If, as the saying goes, money talks, it is speaking in unmistakable terms to some people: You may own me but do not touch me. At least for now.
For fear of being identified as owners of huge deposits in banks, amid acclaimed success in the Bank Verification Number (BVN), some politically exposed persons and top officers in the public service seem to have evaded the scheme, The Guardian has learnt.
This revelation came to light last night as the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) extended the timeline for banks’ customers in the Diaspora to enroll for their BVN to January 31, 2016.
A competent source in the banking sector said the deposits belonging to such groups, which are still in the system, are so enormous that none of the banks associated with the lodgments would want to miss them.
According to the source, the proceeds were earlier trapped in the banking sector with the sudden policy to refuse dollar deposits and non-transfer outside the country without verifiable details of the transactions.
The source also said the development has now been compounded with the latest policy from the CBN that foreign exchange transactions must be with verified BVN, even in the purchase of foreign exchange.
It also said that the public and banking sector officials’ collaboration in illegal business of this nature, is exactly what led to idling of billions of naira belonging to government, which was exposed by the implementation of TSA.
However, the CBN has declared the BVN a success and the beginning of a new dawn in the country’s payment landscape, adding that there is no going back on the prescribed sanctions for non-compliance to the exercise.
But the Director of Communications Department, CBN, Alhaji Ibrahim Mu’azu, who spoke to The Guardian, said he would be surprised to hear that a bank allowed transactions in a non-BVN compliant account, because it is a project agreed upon by all of them.
Besides, the bank director explained that banks have invested heavily in the project to sabotage it, added that they fully know the consequences of such mistake or deliberate action.
But some middle level managers of banks told The Guardian yesterday, that such development is possible, but denied the existence of such in their respective banks.
One of them said that such plan is high-level “coded arrangement” which the arrangers know that if it gets bad, it would consume them all.
Speaking with former President of the Chartered Institute of Bankers of Nigeria, Mazi Okechukwu Unegbu, he said that he would not be surprised to hear such, as many treasury looters have been trapped by the unique identification mode of BVN.
But the total figure of 21 million which the CBN says is the number of BVN registrants so far raises a new concern over the success of the financial inclusion initiative.
Still a regulatory source had confided in The Guardian that there were non-active, as well as active accounts in banks, numbering in millions that were not captured in the BVN exercise.
The source explained that among the numbers were the long owed pensioners, who do not see need to activate accounts that nothing is being paid into, while the other group that falls into the number are those “who have multiple identities” with various infractions and by way of not exposing themselves, have opted out.
“But I can assure you that there is no other way to get into banking relationship from now on except through the BVN. The scheme is meant to capture biometrics, rather that fictitious house addresses before now,” the source noted.
According to the Nigeria Interbank-Settlement System, about 12,000 Nigerians in Diaspora have so far taken advantage of the BVN registration centres created outside the country.
Meanwhile, The Guardian has noted that as the financial institutions embark on enforcement of the “BVN for transaction” directive yesterday, several issues emerged, as many customers of banks claimed lack of awareness on the need to link their various accounts in other banks to the BVN.
The banks’ customers, who pleaded anonymity, also claimed that although they have duly registered, their banks were also sending them messages of non-compliance.
Coincidentally, the customers of some of the big banks in the country dominated the complaint record and calls put through to the banks were neither picked up nor replied.
CBN at the weekend, raised the alarm that some fraudsters have started sending unsolicited mails and text messages to bank customers alerting them to the deactivation or suspension of their bank accounts due to uncompleted BVN registration process as well as directing them what next to do.
Mu’azu said: “The public is therefore warned that neither the Central Bank of Nigeria and deposit money banks nor their employees or agents would ever call bank customers or send e-mail/text messages requesting for passwords, card details or personal identification number (PIN).
“Bank customers are therefore, advised to personally visit their banks for any issue requiring disclosure of personal bank details,” the statement said.
However, a market operator and Managing Director of Cowry Assets Management Limited, Johnson Chukwu, in a chat with The Guardian, affirmed that the BVN project would now create a sense of decorum in the credit system of the nation’s financial industry, unless the stakeholders wishes to ignore.
According to him, if the process is actually done as described in its objectives, the banking sector is on its way to taming fraudulent practices that have characterised the financial system, because every illegal activity will at least have an identity behind it.
He however, differed with the sanctions for non-compliance, urging more patience from the regulator, as immediate enforcement may be counter productive to the financial inclusion drive.
He also said that BVN is not a “one-size-fit all,” as it is only relevant in financial system transactions and advocated for harmonisation of all biometrics collected by several agencies of government.
The extension, Mu’azu explained, was to enable the Diaspora to complete the enrolment exercise as well as link the BVN with their respective accounts.
While emphasising that the extension was only for customers in the Diaspora, the statement advised Deposit Money Banks (DMBs) to ensure that the exemption was utilised by the targeted group.
However, it noted that Nigerian residents without BVN would continue to receive cash and electronic credit inflows, as the account would neither be deactivated nor confiscated.
Source: The Guardian Nigeria