BVN Forfeiture Order: Stealing From The Dead | Nigeria Newspaper- Nigeria News| Naija News

5.11.17

BVN Forfeiture Order: Stealing From The Dead

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Relations of dead bank account owners not linked to Bank Verification Number (BVN) have expressed concerns over the Federal Government’s order forfeit of the monies in such accounts.

Their lamentation came on the heels of the expiration, on Friday, of the 14-day interim forfeiture order which had been upheld by an Abuja High Court presided by Justice Dimgba Igwe recently.

The concerned relations of reopen dead account holders told Sunday Telegraph that they were already in a dilemma not knowing how they can get on with life without being able to access the monies their dead bread winners left in various bank accounts for them. One of their frustrations according to some next-of-kins who spoke to our correspondent is the stringent requirements demanded by various banks before any next-of-kin can access the funds of their late bread winner.

Our correspondent reliably learnt that many dependants of departed account holders have been put through excruciating experiences in their bids to obtain letters of administration to enable them access their bread winners’ account.

The painful process has also forced the affected relations to either abandon the pursuit of the letter of administration or slow it down. Sunday Telegraph investigation revealed that the situation has left huge amount of monies in such accounts running into N100 billion across the 19 commercial banks in Nigeria, in 2013. The cash now trapped in dead peoples’ accounts is said to be also on the increase.

However, lawyer and author of banking Law and Mortgages in Nigeria, Pat Anyadubalu, has described the forfeiture order as a very sad development pointing out that the affected next-of-kins would forfeit all the money in the affected accounts to the Federal Government if that court order is not vacated as soon as possible.

It would be recalled that the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation, Mr. Abubakar Malami, had sought an interim order directing all the commercial banks to disclose/declare all individual and corporate accounts in their custody not covered by the BVN. The court, on October 18, granted the order, giving 14 days after which the fund in the accounts becomes legally forfeited to the Federal Government of Nigeria.

But some next-of-kins of dead bank account owners not linked to BVN, who spoke to Sunday Telegraph from different parts of the country, told our correspondent, that for more than two years, they have been trying to meet stipulated bank requirements, to enable them access the funds their dead breadwinners left in their accounts.

But due to several hurdles their efforts had not been successful. Some of them, however, said that issues of claims and counter claims in their families also made it difficult for the affected relations to secure relevant Letters of Administration required by the banks.

But in the case of Bola Adegoroye, a widow whose husband died in year 2012 without living a Will: “That is not the problem. The problem is that in some of his documents, he filled my name as the next-of-kin and in some others, our first son. So after over two years of stress, the bank has not paid us.

And to make matter worse, my husband’s company paid his benefits into that account. I have been borrowing money to keep the children in school in the hope that whenever, we are able to sort out issues with the bank, I will settle my creditors.

Now they are talking of forfeiture. The money in that account is my late husband’s savings. If the money is seized by government over this BVN issue as they are threatening, I will have no alternative than to withdraw the children from school. But there will be other problems of repaying the monies I have so far borrowed to take care of my five children,” she lamented.

Relating his own predicament, a widower who is also a trader in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, Nze Ibe Onuchia, who operated a joint account with his late wife said: “I was asked to get Death Certificate, publish her obituary in a national daily. After I had done that, I was asked to get Letter of Administration from the court. I have been on the matter for over two years. At a time, I had to suspend action on it because it was costing me money and the time to concentrate on providing for our children.

“Since my wife’s death, I have not been able to collect any money from that account where all out money was before her death.

It is just by the grace of God that we have been surviving since then. Now we heard this news that government wants to seize it because of BVN. Who will do the BVN? Me or my late wife?” He queried.

“What government should do in line with its anti-corruption war, is to focus on the accounts of politicians and public servants who have not done BVN or even Yahoo Yahoo boys, not putting eyes in poor people’s monies in the bank. So is it now an offence to keep your hard earned money in the bank? I regret putting the money there.

“This BVN they are talking about now, why didn’t they talk about it when we were putting our money there? Why are they trying to steal our money in the name of BVN? This is worse than what the Gowon administration did to Biafran people who had their monies in the banks after the civil war. They seized their money and gave them 20 pounds,” he added.

The story of Abuja based Isa Rahman, whose sister and a single parent died in 2013, leaving behind two children and over N1, 000,000 in her bank account, is not different. “My late sister had N1, 000,000 in her account when she died in 2013. We were asked by the bank to produce Letter of Administration, which we have managed to get, but the bank said the name of her estranged husband was in our late sister’s initial documents with the bank.

