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Finance Ministry, CBN, Others Back Houses’ Probe of Unclaimed Funds in Commercial Banks

— Says banks refuse to remit N1.2 trillion into consolidated accounts —Forty-five million accounts not linked to BVN

Rex Enabulele/Abuja

Some commercial banks may be in for serious trouble as the Federal Ministry of Finance, Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Office of Accountant General of the Federation and other agencies of the Federal Government have supported the House of Representatives’ move to probe unclaimed funds in commercial banks and unremitted funds collected on behalf of the Federal Government agencies by the banks.

This came as the House on Monday accused the commercial banks of refusing to pay N1.2 trillion collected into consolidated revenue account, and with over 45 million accounts not linked to Bank Verification Number (BVN).

The lawmakers at the plenary recently set up an adhoc committee, chaired by Hon. Idem Unyime, to look into the issue as well as the infractions by CBN which financial experts posited, ran into trillions of Naira.

Lending support at the hearing, the Minister of Finance, Zainab Ahmed said that CBN had provided guidelines that obligate any bank to have notified the Federal government of the existence of any such funds belonging to it.

Represented by Director General Budget Office, Ben Akabueze, the minister urged the CBN to ensure it enforces its own guidelines.

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Ahmed said, “From the opening remarks of the committee Chairman, it will appear that this is focused on unearthing the federal government’s balances that may still be hanging in any of the commercial banks.

“I believe that over the past several years there have been circulars of government seeking to enforce this. Because otherwise when we received this invitation that talked about unclaimed funds in Nigeria commercial banks.

“Basically my initial reading of this is that it’s related to inactive accounts, dormant accounts, because the extant regulation guiding the management of these issued by the CBN, on October 2015, provides guidelines for the management of inactive accounts dormant accounts and unclaimed funds.

“Those guidelines obligate any bank to have notified the Federal government of the existence of any such funds belonging to it, if they had I’m sure that those funds will not be there.

“I hope that without prejudice to the work of this committee that the CBN will also do the job of enforcing its own guidelines. As the work of the committee progresses, whatever other specific information required of us as a ministry we will be able to provide.”

Also, the representative of Office of Accountant General of the Federation, Sylva Okorieaboh agreed that substantial amount of Federal Government funds might still be lying with commercial banks despite the presidential directive of 7th August 2015, and the circulars and efforts made to compel the commercial banks to comply with those directives.

Okorieaboh, who is the Director, Coordinator Treasury Single Account (TSA) added that if any bank or MDAs is not doing what they are supposed to, then it’s clearly an infraction and the work of the lawmakers will help to unravel anything of that such.

He said, “the letter we got was not detailed enough to prepare us for today’s sitting, however we are aware that there’s good likelihood that substantial amount of Federal Government funds might still be lying with commercial banks despite the presidential directive of 7th August 2015, and the circulars and efforts made to compel the commercial banks to comply with those directives.

“On the 14th of December 2021, the minister of finance inaugurated new TSA implementation structures and she alluded to the fact that there’s a likelihood that substantial amount that federal government fund are still lying with commercial banks and directed the banks to return those funds or they will be reported to anti corruption agencies.

“We believe that there are still federal government funds with commercial banks but we can’t say specifically how much and where, so to that extent we welcome the efforts of this committee.

“The TSA guideline we issued in 2015, on page 14 states that all collection must swept to their individual federation account at CBN on daily basis, the use of intermediary accounts is not allowed, so right from day one this is what we have always tried to enforce.”

On its part, the Central Bank of Nigeria, represented by its Acting Director, Banking Supervision, Okafor Maxwell assured that the Apex bank will comply fully to ensure the investigation yields the needed results.

“We are not too clear about the requirements of the committee, but the speech of the Chairman made a lot of things very clear. We want to assure that the CBN will cooperate fully to ensure that this job is done. We are going to help the committee follow up whatever necessary to ensure that this job is done”, he added.

In his presentation, Executive Director, Finance and Administration, Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Chudi Ofordile, also supported the lawmakers, noting that some banks are yet to comply with the directive of the government that all funds should be transferred to TSA.

He expressed optimism that the investigation will help the agencies recover some of their funds from those who have not been able to identify them, adding that they have clear evidence where those funds are and who is in the custody.

His words, “I have some information that I can share with the Committee. We do not have unclaimed funds so to speak because all the funds we identified in the commercial banks prior to TSA we had requested the banks to transfer the funds to TSA as directed by the government.

“And, so we noticed the some of the banks did not comply fully. So these are matters that we have dealing with and trying to reconcile. We are engaged in the process of recovery. So, we will cooperate with the Committee at anytime we are required to submit any information, we are prepared to do so.

“We welcome the work of the Committee and hope this will help the agencies recover some of their funds from those who have not been able to identify them. In our case, we have clear evidence where those funds are and who is in the custody.”

Earlier in his remarks, the Committee Chairman, Hon. Unyime said the assignment is enormous, crucial and sensitive given what the country is facing economically.

He noted that 45 million accounts are not linked to Bank Verification Number (BVN) hence these resolutions stipulates that commercial banks, submit document that would help the lawmakers recover the unclaimed funds.

While charging all stakeholders to be cooperative, he warns that commercial banks and other agencies that are sitting on these funds that belong to the FG and are not willing to refund, will be suspended from collecting funds for the government.

Declaring the hearing open, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila expressed optimism that the assignment would improve the system in terms of value addition.

Gbajabiamila who was represented by the Deputy Speaker, Hon. Idris Wase said that if it’s true that N1.2 trillion was not paid into consolidated revenue account, then members of the Committee should ensure they expose the corruption aspect of it and come out with interventions that would improve and mitigate the situation.

Before adjourning the hearing sine die, a member of the Committee, Hon. Ademorin Kuye berated heads of agencies who were absent at the hearing.

The lawmaker while pointing out that Section 89 gives them powers to summon anybody for the purpose of obtaining evidence in this kind of hearing, threatened that if it happens again, the parliament will invoke Section 89(2) which permits it to issue arrest warrant of any Head of agency that fails to appear.

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