Worried by the inflationary consequences of huge public sector cash withdrawals on the nation’s economy, the Nigerian Financial and Intelligence Unit (NFIU), yesterday, outlawed cash withdrawals from all government accounts effective March 1, 2023 warning that defaulters risk three-year jail term.
The NFIU, declared that such transactions would now be done electronically in line with the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) monetary policy.
It said defaulters who fail to heed the cash restriction order on public accounts risks collaborative investigation by the Nigeria Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU), Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC).
Director and Chief Executive Officer, NFIU, Modibbo Tukur, who confirmed the latest development at a press briefing, at the Unit’s office in Abuja, said defaulters risk spending three years behind bars.
He said “The NFIU had told banks and government agencies at all levels to go fully digital by moving online, as all transactions involving public money must be routed through the banks for the purpose of accountability and transparency.
“This is not reversible as we are only enforcing the law. As far as we are concerned, Nigeria will become a full non-cash economy by March 1, 2023 this year. As a consequence, 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 EFCC, ICPC and the NPF,” he said.
Tukur clarified that under the guidelines, only the President can give a waiver for any cash above the approved daily threshold to be withdrawn for urgent or emergency reasons.
He said despite the introduction of the cash withdrawal limits in the country, state governments withdraw a total of N701 billion cash above the N225 billion withdrawn by the Federal Government and N156 billion withdrawn by the local governments in the country, bringing total public sector cash withdrawals between 2015 to date to N1.082trillion.
“With some states withdrawing up to N24 billion and then we also discovered that the Federal Government withdrew in cash up to N225 billion while the local governments withdrew up to N156 billion.
“So if we are to apply the law here, all the public servants involved in this withdraws are entitled to three years imprisonment. That’s what the law said,” he said.
The NFIU therefore directed federal, state and local governments in the country to put necessary measures in place to ensure the smooth operationalisation of the new policy.
He advised the different tiers of government in particular, to deploy technology and train their staff to be able to apply the new policy from the stipulated date.
Modibbo said: “With the implementation of this guideline, Nigeria has been taken into a non-cash economy with effect from March 1, 2023.”
Continuing, he said: “The rate of withdrawals above the threshold from public accounts has been alarming, over N701 billion has been withdrawn in cash from 2015 till date. So you are all aware of the inflation in the economy, public servants traveling ,this and that, so the mark of withdrawing above the threshold is becoming very frequent.
“For government exigencies, only the President has the power to grant any waiver to any government official considering the importance of the situation; either for national security, health, or other important reasons.”
“From the first of March 2023. If there is any cash withdrawal, it is going to trigger off money laundering investigation in either EFCC ICPC, the Nigerian police, or all the law enforcement agencies, depending on the relevance of the withdrawal.
“So it’s also understood, the cash in the system is limited. But with this guideline, we expect that cash withdrawal from the system will go down by about N1 trillion Naira out of the N3 trillion cash that is in circulation on a weekly basis now.”
In his reaction, Frank Onyebu, Chairman, MAN, Apapa Branch, said: “This measure is laudable, but I think it’s still a tall order based on so many militating factors, chief of which is infrastructural deficiency. We cannot be talking about going totally cashless when we still have problems with internet penetration.
Chairman, SMEs Group of the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI), Daniel Dickson-Okezie said it was a welcome development.
“The more cashless we go, whether at governmental , organisational or individual levels, the better for the economy and society. The issue of cashless economy was mooted for the first time during the Olusegun Obasanjo administration. The policy is acceptable because it will check crime , money laundering, corruption in government, private and public sectors. Businesses don’t thrive in a corrupt society, investors don’t want to invest in a corrupt environment and corruption affects government too. So cashless economy will tame corruption,” he said.
He however tasked the government to follow it up by improving information technology infrastructure saying “The whole thing is based on ICT and it is important that we are able to make payments seamlessly.”
An economist, Dr Nathan Owhor, lauded the directive by NFIU on MDAs to ensure that all receipts and payments on government transactions from March 2023 are cashless is good for the economy.
“The leakage in the MDAs are huge and not good enough for the economy. The Chief Executives in the MDAs must learn how to be accountable and show greater financial discipline. Some of them who claim to have strong godfathers are actually reckless with government finances and they enjoy protection. This protection is usually sustained by huge cash rewards which is a drain on the economy.
“The new cashless policy for the MDAs will therefore achieve four broad objectives amongst others. In the first instance, which is perhaps key is the ability to track government receipts and payments. Secondly, it has the capacity to reduce the high level of waste and mismanagement in the MDAs. It will also build trust in the domestic economy because of the level of transparency it will engender. All of these possibilities in the final analysis will make more funds available for development projects,” he said.
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