“The man has agreed to do what is required of him so that the bank can release the money to us to take care of their children.

However, he said that would be when he returns home. He is currently in Germany.

“We are confused now. Does the court order imply that government will take the money my late sister saved for her children? This is demonic,” he asked.

When Sunday Telegraph approached some banks officials for comment, the bankers said it’s a regulatory requirement that next-of-kin must produce Letter of administration.

“It is not the banks’ fault that the next-of-kin should go through this stress. The next-of-kin that customers fill in the form when opening an account does not guarantee the person access to the customer’s account. It is only an indication that the person whose name appears as next-of-kin can come openly to begin the process of having access to the customer’s account. And that process is to produce a will and letter of administration as demanded by law,” one banker said.

But speaking during a recent Channels Television popular programme, Sunday Politics, the Senior Special Assistant to President Muhammadu Buhari on Prosecution, Okoi Obono-Obla, insisted that the President Buhari-led administration would be justified should the funds in the accounts be taken over by the Federal Government. According to Obono-Obla, who also the Chairman, Special Presidential Investigation Panel for the Recovery of Public Property, the number of accounts yet to be linked remains alarming.
“From Central Bank of Nigeria’s (CBN’s) statistics, 46 million accounts are yet to be linked with BVN numbers after three years,” he said, stressing however, that he doesn’t know how much money the accounts hold.

He said those who have not linked their accounts to BVN had violated a CBN policy and should have themselves to blame.

“Anyone who has not complied with that directive, it means that his account is fraudulent and so whatever is there should go to the government,” he added.

According to the Nigerian Interbank Settlement System (NIBSS), 52 million bank accounts had been linked to their BVNs as of February this year. The total number of bank accounts in the country was estimated at 70 million in 2016.

When contacted, the Central Bank of Nigeria chose not to comment on the issue. But a director of the bank said he would not blame the banks if they chose to challenge the court order.

Meanwhile, human rights lawyer, Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa described as illegal, the order granting the forfeiture of funds in accounts without BVNs to the Federal Government.

Citing Section 36(1) of the 1999 Constitution and Article 7 of the African Charter, Adegboruwa said it was not proper to determine the rights of parties in their absence. He said the BVN was a policy decision and not “backed by law.” The lawyer also faulted the “bindingness” of the order on millions of bank customers who he said were not directly parties to the suit.

He lamented that the quest to get revenue for the government should not be to the detriment of the constitutional and fundamental rights of the citizens.

“I am very well concerned about how we deploy interim orders for permanent purposes, such as to forfeit valuable assets without any or fair hearing from the person(s) concerned,” the statement read.

“I think it is improper to obtain interim orders to freeze the bank accounts of estates that are in dispute between the beneficiaries, of estates of deceased persons that are still being contested, of profits of companies that are still subject to litigation or other disputes, just to mention a few examples of the arbitrariness of these orders.

“There is nothing in Section 3 of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act 2011 that makes BVN a condition precedent for operating a bank account in Nigeria; nothing at all. What the law requires is verifiable identity of the customer, such as name, address, photographs, identity cards, etc.

“BVN is a policy decision of the Central Bank of Nigeria and a court of law should not base its orders on executive policies that are not backed by law.

“I get truly worried with the way we adopt ex parte applications to determine very serious and weighty issues of law.

“The other point is the bindingness of an ex parte order upon the whole world and upon millions of bank customers in Nigeria, who are not directly parties to the suit.

“How proper is it for a court to seek to determine the rights of parties in their absence, in view of the clear provisions of Section 36(1) of the 1999 Constitution and Article 7 of the African Charter?
“Why this desperation, if one may ask? I support that money suspected to be proceeds of crime should be traced, isolated and forfeited if the owner cannot successfully account for it.

“But to proceed to seek to forfeit all monies in all banks meant for all customers in Nigeria on the grounds of absence of BVN is manifestly illegal.

“I therefore humbly urge the Honourable Attorney-General of the Federation to review this case with a view to tempering the tenor of these rather outlandish orders.

“The quest to scoop revenue for government should not be to the detriment of the constitutional and fundamental rights of the citizens. Which is why I have been praying that these orders are not real, but rather one of the usual social media gimmicks,” he said.

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