Efforts by the Federal Government at shoring up economic activities through debt recovery from individuals and organisations are not adding up. High-profile debtors are using the courts to mount blocks in the way of government.
The Guardian learnt that at least 10 of such individuals, referred to as the “big boys”, are collectively owing the government about N1 trillion, which is about 17 per cent of the N6 trillion 2016 national budget.
The Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer, Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON), Mr. Ahmed Kuru, told The Guardian that these “big boys with big jets” had perfected the art of going to court to stop the debt-buying agency from taking possession of their assets.
According to him, court processes could take up to 10 years, as debtors are willing to go to any length, including getting to the Supreme Court, in delaying suits filed against them. “Obligors in court just want to buy time to continue to live with their lifestyles, which is more important to them than paying up their debts,” he noted.
Kuru, who declined to disclose the identities of the big boys, because he did not “want to fight them on the pages of the newspapers” since the cases are still ongoing, however, vowed that AMCON would recover every penny owed government.
President Muhammadu Buhari has repeatedly accused the judiciary of frustrating his fight against corruption, especially in prosecuting high-profile cases. He has continued to challenge judicial officers to remove every obstacle inhibiting the successful prosecution of such cases.
Speaking specifically on some of the factors impeding AMCON’s debt recovery efforts, Kuru said: “We have three major challenges – one, AMCON’s ability to perform depends on the state of the economy; we are talking about recovering money from businesses, so the state of the economy is very key. That is a challenge. We’ve started seeing some traction, businesses have started seeing some progress and some of them are picking up, that is also a challenge.
“Two, the judicial process. People rush to courts and the constitution gives them the right to do so, and that also slows us down. Three, the AMCON Act does not transfer ownership of the Eligible Bank Assets (EBA) directly to AMCON. We have to go through the legal process to convert those assets to ourselves. That in itself is a challenge.”
In getting the “big boys” to pay their debts, the AMCON boss said: “It is not easy because they have perfected the art of going to court. They are scared of fulfilling their responsibilities; they are the ones that can easily personalise the issues and official function of debt recovery; they believe that people must have a motive for doing what they do. Clearly, if you’re not listening to what they want, you are opposing them. So it has not been easy. But I can tell you also that we are determined, and the government also is very determined that these monies have to be recovered even if it has to lead to an amendment of the AMCON Act.”
AMCON is expected to wind down by 2023, but in view of the slow and long legal proceedings, there is scepticism about the ability of the debt purchaser to conclude before the expiration of its tenure.
“You can only need a review if you want to sharpen your ability to recover. We discover some gaps that require some sharpening, and we will do that. I can tell you that the National Assembly members have been of tremendous support. The committees in both the House of Representatives and the Senate are ready always to support us, to see how we can be more effective in recovering those debts.”