The Abuja Division of the Federal High Court has granted a request by Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, for a temporary forfeiture of all funds held in bank accounts not linked to BVNs — and whose ownership could not be absolutely identified.
Also to be seized by the Nigerian government are funds held in bank accounts without sufficient know-your-customer credentials, court documents seen by PREMIUM TIMES said.
Industry experts expressed strong reservations about a lack of specific legal framework for the unprecedented forfeitures and potential coercion of banks by the federal authorities in separate interviews with PREMIUM TIMES Saturday.
No estimates were immediately available, but it is widely held that billions of naira remained trapped in the unlinked bank accounts since 2015 when the Central Bank of Nigeria ordered commercial banks to stop attending to new enrollees.
The order followed an originating motion of notice filed by Mr. Malami on behalf of the Nigerian government on September 28.
Nnamdi Dimgba, the Federal High Court judge who presided over the ex-parte motion, granted all the nine reliefs sought by Mr. Malami —himself represented by a lawyer, Usman Dakas— on October 17.
The court ordered all the 19 deposit money banks, DMBs, operating in the country to release to Nigerian government names of accounts not yet connected to BVN; account numbers; their outstanding balances; domiciling locations; and domiciliary accounts without BVN and where they are domiciled.
Nigeria deposit money banks that were listed as respondents in the ex-parte suit are: Access Bank, Citi Bank, Diamond Bank, Ecobank, Fidelity Bank, First Bank and First City Monument Bank.
Others are: Guarantee Trust Bank, Heritage Bank, Keystone Bank, Skye Bank, Stanbic IBTC Bank, Standard Chartered Bank, Sterling Bank, Union Bank and United Bank for Africa.
The remaining three are: Unity, Bank Wema Bank and Zenith Bank.
The court also ordered all of them to disclose any investments made with funds and to withhold authorisation for any outward inflow of funds from the accounts. All the details are to be submitted to Nigeria Inter-Bank Settlement System, NIBSS, and the CBN for authentication.
The banks were also directed to publish all bank accounts not linked to BVN in national newspapers with a 14-day notice for individuals with interest in such accounts to come forward and justify why their funds should not be forfeited to the Nigerian government.
Mr. Dimgba also ordered the CBN, which was joined as 20th respondent alongside the 19 DMBs, to appoint an official who will examine all the details submitted to the apex bank for compliance.
The government argued the matter under Section 3 of the Money Laundering Act, 2011.
The section said banks must “ensure that documents, data or information collected under the customer due diligence process is kept up-to-date and relevant by undertaking reviews of existing records, particularly for higher risk categories of customers or business relationships.”
The BVN is a unique identification number that can be verified and used to transact business across all the banking platforms in Nigeria.
The CBN imposed the policy to capture customers’ data for financial transactions and check fraud in the banking system.
Registration for BVNs commenced on February 14, 2014, across the country. The CBN said over 20.8 million customers enrolled 40 million bank accounts before the October 31, 2015, final deadline for customers residing within the country.
The CBN extended the deadline for Nigerians in the diaspora to December 2016 to sign up for the BVN system. But hundreds of thousands home and abroad are still believed to be left behind.
A financial analyst who spoke with PREMIUM TIMES about the court order rebuked the Nigerian government for attempting to shore up its revenues by forcibly seizing funds owned by private individuals.
“There’s no basis for this desperate move by the federal government because customers who owned the funds met the required criteria at the time they set up their bank accounts,” said Ugodre Obi-Chukwu, a Lagos-based financial analyst. “This is an attempt to use federal might to coerce banks into submitting funds that belong to customers for its own use.”
The Nigerian government had fallen on hard times since 2014 when dwindling price of crude oil began to take its toll on the country’s revenues.
The Buhari administration, which assumed office in May 2015, has made concerted pushes to source funding to finance a bloated federal civil service and new capital projects, including borrowing from local and international markets.
The government also said it would rely on recovered loot to finance its budget this year.
While Mr. Obi-Chukwu recognised financial challenges confronting the administration, he maintained that no policy must be implemented by fiat in a democratic system.
