Nigeria: On CBN Banking Reforms And Its Fervent Detractors

23 May 2010

By Ibrahim Ribwan Ayagi

While delivering lecture during the convocation ceremony in Bayero University Kano, some time in February 2010, the Governor, Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, quoted as saying “Discourse on the Banking crisis has been left to journalist of varying degree of sophistication and to faceless agents and charlatans. The voice of intellect has been noticeable in absence” The banking crisis is not an exception to other socio-economic problems engulfing our country today, which also demand the intellect’s voice, but is in absence, and this can not be divorced from nonchalance and lack of political will on the part of leadership in Nigeria to often heed to intellectual advice and do the right things without fear or favour, that is why the charlatans will continue to hold sway and remain relevant in shaping public opinion on Government’s programmes and policies. This situation has now gained wide spread prevalence with sensitive National issues being interpreted along ethnic and religious lines, the technocrats keep mum and leave the scene for the faceless agents whose only stock in trade is forming and inciting a negative public opinion about whoever stirs the hornet nest that touch the political interest of economic saboteurs-their sponsors.

The decision of the CBN to embark on series of reforms aimed at enthroning corporate Governance and risk management which were hitherto placed on the back banner in the Nigerian banking industry, has generated a lot of scorching debates, with commentators of anecdotal points and some so called professionals displaying emotions and sentiments on issues of National importance, depending on which side of the divide one belongs or which charlatanic school of thought one subscribes to, but those who really hold stake in the discourse are still silent, perhaps due to the reason mentioned above . But is the CBN doing it right and how far can the Governor go? These are some of the questions on the lips of so many Nigerians.

The CBN started the reforms with stress test that led to the discovery of huge toxic assets in some Banks and consequently saw to the expulsion of their CEOs. The sum of N620 Billions was injected into those affected Banks as bailout, an asset management company was proposed to take over the non performing loans portfolio, the tenure of Bank CEOs was fixed at ten years, while prospective managing Directors, executive and non-executive would henceforth have to face CBN interview, in order to reinforce corporate governance in the industry.

In its bid to discourage Deposit Money Banks(DMBs) from keeping most of their money (close to N600 billion)with it (CBN), at the detriment need of the economy, the Apex Bank reduced standing deposit facility rate from 2% to 1% while maintaining the standing lending facility rate at 8%. Also to drive home his point on the need for infrastructural facilities and to address the epileptic power supply, the CBN governor came up with a provision of 500 Billion facilities for investment in debentures issued by the Bank of Industries (BOI) for investment in emergency power project dedicated to industrial clusters. The bond is to be channeled through DMBs at maximum interest rate of 1% with tenure of 10-15 years at concessionary interest rate of not more than 7%.Lastly, the announcement by the Banking watchdog to scrap the universal Banking model and that shareholders will henceforth be encouraged to set up holding companies under which the commercial and non-banking subsidiaries would operate, was the most recent decision of CBN, that continue to spark off debates.

Critics of the banking reforms by Sanusi led CBN, started with giving the whole exercise a religious and regional interpretation, in the Nigerians` usual way of attacking policies that do not favour them or their political allies. They also argued that, the Governor of the apex bank is unduly interfering with the Banking system and eroding the progress so far made by the universal banking model. They further criticized the reforms on the claims that, the central objective of the CBN is not banking regulation and reforms. The core mandate of CBN as indicated by the CBN act of 2007 is what they called price stability. While others questioned the CBN decision on the N500 billions facility meant to finance power projects and criticized the Governor for taking his reforms too far.

But what the critics failed to understand or deliberately ignored, is the fact that the success of any monetary policy management depends largely on a sound banking system or money market, as it was rightly pointed out by Professor DN Dwivedi, who wrote” in an economy with underdeveloped banking system and capital market, monetary policy has a little chance of being effective.” Therefore , with poor corporate governance and liquidity crises in the Nigerian Banking industry, how effective would monetary policies be in addressing inflation, unemployment, exchange rate volatility, and faltering economic growth?. Even with fiscal responsibilities on the part of authorities, the role of monetary policy in achieving macro –economic objectives can not be overemphasized, as the combination of both fiscal and monetary policies are usually recommended for less developed economy like ours. In fact, even in the developed economies an appropriate combination of the two policies is usually employed to achieve predetermined macro-economic goals.

If at all monetary policy management is central to macro economic objectives, then, while the Central Bank is implementing programmes aimed at strengthening and bolstering the money market institutions, it can not be accused of neglecting its core mandate of price stability, since the Banks are some of the mediums through which policies of achieving the price stability can be implemented and that may not be successful where the industry is weak, as the recent CBN stress test exposed.

On the argument that the apex Bank is unduly interfering with the banking system by scraping the universal banking model and eroding the success made so far, the critics are only blind to the stark realities in the industry, especially poor expertise, limited skills in covering the entire grouped business, and lack of specialization often exhibited by some banks in tapping the opportunities in non-banking business like mortgage, insurance, asset management, stock broking etc. The advent of the model has not really addressed those economic needs the non-banking subsidiaries were originally created to meet. The full audit of the Banks` book conducted by the CBN further revealed how some of the non-banking subsidiaries were used as conduit pipes by some executives to commit all manner of irregularities. The unbundling of universal banking model I believe will pave way for specialization, efficiency and enable the banks concentrate on core banking business which is still not fully exploited, considering the number of non- banking public.

Ordinarily one shouldn’t bother him self to respond to critics, especially from some Nigerians as we are fond of destructive not constructive critisms, that is, we should learn to bring alternatives to programmes and policies we believe are not good for us or the country at large, not destructive criticism. But writing with sentiments and emotions on the pages of news papers will not in any way solve our problems rather it will further divide the country along religious or ethnic line, which is disastrous for generations to come. The way and manner we respond to some government policies must be stopped if at all we choose to see the light at the end of the tunnel. If no Nigerian public officer holder can be trusted, unless he or she comes from a particular tribe or religion, then, are we going to invite foreigners or our former colonial masters to solve our problems? That we know is impossible.

The reforms programme by the CBN shouldn’t be seen as an agenda by one region, orchestrated to punish some perceived political enemies, as its success or failure will definitely affect the entire economy which has been bleeding due to poor management by successive administrations. The apex bank on its part should continue to be more cautious in its regulatory and supervisory roles. The intended move by the bank as reported in some quarters to withdraw the injected funds should be reviewed scrupulously, as doing that prematurely may aggravate the liquidity crises in the economy and lessen the bail out banks` capacity to generate business that will either make them stay deeply rooted in the business or become attractive brides in the event of merger and acquisition.

Finaly, With the recent commendations of the CBN programmes by intellectuals both within and outside Nigeria; like Mr. Micheal Lafferly ,an international financial expert and also world bank MD, Ngozi Ekonja Iweala, the concern expressed by the CBN Governor on the absence of intellect’s voice on economic issues, would be assuaged, and also convince the fervent detractors of the apex Bank` Banking reforms, that their stand on most of the giant strides made by the CBN are not shared by all, especially the unprejudiced experts who respond to issue with full objectivity it deserves.

Ibrahim Ribwan Ayagi is a writer from the nrothern part of Nigeria. He can be reached at 


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