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Tough Times Await Promoters of Unregistered Investment Schemes

By Dipo Olowookere

Promoters of Ponzi schemes and unregistered investment schemes in Nigeria may soon be in big trouble if the law being proposed by the National Assembly is passed into law and signed by the President.

On Thursday, a bill to amend the Investment and Securities Act 2007, sponsored by Mr Babangida Ibrahim, representing MalumFashi/Kafur Federal Constituency in Katsina State at the House of Representatives, scaled the second reading.

The amendment is titled A Bill for an Act to Repeal the Investments and Securities Act, 2007 and Enact the Investments and Securities Bill to Establish Securities and Exchange Commission as the Apex Regulatory Authority for the Nigerian Capital Market as well as Regulation of the Market to ensure Capital Formation, the Protection of the Market to ensure Capital Formation, the Protection of Investors, Maintain Fair, Efficient and Transparent Market and Reduction of Systematic Risk; and for Related Matters.

The bill intends to combat the menace of Ponzi schemes and ensure that the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is well equipped to stem the tide.

According to Mr Ibrahim, there has been a lot of complaints by Nigerians on the activities of these schemes that promise unreasonably high returns and at the end of the day, they fleece Nigerians of their hard-earned money hence the need for more regulations to monitor them.

Under the proposed law, ‘A bill to repeal the Investment and Securities Act 2007 and to enact the Investments and Securities Act, 2021’ which passed the second reading at the floor of the House of Representatives yesterday, SEC will be empowered to address the challenges of Ponzi schemes.

Section 195 (1) of the Bill empowers SEC thus: “The Commission shall have the power to enter and seal up all prohibited schemes and shall obtain an Order of court to freeze and forfeit all assets of such schemes to the Federal Government of Nigeria.

“(2) The cost and expenses incurred under subsection (1) above shall be a first charge from the funds and properties of the illegal scheme including assets of its owners, promoters and or managers, whether acquired legitimately or otherwise.

“(3) For the purposes of this Bill, “prohibited scheme” including those commonly known as a Ponzi or Pyramid scheme means: (a)  Any investment scheme that pays existing contributors with funds collected from new contributors to the scheme promising high returns with little or no risk: i) Whether or not the scheme limits the number of persons who may participate therein, either expressly or by the application of conditions affecting the eligibility of a person to enter into, or receive compensation under the scheme; or ii) Whether the scheme is operated at a physical address or through the internet or other electronic means. (b) Any scheme where participants attempt to make money by recruiting new participants usually where: (i) the promoter promises a high return in a short period of time, and (ii) no genuine product or service is actually sold; or (iii) the primary emphasis is on recruiting new participants

“(4) The promoter(s) and operator(s) of any entity engaged in a prohibited scheme commits an offence and is liable upon conviction to imprisonment for a term of ten (10) years or a fine of N5,000,000 or both”.

According to Mr Ibrahim, “The current ISA 2007 is old and we all know a lot has happened between that time and now like technological advancements. The capital market has to be dynamic in today’s world in a bid to contribute its quota to national development and that is one of the reasons why we are pushing this.”

“A lot of things have happened between that time and now hence the need for an amendment. When that law came into existence we did not have derivatives and commodities markets as we do now, these are some of the issues that are necessitating this amendment.

“The plan is to make this Bill a little bit flexible so some national government can be able to approach the capital market to source for fund either for developmental projects,” he added.

Another part of the amendment is to increase the period within which a claim for compensation could be made for the Investor Protection Fund to six years from the date of occurrence of the defalcation, revocation, cancellation, insolvency or bankruptcy of the dealing firm. The period in the current Act is six months.

The objectives of an Investor Protection Fund is to compensate investors who suffer pecuniary loss arising from the insolvency, bankruptcy or negligence of a dealing member firm of a securities exchange; defalcation committed by a dealing member firm or any of its directors, officers, employees or representatives in relation to securities, money or any property entrusted to, or received or deemed received by the dealing member firm in the course of its business as a capital market operator; and revocation or cancellation of the registration of a dealing member firm.

According to the proposed amendment, two new subsections have been introduced to complement the existing provisions on the manner in which a claim to the investor protection fund can be made.

This is a departure from Section 213 (2) of the 2007 Act, which requires a claim for compensation to be made in the first instance to the securities exchange.

In addition, subsection (4) of the Act has been modified to take care of such preconditions for compensation as may have been prescribed by the Board of Trustees.

Specifically, it added that a verified claim must be paid by the investor protection fund to an investor within 14 days of such verification by the securities exchange.

It said, “A claim for compensation under this part of the Bill shall be made in writing to the board of trustees within 6 years from the date of occurrence of the defalcation, revocation or cancellation of the registration of the dealing member firm and insolvency or bankruptcy of the dealing member firm, and any claim which is not so made shall be barred unless the Commission otherwise determines.

“No action for damages shall lie against a securities exchange or against any member or employee of a securities exchange or of a board of trustees or management sub-committee by reason of any notice published in good faith and without malice for the purposes of this section.”

Mr Ibrahim expressed the optimism that when the Bill is passed into law, it would empower the SEC with the necessary backing to effectively regulate the capital market and emphasize the independence of the agency in line with the requirements of the International Organization of Securities Commissions (IOSCO).

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