30 June 2014

Nigeria: CBN Clampdown On BDCs Aimed At Curbing Terrorism Financing

Other than its desire to stop the depletion of the country's foreign reserves and curb the laundering of looted funds from the treasury, THISDAY has learnt that another reason the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) has reviewed the licensing guidelines for Bureau de Change (BDC) operators in the country stemmed from the fact that some of the BDCs are used as conduits to finance terrorism.

CBN sources informed THISDAY yesterday that prior to the increase of the capital requirement for BDCs to N35 million last week Tuesday, the central bank had undertaken an audit of BDC operations and discovered that several BDCs used multiple addresses and some of their owners owned multiple BDCs, which are all licensed with the CBN.

It was also learnt that some of the BDCs are used to procure foreign exchange from the central bank everyday that is in turn used to buy arms and ammunition as well as for the funding of other terror related activities by Boko Haram.

The sources said the Joint Intelligence Board (JIB), comprising the CBN, Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA), Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC), the police and Department of State Security, had established that some BDCs in Maiduguri, the Borno State capital, have been involved in laundering funds for terrorists.

The JIB was set up to monitor and clampdown on the illicit flow of funds into and out of the country through the financial system, requiring banks to report deposits in excess of $10,000 to the CBN and EFCC.

"It is not just the depletion of foreign reserves the CBN is concerned about. Some BDC are used as avenues to move money to Boko Haram which in turn uses it to buy arms and ammunition and engage in cross-border criminal activities," he said.

The situation, the sources said, had become so alarming, which recently prompted the United States government to write to the CBN to make enquiries as to why Nigeria had become one of the biggest consumers of US dollars in the world.

"The US has written to express concern over our consumption of US dollars and they have asked to know why our consumption is so high.

"So the increase in the capital requirement was necessary to stop the foreign reserves depletion and clampdown on BDCs that serve as conduits to finance terrorism in the country," the sources explained.

THISDAY has exclusively reported last week that the CBN was going to clampdown on the operators and introduce stringent measures aimed at reducing the number of BDCs operating in the country.

Sources had informed THISDAY that the continuous funding of BDCs depletes the external reserves by an average of about $9 billion annually as there are presently 3,208 registered BDCs in the country. The CBN sells $50,000 to each BDC weekly.

But if the CBN grants licences to the prospective 1,417 operators that are currently awaiting approval, the amount of funding to BDCs annually by the central bank could go up to $12.025 billion per annum, which according to the CBN sources is outrageous and a far cry from the past when BDCs were self-funded.

Scores Killed Near Chibok

In a related development, a few weeks after the outlawed Boko Haram sect threatened to attack Chibok for the second time this year, the terrorist group came close to making good its threat with yesterday's invasion of Kwada, Kautikari and Neuragali villages, where the terrorists torched five churches and several homes, and killed no fewer than 50 persons.

The three villages are about 10 kilometres away from Chibok, south of Borno State, which has in recent times witnessed several attacks including the abduction of over 200 schoolgirls.

A resident said the terrorists stormed Kautikari village as early as 8.45 yesterday morning when worshippers were attending church service.

"The attackers locked worshippers inside the church and rained bullets on the worshippers," he said.

He revealed that the gunmen killed no fewer than nine worshippers at Kautikari EYN Church and set the church ablaze, following which they proceeded to the village and opened fire on residents indiscriminately.

He said the terrorists also killed 30 people in churches at Kwada village, while nine persons were shot dead in Nguragila village.

He said five churches were razed in the siege comprising EYN Church, Deeper Life Church and COCIN.

Also, one of the indigenes of Kwada, who identified himself as Mallam Yahi told reporters in Maiduguri: "They (the insurgents) killed and burnt down houses after they had attacked worshippers in five churches in Kwada, and advanced to Kautikari less than eight kilometres from Chibok town, killing and burning down people's houses and property.

"As at now, we do not know about the efforts of the security agents, that is, whether they were stationed here or not but all our people, those who could flee have run into the bush and were pursued by the murderers," he said.

It was gathered that residents of Chibok town have also fled their homes following news of the attacks in Kwada and Kautikari.

Some people from Chibok, who claimed to be speaking from their hideouts, told journalists that they believed the insurgents were gradually making their way to attack their town.

