Controversy has continued to trail the reported return of a $7 million (about N2.2 billion) overpayment into the First Bank account of the Managing Director of Peace Mass Transit (PMT), Maduka Onyishi.
The Economic Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU), two institutions that should be first to be informed of such transactions, said they were not aware of it.
The Central Bank of Nigeria, which Mr Onyishi claimed to be the source of the money, and the two banks involved in the transfer also said they could not provide information.
Other commentators, however, questioned the plausibility of the development.
According to a statement, Mr Onyishi returned N2,219,500,000 overpaid into his account by First Bank of Nigeria through Unity Bank. He returned the money in the presence of reporters and bank officials.
A cheque bearing the amount was received on behalf of First Bank by its Business Manager, Commercial Banking, Kokelu Ben, and Branch Manager, Unity Bank, Enugu Branch, Ifeoma Eleanya.
EFCC, NFIU react
Speaking on Monday to PremiumTimes, EFCC spokesperson, Tony Orilade, said the anti-graft agency had no knowledge of the transaction.
“I read the story like every other Nigerian,” Mr Orilade said.
Also, the spokesperson of the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU), Sani Tukur, said such a transaction should be recorded.
“Usually, if the amount of money to be transferred is more than N5million for an individual or N10 million for a corporate organisation, then NFIU will be informed by the financial institution involved,” he said.
“If an unusual amount of money is received by an account and it appears suspicious to the financial institution, then the bank is expected to file a Suspicious Transaction Report (STR)”, Mr Tukur said.
However, he said he was not in a position to say exactly whether any of the reporting methods was adopted by the bank.
Financial Institutions React
The CBN spokesperson, Isaac Okoroafor, said he did not have details of the transaction as he was out of the office on sick leave at the time it took place.
Also, when contacted, the spokesperson of Unity Bank, Matthew Obiaziwor, said he has not been fully briefed about the transaction.
He asked for time to get the details.
How The Transaction Occurred
According to Mr Onyishi, he had requested $3 million loan facility from First Bank but was shocked to discover that $10 million was paid instead.
”I called them (First Bank) and informed that the amount they paid to me was more than the amount I requested. They told me that the $10 million was my money.”
He went further, “The amount they paid in was N3,219,500,000 but my own money there is N1,000,000,000 so the balance is not my money. I said that I cannot invest this money and be gaining from another person’s money and I can’t also keep it. I can’t keep $7m that doesn’t belong to me.”
He said he was shocked his bank had no idea how much his balance with them really should be.
“I was angry with them,” Mr Onyishi continued.
”I asked them how come I have this kind of money and I’m not aware of it. I asked them how come they went ahead to invest my money without telling me so that I can use my money and then I can know how much I have.”
He also said the bank had failed to provide him with his statement of account on several occasions when he had requested for it prior to the incident.
“I told them that they have failed to give me a statement of my account even when I have demanded for it [sic] severally. I discovered later that the amount was even more than what we are talking about because there was another person I asked the bank to pay money to whom they even paid extra.”
Mr Onyishi said he decided to return the money to FBN because he was not getting any response from either of the banks as to where the error came from and would not want to be unnecessarily tempted into spending the money.
“I made enquiries and they told me that I should wait until when it is time for banks to do reconciliation, they will discover whether the fault was from First Bank, Central Bank or Unity Bank. I waited for a whole month and no one called me. I told the devil that he is a deceiver and a liar. He knows that I need money now that is why this thing is happening now.
“That’s why I said, let me invite First Bank and Union Bank and also invite journalists. I said let me give the money to First Bank, if they find out that the money is mine, they should return it. If it belongs to Unity Bank or CBN give it to them. If it is your own, keep it. So I am giving this money to you to keep on trust”
He urged that the banks put heads together to quickly determine where such amount of money was drawn from and immediately replaced hence there could be dire consequences for such financial institution.
“I had sent emails to the bank to inform them of the wrong payment and they didn’t find anything. My account in First Bank was not debited so they did not see it. Unity Bank did not see anything because they just received the money.
“Nobody knows if the money came through Central Bank because the money came through three organizations before it came to my account in Unity Bank.
”Why I am doing this is that if it is either First Bank Unity Bank or CBN that has this fault, they should as a matter of urgency block the loophole because this is a sign that people’s money has been missing every day. It can also lead to a total collapse of any bank.”
The statement quoted Mr Ben who is the Business Manager, Commercial Banking of First Bank, as saying he did not have any official thing to say about the transaction.
“I must state that Mr Onyishi is a man of integrity. When we look into the situation, we will advise him on what happened and how to remedy this situation.”
Attempts to get an independent response from Mr Ben was unsuccessful as phone calls and messages sent to him over two days were not replied.
A legal practitioner, Frank TieTie, said the case should be investigated. “This is money laundering,” he said.
He described the return of the money as dramatic and unnecessary.
“Those who carried out the transaction should be investigated. How did the money come? From where? Where is it going to?” he asked.
Mr Tietie condemned the delay in returning the money since Mr Onyishi knew it was not his own.
A bank worker also said it is almost impossible for such a transaction to occur.
“How was the money accounted for? Every transaction must balance at the end of the day,” the official, who asked not to be named, said.
Ms Patricia said the truth of the transaction is yet to be revealed.
What the law says
Financial institutions are required to investigate suspicious transactions and report their findings to the NFIU and the EFCC within seven days of the transaction in compliance with section 6 (2) (c) of MLPA, 2011.
Financial institutions are required to report in writing any single transaction, lodgment or transfer of funds in excess of N5,000,000 and N10,000,000 or their equivalent made by an individual and body corporate respectively to the NFIU in accordance with section 10 (1)of the MLPA, 2011.