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Sunday, 19 May 2019


– By Bashorun J. K. Randle

The combination of One plus Two and Five – making eight has significant implications amongst magicians, tarot card readers, fortune tellers, snake charmers and Pentecostal preachers of prosperity, who insist that it is supercharged with spiritual dimensions. Regardless, we must abandon metaphysics and concentrate instead on heartily congratulating our nation’s oldest bank on its 125th Anniversary.

It comes at a price – to remain silent or to rewind the tape going back to its conception; impregnation; midwifery and deliverance at the inaugural meeting of shareholders at the Colony Hotel, London in 1894.

It was not by pure happenstance that in attendance at the birth was my grandfather, Dr. J. K. Randle. He did not need to wear his surgical gown and gloves. He was there as an investor in pursuit of a grand vision which would leapfrog in 1898 when according to the archives:
“As far back as 1898 Dr. John Kehinde Randle; Dr Akinwande Savage; and Joseph Ephraim Casey Hayford (of the Gold Coast) the founders of the National Congress of British West Africa had begun to agitate for the independence of Nigeria, and the rest of West Africa.”

Hence, when the promoters of the Bank christened the baby as “Bank of British West Africa” it was a profound confirmation that the Almighty had divined a holy convergence of the respective interests of those who were advocating independence for West Africa and the institutional promoters of the introduction of banking as the lubricant for trade and finance in the region.

It was not lost on my grandfather and his colleagues that their “Business Model” which was anchored on Health and Education as the precursor to Independence, needed to be rejigged in order to include water, sanitation, waste disposal and roads as the minimum contribution to the basic needs for survival in a challenging region. They were not day dreaming. They sought to replicate on the native soil of West Africa what they had witnessed during their sojourn as students and professionals in Britain.

To put matters in context, perhaps we need to remind ourselves that the Bank was midwifed at a time when all over Nigeria and the rest of West Africa, the common currencies were cowrie shells which were subsequently replaced by the manilla!! The only other alternative was trade by barter or countertrade When the Bank opened for business at 35 Marina, Lagos its next-door neighbour was none other than Dr. J. K Randle who lived in grand style at number 31. There was no other building separating them as “33” was considered unlucky by the soothsayers.

The history of the Bank became intricately intertwined with the narrative of what preceded what we now call Nigeria and beyond – to the rest of West Africa. It is the prerogative of the Bank to remind us of the rapidity with which it firmly established itself as the banker to the colonial government and the local/native/national entities that were sprouting all over West Africa. As there was no Central Bank at that time in Nigeria or any of the other British colonies in Gambia, Sierra Leone; or Gold Coast (Ghana), the Bank was not only the banker to the government with responsibility for the collection of taxes and duties as well as payment of salaries of civil servants, it was also financing trade between the colonies and primarily Britain. As we are not compelled or obliged to go into the nitty gritty, it is sufficient to record that the colonies in West Africa exported raw materials – cocoa, cotton, groundnuts, palm oil, rubber etc. to Britain in exchange for finished goods. There is no evidence to provide confirmation that Nigeria exported coal from Enugu to Newcastle in England!!

If we are somehow able to persuade the Bank to surrender the keys to its vault and archives, we shall most certainly find convincing evidence of gold bars (and silver) stored in the vaults when the currency had to be backed with gold (in accordance with the “Gold Standard”). The gold had to be checked first thing in the morning and at the end of the day before the doors were shut. If there was any discrepancy, nobody could go home!!

We leave it to the discretion of the Bank to avail us of records of mundane matters such as the recruitment of staff from Britain and “amongst the natives”. We can skip the delicate issue of salaries paid to expatriates versus what was paid to local staff. Regardless, they worked happily together towards the accomplishment of a common purpose.

We can take it for granted that the Bank kept comprehensive records written with old style pen and ink in cursive – tellers, mails, telegrams, ledgers, transfers of staff from one “station” to another, disciplinary matters, and of course marriages as well as obituaries of staff. It there were any financial or sexual scandals, the records were kept under lock and key in the safe (with combination code) of the General Manager/ Chief Executive of the Bank.

The current chairman of First Bank of Nigeria, Plc, Mrs. Ibikun Awosika and the other ladies on the Board – Ms. Olusola Oworu and Dr. (Mrs.) Ijeoma E. Jidenma are probably aware that right from its inception the Bank discriminated massively against women. Now, it is payback time!!

To the best of my knowledge, the Bank did not recruit any women from Britain to manage any of its branches in West Africa. This was regardless of whether the women were single or married.
The role of women was confined to the category of “accompanying spouse”. I stand to be corrected, but I believe that the first woman to be appointed a manager was Mrs. Odedina (nee Agbaje). This was at a time when her father Chief J. K. Agbaje was an Executive Director of the Bank.

In this regard, it would be unfair to single out the Bank for chastisement. The policy was anchored on the belief/perception that West Africa was a hardship area and the expatriate men were encouraged to leave their wives and children behind in Britain while they strove to survive in the heat. Their domestic lives were at the mercy of loyal cooks, stewards and drivers. The delicate matter of mistresses will have to be consigned to later chapters.

Perhaps we shall need to devote an entire chapter to the snail’s progress of women who rose through the ranks before assuming higher responsibilities at the levels of manager, Executive Management, or Non – Executive Director. So far there has been no female Chief Executive of the Bank!! When Mrs. Bola Adesola and Mrs. Remi Odunlami were appointed as Executive Directors, there was intense speculation that one of them might make it to the top as the Managing Director/Chief Executive of the Bank. Alas, it did not happen. I am however obliged to confess that I am not an entirely unbiased umpire in the matter as Bola (nee Lardner) is the great – grand daughter of Dr. J. K. Randle. She may not have disclosed this to the Bank. Her later father Mr. Harry Afolabi Lardner SAN, who was a brilliant lawyer was my first cousin as well as the executor of the Estate of Dr. J.K. Randle.

