Ahmed Kuru, Proving His Mettle at AMCON

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Ahmed Kuru

BUSINESS/Focus

Typical of many government agencies, allegations of mismanagement and impropriety dogged the Assets Management Corporation of Nigeria’s previous management boards until the coming of President Muhammadu Buhari with his wide-reaching anti-corruption reforms. One of the earliest appointments he made was that of Ahmed Kuru as the Chief Executive Officer of AMCON. Almost six years after, and a few months into his second term, Kuru’s proficiency in fiscal management and boots-on-the-ground approach to debt recovery has helped in no little way to stabilise the Nigerian economy, writes Lanre Alfred

Unlike the middling marabou, the miracles of Malam Ahmed Kuru, the Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer of the Assets Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON), aren’t deceptive in nature rather; each one is an event that creates faith in his abilities as a fiscal guru and turn-around-manager. The AMCON boss is not just an administrative managing director but a seasoned leader.

Administrators are always cheap and easy to find, and even cheaper to keep but leaders are worth their weight in gold. Leaders are risk-takers and they are often in very short supply; those with enduring vision like Kuru are pure gold.

He has evinced that rare ability once again with recent reports that AMCON has reached an advanced stage towards launching a multibillion-naira airline by pooling together its aviation assets. The reports maintain that the new international airline, to be named Nigeria Eagle, may take to the sky with at least 10 planes as early as June.

In a statement by Jude Nwauzor, Head of Corporate Communications, AMCON, Kuru said, following its mandate, especially as it relates to the aviation sector of the Nigerian economy, AMCON had approached the aviation authorities in the country seeking a licence for an independent entity where all of its aviation assets would be transferred and efficiently managed in a synergistic manner.

Nwauzor stated, “AMCON currently has more than five airlines in its aviation portfolio among other assets that are scattered all over. The proposed new entity, therefore, has nothing to do with the rebranding of any of the airlines within its portfolio as being speculated in several online publications. The objective of AMCON’s intervention in the aviation sector is targeted at supporting the sector, given its importance, saving thousands of jobs, making the aviation sector a catalyst for the growth of the Nigerian economy, and recovering the huge debt owed the corporation by these aviation entities.”

AMCON took over Arik Air in February 2017 as the airline was said to have been immersed in heavy financial debt that had threatened to permanently ground it. The corporation averred that the airline, which catered for about 55 percent of the passengers in the country, had been going through difficult times, attributable to its bad corporate governance, erratic operational challenges, inability to pay staff salaries, and heavy debt burden, among other issues. Arik’s debt was estimated at over N375 billion, comprising domestic and foreign investors.

Likewise, AMCON took over the management of Aero Contractors in 2016 after dissolving its board and appointed a manager to run its affairs in an interim capacity. AMCON stated that the decision to take over the management of the company was in furtherance of its responsibility of acquiring eligible bank assets and putting them to economic use in a profitable manner. AMCON is both the majority shareholder and creditor of Aero Contractors.

While assuring regulatory authorities, the travelling public, and key stakeholders that the airline would continue to “operate on the solid foundation of safety and security with excellent customer service,” the corporation added that its intervention is in the public interest, and to sustain and improve the robust and premium quality service, which Aero was known for.

Aero Contractors and Arik Air joined a long list of airlines that have failed in Nigeria in the past decade owing to what Kuru described as a myriad of unethical business conduct, including greed and financial rascality by their owners. At a roundtable event in 2019, where he delivered a paper themed; ‘Aircraft Financing: The Issues & Challenges of Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON),’ Kuru blamed the challenges faced by the airline operators on the unpredictable and unstable foreign exchange regime in the country; the non-existent good corporate governance principles; lack of due diligence procedure and other associated risks as well as over-invoicing, among other challenges.

Yet, he said, “Regardless of the mode of transport – the aviation sector has proved to be a catalyst for the economic development of nations. It is the wheel that drives economic activities. The air transport sector facilitates trade, tourism; boosts productivity in the economy; improves efficiency in the supply chain; it is an enabler for investments; can spur innovation, facilitate commerce and provide fast and reliable delivery of cargoes and services.”

Mindful of this, the Nigerian Eagle, a brainchild of AMCON, under Kuru, is seen as a bright spark in a mottled sector. Instructively, Nigeria does not have a national carrier. The last attempt at floating one, the Nigeria Air, in 2018, which was intended to replace the defunct Nigeria Airways that ceased operations in 2003, failed as the federal government was unable to attract credible technical partners and investors to support it.

Kuru is not new to birthing novel ideas. Appointed in August 2015 by President Muhammadu Buhari, Kuru’s charge was to lead the agency out of the doldrums. Typical of many government agencies, allegations of mismanagement and impropriety dogged AMCON’s previous management boards until the coming of Buhari with his wide-reaching anti-corruption reforms.