“The Money Laundering Act they used to sway the judge is clearly not sufficient to confiscate personal funds,” he said. “There’s no law that allows for this specific action taken by the government as it stands.”
He advised the federal government to allow people to withdraw their funds from the bank accounts if they’re not willing to link them to BVN, especially since they weren’t identified as proceeds of crime.
Lawyers weigh in
Two legal practitioners interviewed by PREMIUM TIMES Saturday held slightly disparate views on the matter.
Liborous Oshoma, who runs a law firm in Lagos, condemned the order as “far-reaching and despotic” in nature.
“You can’t just drag banks to court and ask them to submit all funds in bank accounts which they’re holding in trust for private individuals,” Mr. Oshoma said.
“The funds are mostly personal deposits. In law, orders are supposed to be specific, directed and enforceable against individuals or institutions,” Mr. Oshoma said. “But we cannot see how the government assumed it could sue banks to enforce orders against individuals who have not been accused of any criminal offences.”
Mr. Oshoma said the Buhari administration did not fathom the possibilities of Nigerians who are serving long prison sentences abroad and may not be in tune with developments in the outside world.
“The despotic tendency of wanting to take what does not belong to them made them forget that people might be in conditions where they cannot come and claim their funds for the next 20 years or more,” Mr. Oshoma said.
“If the government is really desperate to get people’s money because they cannot be found, it should find sensible means of going about it and not resort to steps that are not in consonance with democracy,” he added.
Although he questioned the legal premise of the federal government’s attempt to seize the funds, Inibehe Effiong, also a Lagos-based lawyer, told PREMIUM TIMES the overarching goal of the move was understandable.
“The BVN is a policy of the federal government which is aimed at mitigating financial crimes in the system,” Mr. Effiong said. “The policy was backed by certain financial regulations which make it appropriate for the government to ask for a general freezing order of accounts whose owners cannot be ascertained.”
“But what I cannot understand is the legal structure upon which the policy is standing,” Mr. Effiong said.
Mr. Effiong said authorities should have sought details of bank accounts first, then examine them individually and isolate ones with suspicious traits.
“The government should have stopped at requesting for details of all the bank accounts. but not go as far as getting a blanket approval to withhold all funds.
“If they all the accounts based on their merits, they can sort out the ones with criminal traces and seek their forfeiture,” Mr. Effiong said.
$1.5m Prize Pool: Top 10 Finalists of “Africa’s Business Heroes” Grand Finale Announced
The 2020 Africa’s Business Heroes (ABH) prize, a flagship philanthropic program created by the Jack Ma Foundation’s Africa Netpreneur Prize Initiative (ANPI), has selected the top 10 finalists, who will pitch at the competition’s grand finale in November, for a chance to win a share of a US$1.5 million prize pool.
The ten outstanding entrepreneurs – half of whom are female – have been selected from over 22,000 applications across all 54 African nations, following several rounds of rigorous evaluation. With an average age of 34 years, the top ten represent eight African countries: Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Senegal, Uganda, and Zimbabwe, and their businesses span key industries such as agriculture, fashion, education, healthcare, renewable energy, and financial services.
“I continue to be amazed by the passion, resilience, and vision of Africa’s entrepreneurs, and I look forward to meeting these ten extraordinary businesswomen and businessmen at the finale. I am excited to learn more about how they are driving positive change and progress across the continent,” said Jack Ma, Founder of the Jack Ma Foundation and Alibaba Group.
The passion, excellence, and diversity of the finalists reflects the DNA of the competition. The ABH program will recognize 100 African entrepreneurs and allocate US$100 million, over a ten-year period, in grant funding, training, mentoring and learning initiatives, access to key networks, and to develop a vibrant entrepreneur community to support Africa’s future business leaders. This is a testament to the Jack Ma Foundation’s long-term commitment to support Africa’s entrepreneurial ecosystem.
