LAGOS Aug 3 (Reuters) – Nigerian commercial lenders listed hundreds of bad debtors in full-page newspaper adverts on Monday, under orders from the central bank aimed at avoiding a repeat of an industry bailout that cost the government $4 billion six years ago.
The move follows the expiration of a three-month time limit issued by the central bank in April for bad debtors to square up their accounts or be identified in Nigerian media, as well as barred from currency and government debt markets.
The central bank asked commercial lenders to publish bad loans of 50 million naira ($251,320) and more that were more than 365 days old, the time limit after which it considers money to be lost.
In 2009, the central bank rescued several banks that had lent mainly to the oil and gas sector shortly before crude prices collapsed and as the stock market turned sour, triggering a near collapse of eight commercial banks.
Fidelity Bank, Skye Bank, Zenith Bank, Enterprise Bank, Sterling Bank, Stanbic IBTC Bank and Guaranty Trust Bank (GT Bank) published as required the names of those who owed money, along with details of the sums outstanding.
The sharp fall in the global price of oil, Nigeria’s main export, triggered a currency crisis in Africa’s largest economy and strained government’s finances, while also harming the cashflow of some companies with foreign currency loans.
Fidelity Bank published 6.13 billion naira of bad loans and said it had a total of 21 billion naira of non-performing loans, around 15 billion naira of which remains unpublished. Others also published outstanding loans worth billions of naira.
GT Bank published 4.02 billion naira of bad loans, the majority of which were owed by local trade unions, civil servants and businesses.
“This is an action taken by the banks supported by the central bank,” said Ibrahim Muazu, a spokesman for the central bank, who added that naming and shaming bad debtors would occur on a quarterly basis.
The move to name those owing large sums is part of a raft of measures introduced by the central bank in an attempt to steady the economy. Last month it limited importers’ access to dollars, in order to save its reserves.
Since then, commercial lenders have stopped accepting cash deposits in dollars to discourage speculation on the naira, which has fallen as low as 242 against the greenback in the last few weeks. ($1 = 198.9500 naira) (Writing by Alexis Akwagyiram; Editing by James Macharia and David Holmes)
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