So far, he has excelled at achieving AMCON’s major objective to be a key stabilising and re-vitalising tool established to revive the financial system by efficiently resolving the non-performing loan assets of the banks in the Nigerian economy. As of August 2020, Kuru, while appearing before a technical session of the Senate Committee on Banking Insurance and other Financial Institutions, revealed that the total Assets Under Management (AUM) was N136.73 billion and N112.03 billion worth of propriety assets, while noting that there are over 400 obligors of AMCON, which accounts for more than N5.4 trillion. Kuru has ensured that AMCON acquired Non-Performing Loans (NPLS) of various Eligible Financial Institutions (EFIs) in three different phases with the top five EFIs representing 58.18per cent of all purchased EBAs.

AMCON has a total loan portfolio of over 12,000 loans of various sizes and sectors that were still lingering many years after the corporation was established. Thus, to navigate Nigeria out of recession, a two-time former Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Chief Kanu Godwin Agabi, SAN, called on judges in the country especially the ones that handle cases concerning the AMCON and its debtors to pile pressure on the obligors to repay the huge debts, which he said were capable of revitalising the economy, if recovered.

He also commended the new AMCON act signed into law by President Buhari in August 2019, which has increased the powers of the corporation to recover debts owed to legacy banks.

As part of the corporation’s renewed strategy to resolve these loans, AMCON, in 2016, introduced the Assets Management Partners (AMP) scheme to assist its recovery activities, especially in tracing, identification, and location of obligors with the intent to resolve their outstanding indebtedness; and tracing, identification and location of assets of obligors (both pledged and unpledged).

Among other obligor engagements, the AMPs, Kuru said, were empowered to get involved in the negotiation of settlement and restructuring terms with identified obligors; pursue and enforce debt recovery and collection activities geared towards achieving set targets, and initiate legal actions to further the loan recovery mandates in line with approved guidelines.

Despite the challenges he inherited, Kuru’s relentless efforts are paying off and have been identified to have helped to stabilise the economy. He was rewarded with a second term of five years in office by President Buhari, which has been confirmed by the Senate last December.

Perfection is like an iron forge; it imbues its source with rugged grains of brushed steel. In Kuru, it manifests like a rampart of strapping, albeit acquired character. He embodies so much of what makes perfection an onerous yet enviable trait. He is a man who sees something in everything that the rest of us don’t. But his genius is not just his ability to see what others cannot but how he applies it. Yes, Kuru is a very savvy visionary. But none of that influences his personal estimation of his competence and self-worth; despite his competency and acclaim, he affects a humble poise.

As AMCON head honcho, he brings clarity of purpose to his work; he is a good listener who comes to the table not with some preset notion of distrust, but an open mind; he asks all the tough questions and tries to find the solutions.

Given that product design, marketing and complex management are no doubt the trifecta of success in banking, he excels at it all in a rare feat, much like scoring a television goal in soccer, time and over again.

His process is simple: Kuru has built a career on combining daring, dexterous, and largely inspirational initiatives with diligent application that incorporates everything from snatches of dependable formulae to the most improbable exploits.

However you choose to see him, the story of Kuru remains the stuff gallant dreams are made of. Unlike many of his peers, his rise to eminence was as much a product of unrelenting will and his astounding ability to pirouette himself from obscurity to the acme of his career by the jockstraps.

Respected in the banking industry as a result-oriented and deft leader with a strong accountability record, Kuru, until his appointment, had served as MD/CEO of the erstwhile Enterprise Bank Limited, one of the bridge banks established by the CBN, from 2011 to 2014. He led the initiative to restore stakeholders’ confidence in the bank and successfully returned it to profitability before its acquisition by Heritage Bank in 2014. Kuru brings into AMCON an extensive experience in banking and financial services garnered over 35 years. His work has earned him recognition in the financial sector as an astute banker and a change agent.

He played a strategic role in the successful merger of Habib Bank and Platinum Bank to form one of Nigeria’s vibrant banking brands known as Bank PHB, which he nurtured to prominence before it was renamed Keystone Bank Limited after its acquisition by AMCON. Kuru also worked as a Budget Analyst with the Federal Ministry of Finance before he was later appointed the Executive Vice Chairman of Emeritus Capital Limited, a financial services firm that specialises in international business development focusing on sub-Saharan Africa. Kuru holds a Bachelor of Science (BSc) and Master’s Degrees in Business Administration from the Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria; and also, an alumnus of the Chartered Institute of Bankers, Lagos Business School, and London Business School. He has attended many training and seminars across the globe including the High Impact Leadership at Columbia Business School, New York.