Regardless, we must give kudos to the Bank for the zeal and commitment it devoted to what we now label as “financial inclusion”. Its long reach and vast network which covered the nooks and crannies of Nigeria and other parts of British West Africa was as extensive as it was formidable.
Even missionaries, soldiers and policemen in far flung places were within the radar of the Bank which ensured that their stipends (for missionaries), salaries, travelling allowance and other benefits were promptly paid.

For those who are anxious to avail themselves of a concise bio-data or testimonial of the Bank, both the website and the indefatigable Alex Otti (a former Executive Director) have conspired to deliver the following powerful advertisement:
J K Randle
The bank began as the Bank of British West Africa (BBWA) in 1894 and quickly began playing the role of the Central Bank of British West Africa in the absence of a regulator at those medieval times in the sub region. The bank witnessed the amalgamation of the Northern and Southern protectorates and the eventual independence of Nigeria in 1960. It was founded by Alfred Lewis Jones, a shipping magnate who imported silver currency into West Africa through Elder Dempster shipping company also owned by him.
In 1957, the bank changed its name to Bank of West Africa (BWA). Sequel to Nigeria’s independence in 1960, the bank began to extend more credit to indigenous Nigerians as most of its credit facilities were hitherto concentrated on foreigners living in the erstwhile colony.

Standard Bank acquired the Bank of West Africa in 1966 and changed its name to Standard Bank of West Africa. In 1969, Standard Bank of West Africa incorporated its Nigerian operations and its name had to change once again, this time to Standard Bank of Nigeria Ltd (SBN). In 1971, SBN listed its shares on the Nigerian Stock Exchange and placed 13% of its share capital with Nigerian investors. Following the implementation of the indigenisation policy of the then military government soon after the civil war, Standard Chartered Bank reduced its stake in SBN to 38%. This action led to another change in name to First Bank of Nigeria in 1979 as Standard Chartered Bank insisted that since it had lost majority control, the bank should no longer bear its name since by the action, it had failed to be its full-fledged subsidiary.

This marked a watershed in the history of the bank as more Nigerians were appointed to the board and it began to look and operate more like a Nigerian bank. The bank had subsequently moved from a limited liability company to a publicly quoted company and back to a limited liability company which it presently is. The latest status is in compliance with changes in the regulatory environment in 2012 that required that the group operates as a holding company, with the bank as one of its subsidiaries or spin off other operations not related to banking. That marked the birth of FBN Holdings which presently has the bank and non-bank subsidiaries as part of the group.

In 1982, First Bank opened a branch in London and converted same to a full-fledged subsidiary, FBN Bank (UK) in 2002. Two years later, in 2004, a representative office in Johannesburg, South Africa, debuted. At the moment, First Bank has subsidiaries or representative offices in France, China, Democratic Republic of Congo, Gambia, Sierra Leone, Ghana, Guinea and Senegal. At the last count, First Bank had presence across 10 countries in three continents. It operates from over 750 locations and employs close to 22,000 people. Its has over N3.3trillion in total assets. It also boasts over N2.5trillion in Customer deposits with a tidy 19% Capital Adequacy Ratio (CAR). The bank has over 1.3m shareholders and over 14million customers.”

For those who have attempted to fault the Bank’s assertion:“Banking for Good.” The least we can do is to remind them that the Bank spread the gospel of banking through missionaries, traders, “Mercantile Houses”, such as the United Africa Company (UAC); Lever Brothers; United Trading Company (UTC); Leventis Stores; G.B. Ollivant; Paterson and Zochonis (PZ); Mandillas; CFAO etc.The traders were mostly Lebanese, Syrians, Jews; Greeks and of course, British and French. At various times, the Bank was confronted with trenchant complaints that it discriminated against our fledgling entrepreneurs when it came to granting loans in order to assist them in their business pursuits. The bank had a ready self-fulfilling excuse – the “natives” had poor business experience and no collateral.
However, we cannot overlook the fact that while the British managers had what was termed “Terms and Conditions of Service”, the “natives” had none!! It was not until much later that pressure from the Labour Union and the government resolved such glaring cases of discrimination. There was also the delicate matter of segregation. While the white managers lived in exclusive “Government Reservation Areas” (“GRAs”), the natives had to fend for themselves.

Say what you will about the Bank, it is to its credit that at intervals it would select some of the local staff and send them off to the United Kingdom for training or posting, for short periods in
order to prepare them for promotion into the management cadre.
One of the earliest beneficiaries was Chief Julius Kosebinu Agbaje who was entrusted with the Bank’s public relations. He facilitated the recruitment of quite a large number of ex-students of St. Gregory’s College, Lagos (his Alma Mater) and many of his protégés served the Bank meritoriously.

Somewhere along the line, the Bank switched its recruitment policy almost exclusively in favour of graduates, who after brief training, entered the management cadre. Inevitably, there was tension and conflict as well as envy as those who were stuck in the rank and file resented the new bunch of managers and bosses whose banking skills were somewhat rudimentary. Regardless, the graduates were rewarded with generous salaries along with cars and accommodation allowances.

