Sunday, October 22, 2017

Forfeiture of Money in Accounts without BVN is ‘almost’ Theft

The news broke recently that the Federal Government is seeking the forfeiture of balances of all accounts without BVN numbers. While the government desperately needs money, I don’t think this is right.

Many people who support this request assume all law-abiding citizens have completed their BVN registration. Therefore, accounts without BVN contain illicit funds — which were stolen from the commonwealth and should be forfeited to the state.

The base assumption above is wrong. Not all law-abiding citizens have completed their BVN registrations. Some accounts hold balances due to people who died before BVN became a thing, and whose estates have not been settled. Other accounts hold balances due to people who are alive, but cannot register their BVNs for a variety of reasons — such as the case below of an elderly citizen with Alzheimer’s. Other accounts have not had BVNs linked for issues such as change of names, errors in bio-data, etc. Therefore, not all accounts without BVNs contain illicit funds.

More importantly, I don’t believe the state has a right to money it has not earned or otherwise proven to be its. Even where accounts contain proceeds of corruption, the State should first need to prove the funds are illicit, and then secure forfeiture.

What do I think we should do instead? Where BVNs do not exist, the accounts should remain barred from withdrawals and deposits. The banks should continue to follow existing procedure governing dormant accounts when those accounts fall into dormancy. Where the government suspects accounts of housing illicit funds, the EFCC needs to investigate, charge the owners, and request forfeitures on a case by case basis.

A sweeping order to take all the money in accounts with BVN numbers is not ‘smart policy’, it is almost theft.

Cheers to the new week.

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