“The 2020 Africa’s Business Heroes competition has been incredible. The quality of the entrepreneurs and their ideas has been exceptional and this is a testament to the talent that exists across the continent. I am extremely excited to follow the rest of the competition and see who will come on top as the 2020 African Business Hero!” said Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu, ABH semi-finale judge and Founder of soleRebels, Garden of Coffee and Tefftastic.
“It’s been fascinating to be part of this unique initiative. From the start, I was struck by the diversity of people and projects involved, with the finalists providing almost even split of talented men and women from all over Africa. This competition has shone a light on our continent, and helped to showcase African solutions to African problems. As someone who knows how challenging it is to boot-strap their own business, I was heartened to see that many of the entrants are entirely self-funded, and have shown great determination, ingenuity and spirit to get this far. All the finalists are truly deserving of the opportunity they have been given. Jack Ma represents the very best in global entrepreneurship, so I am delighted to have been involved in such a fantastic project.” commented Nicolas Pompigne-Mognard, ABH semi-finale judge and Founder and Chairman of APO Group.
On November 13th and 14th, Africa’s Business Heroes will host its Grand Finale, and winners of the 2020 ABH prize will be announced on November 14th, 2020.
During the online Grand Finale pitch, the top ten Heroes will present their business ventures, as well as their vision and leadership profile, to the finale judging panel that includes: Jack Ma, Founder of the Jack Ma Foundation and the Alibaba Group; Ibukun Awosika, Chairman of First Bank of Nigeria and Founder/CEO of The Chair Centre Group; Strive Masiyiwa, Founder and Executive Chairman of Econet Group; and Joe Tsai, Executive Vice Chairman of the Alibaba Group.
The next few weeks will be crucial for the finalists to finesse their pitches and leverage the in-depth training, learnings and insights that they have gathered along their ABH journey, culminating in the finale. All of this will be part of ABH brand-new business entertainment televised show, due to air in five episodes from November 21st to December 19th across Africa. The show will give the audience exclusive access to the real-world stories of the entrepreneurs of this edition, following them as they go head to head in the finale, and unveiling the key insights and advice shared by the finale judges, alongside the best moments and experience of the competition. By showcasing the huge talent of the contestants, ABH hopes to talk to the entrepreneurial spirit of startups and small businesses in Africa and around the world, inspiring them to pursue their aspiration and turn their ideas and solutions into concrete business ventures.
Meet the Top 10 finalists:
Abdulai A Dasana, CEO & COO, Amaati Company Limited (Ghana)
“We nourish the world” – Amaati is a social enterprise whose mission is to build sustainable communities through the use of an extinct and neglected crop called Fonio. The company is led by Abdulai A. Dasana, an agricultural technologist with a decade of experience in finance, banking and SMEs, and with a vision to revolutionize the agriculture sector to benefit the most vulnerable.
Aboubakar Karim, CEO & Founder, INVESTIV (Côte d’Ivoire)
“Technology and passion for agriculture” – INVESTIV is an Ivorian company whose mission is to help build the future of African agriculture by leveraging innovative technologies to support smallholder farmers throughout Côte d’Ivoire and West Africa. The company is led by Aboubakar Karim, a 25 years old agro-economist.
Axel Emmanuel Gbaou, CEO & Founder, Le Chocolatier Ivorien (Côte d’Ivoire)
“Cocoa revolution in progress” – Le Chocolatier Ivorien manufactures and offers Africa-made, handcrafted and quality chocolate, promoting sustainable cultivation techniques and a fairer distribution of income in the cocoa chain through a direct partnership with female growers. The founder Axel, who started his career as a banker and established the company in his mother’s kitchen, holds a degree in International Public Law, and a Master’s in Taxation.
Chebet Lesan, Founder & CEO, Bright Green R. Energy (Kenya)
“Revolutionizing Africa’s kitchens” – BrightGreen Energy produces life-saving fuel bricks that reduce the cost of cooking for underserved communities across Africa and save forests. The company is led by Chebet Lesan who has a background in Leadership from The University of Cambridge, Product Design from The University of Nairobi, Supply Chain Management from Rutgers School of Business and a Business-Design Fellowship from Massachusetts Institute of Technology D-lab.
