By Dipo Olowookere
One of the major headaches of banks in Nigeria is the recovery of loans to customers and because of this, many of them are reluctant to grant credit facilities.
It was only recently financial institutions were forced to issue loans to their customers when the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) mandated them to meet a loan-to-deposit ratio of 60 per cent and later to 65 per cent.
The interpretation of this CBN policy is that 65 per cent of a bank’s total customer deposits must be given out as loans. Failure to adhere to this directive attracts fines from the apex bank. A few of them have been sanctioned for this infraction.
The idea behind this, according to the central bank, was to ensure that funds are made available to the real sectors of the economy, especially the manufacturing, the SMEs and others, so as to spur economic activities and boost the nation’s gross domestic product (GDP).
The banks reluctantly adhered to this instruction and those who failed were punished, but the issue of loan recovery was not fully addressed despite the rise in credit bureau agencies in the country.
But to strengthen the financial system and ensure quick loan recovery process, the Senate is looking to come up with laws that would punish loan defaulters.
On Tuesday, a bill for an act to establish a unified scheme for a sound financial system passed second reading at the Senate and was referred to the committee on banking insurance and other financial institutions for scrutiny, with a mandate to report back in four weeks.
According to the sponsor of the bill, Mr Sani Musa, when passed into law, banks would have the authority to track loan defaulters’ account in any financial institution in the country through the Bank Verification Number (BVN).
When this is done, the bank would be empowered to recover the loans from the bank account of the defaulter.
He further said the law will provide penalties for breaches and violations of obligations, thereby enhancing the loan recovery process across banking sectors in Nigeria.
“Before the deregulation of our banking system, the ability of our banks to recover loans has been the bedrock behind the collapse of many commercial banks with a dire consequence to many innocent account holders, which have resulted in the collapse of their businesses, loss of savings and even death.
“In many instances, most economies have consequently experienced high level and increasing rates of unemployment as a result of such negligences of the credit system.
“Today, the situation in Nigeria has become very serious and seemingly intractable and thereby frustrates our effort as a nation toward private driven economy as well as economic diversification and growth.
“In light of the above, there is only one obvious option left for any country where policy measures failed, which is to urgently enact legislation that will address the problems once and for all,” Mr Sani submitted.
Speaking further, the lawmaker described lending as the core business of commercial banks, noting that if they are unable to grant loans because of a bad recovery process, the nation’s economy might suffer for it.
“Credit is seen as the bloodstream of the banking business [and] the [current] situation in Nigeria demands an injection of a healthy bank credit and recovery system that will effectively fasten the pace of growth,” he added.
In his contribution, his colleague at the red chamber, Mr Tolu Odebiyi, said, “I think this is a very timely bill and it will safeguard our economy and creditors from defaulters.”
On his part, the Deputy Senate President, Mr Ovie Omo-Agege, who presided over the session, applauded the sponsor of the bill, stating that, “Clearly, there are challenges in the sector that we need to address and this bill seeks to do just that.”