With the new interim court order obtained by the Federal Government of Nigeria to freeze all accounts – corporate and individual – without Bank Verification Numbers, no fewer than 15 million Nigerians living in the diaspora are set to lose about N3 trillion.
By the interim order of injunction handed down last week by Justice Nnamdi Dimgba, banks are to stop outward payments or any transactions in respect of the accounts without BVN until the substantive application filed by the Federal Government and the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice is heard and determined by the court.The exparte motion dated September 28, 2017 had the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice as plaintiffs/applicants, with Access Bank Plc, CitiBank Nigeria Ltd, Diamond Bank Plc, Ecobank of Nigeria Ltd, Fidelity Bank of Nigeria Plc, First Bank Plc, Guaranty Trust Bank Plc, Heritage Bank Plc, First City Monumental Bank Plc, Keystone Bank Nigeria, Skye Bank Plc, Stanbic IBTC Bank Plc, Standard Chartered Bank Nigeria, Sterling Bank Plc, Union Bank of Nigeria Plc, United Bank for Africa Plc, Unity Bank Plc, Wema Bank Plc, Zenith Bank Plc and the CBN as defendants/respondents.
The motion exparte was argued on behalf of the Federal Government by a counsel, A. D Tyoden, praying the court to grant all the orders as granted by Justice Dimgba of the Federal High Court sitting in Abuja.
Coupled with its ambition to spend heavily on capital projects in a bid to stimulate growth and turn around the economy which has been in recession for the past five quarters, the government is left looking for various avenues to plug holes in its record deficit budget.
The Nigerian Diaspora covers practically every part of the world but the largest population of Nigerians can be found in the UK, USA and South Africa.
These migrants and their descendants make up the Nigerian Diaspora. Estimates of the size of the Nigerian Diaspora vary greatly and range from about 5 million to 15 million people.
The diaspora, particularly in the United States, could present the government with an avenue to raise some of that capital.
In 2015, diaspora remittance from United States to Nigeria totaled $5.7 billion and, according to a recent Pew Research Center report, Nigeria accounts for more foreign-born Africans living in the US than any other African country.
In his reaction, Chairman of the Coalition Against Corrupt Leaders (CACOL) Debo Adeniran, said banks were culpable in the illicit funds being kept with them as they use these funds to trade.
He said, “Some people have actually abandoned huge amount of money in some of these banks but the banks don’t want to cooperate because they enjoy free money to trade. So they are also enjoying illicit money to remain in business so that they can trade with it.
“If you remit up to N1 million, you will be reported to the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU). Somebody can decide to remit N950, 000 into several accounts that will add up to N1 billion.
“But once there is BVN all these funds will be connected and the money remitted into such banks will have been added up if it is more than what can be defended.
“If someone does genuine business abroad and wants to repatriate it, he will do that through the normal channel.
“The dishonesty pervades the atmosphere which is why many people don’t like the Buhari administration.
“Some certain people could be understandable unless the CBN makes provision for them to do their Data capture wherever they are. They can do it and pass to the home bank. Most of these banks have branches abroad. They actually advertise the branches of these banks in all the countries of the world.
“Some people deliberately avoided it because they know that the funds are not acceptable to the Nigerian extant laws and they know that the businesses they are doing cannot bring such humongous amount of money. BVN is a magic wand that stops all these excesses,” he added.
Speaking also, a legal expert, Barrister Rafiu Bello said there ought to be a balance between law enforcement and rights of individuals.
According to him, although the government has supervisory power to ensure that the provision of the Money Laundering Act, the Central Bank of Nigeria Act and the Bank and Other Financial Institutions Act are complied with, the court of law as a balancing institution comes into play as to balancing the powers of the state and the rights of law abiding citizens.
He said, “But to every general rule, there must always be exception. There are cases of people abroad who have not been able to come and do their BVN.
“For instance, I have an employee who does not have a means of identification yet and is trying to get a National Identity Card to enable him regularise his account but he cannot withdraw from it pending when he will get his BVN but the irony is that he can’t get the BVN without the National I.D card.
“If an order is made for such a person to forfeit his funds, that will be infringing on his right to property because such person is genuinely not a money launderer and a criminal.
“To regulate financial crime and the individual rights to enjoy their property which include the funds in their account,” he added.