Cyrille Nkontchou, Founder & Chairman, Enko Education (Cameroon)
“Your launchpad to the best universities” – Enko Education operates the largest single network of private schools in Africa that teaches the International Baccalaureate curriculum to democratize access to quality international education for African youth. The company was founded by Cyrille Nkontchou, an economist by training with extensive experience as a fund manager, a banker and a consultant.
Ethel Mupambwa, Co-Founder and Executive Director, Moneymart (Zimbabwe)
“Creating wealth; changing lives”- Moneymart is a Zimbawean based microfinance institution that offers tailor-made business loans to MSMEs and individuals who live off the power grid to access quality solar-lighting-kits. The company is co-led by Ethel Mupambwa, who has nine years of experience in finance and is a Level 2 Chartered Financial Analyst Candidate.
Dr. Emma Naluyima Mugerwa, Founder, MST Junior School (Uganda)
“Little seeds, big dreams” – MST Junior School is a Primary School with a unique approach and learning model. It aims to equip the pupils with unique skills to solve agriculture issues such as food insecurity, waste mismanagement and malnutrition. The school was established by Dr. Emma Naluyima, a vet, farmer and educator with a desire to train young people and change their lives through Modern and Purposeful Farming.
Joan Rukundo Nalubega, CEO & Founder, Uganics (Uganda)
“Buy a soap – save lives” – Uganics is a social business that manufactures life-saving organic anti-malaria soap to address malaria, which kills millions of people every year, and sells around the world at a high profit margin to subsidize sales to poor populations at the same price as regular soap. The company is led by Joan Rukundo Nalubega, a Malaria survivor and a social entrepreneur with a vision to fight Malaria.
Mame Diarra Bousso Gueye, CEO & Founder, Diarrablu (Senegal)
“Artisans & algorithms for a conscious lifestyle” – Diarrablu is a Senegalese fashion tech company merging African artisan traditions with technology to empower African artisans and build an ethical and sustainable fashion future centered around ancestral African craftsmanship. The company is led by Diarra Gueye who has experience in finance, mathematics, and design and recently completed her Master’s at Stanford University with a focus on creative mathematics.
Oluwasoga Oni, CEO & Co-Founder, Mdaas Global (Nigeria)
“Unlocking diagnostics for Africa’s next billion” – MDaaS Global builds and operates modern, tech-enabled diagnostic centers in clinically-underserved communities starting in Nigeria to provide a world-class patient experience at highly-affordable prices. The company is led by Oluwasoga Oni, an MIT-trained system engineer.
Naira strengthens against dollar
Barely 24 hours, the Naira was forced to a downward trajectory by dollar scarcity, it bounced back, closing at N477 to a dollar at the parallel market in Lagos.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that the Pound Sterling and the Euro traded at N608 and N550, respectively.
The Naira, however, weakened marginally at the investor’s window, losing one point to close at N386 to a dollar.
The volume of trade at the window shrunk by 1.83 million dollars when compared to Tuesday, to close at 18.44 million dollars
The Nigerian currency exchanged at N381 to a dollar at the official CBN window.
Oyo govt. will continue to support SMEs, Olaniyan assures
The Deputy Governor of Oyo state, Engr. Raufu Olaniyan has reassured the state’s government commitment to supporting Small and Medium Scale Enterprises in the state,
The deputy governor gave the assurance at the Commissioning of a new shopping mall ATM located in the Oke Ado area of Ibadan.
Olaniyan noted that small scale businesses with adequate support have the potential to be a major employer of labour.
He reiterated the state’s government desire to support entrepreneurs who chose to do business in the state, stressing that the present administration has put necessary machinery in place to make doing business in Oyo state stress free.
Alhaja Adeogun Tunrayo Muslimat, owner of ATM mall had earlier informed that her desire to set up business in the state aside profit was also borne out of her avidity to support the government in the area of job creation, and also boost the economy of her home state.
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