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Of Stone-hearted Debtors written by: Simbo Olorunfemi

It does appear that people have become completely stone-hearted. I am not talking about those who looted the treasury and locked Dollars up in strange places. I am not talking about the usual suspects on the AMCON lists – those who got rich on the back of banks, living large and would deliberately refuse to pay what they owe. I am talking about their younger siblings,everyday people plying their trade in taking advantage of friends and family, borrowing with a mind to never pay back.

Olajide Abiola of Kiakia recently put a number of posts on the trend of integrity deficiency that we are witnessing. It has been here for a while. Yet, back in the day, the traditional support system of family rallying in support of another with soft loans,was strong. The ‘Ajo’ or ‘Esusu’ system was there. People were able to obtain interest-free loans to meet urgent needs or take care of ‘capital’ projects. Now, everyone thinks twice before lending. Awon eniyan buruku ti ba eniyan rere je.Yet, without credit, business cannot thrive, the economy can only stutter.

From my observation, most of those who default simply do so because they choose to, because they think they can get away with it. Many simply borrow with a mind of not paying back. In fact, it only takes a while before they label the Lender the ‘bad’ person for reminding them to fulfil their obligations.

It is never easy to pay back. But if you have conscience, you will pay back, no matter how inconvenient. Back in 99, I had a job to do and needed 300k to execute but couldn’t raise. Bank won’t advance as there was no collateral. I was almost going to lose the job. A friend of mine introduced me to a Finance House – interest was 10% flat. I took the loan and for the 250k I drew, I had to pay 120k as interest for the 4 months I had the money. It didn’t make sense. I even managed to collect the cheque for the job without the knowledge of the Finance House. But I went over and paid back, even if I barely broke even. I once took a loan from a bank with interest rate higher than the official that the bank even refused to let me go with the offer letter, lest I report to CBN. But I paid back in full.

Some people choose to be different though. Back then, a woman sub-contracted the supply of a Tanker of Diesel to some friends who raised a loan to finance it. This woman collected payment from the Telecoms company for the diesel and disappeared, without paying those who supplied her. I saw at her EFCC office, she was unrepentant. On bail from EFCC, she disappeared without a trace, only for my friends to end up in police net over the loan.

8 years back or thereabout, I gave this guy a short-term $5,000 loan for a trade he assured me was risk-free. Weeks later, he came with some tall story but promised to pay back. Between him and his brother who took a 50k loan, they have not paid anything back. If he is not reading this, his friends and family on my list will be reading. If he has been paying N500 on weekly basis or setting that aside, perhaps he would have gone some way now. But because he has no mind to pay or thinks he can get away with it, he has elected not to pay back. Yet only one or two phone calls is all that it will take for him to make him get off his comfort zone to do what he needs to do. Some people are just heartless like that.

This other guy, a friend here too, claimed to have had some difficulty in UK and asked for urgent assistance. A close friend of mine responded, wired from here 400 pounds to him. For years now, man has refused to pay back. Conveniently forgetting his debt while posting pictures of himself lounging all over Europe and children in top schools in Lekki. But to pay back that loan has become a No-no. He has cut her off, blocked her on Facebook and promptly blocks any mutual friend who brings the issue up with him. He has forgotten that a few calls will fish him out of his hideout in London. Some people are just heartless like that.

I used to give because, people have stood up for me a number of times. The loan at the finance House was without a collateral. The loan from the bank was secured by a friend with his Fixed Deposit.

The government is not there for us. The Banks are not there for most. People who ordinarily would have been in a position to assist others hold back because of the wickedness of some people. It is difficult.

On account of our lack of integrity, little things have become very difficult as people have to check and double-check. Ghosts are everywhere. How can there be progress when we do not have a credit system that works, when systems that work everywhere else are corrupted here?

Years back in the US, I needed to open a bank account. With a fixed address confirmed, all that was requested for was the same Nigeria-issued Driver’s licence. Did not have one on me. The lady simply asked if I could log into my Nigeria bank account on her Computer. She vacated her seat for me, I logged in, we printed out the page and just like that – an account was opened for me. Trust.

Here we are too busy, trying too hard to be smart. Taking advantage of others. We use and abuse everything before us in utter disregard for others who might have use for it thereafter, yet every good thing ought to pass from one person to the other. Not for one person to corner it, rebuff entreaties to repay and deprive others who could have possibly benefited.

What does it take to pay back that which one owes? Really, what does it take?

Simbo Olorunfemi works for Hoofbeatdotcom, a Nigerian Communications Consultancy and publishers of Africa Enterprise .

Twitter: @simboolorunfemi

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