Page last updated at 16:16 GMT, Wednesday, 19 August 2009 17:16 UK

Arrest threat for Nigeria debtors

Governor Lamido Sanusi
Governor Sanusi has pledged to clean up the financial system

People who owe billions of dollars to troubled Nigerian banks have been told they have five days to pay the money, or face arrest.

Anti-corruption police say the debtors, who include Nigeria's wealthiest men, had almost ruined the banking industry.

Five banks were rescued in a $2.6bn (£1.58bn) bailout last week, which saw all five chief executives sacked.

The central bank has published a list of more than 200 customers, including companies and state governments.

System Threat

The country's Economic and Financial Crimes Commission has said it is working with other law enforcement agencies to secure the borders and prevent anyone escaping.

Nigerian police have arrested three of the banks' chief executives plus one other high-ranking official.

The bosses are being questioned over the bad loans taken on by their banks which totalled $7.6bn.

The regulator has argued that weak governance left the banks so undercapitalised that they posed a threat to the banking system in Nigeria.

The five banks concerned are Afribank, Finbank, Intercontinental Bank, Oceanic Bank and Union Bank.

'Sanity'

The published list includes corporations like Transcorp and fuel distributor African Petroleum, as well as the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning and state governments of Delta and Ebonyi.

HAVE YOUR SAY
This has become a recurring practise for bank chiefs to use depositors funds for the personal gains, they lend these funds to their friends and family who invest the money in private business
Danny, Glasgow

Femi Babafemi, a spokesman for Nigeria's Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, said the chairman of the commission has met with the chief executives of all of the country's banks.

"We've made a recovery in a particular case of well over 5bn naira ($31.5m)" Mr Babafemi told the BBC.

"At the same time, we also have to work along with other regulatory agencies to ensure that sanity and discipline get rooted in our financial institutions. "

The BBC's Ahmed Idris in Abuja says the list includes some of Nigeria's most well-connected and richest men who have loans "that are looking increasingly toxic".

ANALYSIS
Caroline Duffield, Lagos

The implication from the anti-fraud police is that these millionaires and billionaires could easily have cleared their debts by now.

That may be true, but will they be able to reach into their pockets by next week?

In some cases, the sums owed are well within immediate grasp of the individuals and organisations listed. The managing director of Access Bank, Aigboje Aig-Imoukhuede, for example, owes $107m.

Some economists think the demand for immediate payment could actually make matters worse.

''Imagine a few billionaires suddenly deciding to raise capital by off-loading a lot of property in Lagos,'' one economist told the BBC.

''It would send the property market into a tailspin. That would be disastrous. There could be a serious knock-on impact for the economy.

The authorities need to stop, take a deep breath and intervene in an organised, orderly manner.''

Billionaire tycoon Aliko Dangote, who was listed at the world's richest African by Forbes magazine last year, has a loan worth $15m with Oceanic Bank, the central bank said.

Mr Dangote was recently unanimously elected president of the Nigeria Stock Exchange.

His companies control trade in many of Nigeria's commodities, including rice, salt and sugar, textiles and vegetable oil.

"It has become necessary to use this medium to request the following defaulting customers of the affected banks to pay without further delay their indebtedness, failing which the banks will take all appropriate legal actions to ensure repayment," the central bank said in a statement.

Governor Lamido Sanusi last week bailed out and took over the five banks, saying the banks were undercapitalised and posed a risk to the entire banking system.

Mr Sanusi took over as head of the central bank over two months ago, pledging to clean up the banking system that has fuelled growth in Nigeria.

The unprecedented action against the banks has sent the Nigerian currency, the naira, lower but also raised hopes that the Nigerian financial system may finally be reformed.



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