By Ata Udo
There is something ominous associated with vultures among birds. They feed only on dead meat. They live, dwell and thrive on filth. Whenever vultures circle in the skies overhead, dead meat is not too far. The hovering presence of vultures potends danger, suggesting the enemy may be about to strike; a dead meat is either somewhere, or soon to be available.
For some times, the political vultures in Nigeria have been circling over the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN). They have been circling since the apex bank decided to introduce a number of hard-hitting, but necessary reforms to tighten its monetary policy stance and strengthen the financial system to achieve the country’s economic stability.
The scavenging vultures did not feel comfortable with the CBN policy that restricted the allocation of foreign exchange for the importation of 42 items in an attempt to encourage local production of those goods in-country and promote reintegration.
The cashless policy has also not sit well with their schemes, and it does not appear the CBN under Godwin Emefiele as the governor is about to back down on it.
The success story of these policies may have struck them dumb for some time, until recently when they begun to circle again in the wake of the latest decision to redesign and reissue the Naira, a policy most analysts say took the wind out of the sail for most politicians in the run up to the 2023 elections.
After watching with angst and indignation last week’s circus show on Brekete Family, a Human Rights Radio 101.1FM and television, Abuja programme, I came to the inevitable conclusion that the N89.1 trillion stamp duty controversy may not be too far from the cooking stable of the circling vultures.
A member of the House of Representatives, representing Kazaure/Roni/Gwiwa Federal Constituency of Jigawa State, Muhammed Gudaji Kazaure, featured as guest. Throughout the duration of the programme, nothing was left to conjecture that it was a dubious charade deliberately orchestrated to denigrate the CBN, to give the dog a bad name to justify the hangman’s noose.
What is even more tragic is where this campaign of calumny against the CBN for discharging its constitutional responsibilities is being spearheaded by a lawmaker who should be in a position to know the issues and the due process to follow to seek redress, if any.
As a guest on the Brekete programme, Kazaure, claimed that about N89.1 trillion realised from the collection of N50 Stamp duty and bank charges from all transactions valued above N2,000 between 2017 and 2020, were kept with the CBN, was missing.
He said it was also discovered that the CBN was charging another N100 from every transaction above N5,000, the proceeds of which were going into private accounts, with the apex bank and the 27 commercial banks in the country sharing in the ratio 60:40.
The stamp duty collections by the banks, he alleged, were transferred to some accounts through Nigerian Inter-bank Settlement System (NIBSS) and into the Importers and Exporters (I&E) Window account on foreign exchange for the investors.
Between April 2017, when the I&E Window account was opened, and April 2000, Kazaure alleged accrual from stamp duty and bank charges from transactions on FOREX totalled about $171billion.
Besides, he further alleged the CBN opened another FOREX trading market called FMDQ, with Lagos State government as one of the investors, while the largest share owned by the Federal Government was controlled by the CBN, which used it to give loans to the Federal Government.
Contrary to claims by Kazaure that funds in the I&E Window were available only for the investors and not the Nigerian people, those familiar with the workings of the capital market window know that this is a foreign exchange trading platform established by the CBN for banks and other authorised dealers to buy or sell foreign exchange.
FMDQ (Financial Markets Derivative Quotes) operates as a securities exchange for the registration, listing, quotation, trading, and valuation of debt securities such as bonds, funds and commercial papers.
Kazaure accused the leadership of the apex bank, particularly its governor, Godwin Emefiele, of also not remitting to the Federal Government collections from stamp duties on all cheques sent to the CBN for clearing between 1993 and 2012.
The lawmaker claimed the invoice issued for the recovery of the revenue served on the Minister Finance, Budget and National Planning in 2021 and the CBN governor was based on the information from the Nigerian Interbank Settlement System (NIBSS) for the full recovery of all stamp duty collections since 2013.
To show that he belonged to the inner circus of the power behind the plot, Kazaure said he was in possession of valid documents to prove the existence of the funds in the custody of the CBN, which was withholding and refusing to remit into the coffers of the Federal Government as tax revenues at a time the government was in dire need of funds to finance the budget.
He said his allegations were based on the outcome of a research on Stamp Duty revenue conducted in 2013 by a London-based Ogun State-born forensic auditor, Adetola Adekoya, who owns the School of Banking Honours Research (SBHR). The research agency had proposed that revenue earnings from stamp duty could be as high as an average of N30 to N30 billion daily if the government were to give it a serious attention.
