FEATURE ARTICLE

Babs AjayiSunday, February 2, 2014
Babsajayi@yahoo.com
Gatineau, Quebec, Canada

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ACCESS BANK: AN EXAMPLE OF WHAT IS WRONG WITH NIGERIAN BANKS

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recently read Sanusi Lamido's lecture at an occasion organized by some concerned youths. It was an eye opener though most of the facts he referred to are already public knowledge. The purpose and determination of Lamido to pursue the management of the banks and to put an end to the robbery that went on in most Nigerian banks for years was commendable. Sanusi's reason was to sanitize the financial sector in Nigeria, which before now had become a joke, particularly during the time of former CBN Governor Charles Soludo, the man who did more damage to the financial sector was overtly too close to the banks, and allowed them to contribute to his political campaign funds when he ran for the governorship of Anambra State under the umbrella of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Soludo wined and dined with some of the bank executives who were looting and stealing from the banks they were supposed to manage on behalf of their depositors and shareholders, but steadily used the bank to feather their own nests and to build business empires for themselves. With so many impediments placed on his path and which prevented Lamido from bringing many of the bank executives to book, it is clear why some of these former bank managing directors are parading themselves as philanthropists and as "leaders of commerce and captains of industry" in Nigeria.

The worst part is that some of them are even listed among the richest people in the world. Managing Directors of banks who turned depositors into beggars and made them penniless are now billionaires! Essentially, Lamido is worried that the problems with the banks are very many and not completely cleared. He noted that some of the bank executives have evaded prosecution and have not been brought to justice. He also pointed out how these executives have used and still using their influence and connections to frustrate efforts to bring them to book. This is very much part and parcel of the problem of corruption and influence peddling that has troubled Nigeria for decades but which had assumed very alarming proportion under Goodluck Jonathan, himself a man lacking in dignity and integrity.

But the recent invitation of American music star Ms. Mariah Carey by Access Bank Plc to play at the bank's Christmas party (others said it was a send off for its then outgoing managing Director Mr. Aigboje Aig-Imoukhuede) took the rot in the Nigerian banking industry to the lowest level. E-mails were sent to the bank to provide details about this party but we got no response from them. I do not see the reason that will warrant any bank anywhere in the world spending over a million dollars to have a singer play at a function, particularly a bank that had just sacked over 200 staff. Whose money was squandered freely by Mr. Aig-Imoukhuede and his executives? Shareholders and depositors' funds are easily abused and misused by bank executives in Nigeria to a level where they are able to do so with impunity. Did the board of Access Bank approve the Mariah Carey Jamboree? Would it be said that the members of the board of Access Bank did a good job if it was ever found out that they approved the funds and the show that brought Mariah Carey to perform at the bank? It was reported that Mr. Aig-Imoukhuede had been dreaming of hosting a "one in town party" with Mariah Carey playing to a select group of his friends, and this with Access Bank's money? Whose interest was served by the abuse of depositors funds and under what budget did the bank put the expenses relating to the millions paid to Ms. Carey?

The scenario in Access bank was not pretty at all. Access Bank sacked more than 200 staff and proceeded to pay an American music artist a million dollars to play at a special party for the team that sacked over 200 staff! This is nothing more than corporate irresponsibility, gross abuse of bank's funds, waste of shareholders' funds and a violation of the trust reposed in the executive. It is being bandied around that Mr. Aig-Imoukhuede is being considered as the next governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN). It will be a huge mistake to appoint someone who is reckless with the funds of his employers, depositors and shareholders as the head of CBN, a man who has shown no regard for prudence and cared little about the way other peoples' money is spent. I am of the view that the tenure of Mr. Aig-Imoukhuede at Access Bank should be scrutinized by the Central Bank of Nigeria to ensure compliance with banking regulations and policies. If the aim of Access Bank was to build "Africa's most respected bank" that dream can and will never materialized with wasteful ventures and inappropriate use of funds in a continent where hundreds of millions of children and women live in abject poverty. The most reasonable thing for Mr. Aig-Imoukhuede and his executives to do was to go on vacation in the United States and during that private visit attend a concert by Mariah Carey. I will not be surprised if he and his co-travelers have done that in the past, but the desire to play "big boys" is surely behind the invitation of Mariah Carey with the bank's funds to play in Nigeria. This is shameful, very unacceptable, unprofessional and criminal. I am of the view that. Aigboje Aig-Imoukhuede and his executives should be made to refund Access Bank the full amount it cost the bank to bring Mariah Carey to Nigeria. He took a very bad decision that netted the bank a big loss and he should be held accountable for such a terrible, selfish investment in ego and self.

Nigerian banks have a habit of taking their depositors to the cleaners and liquidating. The depositors and the other struggling people who spent their hard earned money to buy a few hundred shares in these banks are always the losers at the end of the day. Their deposits are drained and their shares disappear due to the recklessness of bank executives who steal most of the funds and go on to become philanthropists and "industry leaders," whatever that is. Access Bank paid a dividend of 35 kobo per share to shareholders in 2011 and 60 kobo per share in 2012. Shareholders got peanuts while the executives of the bank and the board directors received millions of naira. For example and according to the published 2012 Annual Report of Access Bank, fees for directors was 39 million Naira and allowances for the same directors was 182.5 million Naira. The salary of executive directors cost Access Bank 145.1 million Naira, another 18.5 million for short-term employer's benefit to the same executives and 2,125,744,000 Naira for long-term incentive plan for the same executive directors! While the chairman received a remuneration of 25.64 million Naira, the highest paid director of Access Bank was paid 35.7 million Naira in 2012. (see pages 88 and146 of the Annual Reports and Accounts 2012 at http://www.accessbankplc.com/Library/Documents/Annual%20Reports/2012_Annual_Reports_and_Accounts.pdf). The executive and non-executive directors are grossly overpaid while shareholders who provide the funds and the depositors who put their money in the bank are paid in kobo and their funds exposed to huge risks.

Is the CBN aware of this extreme and ridiculous remuneration for executive and non-executive directors at Access Bank? This appears to be the practice in most of the banks. This is obscene, over the top, unsustainable and criminal. It is very unlikely that the board members of Access Bank, who are earning such jumbo "wages" as non-executives, will be willing or have much to say to the executives of the bank about the need to be careful and prudent with depositors' money, or even speak up against what the executives may be doing wrong. The board members could not be a good watch dogs and act as effective checks and counter-checks required by shareholders and depositors. The person and name of a company's chairman used to be all that some of our parents needed to make them buy shares in those days.

When you heard that Mr. Gamaliel Onosode was on the board of a bank or company you were eager to buy their shares and open an account with the bank because you knew that Mr. Onosode will ensure prudence, lead by example and be an added value to that business. Checks and balances went out the door the very moment Mr. Onosode left Commerce Bank and within two years Commerce Bank was dead and buried. Access Bank should be visited by CBN inspectors and assessed again for compliance with the basic rules of banking and its management examined carefully. All is not well in that bank and now is the time to monitor its activities. The plague afflicting Access Bank has eaten into most of the other banks as well and there is the need to sanitize these banks as we sanitize every sector and aspect of our nation.

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