The Federal High Court in Abuja has granted a request by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to freeze accounts of fintech companies for 180 days. The accounts include Rise Vest Technologies Limited, Bamboo Systems Technology Limited, Bamboo Systems Technology Limited OPNS, Chaka Technologies Limited, CTL/Business Expenses, and Trove Technologies Limited. In a court paper seen by TheCable on Tuesday, the apex bank said it is investigating ‘illegal foreign exchange transactions by the fintech companies. It also sought the court injunction to freeze their bank accounts for 180 days pending the completion of investigations. In the motion ex parte marked FCH/ABJ/CS/822/2021 and filed on August 4, CBN through its counsel Michael Kaase Aondoakaa, submitted that “the investigation being carried out concerns what has been discovered to be serious infractions by the defendants/respondents in connection with some foreign exchange transactions, and non-documentation by the defendants/respondents in violation of the extant laws and regulations, particularly the Foreign Exchange (Monitoring and Miscellaneous Provisions) Act and the Central Bank of Nigeria foreign exchange manual.” “It is evident that Rise Vest Technologies Limited, Bamboo Systems Technology Limited, Chaka Technologies Limited and Trove Technologies Limited are complicit in operating without a license as asset management companies and utilising FX sourced from the Nigerian FX market for purchasing foreign bonds/shares in contravention of CBN’s directive.” In his ruling, Ahmed Mohammed said: “Having listened to senior counsel to the applicant, on the motion ex parte filed in August, it is granted as prayed. He added that any person who feels aggrieved about the freezing order is entitled to approach the court within the period to seek redress. He then adjourned the matter to 20 February 2022 for a hearing.

Some commuters in Lagos had to walk long distances to their destinations in the early hours of Tuesday, following a protest by drivers of commercial buses, popularly called danfo along Iyana-Ipaja, Ikotun Road and environs in Alimosho Local Government Area over alleged extortion by men of the Lagos State Environmental Sanitation and Special Offences Unit (Task Force). A similar protest in those districts in September 2020 left commuters stranded. The current situation also left commuters stranded as the drivers withdrew their buses from operating while nonparticipating drivers were prevented from operating by transport union members. Commercial tricycle operators and motorcyclists popularly called Keke Marwa and okada respectively, seized the opportunity to make brisk business, hiking the transport fares because of the large number of passengers at bus stops. The danfo drivers were protesting the daily seizure of their buses and extortion by officials of Lagos State Environmental Sanitation and Special Offences Unit (Task Force) over frivolous traffic rules violation. This development, as early as 6.30 am, led to a chaotic situation in the axis, as workers and other commuters were seen trekking due to the scarcity of buses. One of the protesting drivers, Kayode Oloye told Vanguard they “decided to withdraw [their] services today to protest the illegal activities as well as bring it to the notice of Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu and relevant authorities so that they can call the task force men to order. Enough is enough; we can’t take the nonsense anymore. The economy is unfavourable to everyone. We are struggling to feed our families and not feed government or task force men under the pretext of committing one tragic offence or the other. We work hard to earn our living. We are not armed robbers. That is why we are doing legitimate work. Or they want us to take to robbery?” In reaction, the chairman of the task force, Chief Superintendent of Police Sola Jejeloye denied any knowledge of any extortion by his men. “I urge anyone with evidence of extortion against task force men to come forward and I assure them of prompt action against such errant officers as deterrence,” he told the Nigerian daily. Jejeloye, however, did not rule out the activities of some unscrupulous individuals who pose as task force men to extort innocent citizens. “We have arrested some of them in the past and we have strengthened our surveillance to arrest those still in the act to bring them to book.” He called for a stakeholders’ meeting with transport union leaders at the agency’s Oshodi head office.

Katsina Governor Aminu Bello Masari says the Islamic State in West Africa Province (ISWAP) may be trying to raise families in the North West. When he appeared on NAN Forum, the flagship interview programme of the News Agency of Nigeria, Masari talked about how cattle rustling snowballed into the current spate of kidnapping and banditry in the North West. The governor attributed part of the security challenges the region is facing to lack of education as well as an influx of “criminals from some North African countries.” Masari, who said there were ongoing efforts to tackle insecurity in the state, lamented that the current situation had prevented farmers from accessing their farmlands. “Unfortunately, what we met as cattle rustling has turned into banditry and insurgency, which are depriving people, especially those living in the border area of the forests which are very fertile, from access to their farms, drastically affecting their source of livelihood. They have lost their ploughing cattle which they used to plough the land. This has caused another challenge to our Restoration Agenda in Katsina, but we thank God that we can continue,” he said. Masari revealed that the seven governors from the North West Zone had been meeting to work out modalities on how to end the insurgency, part of which is the ongoing training of about 500 vigilance members, to be followed by another 3,000 soon. “We have a committee under the North West Zone because of our linkage in terms of boundaries. We are strategizing on how to deal with the situation. And as I talk to you now, we have 500 vigilantes undergoing training and we intend to take another 3,000. All of us are doing that at various levels and we have a committee where my SA on Security is representing me. We have the governor of Niger as the chairman. We are sharing our experiences. We have infiltration from the Niger Republic, Mali, which has very large, ungoverned spaces; and you know the problem in Libya has unleashed arms and ammunition on sub-Saharan Africa. Even ISWAP will want to at least stay in the North West to institute a family here, but we are fighting day and night to ensure that it doesn’t happen. We are working night and day to make sure that it doesn’t become a permanent feature”, he said.

