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Illegal charges: bank customers frown over banks’ flouting court order

By Ayobami Adedinni

Customers of Deposit Money Banks (DMBs) operating in the country have again condemned the refusal of their various banks to abide by the court ruling against deduction from their accounts for collection of Stamp Duties for the Nigerian Postal Service through the commercial banks.

Although, the Federal Government through the Nigerian Postal Service planned to raise N2.5 trillion per annum from stamp duties as part of strategies to augment its revenues. It is now a case of choosing between obeying the law and raising money to finance government project.

The Stamp Duties Act and Federal Government Financial Regulations 2009 empower the Federal Government to impose Stamp Duties. Depositors are even accusing banks of indiscriminately taking money from their accounts in the name of Stamp Duties.

Banks argued that they have not received any directive from the apex bank instructing them to stop the deduction of stamp duties.

The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) last year instructed all Deposit Money Banks (DMBs) and financial institutions operating in the country to place a N50 charge on every bank deposit of 1000 and above.

This, however, did not go down well with Kasmal International Service Limited and 22 others who decided to challenge it at the law court.

A High Court ruled in their favour and declared the Stamp Duty deduction illegal. But Standard Chartered Bank which was one of defendants filed an appeal, which it lost April 21, 2016 when Justice Ibrahim Saulawa of Lagos Court of Appeal held that the Stamp Duties Act imposed no such duty on the bank customers.

The defendants have less than two weeks to file an appeal in the Supreme Court if they have not done so, because after May 21, 2017 they would lose the right to appeal against this judgment.

Explaining her ordeal, a bank customer Uche Akolisa, who owns an account with Diamond Bank, went to withdraw N4000 from her account with her debit card.

After cashing the N4,000 from an ATM, she received two SMS alerts- one was a debit alert from the money she had just withdrawn and the other was a N150 Stamp Duty debit. “I was still ruminating on the meaning of the broad-daylight robbery when the next day, debit alert of N100 for Stamp Duty entered my phone! For what?” She queried.

Akolisa’s experience signposts what many banks customers are going through despite a Court of Appeal sitting in Lagos ruling on April 21, 2016 that it was illegal for commercial banks to deduct Stamp Duty from customers’ accounts.

But it is not only personal bank customers who are concerned about the non-compliance of banks to the Appeal Court judgment.

Mr. Segun Osinowo, The Director General of the Nigeria Employers’ Consultative Association (NECA), also wondered why the CBN failed to comply with the ruling. NECA was dissatisfied with the failure of the CBN to reverse its directive to banks to halt charging N50 per transaction.

He warned the government against imposing policies that would worsened the plights of Nigerians who are barely struggling to survive. Bank customers are planning to take a position on this development. “We are planning to meet to take a common position on this,” Dr Uju Ogubunka, President, Bank Customers Association of Nigeria (BCAN) said.

However, further checks revealed that despite this court ruling, some Deposit money banks (DMBs) in the country have alerted their customers of their plan to deduct two months arrears of stamp duty this month.

The message read: “Following CBN directive, please note that we will be retrieving stamp duty on all your Dec 2016 and Jan 2017 transactions.” But the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) has dismissed the rumours making the rounds that Stamp Duty has been suspended alongside the new charges on cashless policy.

According to its Director of Banking & Payments System Department, Mr. Dipo Fatokun, the suspension of the nationwide implementation of the excess withdrawal/deposit processing charges has nothing to do with the stamp duty, charged by banks for money received into the accounts of their customers’ via electronic transfer, cash and cheques.

Fatokun, explained that both cashless policy and stamp duty are “two different policies and they have nothing to do with each other.”

It would be recalled that sometime last year, over 50 million bank customer across the country moved to shun banking related services, due to what they called commercial banks exploitation through illegal and excessive charges.

Consumers Advocacy Foundation of Nigeria (CAFON) then accused the apex bank of aiding banks to exploit bank customers and called on Nigerian to participate in No Banking Day, when bank customers moved to shun all banking services to protest excessive bank charges.

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