Row over account with N50 billion

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Row over account with N50 billion

THE Federal Government has initiated a legal process for a permanent takeover of an account, which it believes the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) is operating without its knowledge.

The First Bank of Nigeria (FBN) account has a balance of over N53 billion as at January (2019) ending.

In the documents filed before the Federal High Court in Abuja, the Federal Government said it was exercising its powers under the Recovery of Public Property (Special Provision) Act to apply for the takeover of the account.

Acting on behalf of the Federal Government, the Special Presidential Investigation Panel (SPIP) for the Recovery of Public Property said it stumbled on the account while “investigating a petition against a ‘slush’ funds held in a fictitious account named: NNPC/NOAC IPP Security Account, suspected to be proceeds of corrupt practices.”

The plaintiff gave details of the account to include: bank: First Bank of Nigeria Plc; currency type: Nigerian naira; account number: 2006367288; account type: current account and account name: (NNPC/NOAC IPP Security Account.

It stated, in a supporting affidavit deposed to by one of the plaintiff’s lawyers, Peter Abang, that the SPIP found, among others, that the:

  • account holders are unidentifiable persons and/or public officers, who disguised themselves in the name and style of NNPC/NOAC IPP Security Account, which is fictitious and did not follow any known due process in account opening.
  • account being operated with the first defendant (First Bank) is reasonably suspected to be a diversion of public funds, hidden in the account for private use of the unidentified persons operating the account.
  • first defendant, in concert with persons unknown, is at the verge of moving the entire sum into an unknown account.
  • second defendant (Nigerian Interbank Settlement System Plc) is empowered to monitor all electronic inter and intra banking transactions in Nigeria, including the account herein in issue.

The plaintiff stated that it was empowered by the Recovery of Public Property (Special Provision) Act and the Rules of the Federal High Court, “to apply to take possession of assets suspected to be proceeds of corrupt practices, including the humongous money standing in the account referred to in paragraph 4(iv) above.

“The plaintiff cannot have final forfeiture of the said money in the account without an order of this honourable court.”

The plaintiff is praying the court for, among others, a “final order of forfeiture of the account”, and order directing First Bank to transfer the funds in the account to the plaintiffs, and an order of perpetual injunction restraining the bank from further operating the account.

Both First Bank and the Nigerian Interbank Settlement System (NISS) have responded to the suit, denying any wrong doing.

First Bank claimed that the account was not being used for unlawful activities and that the President exempted it from the Treasury Single Account (TSA) policy. The NISS denied knowledge of all activities in the account.

The bank, listed as the first defendant, put the balance in the account at N53, 458,725,303.62 as at January 2019.

Explaining the status of the account, referred to a letter dated July 19, 2016 which it claimed was from the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), addressed to its Managing Director, directing the bank to continue the operation of the account in compliance with the approval of the President.

The bank said the NNPC/NOAC IPP Security Account (2006367288) “is a security account for the Joint Venture between the NNPC, Agip Oil Company Limited and Philips Oil Company (Nigeria) Limited for payments in respect of power generated to the Federal Republic of Nigeria.”

It added that the account “has the approval of the President to be exempt from the Treasury Single Treasury Account (TSA).

“The first defendant has been operating the account lawfully in view of its being exempt from TSA by virtue of the Presidential approval.

“The balance in the account is not being dissipated as it is a security account. The forfeiture application is a breach of the President’s approval to exempt the account from TSA,” First Bank said.

NISS, listed as the second defendant, stated that it lacked “the capacity, by virtue of its scope of operations, to monitor electronic inter and intra ‘banking transactions, but processes all inter-bank payments in order to remove potential bottlenecks associated with inter-bank funds transfer and settlement.”

The NISS added that it “operates the Nigeria Automated Clearing System (NACS), which facilitates the electronic clearing of cheques and other paper based instruments, electronic funds transfer, Automated Direct Credits and Automated Direct Debits.”

It stated that it “is not a money bank” and that, by its operations, it “does not have direct access to funds and does not engage in banking operations whatsoever”.

On July 15, 2019, Justice Ijeoma Ojukwu vacated an earlier interim order, made by the court, freezing the account pending the conclusion of investigation by the plaintiff.

The hearing in the case has been fixed for October 9.

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