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National assembly proposes 10-year jail term for Ponzi scheme promoters



The National Assembly has passed the Investment and Securities Bill, which includes provisions for possible jail sentences for those who promote Ponzi schemes in Nigeria.

The Investment and Securities Service Bill 2023 finally scaled through the final hurdle of the National Assembly when the Senate passed it on March 29.

The bill, which is expected to aid the functioning of the capital market and facilitate the ongoing economic diversification in the country, had been passed by the House of Representatives in December. It is only awaiting presidential assent to below a law.

At the plenary, the Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, stated that the bill is expected to protect investors, adequately regulate the market, reduce systemic risks as well as provide for more stringent punishment for operators of Ponzi schemes.

He said, “The bill for an act to repeal the Investments and Securities Act 2007 Act No. 29 2007 and enact the Investments and Securities Bill 2023 to service the SEC as the apex regulatory authority for the Nigerian capital market as well as regulation of the market to ensure capital formation, to protect investors, maintain fair, efficient and transparent market and reduction of systemic risk and for related matters is hereby passed.”

Speaking as of the time the House of Representatives passed the bill, the Chairman of the House Committee on Capital Markets and Institutions, Babangida Ibrahim, stated that the ISB 2023 was capable of transforming the capital market, attracting foreign investors as well as boosting investors’ confidence, among others.

Ibrahim said, “The bill seeks to repeal the existing Investments and Securities Act 2007 and to establish a new market infrastructure and wide-ranging system of regulation of investments and securities businesses in Nigeria, especially in the areas of derivatives, systematic risk management, financial market infrastructure and Ponzi scheme and platforms.”

One of the developments that the new bill brings is the prohibition of Ponzi/Pyramid schemes, which have led to the loss of billions of naira on the part of victims and also affected confidence in the investment climate in Nigeria.

The passed bill prohibits Ponzi/pyramid schemes as well as other illegal investment schemes and prescribes a jail term of not less than 10 years for promoters of such schemes.

Ponzi schemes, also known as pyramid sales schemes, are a money laundering system where investors are lured in with the promise of high returns on investment after a specified period. The system runs in a somewhat cyclic fashion by paying old investors with deposits of new investors. Usually, this cycle becomes unsustainable when the backlog of old investors eligible for payments exceeds the investments coming into the system.

According to Nigeria’s Securities and Exchange Commission, three million Nigerians lost N18bn when the popular Ponzi scheme, Mavrodi Mundial Movement aka MMM, crashed in 2016.

As of 2022, Nigerians have lost over N300bn in Ponzi schemes in five years, according to a report generated by the Norrenberger Financial Investments scheme.

The promoters of a popular investment scheme, Ovaioza Farm Produce Storage Business Limited, are facing prosecution for luring members of the public to an unregistered collective investment scheme. The promoters, Imu Yunusa and Goodness Omeiza have been accused of defrauding their victims up to N2bn.

Reacting to the introduction of the prohibition of Ponzi schemes, Chief Executive Officer of Enterprise Stockbrokers, Mr Rotimi Fakayejo, said that the move was long overdue and a welcome idea.

He said, “I remember very well, this Ponzi scheme that got a lot of people in trouble, MMM. In the end, it is not just about people losing money. It is the disinterestedness in investing. First, they invested in the wrong window and ultimately, they will not invest again.

“Some foolishly and gullibly invested in it and some because of ignorance entered into it and others because of greed. Those who entered into it because of greed know what they were doing, they are just greedy. But the ones who get into it ignorantly, not knowing that such schemes are not authorised by the SEC are the ones who may never enter into any viable or regulated investment window again. Every economy needs investment, for money to be revolving through profitable channels.”

Fakayejo also argued that both those who get involved in Ponzi schemes and their promoters should be punished, albeit, the sanctions would be different.

He said, “The person who goes into it should get a small punishment and the person that starts the scheme should get a huge penalty. For anything, you are supposed to make findings.”

Regarding the proposed jail term of not less than 10 years, Fakayejo stated that the inclusion of asset forfeiture and also a fine of 10-20 per cent of the amount of money collected from victims may not be a bad idea.

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