A few hours after imposing dusk to dawn curfew on three Local Government Areas – Jos North, Jos South and Bassa of Plateau State, Governor Simon Lalong on Sunday directed the imposition of a 24-hour curfew in Jos North to contain the escalating security threat. The governor said, “From 2 pm of today, Sunday 15th August 2021, a 24-hour curfew will come into effect in Jos North Local Government Area. This is necessitated by security reports which indicate rising threats to the safety of lives and properties within the Local Government.” The governor, in a statement, urged citizens to abide by the curfew and remain indoors to allow security agencies to maintain law and order and deal with those bent on causing chaos. The governor said the 24-hour curfew on Jos North Local Government will remain in force until further notice. Media reports say some worshippers were attacked in churches at Faringada and Terminus areas of the city, destroying properties and causing mayhem. This comes as the FG said the killing of 23 people returning from a Muslim festival in the state on Sunday was a premeditated ambush for which suspects have already been arrested. In a statement, President Muhammadu Buhari condemned Saturday’s ambush of the buses which were returning from a religious festival in nearby Bauchi. A morgue attendant who asked to remain anonymous told Reuters security forces had brought 22 bodies to the hospital on Saturday. A military spokesman said in a statement that troops had responded to a distress call on Rukuba road in the Jos North local government area and had arrested 12 suspects after an unspecified number of people were killed and injured. Though details of the attack were unclear, some media suggested a Christian militia was to blame. Conflicts between farmers and cattle herders in the middle belt have killed thousands of people and displaced half a million over the past decade, according to French medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres.

