By Tordue Salem
ABUJAâ€”There is a N28billion fresh scam involving 14 commercial banks, the House of Representatives Committee on Housing and Habitat alleged yesterday.
The banks, the Committee revealed were charged with the responsibility of receiving payments on the lease and sale of Federal Government landed property across the country.
The banks include Oceanic Bank International Plc, Equatorial Bank Plc, Intercontinental Bank Plc, Wema Bank Plc, United Bank for Africa Plc and Skye Bank. Others are Zenith Bank, Access Bank, Diamond Bank, Afribank, Union Bank, Bank PHB, Spring Bank and Fidelity Bank. The were chosen to receive monies on behalf of the Presidential Implementation Committee on Lease of Federal Government Landed Property andÂ to remit such funds and accruing interests to the Central Bank of Nigeria.
Chairman, House Committee on Housing and Habitat, Rep.Â Shehu G. Matazu revealed that most of the financial institutions failed to remit the funds to the federation account, but also refused to pay interest on the funds they retained in their accounts.
At a meeting with the Managing Directors of the six banks yesterday, Matazu expressed disappointment that the banks were deep into practices that hindered the growth of the economy. He, however, assured Nigerians that the Committee willÂ make sure the funds were recovered.
â€œThe issue of the lease of Federal Government property has been a contentious issue and has attracted public interest. We on our part as representatives of the people would not want to sit and watch banks treat Federal Government money as if it belongs to nobody. It is tax payersâ€™ money and has to be protected for the common good of all.
The era when banks toy with government money is over. It is the responsibility of this Committee on Housing and Habitat to ensure transparency and accountability in handling the business of government. Any organiaation desiring to partner with government must be prepared to play by the rules. This Committee will take exception to any bank wanting to circumvent government financial regulations,â€ he said.
According to Matazu, the Committee summoned the Chief Executives of Oceanic Bank, Equatorial Trust Bank, Wema Bank, United Bank for Africa, Intercontinental BankÂ and Skye Bank because they were believed to be behind the scam.
He disclosed it was the issue of nonâ€“compliance of interest payment necessitated the engagement of a consultant by the Federal Government to reconcile the accounts and shore up public confidence in the exercise.
The consultant, Mr. Okpara Enyinna who also testified at the meeting said it had been an uphill task reconciling the accounts and getting the banks to remit the funds they collected on behalf of government. Enyinna disclosed that a good number of the banks did not extend the needed cooperation and have withheld the funds for upwards of four years. He however gave a clean bill of health toÂ Â Zenith Bank, Access Bank and Diamond Bank, disclosing that the three banks have been able to reconcile their accounts on the transactions.
Chairman of the Task Force on Presidential Implementation Committee on the Sale of Federal Government Property, Col U.M. Mohammed took a swipe at action of the banks and urged the House CommitteeÂ to ensure thatÂ the banksÂ were not just made to pay back all the funds received through them, but such banks be severely penalised for shortchanging the government.