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SERAP Frowns at Secrecy, Sues Buhari to Disclose Spending Details of $25B Overdraft Obtained From CBN

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SERAP- Investors King

Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has filed a lawsuit, asking the court “to compel President Muhammadu Buhari to disclose spending details of the overdrafts and loans obtained from the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) since May 29, 2015, including the projects on which the overdrafts have been spent, and repayments of all overdrafts to date.”

SERAP is also seeking an order to compel the president to “explain and clarify whether the $25bn (N9.7trn) overdraft reportedly obtained from the CBN is within the five-percent limit of the actual revenue of the government for 2020.”

The suit followed SERAP’s Freedom of Information (FoI) request to President Buhari, stating that: “Disclosing details of overdrafts and repayments would enable Nigerians to hold the government to account for its fiscal management and ensure that public funds are not mismanaged or diverted.”

In the suit number FHC/ABJ/CS/559/2021 filed last week at the Federal High Court, Abuja, SERAP is also seeking: “an order directing and compelling President Buhari to disclose details of overdrafts taken from the CBN by successive governments between 1999 and 2015.”

In the suit, SERAP is arguing that: “Secrecy and the lack of public scrutiny of the details of CBN overdrafts and repayments are antithetical to the public interest, the common good, the country’s international legal obligations, and a fundamental breach of constitutional oath of office.”

Joined in the suit as respondents are the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, SAN; the Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Zainab Ahmed; and the Governor of CBN, Godwin Emefiele.

SERAP is also arguing that: “Ensuring transparency and accountability in the spending of CBN overdrafts and loans would promote prudence in debt management, reduce any risks of corruption and mismanagement, and help the government to avoid the pitfalls of excessive debt.”

According to SERAP: “By the combined reading of the Constitution of Nigeria 1999 (as amended), the Freedom of Information Act, the UN Convention against Corruption, and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, there are transparency obligations imposed on the government to disclose information to the public concerning details of CBN overdrafts, loans and repayments to date.”

SERAP is also arguing that: “The Nigerian Constitution, Freedom of Information Act, and these treaties rest on the basic principle that citizens should have access to information regarding their government’s activities.”

The suit filed on behalf of SERAP by its lawyers Kolawole Oluwadare and Ms Adelanke Aremo, read in part: “Transparency and accountability in the spending of CBN overdrafts would also ensure that public funds are properly spent, reduce the level of public debt, and improve the ability of the government to invest in essential public goods and services, such as quality education, healthcare, and clean water.”

“It is the primary responsibility of the government to ensure public access to these services in order to lift millions of Nigerians out of poverty and to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.”

“Transparency and accountability in the spending of CBN overdrafts and loans would also improve the ability of the government to effectively respond to the COVID-19 crisis. This means that the government would not have to choose between saving lives or making debt payments.”

“The recent overdraft of $25.6bn (about N9.7trn) reportedly obtained from the CBN would appear to be above the five-percent limit of the actual revenue of the Federal Government for 2020, that is, N3.9trn, prescribed by Section 38(2) of the CBN Act 2007. SERAP notes that 5 percent of N3.9trn is N197bn.”

“While Section 38(1) of the CBN Act allows the Bank to grant overdrafts to the Federal Government to address any temporary deficiency of budget revenue, sub-section 2 provides that any outstanding overdraft ‘shall not exceed 5 percent of the previous year’s actual revenue of the Federal Government.’”

“Similarly, Section 38(3) requires all overdrafts to ‘be repaid as soon as possible and by the end of the financial year in which the overdrafts are granted.’”

“The CBN is prohibited from granting any further overdrafts until all outstanding overdrafts have been fully repaid. Under the CBN Act, ‘no repayment shall take the form of a promising note or such other promise to pay at a future date, treasury bills, bonds or other forms of security which is required to be underwritten by the Bank.’”

“Similarly, the Fiscal Responsibility Act provides in section 41 that the government ‘shall only borrow for capital expenditure and human development.’ Under the Act, the government ‘shall ensure that the level of public debt as a proportion of national income is held at a sustainable level.’”

“Section 44 of the Fiscal Responsibility Act requires the government to specify the purpose of any borrowing, which must be applied towards capital expenditures, and to carry out a cost-benefit analysis, including the economic and social benefits of any borrowing. Any borrowing should serve the public good, and be guided by human rights principles.”

“SERAP has consistently recommended to the Federal Government to reduce its level of borrowing and to look at other options of how to finance its budget, such as reducing the costs of governance, and addressing systemic and widespread corruption in ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) that have been documented by the Office of the Auditor-General of the Federation.”

“Our requests are brought in the public interest, and in keeping with the requirements of the Nigerian Constitution; the Freedom of Information Act; the Fiscal Responsibility Act; the Central Bank Act; the Debt Management Office Act; and the country’s international legal obligations.”

“There is a statutory obligation on the respondents, being public officers in their respective public offices, to proactively keep, organize and maintain all information or records about CBN overdrafts, loans, and repayments in a manner that facilitates public access to such information or records.”

“Mandamus lies to secure the performance of a public duty in the performance in which the applicant has a sufficient legal interest.”

“Unless the reliefs sought by SERAP are granted, the respondents will not provide SERAP with the information requested and will continue to be in breach of their constitutional responsibilities and the country’s international legal obligations and commitments.”

No date has been fixed for the hearing of the suit.

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Finance

SEC and CIMA Forge Alliance to Enhance Financial Reporting Standards

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In a bid to elevate financial reporting standards within Nigeria’s public institutions, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has announced a strategic partnership with the Chartered Institute of Management Accounting (CIMA).