Quite a few of them gained rapid promotion as well as the much-coveted overseas training. We are obliged to acknowledge that the Bank was very much part and parcel of the British colonial government which had tentacles all over what would become Nigeria in 1914. Separately, we shall resolve the mystery behind the choice of the dour elephant as the dominant feature of its logo rather than the nimbler and more sure-footed leopard. Incidentally, in 1912, a leopard with its spots et all was shot dead right in front of the Bank’s office at 35 Marina, Lagos. The photograph has been preserved for posterity under the caption:

“Colonialists And Some Nigerians Watch The Remains Of A Leopard Shot Dead In Lagos in 1912.”
It goes without saying that the British managers of the Bank had easy access to the colonial administrators from the rank of District officers to Lieutenant-Governor and Governor/Governor-General. They belonged to the same exclusive social clubs e.g. Ikoyi Club (which was previously known as the European Club); and enjoyed special medical facilities e.g. “European Hospital” (now Military Hospital) while the General Hospital was for “the natives”.
All over Nigeria, the Bank worked the same hours as the colonial government officials.

Government offices and banks would open on the dot of 8 o’clock in the morning and close at 3p.m. which left plenty of time for lunch and siesta followed by golf, tennis, squash racquets or billiards at the club.
Cocktails and dinner either at club or at each other’s homes were regular features of the day and night. At the weekends, cricket, beach parties/picnics, boating, fishing, swimming and horse riding were generally available for the expatriates.

As for “the natives”, they had to make do with whatever leisure activities they could rustle up by relying on their ingenuity. Entrance to the exclusive clubs and residences of the expatriates was only through the back door or the kitchens. The only leveller was the scourge of malaria and diarrhoea which ravaged West Africa with vicious frequency. It provided the colonial officers and
British bank managers with a ready excuse for the consumption of large quantities of gin and tonic, with whiskey and soda as the alternative to be chased with brandy and cigars. Champagne came much later.

As if to ape their colonial masters and British bank managers, “the natives” took to smoking cigarettes and pipes stacked with imported (or local) tobacco. In addition, they made do with beer and football.
Even in the Churches, the front row was reserved for the colonial government officers and British bank managers. Right here in Lagos, the Church that was within shouting distance of King’s College was “christened” the Colonial Church (European Church) and it was exclusive for prayers to the Almighty by Europeans. Thankfully it is now known as St. Saviours Church.
It would be unfair to heap the blame on white officers of the Bank who only swam with the tide.
In any case, it is too late to demand reparation.
Instead, we should focus on the three critical areas that circumscribed the matrix of the Bank and galvanized its strategic thrust into the fabric of its society:

1. People
2. Customers and
3. Culture
Rather than conclude that, that it is “The Heart of The Matter” going by Graham Greene’s experience in Freetown, we should rely instead on Peter Drucker’s declaration:
“Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”
In order to put matters in context, it is of utmost importance to appreciate that one hundred and twenty – five years is a really long stretch. In the Netherlands, any organisation that has lasted one hundred years is automatically conferred with the honorary title “Koninklijke” or “Royal” which it may apply to its name. A case in point is Royal Dutch Shell. Other examples are Feadship Royal Dutch Shipyards, Koninklijke Luchtvaart Maatschappij [KLM] or translated – Royal Dutch Airlines.

Also, we must not forget that 1894 to 2019 straddled two World Wars from 1914 to 1918 and 1939 to 1945. It says much for the resilience of the Bank of British West Africa in war and peace, that it maintained its duty of care to its people (staff), customers and culture. In the event of a Third World War, the Bank has its template for survival ready. There would be no need for underground bunkers or tunnels.

It is to the credit of the Bank that it kept meticulous records of its staff who perished during the wars that had little to do with banking. Without oversimplifying matters, the temptation to shift our focus on how the Bank survived the spate of bank failures and financial meltdown/economic disasters is overwhelming.
Perhaps it was the formidable combination of people, customers and culture that provided the robust defence wall, safety net, survival moat and ballads.

Within the expatriate community, every now and again, there were rumours of wife swapping and husbands snatching. Sometimes, the predators were the bankers while the colonial government officials were the victims.
However, more often than not it was vice versa (the other way around). We shall have to dig the records of the Bank in order to extract how such delicate matters were dealt with.

However, what was well known is that some of the bankers strayed into forbidden territory to sample the “local content” and ended up fathering babies. Nine months later the half – caste son and daughter would emerge leaving little doubt as to who the father was considering that there were only one or two white people in vicinity. For some reason, the “native women” of Calabar, Sapele, Warri, Jos and Kaduna who had a reputation for being sultry, seductive and willing were fair game.
However, brazen cases of financial misconduct, violent behaviour, mental instability or outright insubordination by managers of Bank of British West Africa would leave the Bank with no option other than to swiftly book a passage back to England on the next available ship for the offender.

In order to properly appreciate the formidable role the Bank played in enquiring financial inclusion (for the right reasons), management of the fledging economy, transparency andaccountability, perhaps we should take a snapshot of how matters stand today:
1) Front page of “The Nation” newspaper of March 28, 2019

“A Software developer, Eyo Bassey Francis, yesterday told the Federal High Court in Lagos that he received N769.5 million from Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) Executive Director of Projects, Mr Tuoyo Omatsuli, for no specific job done.
Francis, the first prosecution witness in Omatsuli’s money laundering trial, said the huge sum was not for any particular contract. He said he came in contract with Omatsuli in 2014 and told him that he ran an online platform, did a lot of imports and was able to souce for foreign currencies.
“He later called me on phone and told me that some money will be transferred to my account.
“I got initial sum of N80 million transferred into the Heritage Bank account of one of my companies, Asiladrrin Global Consulting Ltd.
“When the money was paid I converted it to dollars as directed by the first defendant (Omatsuli),”
Francis said.

