Innoson And GTB: Tribe As A Risk Factor In Lending

By Ikenga Chronicles December 23, 2017

Innoson And GTB: Tribe As A Risk Factor In Lending

— Vitus Ozoke

Now that the INNOSON/GTB drama appears resolved, with many depositors, mostly the Igbo, withdrawing their money, and closing their accounts with the bank, in one of the more successful social media-driven anti-corporations campaigns, is it not time to look at other banking institutions with a view to discovering whether similar Shylock style lending practices exist in them?

I’m willing to make the bet that GTB is not alone in this behavior. It may be a more systemic and industry wide problem that needs to be addressed. Truth is that Nigerians are daily screwed on every front. When they are not taking it from their elected political leaders, they are getting it from their tithe-taxing pastors and bishops. When they are not getting robbed in broad daylight by armed robbers, they are getting robbed in secret boardrooms by their banks.

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There is no break for citizens in a country where there’s a systemic conspiracy among all the agencies of oppression. A corrupt Senate is not keen on regulating banking practices any more than a compromised EFCC is prepared to punish bad banking behaviors. Both the senators and EFCC operatives need the banks to hide away their dirty loots and keep their sordid financial secrets under locks.

So, let not the anti-GTB crusaders rest on their laurels believing that their work is done. No, their work is just about getting started. You don’t end a system-wide malaise by doing an end-run. It must be directly confronted in all of its manifestations. And I am particularly curious to find out the records of banks with majority Igbo ownership when it comes to their lending practices to their Igbo customers in particular.

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My working theory is that Igbo banks have not treated Igbo customers any better than GTB has treated Innocent Chukwuma and his INNOSON group. Will the anti-GTB crusaders be willing to urge a bank run against Igbo banks if it is discovered that Igbo banks have robbed their Igbo customers as much as, and I suspect worse, GTB has? Will they work to bankrupt those Igbo banks? Fair is fair. It should even be more alarming to discover that the Igbo have suffered more scams in the hands of Igbo banks than they have in the hands of GTB and other non-Igbo banks.

Ndi Igbo must be careful not to see every challenge in Nigeria through the prism of tribe. We cannot slap tribe on every unfavorable interaction we have with our other tribal cousins. Some things are just stand-alone snafus; they are neither driven by any sentiment beyond that universal human desire for profit and advantage, as criminal as those desires might be, or concocted in an elaborate conspiracy of collective prejudice. Yes, the Igbo have been victims of insidious tribal victimization, and so their cries are not always wolf. But just because you have a good hammer doesn’t make every problem a nail.

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The truth is that when it comes to the banking institutions in Nigeria, the Yoruba tribe is way ahead of the curve. The Yoruba control Nigeria’s financial industry, including the banking and insurance sectors. They have extended loan and other banking facilities to tens of millions of Nigerians, including millions of Igbo businesses. Show me one successful Igbo businessman whose business success did not cross paths with a Yoruba bank, and I will show you hundred who did.

Even as GTB is called out for what is undoubtedly a bad lapse in judgment, the Igbo must be careful not to overreach or overplay their hands. Innocent Chukwuma and his INNOSON group have had a bad business experience with GTB as have many Igbo and non-Igbo businesses with GTB and other financial institutions. To seek to make INNOSON experience a collective Igbo experience is a mistake. Nothing that has been shown portrays GTB as an anti-Igbo bank. A bad bank, maybe. But GTB is an equal opportunity bad bank, gouging Ndi Igbo as much as it is screwing the Yoruba in an incestuous banking orgy.

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This call for caution is necessary because when it is all said and done, Igbo businesses will still need and rely heavily on non-Igbo financial institutions for credits and other bank related services. If a tribal wedge is driven into this vital sector of our national coexistence, many things will go wrong. Take it or leave it, but if non-Igbo banks and financial institutions should part ways with Igbo businesses or call some major loans to Igbo businesses, there will be crisis situations for many an Igbo business. And when I say non-Igbo banks, I am just resisting the urge not to specifically call it what it is: Yoruba banks.

My fear is that for majority, if not most, of the Igbo, we tend to define our relationships with other groups in Nigeria in near absolute terms. When we are not defining those relationships in tribal terms, we are couching them in religious terms. For the Hausa/Fulani North, the Igbo define and approach their relationships on absolute religious terms. Hyper conservative and unquestioned Christianity has led many Igbo to view the Hausa/Fulani Islamic religion as a rival enemy religion. I will bet that many Igbo depositors will not put their money in, or will pull their deposits from, a bank if they know that bank to be Islamic in terms of ownership. We cannot go after the Yoruba on religious terms; after all, we share common Christianity with majority of the Yoruba. So, with the Yoruba, tribe is the default line.

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Again, we must be very careful. If religion complicates our banking relationships with the Hausa/Fulani North, and we tribalize our banking interaction with GTB and the Yoruba; yet, we cannot trust our Christian Igbo banks not to screw us, then, we are indeed truly and irredeemably screwed.

Caution, folks!

/Odenigbo

 

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