The Senate on Wednesday alleged that some illegal transactions took place during the recently-concluded transmission of the Federal Government’s revenues into the Treasury Single Account, which was domiciled with the Central Bank of Nigeria.
The upper chamber has therefore ordered three of its committees to immediately begin the probe of the alleged fraudulent transactions.
The senators in plenary noted with concern that the transaction was contracted to a firm, REMITA, an e-collection agent, which collected one per cent of the entire N2.5tn revenues paid into the TSA as commission.
They further alleged that the one per cent payment translated to N25bn earned by REMITA from the transactions.
They argued that the action was a gross violation of Section 162(1) of the 1999 Constitution.
Apart from this, they maintained that the N25bn paid to the company was not all that had so far been paid to REMITA, because payment to the company since then had remained a continuous process.
According to the senators, Section 162(1) of the 1999 Constitution provides that the federation shall maintain a special account to be called ‘the Federation Account’ into which all revenues collected by the government of the federation, should be paid.
They however said proceeds from the personal income tax of the personnel of the Armed Forces of the federation, the Nigeria Police Force, the ministry or department of government charged with foreign affairs and the residents of the FCT, Abuja, were exempted.
The senators further argued that going by the provision, all revenues accruable to the Federal Government ought to be paid directly to the TSA as the case may be and not shared with anybody.
The Senate, on the strength of the argument, therefore mandated its Joint Committee on Finance, Banking and other financial institutions and Public Account to carry out a holistic investigation into the transaction and report its findings within four weeks.
It also directed the Federal Ministry of Finance and the CBN to suspend forthwith, payment to the consultant firm, REMITA, until the outcome of the investigation was made public.
The chamber, nevertheless, commended President Muhammadu Buhari for the introduction of TSA, stressing that the essence of the initiative was to prevent keeping government revenues in various accounts outside the CBN.
The Chairman of the Senate Committee on Federal Capital Territory, Senator Dino Melaye, who moved the motion, said he was aware that by the policy directive, all agencies generating revenues for the government were to pay all revenues they generated to the consolidated revenue fund.
Melaye said, “The Senate observes that in the course of the operations of the TSA, the Federal Government on the 15th of September, 2015 mopped up the sum of N2.5tn through its e-collection agent called REMITA.
“The agent which charges one per cent of all monies passing through it, the implication of which one per cent of the N2.5trn mopped up on 15th September, 2015 alone amounted to N25bn largesse to REMITA for doing nothing.”
Melaye also said that the appointment of REMITA as operation agent for the TSA was illegal because it contravened the provision of Section 162(1) of the 1999 Constitution.
He said given the constitutional provision, the CBN remained the sole institution mandated to collect and disburse monies on behalf of the Federal Government and that “where it has no branch, it may appoint another bank as an agent to perform the function.”
He argued that using REMITA which “is not a registered bank, completely offends the CBN Act.”
He also described the development as a violation of Banks and Other Financial Institutions Act of 2007 which, according to him, “provides that no person(s) shall carry out any banking business in Nigeria unless the company is incorporated in Nigeria and holds a valid licence under the Act.”
Melaye further argued that anyone who transacts business without a valid licence as stipulated by the Act “is guilty of an offence and upon conviction liable to 10 years imprisonment or a fine of N2m or both.”
He said, “The activities of REMITA is a gross violation of the BOFIA Act and another attempt of ripping Nigeria of tax payer’s money that would have been channelled to other sectors of the national economy.”
The motion generated a heated debate in the chamber as senators condemned the development and demanded its thorough probe.
In his contribution, Senate Leader, Ali Ndume, described it as sabotage and advocated the need to compel the culprits to refund the money.
“I didn’t believe that this could happen under this government. However, if it is true, the people involved are saboteurs and must be compelled to return the money and face the wrath of the law,” he said.
Ndume, who also said he had asked the CBN Governor, Mr. Godwin Emefiele, about the scam, told his colleagues that Emefiele denied knowledge of it.
While supporting the motion, Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe (Abia South), said, “Is this the change we are looking for? I will not ask the question. Somebody made the decision. Who gave the order? Somebody then must be held responsible. In matters like this, we must not be partisan. I fully support the motion. It is beyond the party.”
The Deputy Senate Leader, Ibn Na’Allah, called on his colleagues to ensure that the right step was taken to address the unwholesome development.
He said, “The Eight Senate is distinct and must do what is right and in accordance with the law. We will do what is right at all times. The Eight Senate will not subject itself to a public referendum through the social media.”
In his contribution, Senator Shehu Sani (Kaduna Central), said whereas, “TSA is a good idea designed to move the economy forward, it is clear that the idea is being abused and exploited. We have to investigate the matter.”
In the same vein, Senator Bassey Akpan (Akwa Ibom North-East) said, “If nothing is done in this matter, it will lead the youth of this country on a nationwide protest against this government.
“There is total collapse of road network and other infrastructural facilities in the country.”
Also, Senator Kabiru Gaya (Kano South) said everything possible must be done to recover the fund.
He said, “This is a government of change and the Eight Senate should not leave any stone unturned in bringing the N25bn back into the treasury.”