A top local government official in Chibok town who did not want his name published also confirmed: "Our people have fled into the bushes and we can only appeal that security men are immediately drafted to the town and environs."

He complained that on receipt of the threat letter a few weeks ago, they had gone to the police seeking maximum protection but the police authorities had told them then that they might have logistics problem.

US Scales Back Surveillance Flights

Even as the Islamic fundamentalists continue their reign of terror in Borno State and other parts of the country, the United States said at the weekend that it had decreased its surveillance flights in the search for the more than 200 schoolgirls abducted from Chibok, adding, however, that the overall effort was unchanged due to more flights by other countries.

"We don't have any better idea today than we did before about where these girls are, but there's been no letup of the effort itself," Pentagon spokesman, Rear Admiral John Kirby, told reporters.

Kirby said the same level of effort was being sustained now through international involvement, Reuters reported yesterday.

A US defence official speaking on the condition of anonymity said his country's flights had been reduced only after a body of intelligence had been gathered and that the cuts had been offset by British and French support.

Kirby denied a suggestion that US flights over Nigeria had been reduced to accommodate increased US surveillance over Iraq, where Washington is flying unmanned and manned aircraft to gather intelligence about Sunni insurgents.

He said some of the resources that were being used in Nigeria had been diverted from other missions in Africa and could now be used elsewhere on the continent.

However, officials declined to say how long heightened US surveillance over Nigeria had lasted. Asked whether it was just a week or two, the defence official said: "No. We were ... building this baseline for a good period of time."

US surveillance flights over Nigeria were now intermittent, the source said.

US military personnel are in Abuja helping to coordinate the effort, and some 80 others were sent to Chad in May to support the surveillance operation.

Chad is northeast of Nigeria and borders the area in which Boko Haram is known to operate.

In the last month, US officials have played down expectations about a swift rescue of the girls and stressed the limitations of intelligence from surveillance flights.

One US official voiced concerns that Boko Haram mayhave booby-trapped areas where the girls could be held, and there have been reports that they may have been split up into small groups that are not being held in one place.

The defence official said surveillance alone would not lead to a resolution. "It will take ... the Nigerian piece of the equation with their own sources and human intelligence coupled with the other forms to really understand the picture."

In an opinion piece in the Washington Post on Friday, President Goodluck Jonathan had said the federal government and security services had "spared no resources, have not stopped and will not stop until the girls are returned home".

Jonathan, Yuguda Condemn Bauchi, Kaduna Attacks

Meanwhile, the president has condemned Friday night's bombing in the Bayan Gari area of Bauchi State and the recent mass killings in Southern Kaduna.

In a statement yesterday by his Special Adviser, Media and Publicity, Dr. Reuben Abati, Jonathan commiserated with all the families who lost loved ones in the heinous attacks and extended his heartfelt sympathies to all those who suffered injuries or lost their properties during the wanton assaults on Bauchi and Kaduna States.

He also reassured the people of Bauchi and Kaduna States that the federal government would continue to take all necessary actions to apprehend the perpetrators of the dastardly attacks and restore the fullest possible security to all parts of the country.

The statement added that the president had directed all relevant federal government agencies to continue to speedily make emergency medical and relief assistance available to all those who were either injured or displaced by recent bombings and attacks.

He further urged all Nigerians to give maximum support and cooperation to the armed forces and security agencies who continue to work incessantly to end the menace of insecurity in the country within the shortest possible time.

In addition, the Bauchi State Governor, Malam Isa Yuguda, yesterday condemned in strong terms the bombing of Bauchi on Friday night, promising that the perpetrators of the act would be brought to book.

The governor has also directed that all the injured victims of the bomb blast, which claimed many lives, should be treated free of charge on the bill of the state government, just as he sympathised with the families of those who were killed in the incident.

A press statement issued and signed by the Chief Press Secretary to the Governor, Mr. Ishola Michael Adeyemi, said the governor regretted that the bomb attach occurred at a time the Muslim community was beginning the Holy month of Ramadan.

The governor added that it would not relent in ensuring that peace continues to reign in the state and called on the people to be vigilant and always report to the security agents any questionable movement around them.

Yuguda also wished all Muslims a successful Ramadan, praying that Allah would grant them all the bounties of the acts of ibadah during and after the 30 days fasting.

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