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E–banking: Banks in N65bn abandoned assets scandal

…..Shareholders kick

By Ayobami Adedinni and Adewunmi Ojo

Despite campaigns by the Central Bank of Nigeria, (CBN) and the Nigerian Deposit Insurance Corporation, (NDIC) on financial inclusion, over N65 billion worth of  assets invested in bank branches completed but abandoned in rural areas even as the banks have been rocked by asset sale scandals. This was revealed in a survey conducted by economic intelligence team of Nigerian NewsDirect on ‘functional assets of Banks in Nigeria’. The survey shows that  372 completed branches of banks have been abandoned and taken over by weeds nationwide since the opening of books that resulted in the sack of 10 Chief Executives of Nigerian Banks and follow up takeover of bad debts by the Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria ( AMCON).

Also the survey shows that deposit money banks in the country have closed many of what they described as unprofitable branches as the economic recession continues to bite harder, investigation by our correspondent has shown.

Our correspondents who went round Ogun, Osun, Kogi, Rivers, Edo, Kwara, Oyo, Ondo, Ekiti, Kebbi, Enugu, Cross River, Benue, Plateau, Bauchi and Adamawa states observed that some of these branches had been abandoned for over 7 years.

Specifically, on the Ogun state axis of the Lagos- Abeokuta expressway, no fewer than 10 bank buildings were seen to be abandoned.

Some abandoned bank branches were also found in the Ijebu Ode, Ijebu Water Side and Idi Iroko parts of the state.

Also, along the Ibadan – Ife expressway, abandoned bank buildings litter the roads even as it poses security risk to commuters.

It should be noted that majority of these abandoned buildings are owned by First generation banks.

It was learnt that following the economic downturn in the country, a number of bank branches could no longer justify their existence as cost analysis had shown that the financial institutions were spending more on salaries and overheads than the income from the branches.

The banking sector has been facing a number of challenges following the downturn in economic activities.

According to analysts, abandoned properties contribute to a self-perpetuating cycle of blight: tenants and building owners will not rehabilitate the property when fear and crime exist, and the government cannot reduce fear and crime when the neighbourhood is beset by abandoned properties..

Property values decline through disinvestment and reduced commerce, tourism, and aesthetic appeal. Adjacent properties may require higher insurance premiums or be denied casualty insurance altogether. Lower property values command lower property tax revenue, which reduces funding for government services.

The survey shows that  housing sales prices declined most when the house for sale was within 150 feet of an abandoned building and gradually improved with distance.

With the financial institutions yet to fully recoup the losses encountered through the effect of recession, findings have revealed more contributors of the back stage stands of financial institutions in the profit generation and danger the effect incurs in the nation.

Abandoned buildings in the country by financial institutions has led to buildings deterioration, financial negativity and decaying infrastructure in the country.

Speaking with our correspondent, Vice President, Nigerian Institute of Building, (NIOB) Mr Kunle Awobodu said building abandonment excludes liveliness that sees functionality of such erection which has been a big blow to the financial recovery of financial institutions and also posits great danger to the nation’s infrastructure and environment.

According to him, building erection has a lifespan which contributes infrastructure face-lifting to every society but it suffers abandonment leading to its gradual deterioration and internal disfuctionality costing the nation economy growth at the institutions.

Mr Awobodu described building construction as a source of revenue to generate income of great value in return, and lamented the danger most of abandoned buildings has generated with many serving as an abode for criminality and social vices.

The building expert believes that abandoned buildings by financial institutions is weakening the nation’s ailing economy and called for urgent action to reduce its effect.

“Abandoning buildings leads to some internal dysfuctionality, when a building is functioning and occupied it gives life to it, when it shuts down for a long time, it excludes liveliness and functionality of such buildings. It goes into decay, this is a loss of revenue and not speaking well for the nation’s economy and income generation for the owners,” he added.

Speaking on the development, National Coordinator, Pragmatic Shareholders Association , Mrs. Bisi Bakare said, “This issue should have come up before now. I don’t know the work of the Central Bank.  How could they abandon some branches? These happened when some of the banks during the recapitalization of those that merged.

“There are about three branches operating on the same street. Of course, it doesn’t make sense for them to be operating same bank branches within less than a kilometer to one another.

“The best thing is to close one. But unfortunately, after the closure, what the CBN ought to have asked them to do is to dispose them so that they can use the money to boost shareholders’ fund but unfortunately CBN has not authorized them to do that.

“Some of these banks cannot do these things by themselves because the CBN will say they are not a property company, why are they disposing? CBN ought to tell them dispose of any non-functioning bank,” she added.

Chairman, Integrated Supreme Shareholders Association, Mr. Owolabi Peter said the closures could be attributed to non profitability and security situation

He said, “Only one bank in Oro, Union Bank of Nigeria Plc  had been operating there for over 20 years but they had to leave because of armed robbery two years ago.

“Another First Generation bank also started operating here 5 years ago, but it has also closed down. I asked the banks and they said they are losing.

The only challenge is if they abandon the buildings, it starts losing value,” he added.

President Constance Shareholders Association of Nigeria Shehu Mallam Mikail called on the Federal Government to compel banks to sell abandoned assets to be able to add value to shareholders that took risk in chase of their shares.

Chairman Ilaje League of Professionals Barr Nath Stevenson  commended Nigerian NewsDirect for creating awareness about assets abandoned by banks. According to him, these assets if disposed of will help to boost revenue and reduce cost of operation. “ Sincerely, this is the type of story that will help to guide investors about taking appropriate investment decision in a situation whereby money invested in purchase of shares are made to generate little or no dividend for the shareholders, “ he noted.

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