Unlike lawyers or the police, corrupt or deceitful is hardly the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Nigerian bankers. Bankers in Nigeria are usually associated with trust. Based simply on the fact that they are trusted to keep people’s money safe and hand it over when it is demanded.
The reality though is that, bankers all over the world are the bastion of corruption. Their abiding philosophy is to make money at all cost.
Forget the expensive suits and the air of dignity and gravitas around them; they are some of the most corrupt people in Nigeria and the world in general.
At the top management level, completely removed from the ordinary tellers, it is all about moving huge volumes of money all around the world.
Somebody once said if you need to hide a Mount Everest, the tallest mountain in the world, as long as it is made of money, bankers would do it for you where no one can find it.
Hiding money is how bankers made themselves into some of the biggest economic saboteurs and enablers of corruption in the country.
The first time bankers in Nigeria got exposed for what they really are was in the short-lived Musa Yar’Adua Presidency. His Central Bank Governor, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, made cleaning up the banking sector his major priority.
By the time Sanusi was done, many bank CEOs were sent packing. Many of them were arrested for fraud, stealing of depositors’ funds and money laundering.
That act by Sanusi shook the whole country. The men arrested by the authorities were the top 1% of the country’s elites. These CEOs shaped the financial direction of the country and everybody listened to them when they spoke.
Thankfully, Yar’Adua refused to use his considerable powers to stop Sanusi. Some of them are still in court colluding with lawyers and judges to frustrate their conviction.
So far, they have done a good job of getting spurious injunction and postponement to evade justice.
However, what happened in Nigeria was just a spec in the financial universe compared to how the world was almost brought to knees by corrupt international bankers in the US and Europe in 2008.
As a result of fraudulent, complicated financial instruments, banks racked up unsustainable debts spanning several years. Known as sub-prime mortgage loans, things unraveled over a one month period in 2008.
At the end, some of the biggest financial institutions were either bailed out by governments to save the world’s economy or filed for bankruptcy.
The biggest name to collapse due to bad debts was Lehman Brothers. Bear Sterns, another financial behemoth, had to be sold hurriedly to JP Morgan to prevent its collapse.
Other international financial institutions seriously affected by the crisis caused by the bankers themselves include Merrill Lynch, Fannie Mae, RBS, HBOS, Fortis, etc.
You would think bankers would learn from what happened. Apparently, they are up to the same tricks but this time with a different name.
In Nigeria, in spite of what Sanusi Lamido Sanusi did, the bankers have apparently gone back to their favorite pastime: aiding and abetting corruption.
The most recent cases of bankers showing their real colors came up due to the government’s heavy crackdown on corruption.
Let’s not even mention how bankers help politically exposed people to hide billions of Naira using fictitious names to open accounts for them. Everyone and their dog had read about these cases.
Take the Bank Verification Number (BVN) exercise for instance. It became a necessary to do it because the executive wanted to know who owned what account.
A few years after the exercise was completed, it turned out that several of these banks refused to link some accounts to a BVN. The owners of these accounts are mostly people who couldn’t explain the source of the funds in the accounts.
The government had to compel the banks to release information of accounts without BVN. As reported by Nigeria News, some banks even toyed with the idea of going to court to stop the government from confiscating the funds in those illegal accounts.
But they knew they had no case because it is now illegal in Nigeria law for an account not to have a BVN. They quietly buried the idea of going to court.
Another instance: when the country was in recession and there was an acute shortage of dollars a couple of years back, the bank head honchos manipulated the forex market to enrich themselves.
They took advantage of the huge disparity between the official foreign exchange rate and the parallel market rates to rip to country off of scarce dollars.
They simply collected dollars on behalf of non-existent customers at the official rate and sold them at the black market at a big profit. This is what is referred to as round-tripping. That was one reason the recession lasted for so long.
To be fair, individuals are also involved in round-tripping. But they need the help of bankers to pull it off.
And there is the famous Treasury Single Account (TSA). TSA was introduced to block leakages of government funds.
The policy required that all government agencies and parastatals (MDAs) must remit their funds to a single account in the Central Bank.
Before TSA, any head of an MDA can open a bank account on behalf of the MDA to be controlled personally by them.
Some agencies had dozens of such accounts. It created a loophole for massive corruption as it was difficult to track government spending and revenues.
The banks were not happy with the TSA. They fought tooth and nail to have the policy rescinded because full implementation meant the end of billions of free money in their reserves.
When they saw the government was determined to fully implement TSA, they colluded with some corrupt civil servants to hide some accounts belonging to the MDAs.
They were fined heavily when the authorities discovered the attempt to defy a government’s directive.
These are just some of the ways and means bankers contribute to making economic recovery almost impossible. Many individuals have stories to tell about rogue bankers making life a living hell for them.
As far as corruption is concerned in Nigeria, never, ever, underestimate the complicity of bankers.