The Bull in the China Shop – Part 1
“…Manipulate the truth long enough and eventually you're selling something that doesn't exist."
EXECUTIVE SUMMARY :The long-awaited intervention in our financial services sector, starting with the banking industry was unleashed on August 14, 2009 guided by a deliberate 'shock and awe' objective by the Sanusi Lamido led CBN.
In sacking the CEO's and Executive Directors of five banks - a generational
practice and culture was designed to be consigned to history.
When the move came, it took more than a scalpel to remove the malignant
tumor that had become a cancer to our collective conscience – the resolution
of when we would move beyond the self-denial state of a 'conspiracy of
criminality' to a state where basic norms and values that defined the practice
of financial intermediation was restored.
There is a growing conviction amongst market analysts that in the interest of
full disclosure, transparency, equity and accountability (the underlying value
base for the CBN and other regulators) demands that the list of debtors, status
of margin loans and its provisioning, status of underperforming & nonperforming
loans, and capital be disclosed for those banks 'cleared' as well.
Even the critics acknowledge that not doing anything on this development
would not be a wise option. The bull has landed quite all right, but it has found
itself in a china shop where it is not so much of whether he would break the
china, but just how much damage will be left behind.
A critical insight into what the market should look towards has remained
unanswered or is unavailable. The Market must, in a sense, be able to gain
some measure of the following - strategic & tactical objectives, scope/coverage
of the exercise, and clarity of the end game.
We believe this is where undue advantage is created in the market place – i.e.
competitive advantage is 'unknowingly' granted to those closer to regulators.
This is an incentive that lies at the heart of the problem we face.
There is a huge incentive to foster or promote the strategic development of
'cordial' relationships and back door channels with regulators to feed the
private sectors desire for an edge in business. This often leads to 'incestuous
relationships' at all staff levels right to the very top. At this stage, regulatory
oversight capacity and efficiency is compromised and the outcome is the mess
we always come back to.
The Theory of Reflexivity becomes manifest
The principle of reflexivity was perhaps first enunciated by the sociologist
William Thomas (1923, 1928) and known as the Thomas theorem: that 'the
situations that men define as true, become true for them.'
Sociologist Robert K. Merton (1948, 1949) built on the Thomas principle to
define the notion of a self-fulfilling prophecy: that once a prediction or
prophecy is made, actors may accommodate their behaviors and actions so
that a statement that would have been false becomes true or, conversely, a
statement that would have been true becomes false - as a consequence of the
prediction or prophecy being made. The prophecy has a constitutive impact on
the outcome or result, changing the outcome from what would otherwise have
An example of this is the interaction between beliefs and observations in a
marketplace - if traders believe that prices will fall, they will sell - thus driving
down prices, whereas if they believe prices will rise, they will buy - thereby
driving prices up.
Thus, the trigger for results lies in the belief that guides action/conduct.
If our banking executives have learnt anything at all from the interplay of
incestuous relationships and the crisis of previous banking failures, especially
those of the 'yuppie banker' or 'power-banker' years; it certainly did not reflect
in their conduct during the post consolidation years. They seemed to have
simply recalibrated the actions taken then and moved it to another level.
In this new enterprise, our stock exchange and securities commission appeared
either clueless or hamstrung by such 'relationships' and an overbearing
political climate under the Obasanjo administration that was reportedly
punitive in response to dissent and intolerant to ethical challenges to decisions.
The stage was thus set for what we find today. We wish our financial
professionals had read the book by George Soros on the subject matter - we
would not be where we are today!
It really is time that egos get checked at the door, and we start adopting a
general understanding of what is real, and what are lies. This, according to the
theory of reflexivity holds true for both the CBN (and its new day allied
agencies) and the market.
In the treatise (which we reproduced in the section titled 'Identifying the
Unintended Consequences', George Soros reflected the basis of the current
“..Take, for instance, the banking industry in the United States. After the
breakdown of the banking system in the Great Depression, it became closely
regulated and very rigid; but when the restrictions were relaxed, the industry
swung to the other extreme and entered a period of revolutionary change. I
can locate the transition point with great precision: it was on that
evening in 1973 when the management of First National City Bank held
an unprecedented meeting for securities analysts in order to promote
the stock as a growth stock. The pattern in the rise and fall of the Soviet
system closely parallels the pattern in the fall and rise of the American banking
The Bull in the China Shop - The New Paradigm in Nigerian Financial Sector
The 'conspiracy of criminality' that ensued post-consolidation therefore was
not intentionally engineered by Prof. Chukwumah Soludo, the ex-CBN
Governor. He simply presided over an initiative fraught with inherent execution
risks that could only have been mitigated by an equal, if not higher oversight
capacity and capability plan.