The witness said N340 million was also paid into his firm’s account in two traches of N160 million and N180 million on Omatsuli’s instruction. He said he also converted the money, which he said came from Starline Consultancy Services Ltd, into dollars and disbursed it as directed by Omatsuli.
“Sometimes in January 2015, I also got a call from the first defendant telling me that I will be getting a payment from a company known as Building Associates.
“I later got an inflow of N349, 650, 000 into Heritage Bank account of my company, College – Pro Synergy Ltd.
“I was furnished with an account of a firm, Greenhouse Investment, owned by the Special Assistant on Finance to the then NDDC’s MD to which I transferred N100 million.
“The balance was converted to dollars as directed by Mr. Tuoyo,” the witness said.

Asked by prosecuting counsel Mr Ekene Iheanacho if he executed any contracts for the companies from which funds were transferred to him, he said: I never had any contract with Starline Consultancy Services Ltd or business relationship with it.
“I never had any contract with Building Associates.”
Under cross-examination by Omatsuli’s lawyer Prof Amuda Kehinde (SAN), the witness said he did not transfer any money to the first defendant’s account.
“I don’t have any documents on the instructions the first defendant gave me,” he said.
Francis said he did not know what the money sent to his accounts was meant to used for.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) arraigned Omatsuli for allegedly receiving N3.6 billion bribe from a contractor, Starline Consultancy Services.
He was charged with Don Parker Properties Limited, Francis Momoh and Building Associates Limited before Justice Saliu Saidu on 45 counts.
EFCC said Omatsuli procured Momoh and Building Associates to utilise a total sum of N3.6 billion paid by Starline Consultancy Services.
It accused Omatsuli of conspiring with the others “to disguise the illegal origin of N3,645,000,000, being proceeds of an unlawful activity, to wit: corruption and gratification.”
The alleged offence, which EFCC said was committed between August 2014 and September 2015, contravened Sections 15 (1), 15 (2), 15 (3) and 18 of the Money Laundering Prohibition Act 2011, as amended by Act No 1 of 2012.
The defendants pleaded not guilty.
Justice Saliu Saidu adjourned until April 11, 2019 for continuation of trial.”
2) Front page of “Daily Sun” newspaper of March 28, 2019
Headline: (From the archives) “IG OF POLICE TAFA BALOGUN ARRESTED”

“On this day in March 2005, a former Inspector General of Police Tafa Balogun was arrested for money laundering Mustafa Adebayo Balogun became IGP in March 2002, replacing Musiliu Smith.
He was responsible for overall police security during the April 2003 national elections, which were marred by reports of police abuses. In August 2003, Tafa Balogun presented a paper on "Nigeria:
Electoral Violence and National Security" in which he advocated improvements such as use of national identity cards, mass education, electoral law reforms, citizens participation in politics, good governance and establishment of a constitutional court.
In December 2003, Tafa Balogun organised extensive security measures across Nigeria to ensure that there were no disturbances during the Commonwealth of Nations summit. Following various incidents in 2004 where reporters were beaten and their equipment damaged by policemen, Tafa Balogun made apologies and promised that those responsible would be punished Towards the end of 2004, newspapers published allegations of corruption on a massive scale, asserting that Tafa Balogun had pocketed public money and bribes from politicians and criminals. These led to his forced retirement in January 2005.

On 4 April 2005, Tafa Balogun was arraigned at the Federal High Court, Abuja on charges involving about N13 billion obtained through money laundering, theft and other sources. TheEconomic and Financial Crimes Commission under Nuhu Ribadu brought 70 charges against Tafa Balogun covering the period from 2002 to 2004.
He allegedly made a plea bargain with the court in exchange for returning much of the property and money. He was sentenced to six months in jail. He was released on 9 February 2006 after serving his sentence, part of it in Abuja National Hospital. In November 2008 and again in February 2009, the Chairman of the House Committee on Police Affairs, Abdul Ahmed Ningi, asked the Inspector General of Police Mike Okiro, to provide details of the money recovered from Tafa Balogun, a request that he passed on to the EFCC chairman, Mrs. Farida Waziri.

However, the EFCC stated that they did not have records of the exact properties recovered from Balogun. It was said that some of the houses had been secretly sold to certain individuals at giveaway prices. In April 2009, the House of Representatives Committee on Police Affair invited Tafa Balogun, Mike Okiro and Mrs. Farida Waziri to explain how the N16 billion allegedly recovered from Balogun got missing.

3) Front page headline of “Daily Sun” newspaper of March 27, 2019
“Centre for Social Justice, a Nigerian knowledge-based institute, yesterday, declared that Nigeria is broke and that the 2019 budget was dead on arrival.
While justifying this claim, the Lead Director of the centre, Mr. Eze Onyekpere, noted that the budget deficit is at 1.33 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and the economic diversification, which would have been a source of revenue, is not effective.
Speaking with newsmen in Abuja, Tuesday, Onyekpere said the deficit is in the sum of N1.859 trillion, or 21.06 per cent of the overall expenditure and 26.68 per cent of the retained revenue.
“It is to be financed mainly by borrowing the sum of N1.649 trillion from external and domestic sources – N824,82 billion from each source,” he said.

