NIBSS, government’s agent feud over $53b stamp duty claims

The School of Banking Honours (SBH) has expressed worry over lack of cooperation by the Nigerian Inter-Bank Settlement System (NIBSS) in efforts to recover about $53.3 billion unremitted stamp duty revenue on interbank electronic transactions by banks and other financial institutions.SBH, the approved agent of the Federal Government for the recovery of unremitted stamp duty revenue said failure to access the funds is robbing the country of huge amounts of money yearly.

The agency insisted that the issue had been there since the inception of NIBSS as the agency responsible for interbank transactions since 1993.An assessed non-remittance of stamp duty charges to the Federal Government by SBH led to their appointment on October 12, 2017, by President Muhammadu Buhari to recover the said unremitted funds in partnership with the International Investment Law and Arbitration.

So far, SBH’s efforts to access the due revenue from stamp duty on online bank transactions, which it also alleged has been diverted into private pockets, has pitched it against NIBSS.Project Consultant and Chief Executive Officer, SBH, Tola Adekoya, said based on research findings, his agency had raised a demand notice dated March 10, 2015 to NIBSS.The notice, titled: “Stamp Duties on Electronic Transfer Receipts (2013-2014)” for N7.719 trillion, was due in 2015, as accumulated and unremitted revenue to the Federal Government and the states.

According to SBH chief, the total non-remitted funds comes to about N20 trillion, out of which less than one per cent has been remitted to government.He said that the Presidency gave an executive order on October 19, 2017, with Reference number:  SGF. 45/XII/71 through the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Habiba Lawal, to the Governor, Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Godwin Emefiele, to cooperate with consultant in the course of its assignment.This order also retained the consultants to oversee the Stamp Duty collection into the Stamp Duty Central Account on behalf of all statutory beneficiaries and to submit monthly reports on all collections directly to the President through the SGF to maintain transparency.

Adekoya said in line with this order, the SBH on February 8, 2018, visited NIBSS office to carry out their assignment and demanded access to data of interbank transactions but was denied access by NIBSS, led by its Legal Adviser, Oladele Olugbemiga Agboola and other employees.For Oladele, NIBSS is not a bank and does not have an account and that no individual has account with NIBSS, insisting that there was no way NIBSS would have collected stamp duties based on bank transactions.He said it was impossible based on the fact that no citizen has an account with NIBSS and, therefore, does not have access to stamp duties, arguing that the only people that have relationship with NIBSS are the banks and cannot open their transactions’ details.

“If there is a transaction between a bank and another, we don’t open it and so we do not know the content of such transactions, whether there is a content of stamp duty or not. If anybody has the right to collect stamp duties from bank customers, it is the banks and not NIBSS.“It is a little difficult for NIBSS to attend to you on stamp duty issues. The whole balance sheet of NIBSS is not up to N16 billion. We have been invited by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and we went there and stated our position. We only develop the electronic payment system. We don’t collect stamp duties.

“SBH is using the instrumentality of the government to harass NIBSS, which is doing its legitimate business and we would resist them. SBH should go to the banks for anything they need concerning stamp duties,” he said.The lawyer also argued that the only agency that the banks have had since the introduction of CBN’s ‘cash-less policy’ was NIBSS, admitting that SBH had done nothing wrong by coming to NIBSS, which is the central electronic platform for banking transactions in the country, restating the need for everyone to collaborate and support government’s revenue drive.

But Adekoya added: “We are not saying that NIBSS is a bank or that we are interested in NIBSS bank accounts. We are interested in interbank transactions accounts that passed through its central switch. We served the demand notice because NIBSS is the agent of banks that handles their transactions.

“Banks don’t have any power over NIBSS, once they ascertain a liability, they debit the banks immediately and that is why NIBSS is going to be a strategic partner in recovering the unremitted stamp duty revenue.“It was indicated in the first paragraph of the letter sent to CBN and NIBSS that we should commence with NIBSS and that is what we are doing. We are following due process.”