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Wanted: Crime free bank accounts

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Of late, one sad aspect of being a Nigerian is that our national integrity and pride as a nation seems to constantly face an open trial around the world due to one sharp corrupt practice or another. Things that were unthinkable a few years ago now take centre stage as it continues to dent the image of the nation. Of course, this is not something to be proud of because the nation finds it very difficult to move forward or raise its head high in the comity of nations with such ugly occurrences.

Nevertheless, in critical moments of a catastrophe, old wisdom can be as vital as new technology. Hence, our wise, wonderful and powerful institution, the Senate was approached by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) through its director, legal services, Kofo Salam-Alada in Abuja requesting at the Senate committee’s public hearing on its Bill for an Act to repeal the Banks and Other Financial Institution Act (BOFIA) 2004 and re-enact the Banks and Other Financial Institution Act 2020. This will enable the CBN to have the statutory powers to freeze bank accounts linked to criminals in the country. According to Salam-Alada, the BOFIA 2004 “…erodes the powers of the CBN and creates a huge gap in the regulatory and resolution framework. Therefore, we propose that the extant provisions should be reinstated”.

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One does not need the services of the FBI or CIA to prove that many bank accounts in the country are owned or linked to criminals. The lingering insecurity in the country is sustained by funds controlled by certain accounts. The Yahoo boys or advance free fraudsters are popularly known as 419 among others channel their loot through bank accounts. It is, therefore, saddening to note that all these happen in the face of Nigerian laws that are better understood through its nature in hardcover books stocked away in judicial shelves than through its enforcement in the society.

The argument by Salam-Alada about the BOFIA 2004 being a toothless bulldog is that it requires the CBN to apply to the court for orders to freeze accounts deemed to be linked with criminals. It is absolutely alarming to note that this anomaly among other infractions makes BOFIA 2004 weak or less effective. One can imagine the cumbersome and rigorous legal journey the CBN must have embarked to freeze a suspected account linked to criminals. However, the fact about our laws remains that if well enforced, it will rid Nigeria of corruption and stop criminals from operating bank accounts. But there is a desperate dearth of honourable, courageous, patriotic men and women to do their enforcement duties no matter whose ox is gored. Too many of the entire gamut of law maintenance-the executive, the legislature, and the judicial branches of government are regrettably, in the public service for self and not for the country.

Hence, the standard of Nigerian laws, have long been punctuated by episodes of bizarre judgments. In a way, it has revealed the lack of democratic accountability which now threatens to undermine public trust. For instance, what sense does it make to ask a man convicted of stealing billions of naira to pay a few hundreds of thousands of naira? How can anyone reasonably defend a decision to allow a chairman of a commission facing a public hearing on allegations of fraud walk away simply because he fainted on the floor of the hearing? How can a man act on the capacity of chairman of a commission that fights corruption become the one hunted by his alleged corrupt practices and the case is best handled as a media trial than the court of law? I make bold to say that, if the spirit and letter of extant laws were implemented today, Nigeria would turn around for the better within two years.

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The Central Bank may be right in its calculation that the law would be on its side if BOFIA 2020 is passed into law.

But the CBN should be informed that there are plenty of gaps between the law and the criminals. Somehow the CBN will be surprised to find out that under its BOIFA Act 2020 if passed into law, that there may be lawsuits that would arise in defence of frozen accounts. Such litigation could drag on well into eternity and frustrates both the CBN and the public from following the proceedings and consequently the case will naturally die without a valid verdict. Indeed, CBN’s proposal simply to have the powers to freeze accounts linked to criminals may be an efficient way to stop criminals from operating accounts, yet it is not the answer to the problem. This is because it raises some dynamic questions about what parameter with which the law guiding CBN will be able to determine accounts being linked to criminals.

Indubitably, there are certainly good arguments to freeze accounts linked to criminals. But before taking such steps, it is important to note that the values of the political elite constitute the dominant value that drives the wider society’s values. Come to think of it, in a real sense, justice and the rule of law are supposed to be core values for any serious government. If one may ask, does the political class have any core values that shine a good example? It is sad to say that the law is selective when influential personalities are found wanting and as such, the arm of the law becomes twisted to exonerate them.

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Therefore, to accept the premise with which the CBN is seeking the BOFIA 2020 to freeze accounts linked to criminals, the question of witch-hunting cannot be entirely ruled out, especially in a society like ours. In that case, it would be hard to believe that the CBN’s freezing power will rely on subjective laws and not provide cover for some privileged few.

No doubt, this is a trying time for all countries around the world because of the coronavirus pandemic. But for Nigeria, there is an added anxiety as a country whose fortunes hinge on its continued willingness to depend on crude oil earnings. Of course, the drastic fall in oil price due to COVID-19 can only be imagined than experienced. In a way to save businesses from collapse and keep the economy stable, the apex bank is also asking for the creation of a Credit Tribunal to strengthen credit recovery processes and enforcement of collateral rights.

This according to its prayers before the Senate will empower the CBN to intervene in the process of managing a failing bank and bringing it back to sound financial health. It is worthy of note that every crime be it financial or otherwise that is not solved and allowed to flourish, leaves the criminals who are supposed to be frustrated out of their dubious business through effective enforcement of the law and putting them behind bars. But for criminals to continue indulging in crime shows that the existing laws to uphold the minimum standard of behaviour that the government expects of its citizens is failing. If society is unable to uphold these standards then crime will escalate and citizens will be forced to take the law into their hands. And such a situation will lead to a breakdown of law and order in the society because the falcon will no longer hear the falconer.

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