This, he said, leaves a balance of N210 billion to be funded from privatisation proceeds, adding, however, that it is an expectancy which is yet to materialise.
“From the experience of the 2016, 2017 and 2018 budget implementation, the president and National Assembly need to start the approval and implementation of the borrowing process early so that funds can be available to execute the proposed 2019 capital budget when approved,” he advised.
According to him, notwithstanding the mantra of economic diversification, the nation is still faced with the dominance of oil as the single most important revenue source. This implies that the diversification efforts have not yielded the desired dividends.
“The efforts need to be intensified for non-oil revenue to gain ascendancy. At 52.94 per cent of expected revenue, oil is still the dominant factor. However, Nigeria is yet to fully explore, exploit and expound the frontiers of oil-based revenue through income from refineries, petrochemical complexes and the full value chain of the sector. Thus, while diversifying, we need to fully explore the potential of the sector,” he said.”

If the Bank should ever contemplate a change of name, the obvious choice is ENDURANCE BANK!! Truly, over the last one hundred and twenty – five years, it has been battered and assaulted by the turbulence of its volatile environment – both political and economic as well as the social tapestry and lattice of governance. Regardless, the Bank has emerged as a national treasure with regional tentacles and global foot prints.
At its birth in 1894, the Bank shared its page in history with launching of the Hong Kong Jockey Club which is still flourishing even after the handing over of Hong Kong ( Harbour) to China
by Britain.

Other epochal events of that vintage to mind:
• Long before “Rural Banking” infiltrated the praxis and lexicon of banking, the Bank was already firmly planted in our rural areas – particularly where the commodities for export to Britain were ready for evacuation. Consequently, those who extracted tin from alluvial mining, the cocoa farmers, palm oil tappers, rubber plantain owners etc. were on the radar, if not directly at least through agents and middle men who assured them that payment would be effected promptly by the Bank. The ruggedness of the Bank must have been put to test during the First World War (1914 - 1918) and again between 1939 and 1945 while the Second World War raged. 
Inevitably the Bank hooked its wagon to the British train and adopted strategies which left nobody in doubt about its allegiance to Britain. It is also instructive that the Bank’s spunk and grit were very much on display as our nation went through numerous coup d’états and putsches starting on 15th January 1966 followed in rapid succession by the revenge coup of July 29 1966 and spiralling into Civil War (1967 to 1970). Regardless of the turmoil, the Bank for the most part kept its door open with due caution for the safety of lives and cash. It must have been a monumental task and agonizing judgment call. Perhaps when we delve into the archives of the Bank, we shall retrieve records of how it handled some of the most epochal events in our nation’s financial landscape and economic history such as:

• The Goschalk award
• Adebo Award
• Udoji Award
We may also be pleasantly surprised when we discover (or uncover) the discreet role played by the Bank in elections all over the country starting with the first one in 1923 right up to the most recent one regardless of the alarming report and lament by Edwin Enabo, INEC (Independent National Electoral Commission) Head of Department of Voters Education and Publicity in Rivers
“The INEC office is under siege by men in army uniforms, uniforms of the Air Force and police who have taken over.
They are stopping and screening people.
They are clearing results before they enter the office to the extent that up till now no collation has been done.
We don’t understand where the people are deployed from.
We are not accusing the Nigerian Army or the Nigerian Air Force, but we say the people right now in the office are wearing uniforms of Army and Air Force.

If they are not from them, we are calling on them to come and rectify the situation and allow our officers to enter with their results without molestation and harassment.
Throughout the elections, we had so many reports of insecurity, molestation, harassment and assault on our staff and ad-hoc staff, disruption of the electoral process throughout the state in all the Local Government Areas with the consequence that by yesterday evening we were unable to get any results and by 1 pm today, the office is under siege by men in Army, Air Force, and Police Uniforms.”

The Bank readily availed the government and the election authorities of its advice, observations and support in terms of its trusted officials combined with logistics and communication facilities.
In similar fashion the trust and reputation of the Bank extended to other sensitive matters such as the examination papers of the West African School Certificate; Higher School Certificate and
the professional examinations of the Chartered Institute of Bankers of Nigeria and Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria [ICAN] whereby the examination papers would be sent inadvance in sealed envelopes to the branches of the Bank closest to the examination centres with strict instructions that the envelopes should only be opened at the examination centres. There is no record of failure to exercise due care on the part of the Bank.

Perhaps this is an appropriate function at which to savour the list of the Chairmen of the Bank from inception to date:
Also, relevant is the list of its Chief Executive Officers:
Clearly, following the Nigerianisation of the Bank, no ethnicity can claim that it is its exclusive preserve or turf for the pursuit of primordial interest.
Also, considering the role the Bank has played behind the scenes in defining not only the ethics of banking but also the ethos of professionalism as well as the delicate matter of endemic corruption and its consequences, the least we can do is to line up behind Transparency International and the recent publication of:

Thankfully, Nigerian-born World Heavyweight Boxing Champion, Anthony Joshua has gone viral and lyrical:
“There has always been a big piece of my heart as a Nigerian and I do believe that it is that piece that sets me apart. It always says to me, “never give up, dream big!” We come from a nation of warriors....we have that same tenacity, that Nigeria fighting spirit that makes us game changers! We are relentless.
We don’t just face our challenges, we step into the ring to win again and again. If you believe in yourself there is no limit to what you can achieve.”

