By Ademola Oyetunji
In a surprising turn of events on Wednesday, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) dissolved the boards of three prominent commercial banks – Keystone, Polaris, and Union Bank. This move, although unanticipated, transpired despite the Central Bank’s recent endorsement of these banks’ financial soundness.
Governor Olayemi Cardoso, at his inaugural address during the Chartered Institute of Bankers of Nigeria (CIBN) annual dinner last year, had lauded Nigeria’s financial sector’s resilience in 2023. Stress tests conducted on the banking industry indicated its strength under various economic scenarios. However, Cardoso highlighted the need for banks to reassess their responsible banking framework, a sentiment echoed by President Tinubu.
President Tinubu’s evident discontent with the Godwin Emefiele-led CBN triggered a comprehensive review of the financial system. A special investigator, Jim Obazee, was appointed to conduct a forensic investigation into Emefiele’s tenure, with damning revelations emerging. Recent developments suggest the initiation of a full-blown financial system reform.
The CBN’s dissolution announcement and the subsequent appointment of new executives for the affected banks, including Yetunde Oni, Mannir U. Ringim, Hassan Imam, Chioma A. Mang, Lawal M. Omokayode, and Chris Onyeka Ofikulu, might mark the beginning of implementing the investigation’s recommendations – a significant cleanup of the financial sector.
Allegations surfaced during the investigation, suggesting non-cooperation from some bank executives and Emefiele’s questionable acquisitions through proxies and cronies. Cardoso may have secured presidential approval for the CBN’s decisive action.
The CBN cited various infractions by the banks, including regulatory non-compliance, corporate governance failures, and activities threatening financial stability. Despite the challenges, the CBN assured the public of depositors’ fund safety and its commitment to upholding a safe, sound, and robust financial system.
The Special Investigator’s report revealed documents pointing to Emefiele’s involvement in Titan Trust Bank and Union Banks’ acquisitions with ill-gotten wealth. The CBN’s swift replacement of the ousted chief executives received widespread commendation, especially from high-net-worth stakeholders aiming to avert a crisis of confidence within the affected banks.
Adewale Aderounmu, an industrialist, applauded the CBN for implementing effective policies under Olayemi Cardoso’s leadership, despite detractors’ actions against the Naira. Ayomide Deepak, an Abuja-based stockbroker, welcomed the action but emphasized the need for caution in handling revelations from the investigation to prevent further economic challenges.
As the CBN wields its regulatory hammer on these banks, the hope is that other bank executives and investors will learn valuable lessons for the sake of the economy. The CBN’s action is perceived as a strategic move aimed at revitalizing the economy and financial system, not a mere vendetta.
Ademola Oyetunji, a Public Affairs analyst writes from Ibadan.