Stakeholders vary on freezing 15.5m defaulters’ accounts over BVN

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Controversy have trailed the recent BVN court order asking the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and the 19 commercial banks in the country to disclose all accounts in their custody and the balances in such accounts.

There were over 15.28 million unregistered active bank accounts as of February, 2017 based on data from the Nigeria Inter-Bank Settlement System Plc (NIBSS).

A former president of the Chartered Institute of Stockbrokers, Mr Ariyo Olushekun, said bank customers should have been given fresh opportunity to regularise their accounts rather than a blanket order, adding that government should not be hasty.

Justice Nnamdi Dimgba of the Federal High Court in Abuja had last Friday directed the banks to freeze all the said accounts by stopping all outward payments, operations or transactions pending the hearing of the substantive application seeking the forfeiture of the balances in the accounts to the Federal Government.

The banks were also directed to disclose any investments made with funds from the accounts without BVN in any products. Such investments to be disclosed by the banks as directed by the court include “fixed/term deposits and their liquidation and interest incurred, bank acceptances, commercial papers and any other relevant information related to the transaction on the accounts.

Justice Dimgba had made the orders upon an ex parte motion filed on behalf of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the Attorney General of the Federation.

“Though there may be some fraudulent accounts, no doubt about this, there are some innocent customers with genuine incomes who may be caught by the order, which due to some logistics reason they could not do their BVN. Such people include banks’ customers in diaspora, the sick, deaf, or even the dead. So government should not be in a haste to close up on BVN. The BVN has kept many fraudulent account holders away from the banks”, Olushekun said 

Ayo Teriba, Chief Executive Officer of Economic Associates said the court order was in the right direction, adding that Nigerian banks’ customers should stop giving lame excuses about BVN.

“What government is trying to do with BVN is to ensure that our bank accounts must have identity so as to make for easy linkage and detection of any fraudulent act when it happens. People should stop giving excuses,” he said

The president, Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Muda Yusuf, said the court order was in the right direction, aimed at promoting transparency in the nation’s financial sector.

According to him, with the court order, customers who are yet to have their accounts captured on BVN still have the opportunity to do so as the court did not give order for stoppage.

Named as defendants are Access Bank Plc, Citi Bank Nigeria, Diamond Bank Plc, Ecobank Nigeria, Fidelity Bank of Nigeria Plc, First Bank of Nigeria Plc, First City Monument Bank Plc, Guaranty Trust Bank Plc and Heritage Bank Plc.

Other are Keystone Bank, Skye Bank Plc, Stanbic IBTC Bank Plc, Union Bank of Nigeria Plc, United Bank for Africa Plc, Unity Bank Plc, Wema Bank Plc, Zenith Bank Plc and the CBN.

Daily Trust gathered that affected banks’ secretaries and legal teams will meet today to fashion out modalities to comply with a court order.

Similarly, the National President, Bank Customers Association of Nigeria (BCAN), who was also a former Registrar, Chartered Institute of Bankers of Nigeria (CIBN), Dr. Uju Ogubunka, said the association, before the end of the week, will meet and come out with a position on the financial issues regarding BVN.

“Whatever the other banks are doing, we will also do. We will publish the names once there is no challenge to the rulings within the stipulated period,” according to the chief information officer of Fidelity Bank, Mr Gbolahan Joshua.

According to their spokespersons, Access Bank, Heritage Bank, UBA have all confirmed their readiness to implement the court order if there is no appeal.

The Managing Director of Cowry Asset Management,  Mr. Johnson Chukwu, hailed the move but urged  the Federal Government to give more time to enable rural dwellers comply with the BVN requirement.

According to him, most of the learned customers have complied, and the majority of those who have yet to comply are illiterate people dwelling in rural places.

He said the CBN needed to communicate through local languages in order to get the rural dwellers to comply.

“Another  category of people who have not complied are those who opened bank accounts with fictitious names, or those who got their money through illegal or criminal proceeds and would not want to come up to claim ownership of such accounts. These people constitute the highest amount in terms of the value of the money,” he said.

“Is the Central Bank  BVN policy backed by any legislation? Does a govt policy supersede the constitutional right of citizens to property?” These were the questions put forward by Olisa Emeka, a Lagos based engineer.

Also, a legal expert, Barr.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.

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