chapter 1

1.0   introduction

There is a fair agreement in the literature that economic reforms, especially what came to be tagged structural adjustment programs (SAP), have almost always been mounted in response to national financial distress whose foundation could be traced to macroeconomic distortions (World Bank 1986). While such distress manifest mainly as deep economic deterioration (stagflation and huge external debts), distortions are often evident in the pursuit of unsustainable fiscal, monetary and exchange rates policies in addition to widespread government intervention in enterprises that can best be handled by the private sector. In general, several analysts believe that economic mal-adjustment is associated with policy pursuits which depart from free market pricing policies (Chiber, et al 1986; Ray 1986). Economic reforms are therefore seen as pursuits of fiscal reforms and market liberalizations, which focus on extensive privatization of state owned enterprises as well as liberalization of financial and foreign exchange markets, with the government limited to provision of the right enabling environment for a private sector led growth.

There is a consensus in the literature that at the heart of economic reforms is the need to address a two-fold task: restructure or get policy incentives right as well as restructure key implementation institutions. Financial sector reforms is that aspect of economic reforms which focus mainly on restructuring financial sector institutions (regulators and operators) via institutional and policy reforms. As part of the financial sector, banking sector reforms is that aspect which focuses mainly on getting incentives right for the banking sector to take the lead role in empowering the private sector to contribute more to economic growth.

In Nigeria, we recognize four phases of banking sector reforms since the commencement of SAP. The first is the financial systems reforms of 1986 to 1993 which led to deregulation of the banking industry that hitherto was dominated by indigenized banks that had over 60 per cent Federal and State governments’ stakes, in addition to credit, interest rate and foreign exchange policy reforms. The second phase began in the late 1993-1998, with the re-introduction of regulations. During this period, the banking sector suffered deep financial distress which necessitated another round of reforms, designed to manage the distress. The third phase began with the advent of civilian democracy in 1999 which saw the return to liberalization of the financial sectors, accompanied with the adoption of distress resolution programmes. This era also saw the introduction of universal banking which empowered the banks to operate in all aspect of retail banking and non-bank financial markets. The forth phase began in 2004 to date and it is informed by the Nigerian monetary authorities who asserted that the financial system was characterized by structural and operational weaknesses and that their catalytic role in promoting private sector led growth could be further enhanced through a more pragmatic reform.

Although these reforms have been acclaimed to be necessary, it is however debatable if they yielded the anticipated results. The objective of this paper therefore, is to assess the relative effectiveness of the reforms as well as gauge the likely impact of the outcomes on economic performance. Thereafter, the pitfalls which militated against the effectiveness of the reforms would be identified and future policy options recommended.