By Tunde Okoli
Even before assuming reins of power, President Muhammadu Buhari (PMB), then candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), left no one in doubt during his campaigns that his second coming, just like his days as military head of state would exercise zero tolerance to corrupt practices. It was not surprising that he shopped for skilled, experienced and upright hands to man strategic offices as soon as he was sworn into office as the 6th civilian president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria on May 29, 2015. Today, even the President’s worst critics have scored him high and lauded the on-going anti-corruption war of his administration. Some analysts have also praised the manner in which corrupt practices are being dealt with in every stratum of the Nigerian society and trickling down government’s offices, establishments and agencies amongst others.
One of such establishments, which remain strategic and central to the economic stability and investment climate in Nigeria, is the headship of the Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON). The Corporation was set up by the government in 2010 by the Act of the National Assembly to save Nigerian banks and businesses from total collapse in the wake of global financial meltdown, which started escalating since 2008. Hence, when the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari appointed Mr. Ahmed Kuru as Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer of AMCON at the inception of this administration, the amiable banker clearly understood his briefs and had his blue print ready for implementation.
The day he assumed duties, Kuru literally hit the ground running when he sent clear signals to all debtors of his readiness to go after anybody that is in the book of AMCON irrespective of the person’s clout. Few days later, he read the riot act to debtors and obligors again affirming that AMCON will no longer tolerate debtors or handle them with kid-glove. The bold decisions from Kuru gave renewed hope to Nigerians that as difficult as the job of recovering debt was, AMCON would tremendously reduce the number of obligors in its portfolio. But with the backlash these commendable steps have received from a few elements, analysts are of the opinion that Kuru and his team may have underestimated the crudity and pettiness of some of the Corporation’s notorious and recalcitrant debtors.
Reacting to a recent media ‘war’ between AMCON and some obligors, Mr. Emeka Brian, a Lagos-based public analyst said, “It is obvious that AMCON underestimated how low some of their debtors could stoop in desperation to continue to defraud Nigeria. For me, it is heartwarming that we have a government agency like AMCON stepping up its recovery efforts. I am enjoying the plethora of revelations they have made in the last couple of months. Nigerians need to know those that have grounded the Nigerian economy because we cannot continue like this.”
While calling on AMCON not to be intimidated by these attacks, Brian said he was not surprised that these characters are fighting back. Again he said, “These are ‘big men’ with socio-political and economic wherewithal. Sadly, some of them are shameless, petty and crude and are capable of displaying less than noble traits when desperate for survival. They have the capacity to fight back, but we thank God that AMCON now has a management that is determined to join the change band wagon of the present administration.”
Another commentator who preferred not to be named added, “Just like corruption is fighting back at all levels that it is being fought by the federal government, AMCON should have known that its debtors will not just fold their arms and watch while it embarrasses and humiliates them before the Nigerian public. So it is expected,” he said.
He also lauded Kuru’s passion to improve Nigeria’s investment climate by making AMCON alive to its responsibilities and statutory roles; also his resolve to impress it on everyone that ‘it’s no longer business as usual’ and thereby, turn the tables against recalcitrant debtors of the Corporation.
It would recalled that in his strive to improve the performance of the Corporation upon assuming office, Kuru had sought and received President Buhari’s backing to set up a Presidential Inter-Agency Committee (PIAC) on recovery of loans owed Asset AMCON. The Committee, which was inaugurated by the President earlier in the year, was meant to help AMCON confront the effrontery of these die-hard debtors who were hitherto regarded as ‘untouchables’ before now.
Since inception, the job of recovering the huge funds owed the Corporation by debtors has been a herculean and challenging task; it is pretty much still a difficult task except that the present Kuru-led management seems to have succeeded in establishing the fact that debtors can no longer take the Corporation for granted as it was the case in the past. Even at that, AMCON has kept emphasizing debt resolutions through negotiation strategies thus strategically playing down on the AMCON Act 2010, which empowers it to compel its debtors.
Left with no choice, AMCON backed by support from the PIAC moved in on some high-profile obligors who have been whining and resorted to media war with the Corporation for exercising its statutory powers. In the past couple of months, AMCON has intensified its legal battles to recover debts owed it and succeeded in securing court orders to freeze accounts, take receivership and/or initiated the winding down process of some companies.
Rather than seeking ways to resolve their issues with the Corporation, by way of exploiting the negotiations strategy offered to them; some of the affected debtors have resorted to blackmailing AMCON in the media, perhaps with a view to arm-twisting the Corporation to surrender to their will. Unfortunately, some sections of the media appear to be falling for this cheap blackmail, apparently not taking time to measure these obligor’s complaints against the background of AMCON’s position that many of the corporation’s debtors are living large and flying private jets all over the place while refusing to pay up or service their debts.
Of all the rich and powerful that have been affected by the ‘wind of change’ emanating from AMCON, Senator Ben Murray-Bruce stood out. He was contrite enough to accept responsibility and appear to be working frantically to re-negotiate his loan terms with AMCON. The Senator kept his head and remained composed when he heard the news that AMCON has taken over his businesses. Indeed, he calmly sent his reaction in his Twitter handle thus: “I have been on an international flight and have only just landed. The situation is being resolved and things will be back to normal. “In 36 years, Silverbird has grown and like anybody, it will face challenges. Tough times don’t last. But we, as tough people, outlast them.”
However, as obligors of AMCON are devising ways to shift attention from the crust of the matter, which is their huge debt profile, AMCON must continue to re-invent itself and remain focused in carrying out its statutory obligations as firmly entrenched in the Act establishing it. Every well-meaning Nigerian understands that AMCON is operating within the ambit of the law and will continue to pray that AMCON succeeds because these rich and powerful men have mortgages our today; we must not allow them to mortgage the future of our children.
This is why one must commend President Buhari for setting up the Presidential Inter-Agency Committee (PIAC) to assist AMCON to achieve its set goals and objectives. It is a welcome development and it’s exactly what AMCON needs to carry on effectively. The way the Corporation’s debtor companies, obligors and their promoters with strong political and economic influence have perfected the art of frustrating and circumventing AMCON’s recovery efforts before now; AMCON surely needs support of relevant Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) of government to join forces to assist AMCON tackle issues of debt recovery from these recalcitrant debtors and obligors irrespective of their power and influence.
If cheap blackmail and name calling is what AMCON has to endure to succeed, let the debtors go ahead and wail. But pay…they must.
Okoli is a public analyst based in the United States of America