The recent measures taken by the CBN have indeed adversely affected most business traders and the economy as a whole, as traders pass on the cost, inflation, to consumers. Some traders have called this ‘suffering’. Are there appropriate short term measures in place by the CBN to address the genuine concerns of these traders such as educating them on the fit and proper way to conduct business involving forex in the new dispensation?
The National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) recently advised travellers not to ‘smuggle’ ATM cards after the agency held two persons at the airport allegedly for money laundering charges. The two persons held were identified as Onitsha and Aba based traders on their way to China. It was reported that both were arrested with a total of 89 debit cards. This comes after a similar arrest made by the NDLEA just barely a week before at the MMIA, Lagos on related charges. Are traders, particularly Igbo traders, only just developing a workaround plan to address their current woes? After all an Igbo adage says Nwaanyi muta ite ofe mmiri mmiri, di ya amuta ipi utara aka were suru ofe, which loosely translated means (not literally) one should learn to change tactics to suit a situation. Or is it really the case of a new money laundering technique?
Money Laundering is defined as a process by which criminals attempt to hide or disguise the true origin and ownership of their ill-gotten wealth. By definition, we can infer that traders must first be identified as criminals who are caught in the act of trying to hide or disguise the true origin and ownership of their ill-gotten wealth before a money laundering charge can be ascribed to them. Proving that this is not so is exactly what is required in building a case for the defence. Are these traders criminals? Are they trying to hide or disguise the origin and ownership of their wealth? And is their wealth ill-gotten?
It is a well-known fact that the Igbo traders are well organised and that they exist as a community. This has been quite beneficial as traders will often contribute towards a common pool for the purchase of their consignment overseas. That way only one or two of them need travel abroad with their pooled resources – mostly in cash – to make purchases. Could it be that travelling with multiple debit cards contributed by members of their thrift group is merely a strategy by traders to overcome the challenges associated with travelling with more than $10,000 in cash? If so, is it reasonable to conclude this strategy makes them criminals in anyway? Shall we conclude their wealth is ill-gotten?
Nevertheless, the real question and main point of contention for this defence case is to dismiss the notion that the traders in question were trying to hide or disguise the origin and ownership of ill-gotten funds. One trader when interviewed relayed a recent incident where a group of traders contributed money and raised $45,000. The $45,000 was given to one of them going to China to make purchases. At Enugu airport, the EFCC allegedly starts to pursue this fellow for the cash he is carrying. The young boy drops the money bag, EFCC confiscates it, and he flees the scene. Does this make him a criminal? Does it mean it was ill-gotten wealth he was trying to hide? What role does ignorance play in all of these? The traders allege they are targeted by law enforcement agencies through some kind of profiling, which includes their ethnicity. Some now resort to hiring Hausa money changers to ‘courier’ their cash across troublesome areas. Are we not now turning otherwise law abiding citizens into criminals?
Arguably the real money launderers, those who have stolen billions of dollars from the country in cash, appear to have gone scott-free. A major scandal involving Nigerians transporting more than five million dollars through the Republic of Niger has been linked to a famous smuggler in the Northern part of the country. Additionally, there was another major scandal involving the former Governor of Akwa Ibom State, who reportedly amassed arms and US dollars. Is anything being done to look into these allegations? It remains to be seen. Interestingly, the clamping down of traders allows for pervasive incentives to surface as those who have been successful in taking their ill-gotten wealth out of the country will engage in laundering their money further using desperate traders. Traders pay the equivalent naira amount to the real money launderers and they in turn will give them forex at whatever rate deemed suitable by them.
The recent measures taken by the CBN have indeed adversely affected most business traders and the economy as a whole, as traders pass on the cost, inflation, to consumers. Some traders have called this ‘suffering’. Are there appropriate short term measures in place by the CBN to address the genuine concerns of these traders such as educating them on the fit and proper way to conduct business involving forex in the new dispensation? Traders operate largely in the informal sector and are perhaps not as well versed with formal banking requirements/rules. Policies that are transparent, consistent and predictable are proven antidotes for fear, uncertainty and doubt. Unquestionably, this will help strengthen the understanding for all stakeholders. Although desperate times appear to have called for desperate measures, are Igbo traders still innocent until proven guilty?
Soji Apampa, the co-founder of The Integrity Organisation, can be reached at Twitter: @sojapa, and email: firstname.lastname@example.org.