23January 2016, Lagos – There are indications that Bureau De Change operators in Nigeria have been importing dollars from neighbouring Ghana, Benin Republic and others to make up for the scarcity of the currency in the country.
According to Saturday PUNCH investigation, some operators were forced to engage in the practice as a result of the shortage of dollars occasioned by a policy of the Central Bank of Nigeria.
Some of the BDC operators confirmed to our correspondents that their customers, who are business owners, asked them to source for the currency from anywhere possible.
The CBN governor, Godwin Emefiele, while announcing the suspension of the deposit and withdrawal of foreign currency by bank customers, asked the BDCs to source forex from other sources as it had stopped selling to them.
Emefiele had said, “The bank would henceforth discontinue its sales of foreign exchange to BDCs.
“Operators in this segment of the market would now need to source their foreign exchange from autonomous source.
“They must however note that the CBN would deploy more resources to monitoring these sources to ensure that no operator is in violation of our anti-money laundering laws.”
However, a BDC operator, Bello Mahmud, said that the CBN in its statement had failed to show a clear direction of where they could source for the currency.
He said for the BDCs to remain in business, they have to search for the currency anywhere they can get it, one of which is to travel to neighbouring countries like Ghana and Benin Republic.
He said, “The CBN asked us to source for funds elsewhere but we don’t know the specific source that the apex bank meant, whether the autonomous sources are commercial banks. But even commercial banks do not have dollars now. We are in darkness now and we expect a circular from the CBN to give us a direction.
“We expect more information from the CBN but in the meantime, we have to remain in business, which is why we travel to Accra (in Ghana) and Cotonou (in Benin Republic) to bring in the dollars for our customers.”
When asked about the legality of bringing huge amounts of dollars in from other countries, Mahmud said, “What does the government mean by asking us to source for dollars elsewhere? It means that we are at liberty to get it from anywhere and at all cost.” Another BDC operator, who identified himself as Mallam Bako Ibrahim, said that one of his customers he simply identified as Alhaja, “mandated” him to get $50,000 for her at all cost. He said, “Alhaja is an importer and she usually buys dollars from me. So, when she approached me to get $50,000 for her, I had no option than to travel to the Republic of Benin to source for the money for her. She said I must not ‘disappoint’ her that she must travel soon to buy goods.
“Before the scarcity of dollars, we found it easier to get the currency for our customers but since the CBN stopped giving us dollars, it has become almost impossible to meet the demands of our customers. Yet, we and our customers want to remain in business.”
A Kano-based operator, Sule Tukur, told one of our correspondents in Lagos that he had just returned from Cotonou, where he had gone to get some dollars for some of his customers in the North, who he said needed the currency “badly”.
According to him, he embarked on the journey to serve the interests of the people who keep him in business.
Tukur said, “The dollar scarcity has increased forex activities in Cotonou because many BDC operators from Nigeria have been going there to transact business.”
Asked how operators who bring in dollars from neighbouring countries make profit, Tukur said,
“The profit is not much but our customers encourage us with some extra cash and it is also important to maintain business relationship with them.”
However, a BDC operator, Haruna Hassan, said though he knew some of his colleagues were travelling to neighbouring countries to bring in dollars, he would not engage in the practice because of the risk involved.
He said, “I know that some people engage in it (bringing dollars into Nigeria); but for me, I don’t have any interest in it. I don’t have any link with people who smuggle money in and I don’t know how that works. I don’t think that is my business; mine is to wait for further direction from the CBN.”
Reacting to the situation, the President, Association of Bureau De Change Operators of Nigeria, Alhaji Aminu Gwadabe, denied the involvement of members of his association in such sharp practices.
He said, “As far as we are concerned, it has to do with the issue of different operators in this market. I have not seen any of my members going to neighbouring countries to bring in dollars.
“Now, the offices of majority of our members are shut down. That business has been there even before the advent of BDC in Nigeria. There are some groups in Nigeria that that is their major activity and they are not BDC owners.”
Investigation by Saturday PUNCH also revealed that there has been a surge in the rate of money transfers abroad following an increase in forex activities in those countries.
A banker, who spoke on condition of anonymity, confirmed the situation, saying “there have been an increase in forex activities in neighbouring countries and some others abroad.”
The source said, “A lot more people have been coming to move money from Nigeria to some other countries. A lot of customers have been sending money electronically to Benin Republic, China and the US for people to collect there and I think it is connected to the scarcity of dollars here.”
Meanwhile, Saturday PUNCH investigation also revealed that some business persons have devised various means of transacting business in spite of the dollar scarcity, with importers and exporters exchanging naira for dollars and vice versa.
For example, according to a BDC operator, Alhaji Ado Dansudu, “An exporter who is bringing dollars into the country to export Cocoa can meet with an importer of vehicle spare parts, who has naira and needs dollars. “The exporter will need naira to buy his Cocoa and the importer will need dollars to import his spare parts.” An Ibadan businesswoman, who imports clothing materials, Alhaja Kuburat Ajasa, said what she does is to pay naira into the account of a business partner in Ghana and collect the Cedi or dollar equivalent when she gets there.
She said, “I have somebody in Ghana who I pay into his account from here and collect the equivalent when I get there.”
Reacting to the development, the spokesperson for the CBN, Ibrahim Muazu, said it was not wrong to bring dollars into the country from abroad, but that it must be declared to the relevant authorities.
He said, “If people are moving money in, they are supposed to be declaring it to the customs. There is a regulation that guides the movement of currency between one country and another.
“If they are taking the money out, they are supposed to declare it to the Nigerian customs. If they are bringing it in, they are supposed to declare from the Nigerian customs. If you are wiring it through the banks, there are relevant forms to fill. The law is very clear on that.”