The Nigeria Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU) has prohibited cash withdrawals from accounts belonging to the Federal, State and Local Governments, as well as Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs).
Announcing the prohibition in his office in Abuja on Thursday, the Director/CEO of the Unit, Modibbo R. Hamman Tukur said the action was necessitated by the urgent need to arrest the rate by which monies are siphoned out of public accounts without recourse to the money laundering laws and sometimes for corrupt purposes.
Tukur said the rate of withdrawals above the threshold from public accounts has been worrisome, adding that over N701 billion has been withdrawn in cash by State Governments from 2015 till date.
According to the NFIU boss, he had instructed all financial institutions to stop cash withdrawals from government accounts from March 1, 2023, warning that any government official who defy the order will be prosecuted alongside accomplices.
He said the NFIU had told banks and government agencies at all levels to move fully online, as all transactions involving public money must be routed through the banks for the purpose of accountability and transparency.
Tukur stressed that this move is in line with the resolve to fully transit the country into the cashless economy that the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) has been spearheading.
“As far as we are concerned, Nigeria will become a full non-cash economy by March 1, this year. Consequently, any government official that withdraws even one naira cash from any public account from March 1 will be investigated and prosecuted in collaboration with relevant agencies like the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC).
“This is not reversible as we are only enforcing the law,” he reiterated.
Talking about those who may want to flout the regulation under the excuse of government exigencies, Tukur noted that only President Muhammadu Buhari has the power to grant any waiver to any official.
Tukur stated, “In considering the provisions and enforcement requirements of the law, particularly Sections 2 and 13 of the MLPPA, 2022, Section 26 of the Proceeds of Crime (Recovery and Management) Act, (POCA) 2022, and the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) circular on the revised cash withdrawal limits, issued pursuant to its powers under the CBN Act, 2007, and Banks and Other Financial Institutions Act, 2020, the NFIU noticed in the process of its financial transactions analysis that civil servants are becoming more and more vulnerable to money laundering and its predicate offences due to their exposure to cash withdrawals from public accounts.
“According to NFIU analysis covering the period 2015 to 2022 (Annex 1), the Federal Government withdrew N225.72 billion cash, State Governments withdrew N701.54 billion cash, and Local Governments withdrew N156.76 billion cash.
“The cash withdrawals directly contravene the provisions of the MLPPA, 2022 and the Proceeds of Crime (Recovery and Management) Act, 2022 (POCA, 2022) which provide the legal framework setting limitations on cash transactions and sanctions for infringement of the provisions”.
Tukur further stated that “It is hereby stated clearly that any individual or corporate body who violates the provisions of these Guidelines is in direct contravention of provisions of Section 2 of MLPPA, 2022, Section 13 of MLPPA, 2022, NFIU Act, 2018 and Section 26 of POCA, 2022, and their attendant principles and interpretations and will be liable to necessary prosecution and penalties from the effective said date. Cash withdrawals from public accounts would be treated as a money laundering offence.
“Also, it is at this moment provided that any public officer or any citizen who comes into contact with the provisions of these Guidelines with its attendant principles shall as a matter of obligation promote the implementation and success of the guidelines.”