On 22nd February 2019 being the eve before Nigeria’s 2019 Presidential election, a couple of bullion vans were sighted entering the official residence of the National leader and Co-chairman of the Presidential Campaign council of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Mr. Bola Ahmed Tinubu. Speculations were rife that the bullion vans were conveying cash that would be used by the party chief for the election.

These speculations (as to the contents of the bullion vans and their mission in the house of the APC National leader) were brought to the attention of the APC National leader himself the following day at the polling booth where he went to cast his vote.  A journalist asked him what the bullion vans were doing in his house a night before the presidential election. In his answer, the APC national leader said:

…If I have money to spend in my premises, what’s your headache? If I don’t represent any agency of the government and I have money to spend, if I like, I give it to the people for free of charge as long as not to buy votes. Who are those watching my house and looking at Bullion vans?

In view of the above comments of the APC national leader, it is good to examine the position of the law as regards to an individual having enormous cash in his possession and deciding to spend it however he likes.

It is pertinent to note first that in Nigeria, no law forbids one from having in his house as much cash as he could lawfully earn or receive from genuine sources. What the law actually and vehemently forbids is one’s decision to spend it in a manner he likes. Nigeria’s criminal laws forbid one from using his money for illegal actions and even in legitimate transactions, the Money Laundering Prohibition Act 2012 specifies how payment of such legitimate transactions should be made. That law specifies that cash payment above a particular amount must be made or received through a financial institution.

For individuals, the law is that all payments made or received by anyone in excess of five million naira ($13,736 at the current rate of N364 per dollar) must pass through a financial institution; while for a company, it is ten million naira ($27,473 at the current rate of N364 per dollar). What this means is that while one can decide to save his money in his house, any payment from that money to another person in excess of five million naira must pass through a financial institution. It also means that if one has decided to be his own banker and save his money himself, he must not receive in one transaction, cash exceeding five million naira. Anything short of these makes one liable for the crime of money laundering.

Having said these, so what actually are the squabbles about Tinubu’s billions in the Bullion vans?

First of all, for the fact that the billions arrived through bullion vans presupposes that the cash came from the banks. So nothing is wrong with him receiving billions in cash through the banks. However where the problems lies is when he decides to give out cash in excess of five million naira to anybody without making the payment through a financial institution. Section 1 of the MONEY LAUNDERING (PROHIBITION) ACT, 2011 forbids him from doing so and in fact makes it a crime punishable by a forfeiture of an amount not less than 25% of the excess cash given.

Secondly, if the APC party leader decides to spend all that his money in the bullion vans in a way and manner not antagonistic to the law, he is free to do so.

Written by Lawrence C. Nnoli, a lawyer based in Lagos, Nigeria

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