•Everything possible must be done to make them pay up

News that the Federal Government is to blacklist the Asset Management Company of Nigeria’s (AMCON) debtors over their five trillion Naira debt comes as a very disturbing one, given the country’s already volatile economic situation.

AMCON was set up in 2010 by an Act of the National Assembly, with an expected 10-year lifespan, to act as the buyer of banks for the Nigerian government, by acquiring the Non-Performing Loans (NPL) and injecting N736bn to buy off their assets. Unfortunately, of the banks in question, three: Mainstream, Keystone and Enterprise banks were unable to meet up and subsequently  acquired by AMCON and literarily baptised ‘bridge banks’.

Curiously, in 2013, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) reportedly cautioned the Federal Government to stop the operations of AMCON to avoid future financial challenges. As a first precautionary step, AMCON’s founding managing director (MD) was relieved of his job, on allegations of the opaque nature of the sales of the acquired banks.

Today, with the statement from the current MD, Ahmed Lawan  Kuru, decrying the loss in value of the N5 trillion assets acquired banks, which might have gone down to a paltry N1 trillion, it seems the chicken has come home to roost. His expression of optimism at the inauguration of the Muiz Banire -led board by the finance minister, Zainab Shamsuna Ahmed, for a more viable operation, seems neither here nor there.

The call to blacklist AMCON’s debtors doing big business with government is as worrisome as it is economically draining. We have followed the trajectory of the AMCON/VIP debtors with utter amazement, especially their penchant to flagrantly exploit judicial loopholes to get all sorts of injunctions against the corporation.

AMCON’s lawyers have had to fruitlessly battle the legal hurdles of dealing with the substantive issues in question. It does appear that the VIP debtors are bent on exploiting all legal technicalities to either buy time or totally renege on the terms of agreement. We call on the courts to be very circumspect when such VIP debtors run to the judiciary to barricade the hand of economic justice getting to them.

The Credit Bureau and all such ancillary agencies must be strengthened to make it impossible for big time debtors to run from bank to bank or institution to institution to obtain loans or assets and leave the government using extra resources to get them to meet up to their financial obligations.

AMCON’s travail is however not an isolated case. In a country with weak institutions and ‘powerful’ individuals, things don’t really work as they should. The problem is that we fail to realise that there is a chain reaction from every singular failed or failing sector.

The moment the institutions of governments are run like those in developed countries, all forms of fraud and other abuse of legal processes by the politically and economically strong would not be eradicated, but they will be reduced to the bare minimum. It is sad that the country in its more than 58 years of independence does not really have strong institutions.

The plethora of panels, committees and agencies cannot on their own guarantee a functional system; there must be a deliberate shift in policies that would ensure true equality before the law in ways that no type of power shields anyone from the long arms of the law.  Treating certain individuals as sacred cows because they wield economic or political power is the shortest route to a dysfunctional system.

AMCON’s management and the new panel that has been set up must take the road less travelled by being patriotic enough to go after the debtors with all the legal assistance at their disposal.

The symbol of justice must come to bear in this debtor crisis. The law must be blind to class and status so that those who have debts to pay must be treated the right way debtors of such magnitude ought to be treated. A country develops when the rule of law is supreme and each individual held to the same standards to ensure the system is not shortchanged or held to ransom by a few individuals, not only as it concerns AMCON but all sectors of the country’s economy.

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