..73% of top debtors in different courts
By Motolani Oseni
Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON) may still have a long way to go in meeting its recovery mandate.
The prospects are not positive as majority of 350 individuals and business entities with 84 per cent of yet-to-be-recovered debts have tied the body down in courts –a situation that has stalled efforts to resolve cases.
Recently, after the first meeting between Managing Director/Chief Executive Office (MD/CEO), AMCON Mr. Ahmed Lawan Kuru, and the Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister of the Economy, Mr. Wale Edun, the Minister disclosed that the Federal Government (FG) was working towards winding down the asset management behemoth, which was established at the height of the non-performing loan crisis in 2010, to clean up the heavily encumbered books of banks.
But from revelations from AMCON, attempt to wind down the corporation’s operations (established by an Act of Parliament and given more bite by subsequent amendment to go after bad debtors) could be premature with government having to create another channel to offset the debt instruments the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) issued to fund AMCON’s operations ab initio.
Revelations by Kuru, during an interactive session, suggest that the company is far from resolving the pending cases as litigation stalls processes leading to quick resolution of pending cases.
According to Kuru, 257 cases out of the 350 obligors who sit on over 84 per cent of dead assets of banks inherited by AMCON, are currently at different stages of litigation.
Hence, he said, the underlying assets used as collateral cannot be liquidated by the organization ”just like that.”
Kuru also hinted that some obligors of AMCON were jubilant, and some even ”stopped picking our calls” in the thinking that they will walk away from the debt overhang once AMCON winds down.
He said: “When some of them (the obligors) heard the news of the proposed AMCON sunset, they stopped picking our calls. So, in their mind, they believe ‘AMCON would soon close shop, which would mean that the government would write-off the debt’. I want to state here today that the process of winding AMCON down will be a process, and nobody, no government, would allow any debtor walk away. It is not possible.”
Further information released by AMCON claimed that 350 obligors or 2.8 per cent of the total 12,700 debtors involved in the non-performing loan (NPL) hold 84 per cent of the total amounts, which have continued to accumulate interest.
From inception, Kuru also disclosed in Lagos, that the corporation has only sold 350 assets, while most are not in the market owing to legal encumbrances.
But apart from litigation, pricing may have also slow the speed of disposing of the assets. The pricing template is set by the CBN guidelines, which set the value above what prospective buyers consider above-market prices.
For instance, Kuru revealed, more than 100 assets have been in the market for some time but “there are no buyers because they are overpriced owing to their purchase prize.”
He added: “Pricing of AMCON assets is very strict. Even when we get permission from the Central Bank to auction, we cannot still sell some of them because the price is still very high. It is not a case of picking the highest bidder, but a case of management getting an offer that must cover the debt an asset is pledged.”
The AMCON boss asked the affected debtors who are interested in resolving their cases with the corporation to make a serious offer, saying it “understands that the transactions involved are commercial and not criminal.”
He said owners of Arik and other seized assets must present resolution strategies that make sense to AMCON, the CBN and the Ministry of Finance if they truly want to be listened to.
He told the media that some debtors are disillusioned that the debts would be written off, hence they stopped picking up calls from the officials since the government disclosed that the programme would be brought to closure.
He stressed that the debts would remain and would be paid even if AMCON ceases to exist. The Federal Government, through the CBN, remains the main creditor (and owner) of AMCON holding around N5.3 trillion of its bonds (including N1.3 trillion bonds issued to acquire Polaris Bank).
Kuru stated that the frustration encountered by the firm in setting up NG Eagle led it to sell the last stages of its Air Operator Certificate (AOC) to an unnamed company, which plans to begin air operations.
The NG project was truncated at stage five of the process of getting its AOC. The NG Eagle’s AOC processes are expected to expire next week, and it is incumbent on the new owner to continue with the processes or allow it to expire.
Kuru said: “We started the process of setting up NG Eagle. It took us two years to follow the process. We went through the rigour of getting the license. At that point when we were about to pick up the license, some people came up and said that we were trying to set up a national carrier.
“We were frustrated. If you recall, three aircraft were branded sitting on the tarmac and they sat on the tarmac for one-and-half years, which was very strange to us at AMCON.
“We went through the process all to the point that we were to pick our license. They thought we wanted to float a national carrier. Unfortunately, we were not encouraged, and we were not able to deal with it up to the extent that we had to find a way of dealing with the license because it was expected to expire within some time. We started the process, and we were able to sell the process to somebody who intends to do airline business if he meets the requirements of the NCAA before the license expires.”
Kuru explained that AMCON does not take pride in taking over thriving businesses but noted that it just happened that the firm got caught up in the Arik saga and intervened to save the carrier.
The government at that time, he reiterated, wanted a situation whereby Arik should be saved because of the security report that they had that the airline stood no chance of survival for another two weeks in 2017; the call for intervention by former Vice-President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo when he acted as Acting President in the absence of former President Muhammadu Buhari.
“The idea of Acting President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo was that Arik must be saved because of its prominence at that time. We made it clear at that time that we didn’t know anything much about aviation. Capt. Roy Ilegbodu was headhunted. There was Capt Roy, then Capt. Ado Sanusi. These are some of the best guys in the industry. They said AMCON came to kill Arik when in fact, Arik would have long gone. But the fact that AMCON’s name was there, then, AMCON has killed it.”
He noted that the case of Aero Contractors was worse before AMCON came in for a rescue, simply describing what culminated in the near-death of the once flourishing carrier to a case of “when people decide to steal from themselves.”
“AMCON can never be popular with the kind of job we do. We don’t go and close a running business. Some of those businesses were already dead. AMCON cannot see a thriving business and close it down. It does not happen like that.” he stated.