Commentary

  • There are multiple issues to unpack following the CBN’s action. First is the gross abuse of the ex parte process that has now become a tool in the hands of the Nigerian state to target individuals and business entities. Ordinarily, ex parte orders that do not exceed 14 days are meant to be issued only under emergencies. However, it has now been stretched into obscene territory with the primary aim of punitively crippling those it is wielded against, from EndSARS activists to the immediate past Chief Justice of the country, and now freezing the accounts of fintech startups. The judiciary will do well to salvage its reputation by correcting this abuse and sanctioning those concerned. Freezing the accounts of businesses before concluding investigations is not only abuse but a show of gross incompetence. Secondly, the Nigerian government continues to be the biggest risk factor to business and investment in the country. Many of these players recently announced receiving licenses from the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), ostensibly to cover their operations. Yet, months later, they have been attacked in this egregious manner, making it unclear which rules businesses should adhere to and who regulates them. This is the worst kind of uncertainty to create in an economy and this administration has proved adept at doing so. Investor confidence is at an all-time low and continues to plunge. Thirdly, it is highly unusual to freeze bank accounts for six months just to carry out an investigation. In addition, the fact that CBN had to go to court to take action against these fintech startups indicates that CBN realized clearly that since it does not regulate these companies it cannot sanction them directly for a perceived breach of its guidelines. Fourthly, the suit made the point that these companies were not licensed asset managers (capital market operators) as at the time they allegedly carried out the illegal foreign exchange transactions, as being licensed would have put them under the SEC’s regulation purview; the SEC has also tried in the past to crack down on firms giving retail investors access to foreign equities. It does appear that the CBN simply wants to use these companies as scapegoats to warn market players that the apex bank is serious about clamping down on forex flight. Sadly, the action of the CBN could likely lead to the death of these firms and the loss of investors’ funds. Perhaps the greater damage is the impact this will have on foreign and domestic investor sentiment. Finally, the business side needs to begin to organise and push back. Continuing to bend over to accommodate a government determined to control or kill industry will do no good in the end.
  • The chairman of the task force claiming ignorance of his team’s activities is not a good look. It brings to the fore two possibilities: he does not have control of them, or he is simply lying to Lagosians. Whatever the case may be, the travails of bus drivers in Lagos is a long-running one. A report by SBM Intelligence released this week which examines taxation in the informal sector reveals that bus drivers in Lagos are under the greatest strain regarding taxation, remitting the highest amount of taxes, multiple times a day, to multiple non-state actors in the country – 67% of Lagos drivers say they pay ₦3,000 (USD7) daily to an assortment of informal stakeholders, including rogue enforcement officials. This situation means that unrest between these drivers and various tax collectors never lurks far from the surface. This ‘revenue drive’ is set amid the backdrop of the state subsisting without proceeds from the lucrative Ikoyi and Lekki toll gate proceeds for nearly one year, further straining its finances. However, the arbitrary nature of the taxes only serves to impoverish hard-working citizens who are just trying to make ends meet. It is important for the taxes and levies paid by informal economic actors to be predictable and reasonable, while accurate records are kept for future reference. It is also important for the state to bring the various non-state actors who collect taxes from informal workers to heel, for the revenues collected to reflect in the state’s coffers. On a final note, our report underscored the importance of the government investing the hard work to surmount the distrust that citizens have for it. It has to demonstrate the importance of benefits of tax compliance by illustrating its benefits – which include better infrastructure and service delivery – by providing those social goods. Only then can informal taxation begin to come down from its hallowed hill.
  • Governor Masari’s comments are not surprising, as the deteriorating security situation in large parts of the North-West could provide a fertile environment for terrorist groups like ISWAP to set up active cells in the region, and possibly link up with other Islamist groups in the Sahel such as Islamic State in the Greater Sahel (ISGS) and Al-Qaeda in the Maghreb (AQIM) – a development which we have mentioned this in at least two previous versions of this editorial. Governor Masari also makes a valid point as to how low-level security challenges such as cattle rustling and competition over water and land between farmers and herders have snowballed into the current security situation. The states in the region must harmonise their approach to solving the security situation rather than the current uncoordinated approach with states such as Katsina offering amnesty to bandits while neighbouring Kaduna maintains a stand of zero negotiation and amnesty. However, the states still need to coordinate with the FG on how to approach solving insecurity, particularly as some of the identified causes fall firmly within the remit of the FG such as improving border security and coordinating with neighbouring countries on how to tackle the regional problem of fluid insurgent groups that pay no service to national sovereignty. The approach of the states to train vigilantes will also reignite the conversation around decentralising policing in Nigeria which could in theory enhance response times and offer new approaches to tackling local security issues. A decentralised security architecture would scale back the involvement of the military in internal security, while also ensuring that there is coordination between sub-national policing units and federal security agencies such as the Department of State Services (DSS). So far, it seems that the only region that has been pushing firmly is the South-West, which has set up the Western Security Network (Amotekun) and operationalised it by law at the state level (it must be noted that these laws conflict with the Constitution). As we have said many times before, Nigeria’s policing structure is not only insufficient for the country but is disproportionately focused on urban areas, thus creating vast spaces of ungoverned territory in rural areas that are the joy and meat of non-state actors. It will not just be enough to increase the size of the police force – a state police force waiting for instructions or approvals from Abuja only increases the bureaucracy, asides from other issues. Policing needs to be as close to the people as possible.
  • The attack on the Muslim travellers is a clear example of how quickly mobs can form and wreak havoc. While most of the commentary has been on the gruesomeness of the killings, there has been little effort to deconstruct the underlying causes: the current violence is rooted in constant attacks on villages in Bassa LGA, which abuts the Jos North LGA. These attacks which are by suspected Fulani militia have not elicited any reactions from the federal or even the governments of Bauchi and Plateau. None of the attackers has been apprehended. The attack on the Muslim travellers took place on the day that the victims of the earlier communal attacks were going to be given a mass burial, so tensions were high in the area. Depressingly, the travellers were at the wrong place at the wrong time. A sidebar is important here: armed attackers have increasingly targeted Nigeria’s roads and unrest has been roiling several regions. For example, three children in Borno were killed by unexploded ordnance left on a bridge last week, according to Unicef. Very sadly, these events, and the killings that took place of Christian students the day after, show how ethnic clashes between Fulani herder communities and farming communities in the Middle Belt have assumed a religious dimension due to the predominant religious identities of the different groups, a perception not helped by the reaction (or lack thereof) of the authorities. While the Presidency issued a swift statement following the killings of the Muslim travellers, that in itself was problematic due to its silence on attacks on the predominantly Christian communities in Bassa, as well as in Southern Kaduna that have taken place in the last few months. The Presidency’s statement erroneously claimed that the attack was premeditated, which suggested that the attackers had prior knowledge of the victims’ itinerary and planned to attack, rather than the spontaneous action of a mob that was already inflamed by passions and on edge. The suspects arrested over these attacks need to be diligently prosecuted to ensure that justice is done. It is also important that the attacks of 1&4 August on farming communities be diligently investigated and the culprits prosecuted to prevent further mob action. Not only these, but it is also important that security agencies intensify efforts to secure the area in preventing further attacks on any community and apprehending attackers. Most importantly, there is a need for reconciliation efforts and attempts to resolve the underlying causes of these conflicts, including disarming armed groups within communities.