The government action is largely justified

In a deft move that caught many unawares, Justice Nnamdi Dimgba of the Federal High Court Abuja, last week, ordered that account holders without Bank Verification Number (BVN) risked forfeiting their monies. The court specifically asked the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and the commercial banks to “disclose all accounts in their custody and the balances in such accounts,” besides stopping “all outward payments, operations or transactions.”

Even though many have raised concerns about the intention, we consider it one of the smartest ways to fight corruption in the country. The court directive came as result of a motion filed by Abubakar Malami, the Attorney General of the Federation on behalf of the federal government.

The CBN had in 2014 introduced the BVN policy to all deposit money banks across the country essentially to check identity theft in the banking system. It was also designed to address issues of money laundering, credit extension and boosting financial inclusion since those who cannot read or write can open and access their bank accounts with their biometric information. The policy involves capturing customers’ biometric data for financial transactions across all banking platforms.

Despite the obvious benefits, many Nigerians were initially unenthusiastic about the initiative, a result attributed then partly to registration “fatigue” arising from other multiple and cumbersome data capture exercises. Indeed, many had expected the banks to tap into other databases like those from the elaborate SIM card registration and many others. Eventually, after repeated campaigns on the importance of the exercise, the deadline for the BVN exercise was extended to October 2015 when about 20 million bank customers were enrolled. The figure rose to 30 million last week, up from 26.7 million by the end of last year, reportedly because of the recent threat of sanctions. Even at that, the exercise, which cost the nation more than $50 million, still left out millions of account holders.

Last week, the federal government decided to bite and we consider the decision a good one. We are of course aware that many Nigerians in the Diaspora have complained about the exercise and some might have genuine reasons for not meeting up with the deadline. Indeed, in our previous intervention, we made it clear that there was no conscious effort to enrol significant number of people as centres where their biometrics could be captured were limited or non-existent. It is also possible that others in many of our rural communities were not sufficiently informed. For these categories, there should, necessarily, be an extension of time. For the others, they have cause to explain their long absence in the banks in the court of law.

This is as a result of a pertinent question: Why are people with genuine claims to the money in their bank accounts afraid to put their biometrics to such accounts? Unfortunately, there are also reports that some security agencies are hiding under the prevailing uncertainty to tamper with some accounts by making illegal withdrawals. This is a serious issue that goes to the heart of the anti-corruption war of this administration on which many Nigerians have become rather cynical. President Muhammadu Buhari has a responsibility to ensure that these funds are not looted by some unscrupulous officials.

This is why we endorse the action of the federal government on appropriating all monies in bank accounts without BVN. Three years is long enough for anyone to comply with the policy which essentially is meant to curb fraudulent activities in the financial system. As Mr. Jiti Ogunye , a Lagos lawyer aptly put it, if for three years people didn’t come forward to supply the BVN for their bank accounts, the presumption is that such monies must be ill-gotten. We concur!