Undoubtedly, First Bank of Nigeria subscribes to the same article of faith.
For those who are tempted to conclude that one hundred and twenty-five years is more than enough to enable the Bank to instil financial discipline and robust prudence in our nation, the
front page of “Business A.M.” newspaper of March 25, 2019 has delivered a severe jolt.
“As the Federal Government’s borrowing in the last three and a half years has progressively doubled Nigeria’s stock of public debt (both domestic and external), there are palpable fears in fiscal and monetary policy analysts’ circle that the country could soon really become broke and be unable to meet its obligations. Fears have also been expressed that the nation may become stuck in a debt quagmire in the event of a major currency crisis or face foreign exchange risks that could double the current debt

Nigeria’s debt profile, according to the Debt Management Office (DMO), stood at $73 billion (N22 trillion) at the end of June 2018 compared to $63 billion in June 2015. According to debt statistics
obtained from the DMO, the country’s external debt rose from $10.32 billion in June 30, 2015 to $22.08 billion as of June 30, 2018.
This means that the country’s external debt commitment has grown by 114.05 percent in the last three and a half years.
Although multilateral debt made up $10.88 billion or 49.28 percent of the country’s external debt profile, most of the increases in the last three years occurred in the area of commercial loans.
According to the DMO, commercial foreign loans, which stood at $1.5 billion as of June 30, 2015, had risen to $8.8 billion as of June 30 2018.

This means that in the last three years, the country’s exposure to commercial foreign loans has risen by $7.3 billion or 486.67 per cent.
Oil revenue appears to be the only certain source of revenue that is constant. But despite government promises to beef up non-oil revenues, they have remained elusive.

Even as revenue has declined, government spending has skyrocketed, growing by 56 percent since 2012 and as much as 26 percent between 2016 and 2017 alone, one analyst told business a.m., adding that it was a worrying position to be right now for the country.
The country’s spending has not been particularly efficient either, noted another analyst who would rather not be named, but said he was speaking to draw the attention of policy makers to the danger that lies ahead, if nothing was done quickly now that elections are over.

“Nigeria spends more on salaries and servicing debt than on capital projects – even in 2017 when capital expenditure was at a record high,” he said, suggesting unproductive expenditure concentration.
“Personnel costs haven’t changed much in recent years,” said a policy analyst, adding that this was despite government promises. “They even consume a greater share of what the government earns. In 2013, half of what the government earned was committed to salaries; by 2017, that number was 70 percent,” he said, describing it as most inefficient and unproductive use of falling earnings of government. “And of course, as global crude oil prices rise, Nigeria spends more and more on wasteful fuel subsidies,” he pointed to a much-vexed issue that has been widely condemned by very many in business and policy corridors, except those who tap political capital and other benefits from the system.

Analysing the scenario further, he said: “It is important to note here that the Nigerian government doesn’t spend that much compared to its peers. Federal government spending was just 5.6 percent of GDP in 2017, compared to 13.4 percent and 20.9 percent in Angola and South Africa respectively, according to the World Bank. The issue is that the government doesn’t earn much money, meaning that even the little spending that is done seems reckless.”

Indeed, financial experts at the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank have advised that the revenue-to-debt ratio is unsustainable and it portends a serious danger for future generations of Nigerians.
The disturbing public debt situation has drawn concern from various groups and bodies in the country who see the trend as a danger to the nation’s sovereignty.
Timothy Olawale, director general of the Nigeria Employers’ Consultative Assembly (NECA) described the trend as very disturbing, which could have a negative effect on the developmental capacity of Nigeria.

Tajudeen Yusuf, a member of the House of Representatives who brought the issue up for discussion at plenary, noted that the House was concerned that aside from the rising national debt profile, there was a sharp increase in sub-national borrowing in the last three years, such that the domestic debts of state governments rose from N1.69 trillion in June 2015 to N3.4 trillion in June 2018.
He noted that though external or domestic borrowing was an important and necessary strategy to reflate the economy and stimulate national growth and development, “the positive impact of Nigeria’s borrowings since June 2015 has yet to be seen.”
Tajudeen added, “Unlike global practices where borrowings are tied to specific projects mutually agreed by respective organs of the government, various borrowings by the federal government since June 2015 have not been transparent, a situation which gives room for doubts, misconception and prone to manipulations.
“Nigeria’s revenues are sharply declining, which makes it increasingly difficult to attract and sustain higher debts, ultimately portend micro and macro dangers to the national economy amidst numerous developmental challenges,” he noted.

Nigeria has in recent times used the Eurobond market for its external funding, rather than concessional lenders. It sold $5.4 billion of bonds last year and $4.8 billion in 2017, making it Africa’s most prolific
issuer in that period after Egypt. Bank of America said in a research note this month that Nigeria would probably print another $3 billion of securities in the second half of 2019.Patience Oniha, director general of the DMO, while speaking on the high cost of servicing the public debt, said: “If you were to ask me if we’re going to issue Eurobonds this year, I’d say we’ll explore all the options.
“Our preferred option is to explore concessional sources. One of our major objectives is to reduce debt service costs,” she said.
Out of the N8.9 trillion proposed national budget before the parliament for approval, over N2.3 trillion has been set aside for debt servicing, a development economists said was unhealthy for national development and economic growth.”

The founding fathers of Bank For British West Africa deserve kudos for forging ahead regardless of the mischievous scheming and cynical tunnel vision of Lord Macaulay as conveyed in his address to the British Parliament on 2nd February 1835:
“I have travelled across the length and breadth of Africa and I have not seen one person who is a beggar, who is a thief. Such wealth I have seen in this country (sic), such high moral values, people of such calibre, that I do not think we would ever conquer this country (sic), unless we break the very backbone of this nation (sic), which is her spiritual and cultural heritage and therefore, I propose that we replace her old and ancient education system, her culture, for if the Africans think that all that is foreign and English is good and greater than their own, they will lose their self-esteem, their native culture and they will become what we want them (to be) – a truly dominated nation (sic).”

