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 January 11, 2016 - 4:16 PM EST
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CBN Stops Dollar Sale to BDCs

The Central Bank of

(CBN) yesterday stopped the sale of dollars (forex) from any official source to the 2,786 Bureau De Change (BDC) operators in the country.

By this action, BDCs are now required to source foreign currencies on their own for their operations.

The apex bank also lifted the restriction placed on the depositing of foreign currencies, thus permitting commercial banks in the country to begin accepting cash deposits of foreign exchange from their customers.

CBN governor, Godwin Emefiele, who announced the new measures yesterday, said the new policies, which take immediate effect, would help conserve the scarce foreign reserves which had declined drastically following the over 70 per cent crash in crude oil prices,

major foreign exchange earner.

Speaking in

yesterday, Emefiele said: "The bank (CBN) would henceforth discontinue its sales of foreign exchange to BDCs (bureaux de change). Operators in this segment of the market would now need to source their foreign exchange from autonomous source."

The immediate impact of the measure was that

currency, the naira, was quoted at a record low of 282 per dollar on the unofficial market.

The currency, which is pegged at around N198 to the dollar on the official interbank market, was quoted at 277 in early trades yesterday before the apex bank's announcement.

The unofficial market accounts for less than five per cent of total dollar trades in


Emefiele, however, apologised to Nigerians for the pain they are going through as a result of these measures, but said they have to bear it in view of the current realities.

He explained that

has been dealing with the effects of three serious and simultaneous global shocks, which began around the third quarter of 2014.

They are the over 70 per cent drop in the price of crude oil, which contributes the largest share of the nation's Foreign Exchange Reserves; geopolitical tensions along critical trading routes in the world, including between

and Western Powers,
Saudi Arabia
, etc., and the normalisation of Monetary Policy by the United States' Federal Reserve Bank.

Emefiele noted that following the drop in crude price from a peak of $114/barrel in July 2014 to as low as $33/barrel in January 2016, the country's reserves have suffered great pressure from speculative attacks, round tripping and front loading activities by actors in the foreign exchange market.

"This fall in oil prices also implies that the CBN's monthly foreign earnings have fallen from as high as $3.2billion to current levels of as low as $1billion. Yet, the demand for foreign exchange by mostly domestic importers has risen significantly.

"For example, the last we had oil price at about $50 per barrel for an extended period of time was in 2005. At that time, our average import bill was N148.3 billion per month.

"In stark contrast, our average import bill for the first nine months of 2015 is N917.6 billion per month, even though oil prices are now less than $35 per barrel.

"The net effect of these combined forces unfortunately is the depletion of our foreign exchange reserves. As of June 2014, the stock of foreign exchange reserves stood at about $37.3 billion but has declined to around $28.0 billion as of today."

He noted that, in total disregard of the difficulties that the Bank is facing in meeting its mandate of "maintaining the country's foreign exchange reserves to safeguard the value of the Naira," BDC operators have abandoned the original objective of their establishment, which was to serve retail end users who need $5,000 or less.

"Instead, they have become wholesale dealers in foreign exchange to the tune of millions of dollars per transaction. Thereafter, they use fake documentations like passport numbers, BVNs, boarding passes, and flight tickets to render weekly returns to the CBN."

The governor also said that while the CBN sells US dollars at about N197 per dollar to these operators, "they have in turn become greedy in their sales to ordinary Nigerians, with selling rates of as high as N250 per dollar. Given this rent-seeking behaviour, it is not surprising that since the CBN began to sell foreign exchange to BDCs, the number of operators have risen from a mere 74 in 2005 to 2,786 BDCs today," adding that the CBN receives close to 150 new applications for BDC licences every month.

Emefiele lamented the financial burden being placed on the CBN and its limited foreign exchange.

