We express our solidarity with the federal government in its drive to restore sanity to the Nigerian financial space, as Justice Nnamdi Dimgba of the Federal High Court in Abuja granted a request by Attorney General of the Federation, for a temporary forfeiture of all funds held in bank accounts not linked to BVNs.
As the BVN registration a deadline expires, also to be forfeited to the federal government is funds in accounts whose ownership could not be identified. The latter are accounts without sufficient know-your-customer credentials.
Our position on the issue is informed by the fact that registration for BVNs commenced nationwide on February 14, 2014, across the country, providing a sufficiently length of time of about 3 years for compliance by banks’ account holders.
However, giving consideration for those who failed to comply with the order, the CBN on behalf of the federal government extended the deadline for Nigerians both at home and the diaspora to December 2016 to sign up for the BVN system. But hundreds of thousands home and abroad still failed to take advantage of the extension to regularize their accounts in compliance with the federal government order.
It is pertinent to inform here that the Bank Verification Number 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 in order to capture customers’ data for financial transactions and check fraud in the banking system.
This policy is therefore meant to make it easier to trace looters of public funds through the BVN’s of the accounts money is wired to, before cash withdrawals are made as practiced in more developed climes. Our understanding of the issue is that the interim order of forfeiture would help sanitise the system, and make it easier to track and arrest past and serving governors, ministers, and legislators who loot government treasury.
We also see the policy as a positive development in the sense that it will checkmate the use of proxies and fake identities to loot public funds. The question we should be asking ourselves right now is: how many suspicious bank accounts and monies are we going to see people coming out to claim before the order is fully implemented? That is what is going to be happening in the coming days.
In order to checkmate any form of arbitrariness in the implementation of the policy, the government directed the banks 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.
In the same breath, the court order also directed that 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.
At this point, statistics emanating from the CBN indicate that the number of accounts yet to be linked remain alarming, as 46 million accounts are yet to be linked with BVN numbers after three years.
It is expected that by law, at this time those who have not linked their accounts to BVN have violated a CBN policy and should have themselves to blame. Anyone who has not complied with that directive means that his account is fraudulent and so whatever is there should go to the government.
Following criticism from certain quarters about the decision and arguments that it was drastic, this paper does not believe government decision on the issue is that stringent, especially after the extension of deadlines over time.
Our laws are not even as strict as what we find in other countries. In the United States, if you do not operate a bank account for three years, all the money in that account goes to the federal government of the United States of America.
We also fault the argument that it is not everyone that has an account which is not linked to a BVN that is fraudulent. Our position is that failure to comply with the BVN policy more than two years after it was implemented suggested that the accounts are fraudulent.