He, we believe, must therefore take responsibility for not doing enough in this
regard. History must however be fair to him and recognize that consolidation
was inevitable and it took a lot to carry it through. He, on his own part, must
accept the professional responsibility for the collapse of the system.
The symptoms are what we now focus on – bad loans, excessive credit
expansion, unreliable financials and drop in shareholder value and market
The CBN is yet to discuss this root cause in any detail.
The need to avoid overreaching beyond the goal…
Following from the analysis above, it appears obvious that as we sought to
grow our financial systems; we ignored the age-old wisdom that 'markets left
unregulated would get out of hand' because people are either incapable of
self regulating themselves or are all too aware and driven by the benefits of
pursuing their own ends.
Much more is the sovereign objectives and its alignment with the pace of
Yesterday, we crowned the week of tumultuous 'exposes' in our financial
services sector with the newswire that S&P has cut Nigeria's ratings deeper
into junk; though outlook appears stable at this point. Some may ask the
question why we surrender our economic and financial objectives to the whims
and decisions of the international order but for the purposes of this report, we
recognize the importance of such 'measures of risk' as universally acceptable
tools of engagement in our quest for integration and market leverage. Until we
are able to muscle the necessary clout to take on the order, we appear not to
have much of an option. This is the consequence of our un-integrated approach
to managing the state.
During the week just ended, the flurry of market activities on all sides can be
The CBN seized control of five banks close to insolvency with armed
guards in tow (FT),
threw out management (often big shareholders),
demanded payment from debtors three (3) days after this ground shaking
action, named some of Nigeria's leading lights in an advertised list the CBN later
admitted to having errors, had SEC call for the DG of the Nigerian Stock Exchange to provide a response to a 7 day ultimatum, demand the removal from council of the
and learnt that two CBN Deputy Governors (Mrs. Juliet Madubueze and
Prof. Akpan Ekpo) allegedly opposed to the move, its timing and motive
have been dismissed.
This is a whole lot for our fragile market to absorb at a go. We have set
ourselves up for a big battle and it will come from all sides and even from the
We cannot embark on a journey - driving with a rear view mirror.
If the truth must be told, we have reversed many of the gains we made so far,
as imperfect as they were; even as we further acknowledge that a few were
built more on perception than reality.
Yet, it is a historical fact of Taiwan and China, that it built its economy on the
back of 'inferior products' which defined its brand. This market, we make
bold to say, does not need an 'ambush' based mindset to reform.
We do not need surprises or uncertainty fed into the veins of our market,
economy or national psyche… we needed to build upon the gains of the past
and address the real and present dangers in the leadership gaps in our
financial services sector across board, in a manner that does not undermine or
create unintended consequences.
Everyone accepts the need for action was imperative and Lamido Sanusi
appears to be a man capable of enthroning such a culture. On the basis of the
actions taken subsequently, we have to mitigate our enthusiasm for change
with a cautious optimism that the process will not be hijacked, distorted or
We categorically state that the means, approach, timing and relegation
of the rule of law in achieving this important task remain a concern. It
does not appear as if the CBN is fully comprehended or is 'managing the
communication' of the extent of this developments. Its flip flop on issues as we
go on will reveal as much.
This report therefore is our attempt to establish our support for the need for
change, bold action and sustainable implementation of the reversal of norms
for which we expect to last for up to two years (or more depending on the
subsequent actions taken by the Sanusi Lamido led CBN).
Nothing sums up our position better than these words from FT – “The market
remains relatively fragmented. …..More transparency and consolidation are
needed. But dramatic action risks undermining worthy ambitions, such
as attracting foreign capital. Nigerian authorities overhauled banks'
management in the 1990s, but oversight failed to keep pace with market
change. The challenge now is how to finish the job.”
