BVN: Tracking ghost workers, illicit transactions


The introduction of the Biometric Verification Number (BVN) was a bitter pill most Nigerians were not ready to swallow. It has however, done more good for the economy, ABDULWAHAB ISA reports

All innovations, regardless of their benefits to humanity are confronted with some threats. So, it was with the Bank Verification Number (BVN), an initiative of the Bankers’ Committee in conjunction with the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).

Launched February 14, 2014 by the immediate past CBN Governor, Mallam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, the project was put under the direct control and supervision by the Sub-committee on Biometric Project set up by Bankers’ Committee.

The incumbent CBN Governor, Mr. Godwin Emefiele, headed it. Biometric technology entails recording a person’s unique physical traits such as fingerprints and facial features to be used in identifying persons in all banking transactions.

Primarily, BVN was conceived to protect bank customers against fraud, which at that time was rising to an intolerable level in the banking sector. It is also meant to complement some innovations like Point of Sale (POS), electronic banking introduced to drive and strengthen the Nigerian banking system.

Public apathy

Like previous innovations in the financial circle, such as the Automated Teller Machine (ATM), PoS, the introduction of BVN met with stiff resistance. Besides customer apathy, most Nigerians did not really see the need for it. BVN attracted complaints by Nigerians, who dubbed it as another frivolous and time wasting exercise.

There were reports in the media of some associations threatening action against CBN for introducing it. But the CBN and Bankers’ Committee, kept faith with it. With massive enlightenment campaign including moral suasion by the apex bank, the policy eventually got favourable disposition from Nigerians.

Starting with Lagos state that drove the pilot stage, the apex bank advised bank customers in Lagos to enroll and obtain their BVN. The pilot phase was done in selected bank branches. It was followed by countrywide implementation.

All Nigerian bank headquarters’ servers were configured, deployed and tested, and their staff trained in preparation for the enrolment and verification of end users. To ensure the exercise got impressive compliance, a deadline was fixed and evidently Nigerians responded with many making last minute rush to be captured.

The rush by many to beat the deadline was to avoid being trapped in CBN threat that whoever failed to get captured would have difficulties accessing his bank account(s). After the initial rush, spokesman for CBN, Ibrahim Muazu, put the number of bank accounts captured on expiration of the October 31 deadline at 20.8 million.

However, when it was apparent that lots of bank customers had yet to be captured, the apex bank in its wisdom granted further extension. As this was going on, the CBN also devised a suitable channel for Nigerians in the diaspora to be enrolled.

To ensure that more Nigerians in the diaspora were captured, the deadline was further extended to June 30, 2016 from January 31, 2016. The apex bank announced the extension in a circular addressed to all Deposit Money Banks (DMBs) where it noted that it had “observed through a recent survey, the low percentage of registration of Nigerian bank customers in diaspora, which may be attributed to lack of accessibility to registration centres and unavailability of registration centres in some cities where Nigerian population is high.”

Exposing dubious accounts

With the hues and cries against BVN over, its full benefit has started unfolding. In the first place, the introduction of the scheme has put lots of people, hitherto, operating dubious bank accounts on the spot. One of the beauties of BVN is enabling a customer with several bank accounts in more than one bank to be linked.

For those engaging in financial fraud related transactions, BVN is an end to their nefarious act. All their transactions are now in a single purview. The scheme is a perfect mechanism for checking and tracking transfer of illicit funds linked to terrorism financing or drug related. However, the most outstanding benefit is the elimination of theft in public service by fraudulent technocrats and civil servants.

The ghost workers syndrome has for long been fought without success. But going by the position of the Minister of Finance, Mrs. Kemi Adeosun, last week, the government is now having the upper hand in the battle against ghost workers.

Speaking at the Senate last week, the minister shocked her audience with the disclosure that ghost workers numbering 320,000 had been discovered due to the enforcement of personnel on the IPPIS platform using their BVN numbers.

“What the IPPIS-BVN registration has shown us has been a revelation; we have identified that there are people who appear on our payroll multiple times,” the minister said. Adeosun said that investigation was ongoing on the issue and payment of the 23,000 suspected workers would be suspended for one month to allow investigations to be completed.

She said that any bank found to be in complicity in the matter would be made to refund all the money paid through them so far. The finance minster said: “BVN links all the accounts of that person, so we are seeing in our payroll 20 names to one BVN number.

“We have had a meeting on how we are going to clean them off; the process will be that we will suspend that person from the payroll pending the investigation. We will try as much as possible to conclude that investigation within 30 days so that we do not suffer innocent people, but we really need to clean our payroll.

“We have about 23,000 that we need to investigate; those who either the BVN is linked to multiple payments or the name on the BVN account is not consistent with the name on our own payroll. Not only will we remove those people from our payroll, but we will also be going after the banks involved to collect our money.

“Some of the information that we are getting is how long has this person been on the payroll, how much has he been getting? In some cases, the same bank holds the accounts and in some others, all were opened on the same day. “If we are able to prove that banks have colluded with people to pad our payroll, we are not only going to stop those payments, but we are also going to recover our money.”

The minister said that ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) found guilty would also not be ignored, but would be handed over to relevant agencies of government for further investigation and prosecution. She said that the work of the ministry was to uncover the fraud and recover its money, but that relevant bodies would do the work of criminal prosecution of individuals or banks involved.

The minister said that in five years, the IPPIS was only able to register 295,000 workers, but with the BVN registration, all workers would be registered by end of June. Adeosun added that the removal of all fake workers would greatly reduce the personnel burden on the Federal Government, hence the reduction of personnel cost in the 2016 budget by about N100 billion.

She said: “We realised that if we can get more people on IPPIS, our salary costs will come down and so, we needed to get more people on IPPIS. So, we decided to change the strategy; rather than getting the person to come physically, we will take the payroll that we have and the bank account of everybody who is being paid.

“From that bank account, we will get the BVN, from the BVN we can get the biometric data; so that considerably accelerates the process of getting people unto IPPIS. We are very confident with our programme that we will now be able to get every federally paid civil servant onto IPPIS by June; we are aggressively chasing after June.”