LAGOS, NOVEMBER 17, 2016 – The central bank of Nigeria denied claims that privately-held Heritage Bank was in distress on Wednesday as it sought to reassure depositors the lender was safe.
The central bank said stories posted on social media had falsely suggested Heritage was unable to discharge its obligation to depositors.
“We wish to state that Heritage Bank is not in distress and as such its depositors should go about their transactions without fear,” central bank spokesman Isaac Okorafor said in a statement.
“We wish to further state that no Nigerian bank is in distress.”
Nigeria’s 21 banks have been laying off staff, closing branches and slashing forecasts as a recession, caused by a slump in oil prices bites harder in Africa’s largest economy.
In July, the central bank sacked the management of Skye bank, Nigeria’s eighth biggest, for failing to meet minimum capital ratios. Skye’s non-performing loan ratio (NPLs) had been above the regulatory limit for a while.
NPLs in the banking sector hit 11.7 percent in the first half of 2016, well above the central bank’s 5 percent limit, and are forecast to rise further this year. NPL’s stood at 5.3 percent at the end of last year.
The fall in oil prices since mid-2014 has forced Nigerian lenders, which have long focused on loans to the energy sector, to adapt their business models. Loans to the oil and gas sectors accounted for almost a third of total bank lending.
In its statement late on Wednesday, the central bank vowed to continue ensuring “banking system stability and soundness through constant monitoring and supervision of all licensed institutions.”
Nigeria’s banking system remains “resilient enough to weather the current economic storm”, the statement said.