The Future Foretold…
In our NCM 2009 report, we noted that this was not another turn of the
business cycle! We averred as follows:
1. That the problem was not so much of a market meltdown but the
unaddressed leadership meltdown in the management of the economy
2. That the Nigerian Capital Market was not immune from global
developments, its impact and politics on its economic and financial
3. That a paradigm shift has occurred and the very way business was
thought of, conducted and regulated in our financial markets must
4. That the customer, investor, fund manager, analyst, journalist, regulator
and quoted companies must now learn a new way to engage the
5. That this process of rediscovery will prove most unsettling and may
determine how well Nigeria, as an investment destination positions
6. That we should quickly move on from the self-denial stage and embrace
the need to employ rigor in addressing the 'simplistic and routine'
unaccountability prevalent in our policy making;
7. That each section of the report was devoted to critical success factors
needed to be considered and acted upon by those in charge of the
8. That the subject of margin loans on one side and the quality of assets
carried by the banks required a stress test (this was further affirmed in
our half year and individual bank report issued up to July 2009);
9. That the investor confidence question goes beyond the usual
grandstanding deployed through newspaper commentaries and loud
sound bites at seminars. The regulators, this time, had to own up to
their failure to deliver the enabling level playing field and enforcement
needed to engender trust in the market; and
10.The choice of action needed to be taken must be one that recognises the
intrinsic impact of our financial markets on the whole economy and the
international support built over the years.
We deployed this to all members of the financial community in Nigeria, United
Kingdom, United States of America, Canada, Ghana, and South Africa. Indeed,
we took the unusual step of sending same to His Excellency, The President, his
Vice President, Principal officers in the presidency, All Ministers, CBN, SEC,
NDIC, NSE, BPE, NAICOM, Professional associations, Guild of Editors, all
members of the federal and state Houses of Assembly, all State Governors and
Commissioners, all Universities, publishers and business editors of media
houses, analyst firms and national institutions.
The motive was clear - let us all move beyond the blame game and agree
on a consensus of what was needed to be done. Our recommendations were
very clear just as our opposition to the plans put forward was rightfully
debunked. We indeed predicted that no recovery will occur in our NCM until Q2
2010, subject to the actions needed to recalibrate the changes needed were
taken with motives devoid of grandstanding.
We adopted the most 'useful' model under the circumstance and perhaps, not
necessarily the most 'honest' model. The hope was that such a situation as has
presented itself since August 14, 2009 could be avoided. The inevitable has
happened, so what next?
Managing the Bull in the China Shop…..
We were wrongful optimistic of our capacity as a people to embrace unforced
change! We now find ourselves at a cross roads of sorts. The move to 'tear
down' the negative aspects of our development legacy and to 'build' on a
foundation devoid of such practices, values and low risk management of our
financial systems, is a generational challenge.
This is the task Sanusi Lamido Sanusi has inherited. The laws of cause and
effect have now manifested, even at this early stage of the impending battle
for the soul of the market! The consequences can only be imagined if not
The good money is on the resilience of the Nigerian people and our markets to
rise up from this dark chapter in our national development. It is our hope that
the overriding motive remains the recognition that the consequence of actions
to be taken to deal with the subject of 'incompetence in managing a bank'
and its systemic problems does not expand on the current 'drama' being
played out by later-day converts presenting themselves as patriots or
regulators/enforcement agencies with altruistic intents. A similar case was
announced by the Senate committee on Banking and none of them took action,
so what makes this one a must-do task?
The threat of publication of names has come and gone and we are not sure it
has done much to promote civility in conduct by this country. If at all, it
revealed that for the CBN to resort to such desperate measures, the truth has
not been told about how bad the case of the bank really is.
Such actions are only taken where the going concern of an organization has
been so imperiled that the only feasible option is to call in the debts, package
the companies for resale and hopefully mitigate the systemic impact of such a
move on the industry/sector. Under this scenario, the need to wait for the
conclusion of the examination of other banks was, in terms of priority, not
uppermost. If action was not taken, the whole system would get worse.
Recognising this therefore, the question must be asked – Why is CBN not
guaranteeing the customer deposits/funds in the banks?
We leave you to make your own judgment and conclusions. To be continued| Article source