There are strong indications that the Federal Government is mulling a policy that will result in the conversion of foreign currencies in domiciliary accounts of citizens to naira to stabilise the national currency, which earlier this week recorded its worst performance in history.
If it goes ahead with the plan, the government will order the conversion of foreign currencies sitting idly in individuals’ and corporate organisations’ domiciliary accounts to naira at a rate to be determined by the Central Bank of Nigeria.
According to top Presidency sources, the move is meant to stabilise the naira, which recorded its biggest fall in the official Nigerian Foreign Exchange Market on Monday, depreciating by 24 per cent to close at N1,348 per dollar.
One of the Presidency sources told Saturday PUNCH that the problem of forex scarcity and the naira fall was an elite issue, adding that the Federal Government would not fold its arms and continue to watch some individuals hoarding foreign currencies at the expense of the naira.
The source said, “The problem of dollar scarcity is an elite problem. You will notice that this happens at the end and the beginning of a new month. That is when the exchange rate goes up. Invariably, that is when governors collect FAAC (Federal Account Allocation Committee) allocations. Whatever the connection, we don’t know.
“There is no country in the world where people open domiciliary accounts to keep dollars. It happens only in Nigeria. This must be addressed. This is not only a political issue, but it is also an economic issue that must be addressed. Genuine demands driven by economic activities can’t bring this huge pressure. By June, dollar demands are supposed to have gone down when Dangote Refinery must have started.
“Nobody should keep a domiciliary account if they do not have legitimate foreign currency earnings like salary or getting foreign exchange revenue, either as an individual or as a company. Even if you have foreign exchange inflow as a result of your work, immediately after the money lands in your account, the banks should automatically change it to the local currency and your local currency account will be credited with the equivalent value.
“In Nigeria today, there are over $30bn in domiciliary accounts of individuals. It is in the CBN account. The records are there. It is not right. These are issues we will have to deal with. In other countries, dollars are not meant to stay in peoples’ accounts.”
If implemented, this will be a major policy shift by the President Bola Tinubu administration, which said in September 2023that it was looking to attract funds held in domiciliary accounts and those held by Nigerians abroad into massive investments in various sectors of the economy.
The Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister of the Economy, Mr Wale Edun, had disclosed this at a press briefing in Abuja.
According to him, Nigerians have huge funds in domiciliary accounts and hold large sums abroad, which can be deployed to rejuvenate the economy, adding that his team was working to provide the needed environment to attract such funds into the local economy.
Edun said Nigerians in the Diaspora were also expected to play a significant role in the fresh move to take the economy to a position of high growth through productivity and efficient management of resources.
The minister had said, “What we can see is that really, there are quite substantial sources of foreign exchange in Nigeria.
“There is a lot of cash outside the system, which if brought into the system, increases the money supply of dollars, increases in reserves and so forth.
“There are funds in domiciliary accounts, which if you give people the incentives they will utilise for investment in Nigeria.
“Nigerians in Nigeria have huge holdings of foreign currencies in banks and financial institutions abroad.
“We need to provide the environment that brings those funds home to choose to invest in the Nigerian economy rather than foreign economies, which is what they are doing right now.
“If you place money in a bank abroad, you’re investing in a foreign economy. Finally, we also have a huge source of funds from the Diaspora.
“Nigerians living and working abroad, who of course, have their families here and who are interested in keeping a presence here; we have to encourage them to be willing to save in Nigeria, perhaps by improving payment mechanisms; so we have to do a lot to aim at them.
“There is plenty of hope and it is our determination to put in place the kind of structures and incentive framework that brings Nigeria money abroad and even Nigeria money outside the system into the financial and economic system to work, to create jobs for Nigerians.”
However, a branch manager of a Tier-1 bank in Lagos, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak on the matter, told Saturday PUNCH, “It’s too early to talk about compliance with the CBN directive by banks. Maybe we will have a clearer direction by next week when we should get the true picture. I don’t have information about my bank’s compliance at the moment; it’s our treasury people who will have the information, but at my branch today (Friday), customers came to deposit dollars into their domiciliary accounts unlike the situation before now.
“I personally think it will be tough for the government to put a lien on money in domiciliary accounts. At what rate will such funds be converted to naira? The exchange rate is gradually coming down as a result of the CBN directive.”
Meanwhile, the Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister for the Economy, Wale Edun; Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Ola Olukoyede; and the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Olayemi Cardoso, met in Abuja on Friday to discuss how to enhance the efficiency of the financial system and also stabilise the naira.
The official X of the Federal Ministry of Finance posted, “The meeting highlighted our continuous efforts in aligning monetary and fiscal policies, underscored by a commitment to the rule of law.”
The EFCC chairman was quoted to have “reaffirmed the commission’s support for these initiatives, emphasising his dedication to enhancing (the) integrity of financial regulations.”
Banks, fintech barred from IMTO services
The Central Bank of Nigeria has banned banks and fintechs from International Money Transfer Operations.
In its ‘Guidelines on International Money Transfer Services in Nigeria,’ the apex bank said, “All banks are prohibited from operating International Money Transfer services but can act as agents.
