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Interest Expressed in Nigeria Banks, Bank Chief Says

ABUJA, Nigeria — A number of foreign banks, including four South African institutions and a British firm, have expressed interest in buying into Nigeria’s troubled banks, said central bank chief Lamido Sanusi.

In August, Mr. Sanusi orchestrated a $2.6 billion bailout of five Nigerian banks, which the central bank said were teetering because of mismanagement and underperforming loans. Four additional banks were bailed out this month, with an additional cash injection of $1.3 billion.

Mr. Sanusi has suggested he’d try to find domestic and foreign investors for the troubled banks. In an interview Thursday, Mr. Sanusi said he expected a number of healthier Nigerian banks to express interest in stakes, probably with foreign partners.

He said, however, that the central bank wasn’t inclined to have any one bank attain more than a 20% market share in Nigeria’s domestic banking sector. He said the central bank would likely step in to prevent a deal that would create a combined bank with a greater market share.

“I would probably stop it,” he said.

Mr. Sanusi, a former banker himself, moved quickly to rein in Nigeria’s bloated banks when he took the reins in June. Amid an oil-fired investment and spending boom here, banks lent money easily, and also invested heavily in the local stock market, which has since tanked.

That lending has come back to bite the banks, many of which are suffering from unpaid loans. Mr. Sanusi has now been shopping stakes in the sick banks to domestic and foreign investors.

“There have been a number of foreign banks that have made very clear that they are interested,” he said. He declined to name banks, except to say that four South African banks and a British bank had expressed interest. Rumors have swirled that Barclays PLC was interested, but Mr. Sanusi declined to confirm that interest.

He didn’t rule out a foreign bid for 100% of one of the troubled banks, but he said a bid for a lesser stake would be viewed more favorably by the government.

“Obviously, if you had a foreign bank that brought in capital, brought in skills, brought in management and was also willing to cede ownership or a substantial minority stake to Nigerians, that’s preferable to ones that want 100%,” he said.

He also said that the central bank would favor companies that have been in Nigeria before its recent troubles. “In the event of having two competing bids, we’d probably like to support the bid of someone who’s already shown for a long time wanting to come into the economy and who’d come in earlier,” Mr. Sanusi said.

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