He described the SBHR as a banking Monotechnic registered by the Joint Admission and Matriculations Board (Jamb) as an innovation enterprise institution under a new education policy to skill and re-skill and up-skill Nigerian youth on all aspects of banking operation techniques to make them more employable locally and be competitive globally.
The lawmaker said based on his close relationship with President Muhamadu Buhari, he was able to convince him to approve the constitution of a Presidential committee to investigate and recover the missing stamp duty funds in the country.
In approving the constitution of the committee, he said the President gave him and other member of the Committee full powers to investigate, arrest and detain anybody, including the CBN governor, who attempts to frustrate the work of the committee charged with the responsibility of investigating, reconciling and recovering stamp duty revenues and bank charges collections from 2015 to date.
He listed the seven-member committee he personally selected to include the owner of the SBHR, Adekoya as Chairman; Minister of Finance, Zainab Ahmed; Director General of State Security Service, Yusuf Magaji Bichi; a former Deputy DG National Intelligence Agency (NIA), Ambassador Emmanuel Okafor, Commissioner of Police Muhammad Wakili (Singham), with the Chief Justice of the Federation as Judicial Adviser and Kazaure as the Secretary.
Despite the existence of a plethora of anti-corruption agencies mandated by the constitution to handle issues of corruption and fraud, it is surprising that the President, whom the CBN governor reports directly to, would give Kazaure and his committee unlimited powers to arrest, interrogate and detain Emefiele for several hours over the allegations.
What is more shocking is that the same Presidency which Kazaure claimed gave him the power to constitute the committee that is investigating the CBN governor also issued a statement last week to declare the actions of the committee illegal.
In the statement signed by the
Senior Special Assistant to the President (Media & Publicity), Garba Shehu, in reaction to the activities of the Kazaure Committee, the Presidency described that as “certain characters” formed by a cartel with collaborators in the Nigerian Postal Service, NIPOST, to collect and pocket the money.
Shehu said the cartel, which began initially as a non-government organisation that claimed the government was losing over N20 trillion to the NIBSS between 2013 and 2016, later metamorphosed into a group of consultants who claimed they could recover the money and paid back into the government coffers if they were paid a professional fee of 7.5 percent of the total recovered funds.
Following the lack of progress in the promised recovery, the Presidency said in the statement that the late Chief of Staff to the President, Abba Kyari, is wrote to the Secretary of the Government of the Federation on March 8, 2018 to convey the presidential directive for the disbandment of the activities of the consultants.
The Presidency, which described the Kazaure Committee as the offshoot of the discredited and disbanded consultants, said claims of a missing N89.1 trillion from stamp duty appears to be false and a figment of their malicious imaginations.
“The entire banking sector deposit is not even up to half of N89 trillion. Indeed, if the Federal Government can find N89 trillion, it can pay off all its debt, both foreign and local currency and all state government debts and still have over N10 trillion left. So, the claim by these so-called consultants and the disbanded committee is totally ridiculous and a complete mockery,” the Presidency said.
Despite the presidency’s strong repudiation of Kazaure’s claims, the anchor of the Brekete Programme, Ahmed Isah, is insisting the CBN governor still has questions to answer.
During the period Kazaure was his guest on the Brekete programme, the presenter contacted the Director of Corporate Communications of the CBN, Osita Nwanisobi, on telephone to still react to some of the allegations.
Nwanisobi’s reaction was not significantly different from what the Presidency said. “We have been hearing these allegations for some time, but its sounds stranger than fiction. The accumulated N89 trillion stamp duty revenue, as far as I know is more than the total assets for Nigerian banks of about N63 trillion,” he argued.
He said the issue about transactions by CBN on the I & E window hitting $171billion was false, as it was not an account where monies are deposited, by a platform where people from different sectors of the country’s economy trade in foreign exchange ( FX).
In all this, the question remains: Could there be a raging war in President Buhari’s cabinet between the sharks, the wolves and the vultures circling to devour the CBN governor for certain policies they are not comfortable with?
If powerful individuals like the DG DSS and the Minister of Finance are members of the Kazaure Committee (and they are yet to publicly dissociate themselves) now being discredited by the Presidency after the President was said to have given approval for its constitution, could there be a parallel between the activities of of the Committee and that popular decision by the Finance Minister to disown before the Senate the decision by Emefiele to undertake the redesign and reissue of the Naira because the CBN did not consult her?
If the Presidency said the President has already authorised another committee headed by the Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, to work towards the reconciliation, recovery and transfer of all Stamp Duties into Stamp Duties Central Account, could this be another plot in a different scene in the play to unravel the CBN? The answers are in the womb of time.