"The CBN sells $60,000 to each BDC per week. This amount translates to $167 million per week, and about $8.6 billion per year. In order to curtail this reserve depletion, we have reduced the amount of weekly sales to $10,000 per BDC, which translates into $28.4 million depletion of the foreign reserve per week and $1.476 billion per annum. This is a huge haemorrhage on our scarce foreign exchange reserves, and cannot continue, especially because we are also concerned that BDCs have become a conduit for illicit trade and financial flows."

He, however, said that the CBN had not stopped the sale of foreign exchange for the payments of medical bills, school fees, basic and personal travel allowances, among others.

Also, reacting to reports that parents could not access foreign exchange to pay school fees, the governor said that between June and December 2015, CBN allocated $285 million to banks for payment of school fees and $180 million for BTAs and PTAs.

In a swift reaction, BDC operators have warned that the latest move by the apex bank will see the value of the naira plummeting further to N300 to the dollar before the end of the week, even as the jobs of an estimated 12,000 are at stake.

Reacting to CBN's announcement yesterday, the acting president of the Association of Bureau de Change Operators of

(ABCON), Aminu Gwadabe, in a telephone interview with LEADERSHIP said if the CBN decision is not well managed, "I see the dollar reaching N300 before the end of the week."

He noted that this would in turn lead to "cost-pull inflation" as the country is an import dependent economy, importing almost all its needs. Asides this, he said many BDCs will be forced out of business leading to job losses in the sector."

On the average, he said, each BDC employs four persons; therefore about 12,000 jobs could be lost.

He also explained that BDCs have limited sources of foreign exchange and had to rely on the CBN window.

"In other climes, BDCs don't have access to the central bank window because they have other sources of forex to them, which includes banks, but in

banks are being restricted from selling to BDCs. Exporters can also patronise BDCs in other country's but here it is being restricted. These are some of the issues."

He then urged the CBN to review downwards the N35 million cautionary deposit made mandatory for BDCs as, according to him, "this has tied down the capital of many BDCs and, to get other source of foreign exchange, we need capital."

Gwadabe also stated that the CBN move will further encourage the activities of street hawkers and illegal foreign exchange operators "because most people will say, why do I have licence since I don't have access to the CBN window? so I better operate as an illegal operator."

This, he said, will make it impossible for the apex bank to monitor the outflow and inflow of forex into the country and what the forex is used for.

Meanwhile, he said that BDC operators will this week hold a meeting to deliberate on the CBN policy and decide the way forward.

It would be recalled that Senate president, Bukola Saraki, had last week during the visit of the IMF president, Christine Lagarde, called on the CBN to lift the restrictions on forex deposits in banks in the country following outcry by Nigerians.

set to return another $300m Abacha loot


government has stated that it is prepared to transfer to the Nigerian government another $300 million recovered from the family of former head of state, the late Gen. Sani Abacha, Foreign Affairs minister, Geoffrey Onyeama, said yesterday.

According to the minister, the money is part of an estimated $5 billion stolen and stashed in foreign accounts by the late dictator.

It would be recalled that a few days ago, a national daily (not LEADERSHIP) had reported that the federal government had uncovered "a fresh N3.2trillion Abacha loot", reporting that the billions of dollars stashed away in foreign bank accounts by the late military dictator, Gen. Sani Abacha, may far exceed the already established $5billion.

According to the report , a Special Investigation Panel (SIP) tracing what has now become 'Abacha loot' stumbled on fresh clues indicating that the stolen funds still trapped in offshore accounts stand at over N3.2 trillion.

The estimates of the funds stolen by the late military ruler Sani Abacha during the period of his reign from 1993 to 1998 vary.

While it is estimated that the stolen funds make up at least $4.3billion, some experts claim that the sum of the stolen assets is much higher and might be as huge as $7billion.

According to the World Bank, Abacha's loot is too huge to handle and it would take a lot of time to give a comprehensive response on how the late Sani Abacha's loot was disbursed by the previous Nigerian.

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Source: News (January 11, 2016 - 4:16 PM EST)

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