This collaboration aims to enforce adherence to financial reporting regulations and foster a culture of transparency and accountability across various sectors.

Emomotimi Agama, the Acting Director General of the Securities and Exchange Commission, revealed this development during a recent meeting with a delegation from CIMA in Abuja.

Agama said the SEC ensures ethical financial practices and compliance with reporting standards mandated by law.

He stressed that the commission would vigilantly monitor adherence to these standards and impose penalties for any violations.

“It is a great time that you have come to Nigeria. SEC is saddled with the responsibility of making the initial decision of ensuring that what is right is done and transparency in reporting financial statements by public companies is ensured. It is now law to do so and there are consequences for breaking the law,” Agama remarked.

Sarah Ghosh, the President of CIMA, echoed Agama’s sentiments, emphasizing inclusivity, sustainability, and innovation as the association’s core priorities.

Ghosh highlighted CIMA’s commitment to engaging with regulatory authorities to promote awareness of the association’s values and its potential to enhance financial reporting practices among public firms.

“CIMA is approaching more regulatory bodies to ensure that everyone is allowed to understand what the association stands for and its contribution to enhancing reporting on financial statements of public companies,” Ghosh declared.

The collaboration between SEC and CIMA signifies a proactive approach towards strengthening financial governance and fostering investor confidence in Nigeria’s capital market.

By leveraging CIMA’s expertise and SEC’s regulatory authority, the partnership aims to instill a culture of integrity and accountability in financial reporting processes, ultimately contributing to the country’s economic development.

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Banking Sector

Financial Institutions Racked Up N678m in Fines Last Year

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Retail banking

Financial institutions in Nigeria paid a total of N678 million in fines in the 2023 financial year, according to analysis of their various financial statements.

The analysis examined the annual reports of nine prominent financial groups, including FBN Holdings, Access Holdings, Guaranty Trust Holding Company, Zenith Bank Plc, United Bank for Africa Plc, Fidelity Bank, Wema Bank, Stanbic IBTC Holdings, and FCMB Group.

These reports provided insights into the fines imposed by various regulatory authorities, including the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the National Insurance Commission, and others.

Compared to the previous year, the total amount of fines paid by these institutions decreased significantly by 89.25% from N6.31 billion in 2022 to N678 million in 2023.

This decline reflects improved regulatory compliance among financial institutions and signals a positive trend toward greater adherence to established guidelines and standards.

Among the financial groups analyzed, Zenith Bank stood out for its increase in penalties compared to the previous year. While the bank had incurred no fines in 2022, it paid N21 million in penalties in 2023.

The penalties levied against Zenith Bank included fines for late rendition of CBN returns, unauthorized employment practices, outstanding auditor recommendations, and compliance checks on politically exposed persons.

Similarly, FBN Holdings reported a decrease in fines paid during the period, totaling N17.26 million compared to N26 million in the previous year.

The fines imposed on FBN Holdings were related to late submission of audited financial statements and non-compliance with regulatory reporting requirements.

Access Holdings also experienced a significant reduction in penalties, with fines decreasing from approximately N604 million in 2022 to N81.60 million in 2023.

Despite the decrease, Access Holdings incurred fines from various regulatory bodies, including the CBN, PenCom, and NGX RegCo, for infractions such as unauthorized advertising, data recapture sanctions, and late filing of financial statements.

Other financial institutions, such as GTCO, UBA Group, Fidelity Bank, Wema Bank, Stanbic IBTC Holdings, and FCMB Group, also reported fines for various regulatory violations, including breaches of transaction rules, late submission of reports, and non-compliance with industry regulations.

The significant decrease in fines paid by financial institutions in 2023 reflects the industry’s commitment to improving regulatory compliance and upholding best practices.

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Finance

Presidential Committee to Exempt 95% of Informal Sector from Taxes

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tax relief

The Presidential Fiscal Policy and Tax Reforms Committee (PFPTRC) has unveiled plans to exempt a significant portion of the informal sector from taxation.

Chaired by Taiwo Oyedele, the committee aims to alleviate the burden of multiple taxation on small businesses and low-income individuals while fostering economic growth.

The announcement came following the close-out retreat of the PFPTRC in Abuja, where Oyedele addressed reporters over the weekend.

He said the committee is committed to easing the tax burden, particularly for those operating within the informal sector that constitutes a substantial portion of Nigeria’s economy.

Under the proposed reforms, approximately 95% of the informal sector would be granted tax exemptions, sparing them from obligations such as income tax and value-added tax (VAT).

Oyedele stressed the importance of supporting individuals in the informal sector and recognizing their efforts to earn a legitimate living and their contribution to economic development.

The decision was informed by extensive deliberations and data analysis with the committee advocating for a fairer and more equitable tax system.

Oyedele highlighted that individuals earning up to N25 million annually would be exempted from various taxes, aligning with the committee’s commitment to relieving financial pressure on small businesses and low-income earners.

Moreover, the committee emphasized the need for tax reforms to address the prevailing issue of multiple taxation, which disproportionately affects small businesses and the vulnerable population.

By exempting the majority of the informal sector from taxation, the committee aims to stimulate economic growth and promote entrepreneurship.

The proposal for tax reforms is expected to be submitted to the National Assembly by the third quarter of this year, following consultations with the private sector and internal approvals.

The reforms encompass a broad range of measures, including executive orders, regulations, and constitutional amendments, aimed at creating a more conducive environment for business and investment.

In addition to tax exemptions, the committee plans to introduce executive orders and regulations to streamline tax processes and enhance compliance. This includes a new withholding tax regulation exempting small businesses from certain tax obligations, pending ministerial approval.

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