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THIS REPUBLIC BY SHAKA MOMODU
Nigeria’s rich and powerful sure know how to live life. And they are living it to the hilt. They spare no expense in making an impression of their status. From expensive homes to posh cars, yachts to private jets, as well as featuring in the rich lists published by Forbes, Bloomberg and what have you, they are perpetually in competition for attention as they flaunt their vast wealth to the envy of many ordinary people. But until a few years ago, many mere mortals like us had thought that it all was a product of hard work as we marvelled at their success and extraordinary gift of business acumen.
Well, their seemingly invincibility and make-belief success were shattered when then Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi came down hard on bad bank debtors by naming and shaming them in newspaper publications. We found that many of the billionaires we celebrated as runaway successes were indeed chronic bank debtors who lived on borrowed depositors’ funds and almost borrowed some banks into extinction with no desire to pay back. Nearly all the big names in Nigeria were exposed then and are still being exposed.
Make no mistake, it is not a crime to borrow money to grow one’s business. The problem is that many of the big men diverted depositors’ money to fund their opulent lifestyles. Money taken from banks purportedly to expand their businesses was diverted to buy private jets, supercars or buy mansions in major cities around the world, spending lavishly on luxuries as if money was about to run out of circulation. When it was time to pay back, they started playing games with the banks, deploying all sorts of dirty tricks to frustrate paying back. Their actions almost destroyed the financial system nearly a decade ago. It appears the same thing is happening all over again.
The latest in the pantheon of bad debtors, who are either refusing or unwilling to pay back their loans, is the Chairman of Seplat Petroleum Development Company PLC, ABC Orjiako.
He owes Access Bank PLC a total of $200 million from an initial $135 million. Well actually, the lending to Orjiako was done by the defunct Diamond Bank whose assets and liabilities Access Bank inherited in 2019 after its acquisition of the defunct bank. Diamond Bank through a syndicated loan that included Afrexim, Polaris and other banks, thought that it was supporting a growing business owned by a respected businessman. Unfortunately, he literally twisted a knife in the heart of the bank.
Imagine if he had repaid that money back in full to Diamond Bank, would the bank have gone under? I have my doubts.
It is not just Orjiako who owed Diamond Bank, there are many others who took loans and failed to even service the loans, let alone repay them. Diamond Bank, you will recall, was one of the runaway success stories of the Pascal Dozie family business empire. The bank was also the pride of people of the South East. Unfortunately, a streak of management failures and bad debtors saw it gasping for breath until Access Bank came to the rescue by acquiring it.
ABC Orjiako is not disputing that his company owed Diamond Bank, instead he is telling us that it was not Seplat that took the loan directly, even though the money was used to the benefit of Seplat. His other company, Cardinal Drilling Services Ltd took the loan and used it to acquire four rigs for Seplat’s benefit. My word of advice to Orjiako is, pay your loan whether it was granted to Cardinal Drilling Nigeria Ltd or Seplat, and free yourself from the label of a bad debtor. Personally, I don’t like bad debtors because they close the doors on others who would need financing for their own businesses down the road.
Instead of going back and forth, Orjiako and his businesses should come up with a plan to pay back their obligation. You can’t borrow depositors’ money, and then run to court for protection after failing to pay back. The $20 million deposited with the Chief Registrar of the Court to secure unfreezing of their assets should have been a starting point to paying down that debt instead. He needs to stop the legal rigmarole and pay his debt, case closed.