What was most remarkable about the Bank is that right from its inception, the managers were close to the powers that be – from the colonial administrators to kings, emirs, politicians etc. but they were careful to draw the boundary in order not to appear to be rivals (or contenders) of the power brokers.
They were also adept at managing crisis or dislocation. A case in point is the Civil War that engulfed Nigeria from 1967 to 1970. Igbo officers of the Bank who were trapped in the North and the South-West (particularly Lagos) fled in droves to the East and sought the assistance of the Bank for survival.
How the Bank coped with the tragedy of closing its in branches in Biafra while dealing with refugees is a matter for another book. Even more challenging was the enormous burden which the Bank had to shoulder as it strove to resuscitate its abandoned branches and rehabilitate Igbo managers/staff who had lost everything on account of the war as well as the change of the Nigerian currency which left them mostly destitute, homeless and helpless.

The Bank of British West Africa evidently maintained a professional relationship with the colonial government and its civil servants. Fortunately, the Civil Servants were obliged to adhere to the Code of Conduct which was enshrined in the “GO” (General Orders) and “FI” (Financial Instructions). Consequently, the system provided a formidable bulwark against what we are now witnessing on a regular basis whereby corruption has run riot with reckless abandon combined with nauseating impunity.
The following report has gone viral:

Details have emerged of how Nigerian government officials extracted from funds looted during the regime of late General Sani Abacha, through JPMorgan Chase, an American multinational investment bank and financial services company headquartered in New York.
Nigerian government has, however, filed charges against the bank for working with the said government officials to “extract nearly $900 million between 2011 and 2013 from a government bank account in London”, according to a report by New York Times.
The $900 million is part of the billions of dollars looted by government officials during the regime of the late General Sani Abacha.
A report by New York Times, a version of which was published in print on April 1, 2019, noted that the case has been filed before a court in Britain although JPMorgan Chase has insisted that the withdrawal of the money followed instructions by certain “senior government officials” from Nigeria.
This is in spite of the refusal of the two banks, to which the money was wired, to accept the transfers over concerns bordering on violation of money laundering laws.
Another major source of concern is why JPMorgan Chase went ahead to approve the release of the funds, despite the issues it had with the request, which it reported to financial regulators. However, in spite of its suspicion that the request for extraction could have come from the basis of money laundering, it went ahead to make the transfers.

As a result, the Nigerian government is now requesting the court to compel the bank to pay up in
damages. JPMorgan Chase has countered the suit with its own court documents, basing its position on the fact that the agreement signed between both parties was also subject to following instructions of the Nigerian government even if the bank had its misgivings that the transactions “were not in the best interest” of the former.
However, the back-and-forth on the funds did not begin in 2019. Flash back 20 years ago, specifically in 1998, Sani Abacha had awarded an oil licence to Dan Etete, Nigeria’s oil minister at the time for $2million. However, the transaction was projected to yield billions of dollars in revenue, and there were unsuccessful attempts by the successive government to revoke the licence on the grounds of corruption.

Fast-forward to 2007, asides being convicted of money laundering in France in an unrelated case, a deal was struck involving Etete, the Nigerian government and two oil companies, Royal Dutch Shell and Eni for sale of the licence. However, Etete and friends of former President Goodluck Jonathan were said to have benefitted more than $1billion in the deal and the case is currently on trial in Italy.
In February 2018, Bayo Ojo (SAN), a former Attorney General and Minister of Justice, had admitted to the court that he received a “compensation” of $10million from Etete for his work as a legal adviser during the sale of OPL 245.

An account was opened by the Nigerian government officials with JPMorgan in London, and a subsidiary of Eni deposited about $1.1billion on May 25, 2011, of which a transfer-request to the Banca Svizzera Italiana, a Swiss Bank, was made. However, the Swiss bank rejected the transfer request on the grounds of that it suspected that the funds would eventually find its way to Etete. These were presented in the documents made available to the Italian court. With the situation on ground, JPMorgan Chase also expressed reservations on the funds to financial regulators in Britain, but did not take any action to limit activity on the account.
Weeks later, in July of the same year, a transfer request was made for the bank to transfer the funds to a bank in Lebanon. A document on this request was made available to the British court, signed by Nigeria’s Attorney General. This was to enable release of the funds because some part of the funds were affected by a court-ordered freeze ruling. The judge approved the release of $800million of the said funds, but also expressed particular concern about the fact that the request may “a money-laundering exercise”.

However, the $800million was transferred as requested, but the Lebanese bank, Banque Misr Liban, rejected the transfer. After the rejection, a transfer request was sent to JPMorgan Chase to send the funds in two deposits of $400million each to two Nigerian bank accounts owned by Etete. While JPMorgan reported the transfers to the British Serious Organised Crime Agency (now the National Crime Agency) as suspicious, it went ahead to make the transfers anyway. In 2013, another $74million was requested to be transferred to a corporate account belonging to former oil minister based in Nigeria.”
The robustness of the entrenched system of prudence and accountability would have averted the report on the front page of “Vanguard” newspaper of April 2, 2019.

“At the backdrop of the continued comatose state of Nigeria’s refining capacity, the country may have spent about N10 trillion in the provision of pump price subsidy on imported petroleum products from 2006 to 2018.
A research report by BudgIT, a public finance focused Non – Government Organisation, NGO, said this amount came from the price shocks in the international energy market as well as the exchange volatility.
However, the report also indicated that the subsidy regime has opened Nigeria’s public finance to huge corruption and illegal exportation of petroleum products to neighbouring countries.
The report titled, “Nigeria’s Petrol Subsidy Regime: Dilemma of the World’s Most Populous Black Nation”, stated: “Nigeria currently imports an average of 91 percent of its daily petrol needs, thus disproportionately exposing local petrol prices to price shocks from international factors of production and exchange rate volatility.
There is a near perfectly inverse relationship between the fall in the value of Naira and the rise in the cost of imported petrol. That is, when next the Naira is devalued, Nigeria’s subsidy bill can be expected to jump.”

