Emefiele, Kazaure, And The N89trn Stamp Duty Imbroglio

Last week, Nigerians were greeted with the news that the sum of N89trn which had allegedly accrued to the federation was siphoned by the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Mr Godwin Emefiele.

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The claim which was made by a member of the House of Representatives, Mr Muhammed Kazaure had made people to question how such an amount could be stolen through the banking system at a time when the Federal Government is battling revenue challenge which is threatening the execution of government’s programmes.

But let’s delve into the claims made by Kazuare. The Jigawa-born lawmaker had alleged that he was in possession of valid documents that prove the existence of such funds in the CBN’s custody.

Kazaure, claimed that about N89.1trn realized from the collection of N50 Stamp duty and bank charges from all transactions valued above N2,000 between 2017 and 2020 it 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.

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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 $171bn.

Kazaure pushed his allegations further when he appeared on a Brekete family radio by claiming that the transactions by CBN on the Investors’ & Exporters’ window (“I&E FX Window”) a market trading segment for investors, exporters and end-users that allows for FX trades to be made at exchange rates determined based on prevailing market circumstances, thus ensuring efficient and effective price discovery in the Nigerian FX market had hit $171bn.

Besides, he further alleged that the CBN opened another Foreign Exchange 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.

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.

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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.

But one wonder why Kazaure was given such power despite the existence of a plethora of anti-corruption agencies mandated by the constitution to handle issues of corruption and fraud.

It is also shocking 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.

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.

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The 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.

The Stamp Duties Act provides that an instrument executed in Nigeria (or if executed elsewhere, relating to property in Nigeria) or any matter or thing to be done in Nigeria must be stamped in order to be admissible in evidence in civil proceedings in Nigeria.

In respect of instruments executed outside Nigeria, the timeline for stamping is 30 days after the instrument is first received in Nigeria. The Stamp Duty Act 1939 had always been here in Nigeria but it was just there without being utilised by the government.

Given the revenue challenges, which confronted Muhammadu Buhari’s administration when it came to power, the Finance Act 2019, which was further amended by the Finance Act 2020, heralded a major milestone, which also led to effecting amendments to the Stamp Duties Act.

It led to the introduction of electronic documents as chargeable instruments with the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) vested with the power to collect stamp duty.

Stamp Duty collection has always been dogged by controversy. In 2020, the Federal Inland Revenue Service FIRS and the Nigerian Postal Service (NIPOST) were locked in a war of words over stamp duty collection rights. The two agencies engaged in horse trading over who should collect one per cent.

It took the intervention of the National Assembly for the spat to be brought to an amicable resolution. The feud was decided in favor of FIRS, whom the National Assembly said was statutorily empowered by law to collect all revenue of the Federal Government.

But the latest controversy caused by the lawmaker’s claim seems to have stirred the to hornets nest.

In its first official reaction to Kazaure’s claim, the Presidency described the allegation by the Jigawa-born lawmaker as false. This is because the entire banking sector deposit in Nigeria does not amount to half of N89trn as alluded by Kazaure.

Secondly, the same set of consultants which Kazaure is relying on had claimed in 2016 that there was N20trn to be collected. That claim was found to be false.

Thirdly, how can N89trn be stolen as proceeds from stamp duty when the entire banking sector deposit is just at about N63trn.

Indeed, if the Federal Government can find N89tn, it could pay off all its debt, both foreign and local currency and all state government debts which stand at about N70trn and still have over N10trn left.

While there was a committee empowered by the President to look to recover a sum of N20trn allegedly lost to the Nigerian Inter-bank Settlement System, the Presidency had last week stated that the President rescinded his approval upon realizing the actual plan of the committee.

It explained that this “anomaly” arose because certain characters apparently formed a cartel with collaborators in the Nigerian Postal Service and were allegedly collecting and pocketing tokens on banking transactions.

“Soon after, a non-government organisation posited to the regime that the Nigerian government had lost the sum of over N20trn to the Nigerian Inter-bank Settlement System between 2013-2016 in this regard, claiming that the said sum could be recovered and paid back into the government coffers.

“The consultants asked to be paid a professional fee of 7.5 per cent and were placed under the supervision of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation.

“Following the lack of progress in the promised recovery, the late Chief of Staff to the President Abba Kyari, wrote on March 8, 2018, to the SGF conveying a presidential directive that following the lack of progress and several expressed concerns received, the activities of the consultants be discontinued.

“In the aftermath of this dismissal, the consultants sued the government. A court of competent jurisdiction subsequently ruled in favor of the government,” the Presidency noted in the statement.

“Lately, they returned to the government through Hon. Muhammadu Kazaure with a plan to track the so-called lost stamp duties with the erstwhile consultant as chairman and Gudaji as secretary.

“When it emerged that the petitioner and lead consultant of the committee the President had dissolved via the late Abba Kyari’s letter of March 28 had masqueraded himself and re-emerged as the chairman of the new recovery committee championed by Gudaji, the President rescinded the approval he gave and asked that it be stopped from operating under the seal of his office,” the Presidency further explained.

Puncturing the claim by the lawmaker, the CBN Director of Corporate Communications, Mr. Osita Nwanisobi picked holes with the allegations that N89.09tn was allegedly siphoned from stamp duty charges.

He wondered how can the sum of N89trn accumulate through the payment of stamp duty when the entire assets of all banks in Nigeria is about N63trn which is far lower than the amount being claimed to have been siphoned.

Nwanisobi’s reaction was not significantly different from what the Presidency said.

He said, “We have been hearing these allegations, but they said N89trn stamp duty accumulated. The total assets for Nigerian banks is about N63trn and someone is claiming that fifty kobo accumulated to N89trn, how possible is it?

“If there is any committee in charge, that has nothing to do with us. The committee can do their work, but it has nothing to do with the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).

“Our most concern is the N89trn because the total assets of all the banks in Nigeria is not up to that amount.

“The ratio of stamp duty is obedience to the law, because issues around stamp duty is obedience to the law, this is not about CBN, but obeying what the law says.

“CBN is the creation of the law, and that is why we say, CBN is an institution with statutory flavor. Our responsibility is to keep up with the law. The law states that the act on stamp duty must be obeyed, and that is what it does. We keep record of all transactions, that is why whenever we hear such allegations, we are shocked.”

He said the issue about transactions by CBN on the I & E window hitting $171bn 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.

Similarly, a group under the aegis of Arewa Youth Assembly faulted the claims by Kazaure stating that it was done to incite Nigerians against the President and the CBN,

The group accused the lawmaker of running a “parallel government” by allegedly exercising “executive and judicial power” on his programme that has an estimated daily listenership and viewership of 20 million people across the world.

On Kazaure’s allegation, the group said the figures are ‘unverifiable’, noting that the Presidency has dispelled the lawmaker’s claim that the committee that made the discovery was approved by President Buhari.

“Curiously, from the time rep, Kazaure started his macabre dance, no member of his alleged committee has come out to add credence to his position but yet the so-called owner of Nigeria, who thinks he is more powerful than the president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria still went ahead and invited Gudaji Kazaure for a live program in his radio house to blackmail the person of Godwin Emefiele. This is defamation of character, and racketeering between Gudaji Kazaure and Ahmed Isa to blackmail and further insult, Mr. Godwin Emefiele,” it stated.

In all this, the question remains: Could there be a raging war in President Buhari’s cabinet between 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 authorized 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 Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami’s committee set up by President Muhammadu Buhari to reconcile, recover and transfer all stamp duties into stamp duties central account, is still working and would make it’s findings known to the world in the coming days.

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