Earlier this month, Barclays Bank ran a full-page notice in the Daily Times of Nigeria reassuring the public that it was not going under.
"There has emerged a climate of fear and uncertainty among our shareholders, businessmen and depositors about our financial strength and mobility to maintain our status as one of the major commercial banks in the country," the statement said.
With deposits of more than $1.5 billion, the bank told Nigerians, "our financial strength remains solid and we have sufficient reserve assets to meet and honor our obligations to our depositors and shareholders."
What had touched off the run on Barclays was a government decision the week before to withdraw all its deposits from the bank and send one-third of the bank's 60 white expatriates packing in retaliation for a decision by Barclays Bank of London to buy $14 million worth of South African defense bonds.
The decision represents the first real flexing of Nigerian economic muscle since Nigeria's head of state, Lt. Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo, announced in New York last October that any company wanting to do business in his country would have to pull out of South Africa.
Since this initial warning, the Nigerian military government has discovered that applying such a policy is more complicated than announcing it. Several American companies refused to sign Nigerian contracts because of clauses committing them not to do business in South Africa.
U.S. laws forbid American companies from obeying such a boycott. The result was that Nigeria backed down.
Still, the Nigerian government has now made it clear that any foreign company with a provcative investment policy in South Africa risks punitive measures. Futhermore, Obasanjo pressed President Carter to take stronger economic measures against South Africa during Carter's recent trip here.
Some Western economists here tend to dismiss the Nigerian action against Barclays as largely an "empty exercise" since the federal government and individual Nigerians own 60 percent of the bank already. "They are only hurting themselves," one boserver said.
Judging from Barclays' own public admission of its troubles in the Daily Times notice, however, the government measure has had considerable impact and is likely to give other banks businesses here pause to think.
Barclays tried in vain to disassociate itself with the policy of its home office. "Barclays Bank of Nigeria Ltd. neither shares nor condones the policy of Barclays Bank Ltd. London with regard to their investment policy in South Africa. We deeply regret the loss of government business which would be associated with the withdrawal of its account from us," the Daily Times ad stated.
Meanwhile, Nigerians belonging to the National Committee Against Apartheid in South Africa were storming Barclays branch offices around Lagos with signs demanding that the bank be totally nationalized.
Just how serious Nigeria intends to become about its boycott policy is a topic of much discussion in business and diplomatic circles here these days. Obasanjo is one of the driving forces behind the growing Nigerian militancy toward South Africa, leading Nigeria to take a far more belligerant public stance than even any of the five frontline African states far more directly threatened by South African power.
The front-line president, for instance, accept without a murmur multinational corporations operating in their countries and in South Africa as a fact of Southern into his or her passport, while Nigeria African economic life. Similarly, the front-line states think nothing of a person having a South African visa stamped into his or her passport while Nigeria will not let such a "culprit" into the country.
Thus its appears that Nigeria still is undecided about whether or not to press ahead with it declared boycott policy and is weighing carefully the consequences for its own economic development.