecution of bankers and the banks themselves. It is unfortunate that legal safeguards cannot be maintained because the money the banks spend taints the political process from beginning to end. Even the religious houses are not exempt. Not long ago, some bankers did their stealing in the name of God.

All over the world, we have bankers as crooks but it is worse in Nigeria. Our slavish devotion to the worship of money, wealth and consumption drives all the ills in our society. We have rejected the idea that there is any dignity in the lives of ordinary, law-abiding working people. With alarming frequency, many Nigerians show a willingness to break the law to make money.

Where there is money there will be thieves and this is Nigeria where actions do not have consequences. The economy is very informal and people do not have confidence in banks partly because they know their money is not safe. They also know, from the failed banks of Abacha era, to the Cecilia Ibru usurpation and the Akingbola gallivant, that bank executives are fraudulent. Actually, we expect them to cheat the government, their depositors and employees without a care. What we don’t expect is the government letting them get away with it.

There has to be a method to doing things right and doing the right things. The banks may have to police their own conduct and believe in economic and social justice. If they must survive and not self-destruct, they have to find a way of bringing values and ethics into their transactions and discussions.

Banks are smart spaces. They do a cost/benefit analysis when planning actions that might be financially risky or when they plan to do something that they know to be illegal. That is why much of the Diezani loot were placed off the balance sheet in clever schemes to avoid detection. Banks usually plan ahead to examine the odds of getting caught, and they weigh the penalties against the profit from the transaction if caught. If the projected profit exceeds the penalties, or if the risk of getting caught is low, they make a run for it. The top cadre of banks are filled with legal wizards and finance whiz kids paid to think bad! They spend their time on studying labour loopholes that allows marketers to be forced into prostitution in the name of deposits, beat anti-money laundering procedures and offshoring of accounts, hiding liabilities and cooking the books. Illegal banking has evolved into a behemoth that feeds corruption, drug trafficking and terrorism. They are not used to hard work, creative financial services and long term planning. Flirting with enormous sums of money in illicit transfers, is easy money.

Nigeria cannot continue this way. What action is the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) taking on this issue? Will it continue to be business as usual? We should be concerned because inspectors from the Central Bank are routinely bribed and entertained by the banks and they don’t do their jobs. The price of corruption is steeper than we realise. Every act of compromise has a deleterious effect on the country and it multiplies with grave consequences. There has to be a method to doing things right and doing the right things. The banks may have to police their own conduct and believe in economic and social justice. If they must survive and not self-destruct, they have to find a way of bringing values and ethics into their transactions and discussions. Gaming the system remarkably by being greedy, aggressive and out of control cannot serve them well. Their complicity in the Diezani heist is absolutely shameful. The Roman playwright Plautus wrote; Nam ego illum periisse duco, cui quidem periit pudor – I count him lost who is lost to shame. If they face no consequences for their actions, it will happen again.

Bámidélé Adémólá-Olátéjú

Bámidélé Adémólá-Olátéjú is a farmer, youth advocate and political analyst.