It stated further: “The continuation of petrol price regulation perpetuates safety nests for exception forms of corruption within the country’s subsidy regime. Import subsidy creates petrol price arbitrage – the differential between the regulated price in Nigeria and the high petrol in Nigeria and the high petrol prices in neighbouring countries – which is big enough to incentivize smuggling of subsidized products
to neighbouring border towns.”

On the implication of the adverse development, the report stated: “BudgIT notes with dismay fuel subsidy deprive Nigeria of funds needed for critical socio-economic development as it discourages investors, who generally prefer a deregulated industry, from investing in the downstream sector especially in the area of refinery construction and operation. For instance, the 10 trillion consumed by the subsidy regime is sufficient to construct 27,000MW of electricity or build about 2,4000 units of 1000-bed standard hospitals across 774 local government areas of Nigeria, found our research.
“We equally note that the Nigerian masses worship low oil prices. More so, the political class fears that increases in petrol price (and in the cost of living by extension), occasioned by a deregulated price regime, and could become a flashpoint for mass uprisings and political instability. Nonetheless, we can never shy away from the opportunity cost of the corrupt subsidy regime.”

Rather than restrain itself based on the conviction that silence is golden, “Vanguard” newspaper of April 1, 2019 adopted the garb of the town crier and went to town with the consequences of our brazen misconduct, sheer incompetence and monumental mismanagement of our affairs.
What we are handed is one score card as if to remind us that if the Bank had managed its affairs with similar complacently it would not have lasted one hundred and twenty – five years.

“Data compiled by Steve Hanke, an economist from John Hopkins University in Baltimore, United States, has classified Nigerians as the sixth “most miserable people in the work.”
The Misery Index was calculated using economic indices, including unemployment, inflation and bank lending rates.
Venezuela, Argentina and Iran, the countries, which topped the index, had high inflation rates as the major contributing factors.
For Nigerians, the unemployment rate was the major contributing factor. Meanwhile, Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, has described Steve Hanke’s report as a vindication of its position “all this while,” saying the nation has sunk into a new low since President Muhammadu Buhari assumed power in 2015.

“The original Misery index was just a simple sum of a nation’s annual inflation rate and its unemployment rate. The Index has been modified several times, first by Robert Barro of Harvard and then by myself,” Hanke, the economist who compiled the list, told Forbes.
“My modified Misery Index is the sum of the unemployment, inflation and bank lending rates, minus the percentage charge in real GDP per capita. Higher readings on the first three elements are “bad” and make people more miserable.
“These are offset by a “good” (GDP per capita growth), which is subtracted from the “bads.” A higher Misery Index score reflects a higher level of “misery,” and it’s a simple enough metric that a busy president, without time for extensive economic briefings, can understand at a glance.”

In total, three African countries, Nigeria, South Africa and Egypt, fell between the top 10 most miserable countries.
Report shows Nigeria is sinking under Buhari – PDP.
Reacting to the development, PDP’s spokesman, Mr Kola Ologbondiyan, tasked the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, to perish the thought of the planned increment in Value Added Tax, VAT, saying such would only make it more difficult for the “already traumatised Nigerians.”
Ologbondiyan said “That report is a vindication of the position of the PDP, all this while. The economy has virtually collapsed under President Buhari and the man is even mooting the idea of piling more pressure on Nigerians.
“Nigerians have never suffered like they are suffering today because those charged with the responsibility of managing the economy have failed completely. They have no idea of what it takes to manage an economy like ours.

“As an opposition party, we call on the Presidency to take urgent steps to fine-tune the economy, create jobs for our teeming youth if only to justify that a government is in place.
“In the interim, we advise them to stop their plan to increase VAT as that will only fetch millions of Nigerians additional pain and discomfort.”
In the old days, the Bank would have mounted huge pressure on the government in order to ensure that the budget was passed by the parliament well before the commencement of the financial year in addition to ensuring proper co–ordination between the Ministry of Finance and the Central Bank in order to ensure cohesion between fiscal policy and monetary policy. Prudent management of the economy was paramount and it was anchored on the balanced budget.

What now prevails is unrealistic budget projections whereby revenue expectations are not aligned with the realities on the ground. Inevitably, the government has been piling up huge local and foreign debts leaving a trail of unsustainable debts, massive unemployment (especially amongst women and youth) and wobbling economy.
On CNN, the Minister of Finance, Hajia Zainab Ahmed solemnly declared:
“We intend to fund the 2019 budget through borrowing locally and internationally with a spread of 50:50. Our focus is on concessionary long-term loans.”
It was more or less the same narrative when her predecessor Kemi Adeosun was on Aljazeera:
“The first thing to note is that there are no quick fixes, but our strategy is clear and the expected outcomes are pretty compelling. Our immediate economic imperative is to provide a Keynesian stimulus to reflate the economy. The 2016 focus is underpinned by a desire to radically reposition Nigeria’s economy.

The 2016 budget is being debt funded and the borrowings are targeted at the financing of capital projects to address the infrastructure deficit, create jobs and build the platforms for optimisation of the non-oil economy that will see Nigeria prosper.
Our borrowing policy will remain conservative and will see us access the lowest available funds, hence our decision to approach multilateral agencies in the first instance, for budget support at concessional rates as low as 1.5% per annum.”
Therefore, it was no surprise

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