“Also, financial technology companies are not allowed to obtain approval for IMTO.
The new guidelines by the CBN are meant to guide the IMTOs in conducting money remittances in compliance with the regulatory framework established by the CBN.”
This new guideline has parked conversations about the fate of fintechs like Flutterwave, Interswitch, Paga, and others, which have IMTO licences from the CBN.
The apex bank also increased the minimum share capital requirement for IMTO operators to $1m. Listing requirement to be an operator the bank stated, “Any IMTO intending to operate in Nigeria shall submit its application to the Director, Trade and Exchange Department with the following documents: A non-refundable application fee of N10,000,000 or such other amount that the bank may specify from time to time; payable to the CBN through electronic transfer or bank draft.
“Approval to operate in other jurisdictions or agency agreements (for all IMTOs). Minimum share capital of $1m for foreign IMTOs and the equivalent for indigenous IMTOs.”
Naira begins recovery
Naira’s fall against the dollar has slowed in the past three days, with the national currency closing the week at N1,435.53/$ on Friday after falling to an all-time high of N1,482.57 /$ on Tuesday at the official window.
This is a 3.17 per cent appreciation for the naira, which started the week badly. On Monday, the naira began its worst week of trading on the official window at N1,348/$ following the review of exchange rates calculation by the FMDQ Security Exchange.
In a notice to the market, FMDQ noted, “This revision aims to address recent fluctuations and challenges encountered in the Nigerian Foreign Exchange (‘FX’) Market.”
It explained that the new measures would ensure that NAFEX and NAFEM rates accurately reflect market conditions, adding, “These revisions are focused on enhancing the accuracy and reliability of the NAFEX and NAFEM rates’ determination process, with a focus on data availability and integrity involving a rigorous data validation process, including tolerance checks, which shall be applied by FMDQ Exchange, subject to internal policies and procedures.”
Also, the CBN in the week asked authorised dealers in the financial market to be transparent.
It noted that “…deliberate attempts to create price distortions by reporting false transaction details amounts to market manipulation, which will not be tolerated and henceforth face sanctions.”
Since Monday, the gap between the official market and the parallel market has reduced drastically. On Friday, the naira was N1,420/$ at the parallel market with Bureau De Change operators noting that there was still demand for the dollar at the black market.
One operator, who did not want his name in print, said, “I will buy from you at N1,400/$ and sell to you at N1,420/$.”
Another operator in Abuja, Malam Ibrahim, explained while noting that his rate was around N1,470/$, that rich Nigerians were rushing to the market to buy dollars and hoard for profit.
He said, “If the government wants to help the masses in this country, it knows the right things to do. Even after the directive given to banks by the CBN to release more dollars, nothing has changed.
“The problem is that even if you go to any bank, you won’t get anything. If you ask for $10,000, you have to pay bribes before they will release it.
“I can tell you that the naira will still fall because people are still buying and hoarding more dollars. I bought a dollar today for N1,470, how much do you think I will sell it or do you think I will sell at a loss? I am very sure that by Monday or Tuesday, the naira will start crashing again.
“Remember that we are only frontiers for people who only give a portion of profit. Nobody produces dollars in the country; the only source is from the government through the CBN. I can tell you that our politicians and very important personalities also have their Bureau de Change operations so that they can keep their dollars away from the banks.”
He added, “It is only the rich who trade in dollars; where will a poor man get dollars to put in his account? These people know the business well. They follow the trends of the market even more than journalists. They come in their cars to buy $5,000 and then return in a few hours to sell it so that they can monitor the market. We also have those whose children school abroad as well as international travellers, who need dollars abroad.
“Yesterday (Thursday), the naira gained but people are still rushing here to buy dollars and keep today (Friday). So, how do you think the country will get better? Some people just prefer to do this in their selfish interest rather than for the overall gain of the country.”
However, the President of the Association of Bureau De Change of Nigeria, Aminu Gwadebe, said Nigerians had stopped buying dollars to hoard because of the CBN’s policy direction.
He told Saturday PUNCH, “It used to be the rational behaviour, but there has been some relaxation in the demand pressures. Before, people were buying because of a lack of confidence in the CBN.”
To boost liquidity in the foreign exchange market, the apex bank on Wednesday ordered Deposit Money Banks to sell their excess dollar stock by February 1, 2024. Some bank officials stated that the directive boosted dollar supply a bit in the foreign exchange market this week.
The CBN, which disclosed this in a new circular released on Wednesday, also warned lenders against hoarding excess foreign currencies for profit.
According to officials, the central bank believes some commercial banks hold long-term foreign exchange positions to enable them to profit from the volatile movements of exchange rates.
The new circular introduces a set of guidelines aimed at reducing the risks associated with these practices.
In the circular titled, ‘Harmonisation of Reporting Requirements on Foreign Currency Exposures of Banks’, the CBN raised concerns over the growing trend of banks holding large foreign currency positions.
The circular came barely 48 hours after the CBN released a circular warning banks and FX dealers against reporting false exchange rates, among others.