A showdown is looming between the Central Bank of Nigeria and Christian and Islamic leaders across the country over the freezing of their accounts on the orders of the apex bank.
CBN Governor, Lamido Sanusi, had two weeks ago directed banks to commence the updating of the accounts of designated non-financial businesses and professions with evidence of registration.
The CBN circular, which was obtained by Saturday PUNCH, stated that the DNFBPs include religious and charitable organisations, dealers in jewellery, precious metals and stones, cars and luxury goods, audit firms, tax consultants, clearing and settlement companies, lawyers, notaries, other independent legal practitioners, chartered accountants and trust company service providers.
Others include hotels, casinos, supermarkets, real estate agents, non-governmental organisations, Federal Ministry of Trade and Investment or appropriate regulatory authorities.
It said, “In consideration of some challenges encountered by the Special Control Unit against Money Laundering as a result of the number of persons seeking to enjoy late compliance, the CBN has decided to further extend the second deadline of April 30, 2013 by eight months to December 31, 2013.”
The bank warned DNFBPs that were yet to register to take advantage of the extension or risk losing their accounts.
Under the new regime, the designated institutions are required to fill forms listing their shareholders and directors.
Religious organisations are registered under Act C of the Companies and Allied Matters Act which is for non-governmental organisations while the new regime has placed them under Act F, which applies to businesses.
They are also required to get their forms endorsed by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, as part of CBN’s ongoing tracking of sources of funds for Boko Haram and other terrorist groups in the country.
Sources said the Christian Association of Nigeria had directed churches not to fill any form in any bank. It has also asked affected members to forward evidences of the freezing of their accounts to their respective state secretariats for onward transmission to the national secretariat.
CAN’s Public Relations Officer for the 19 Northern states and Abuja, Mr. Sunny Oibe, confirmed the development to Saturday PUNCH on the telephone on Friday.
He said, “We are preparing our grounds in CAN for that and we will respond in a big way. What has the church got to do with the issue of Boko Haram? Churches are not profit-making organisations and so how can somebody now begin to equate churches with business that doesn’t concern them?
“They know those who are sponsors and financiers of Boko Haram and the people through whom this money are paid.
“We are therefore pleading with President Goodluck Jonathan to caution the CBN Governor.”
When contacted, the media aide to the President of CAN, Mr. Kenny Ashaka, said, “For now, we don’t want to make any comment on the issue. We will act as at when due.”
The General Overseer, Evangelical Ministries, Lagos, Bishop Steven Ogedengbe, described the CBN order as a “distraction that will not last.”
Ogedengbe said his church’s account was not affected but called on affected religious organisations to resist the move.
The Secretary-General, Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs, Prof. Ishaq Oloyede, said the organisation was worried about whether bank officials and security agents involved in the matter would be transparent, sincere and avoid sentiments.
In a telephone interview with Saturday PUNCH on Friday, Oloyede said, “I do not have any objection to it. I have seen the form. It is not limited to churches and mosques. It has a lot of people on the list.
“From what I see, it is for transparency. As far as Islam is concerned, we do not do anything under the table so why are we afraid? The only fear I have is those who are involved and claim to be doing for the government or security agencies should be transparent in the way they do it.
“Except for fear of misuse by government agencies, I have no reservation at all. The only problem I have is about whether government or their agencies and security agencies will be sincere and unsentimental in their issues..”
But the Director, Corporate Communications, CBN, Mr. Ugo Okoroafor, told one of our correspondents on Friday that the directive was not targeted at religious organisations but was meant for all designated non-financial businesses and professions.
He said, “The directive is expected to enable the regulator check money laundering and other malpractices in the sector. We want to know who is moving what at any point in time. If you don’t fall under the financial institutions category, then you must fall under another category.
“Churches are under what we call DNFBPs. All we told them was that they should update their account information with their banks. They are not the only ones in the category. Besides, the directive has been extended by six months so we have not frozen any account. This is the second time we are extending it to allow for proper registration.”
In a statement issued on Friday night, CBN said it had not directed any bank to freeze the accounts of churches and mosques.
It reads, “The attention of the Central Bank of Nigeria has been drawn to some reports being circulated in the media to the effect that the CBN had ordered the freezing of the accounts of some religious organisations, citing alleged suspicion of links with terrorist groups.
We wish to state as follows:
1. That the CBN has not ordered the closure or freezing of the bank account of any religious body or any institution whatsoever as alleged in the publications and posts. There is, therefore, no iota of truth in these allegations.”
The statement by Okoroafor said the affected bodies are expected to present certificate of registration showing registration number with the Special Control Unit Against money Laundering.
He also said the deadline was extended from February 2013 to June and finally to December 2013.
When contacted, EFCC Acting Head, Media and Publicity, Wilson Uwujaren, said, “It is not a new thing; it is part of anti-money laundering revolution in the banking system. Banks are required to report any transaction that is above $1000 by Designated Non-Financial Institutions to the Special Control Unit against Money Laundering.
“It is not a special directive to churches; it is for all Designated Non-Financial Institutions which include churches, casinos, supermarkets, accounting firms and dealers in jewelleries and precious stones, among others.”
On April 23, the SCUML arrested officials of a real estate firm and two hotels in Abuja for non-compliance with extant regulations mandating DNFIs to register with the Unit in line with the anti-money laundering laws.
The special operation was conducted in conjunction with the EFCC.
The Nigeria Bar Association is currently challenging the regulation in court.