A bitcoin trader, Emmanuel Etim, recently regained his freedom after 65 days in detention over allegations of fraud made against him.

Emmanuel, a member of the SiBAN community, is an undergraduate who is known in the bitcoin trading community as a honest, trustworthy, and reliable bitcoin trader. He has served a number of customers before the transaction on a fateful day resulted in a criminal matter that saw Emmanuel becoming an accused person in a criminal matter: conspiracy end cheating.

From the GTBank branch in Uyo where Emmanuel was arrested by the Nigeria Police, he was thrown into the Kano Correctional Facility by the Nigeria Police without any charges for 65 days.

It took the intervention of SiBAN to secure Emmanuel’s liberty after a successful application for bail and enforcement of Emmanuel’s fundamental human rights which was granted by a Magistrates’ Court in Kano on 21 February 2020.

Emmanuel, now out on bail, is ready to face his trial in court and clear his name in respect of the allegations.

Below is an account of the full story as communicated to GTBank Uyo Branch, by Emmanuel through a letter dated 16 December 2019 and titled “Please remove the restriction on my bank account” before his arrest at GTBank Uyo Branch:

A bitcoin transaction of 15 November 2019 that turned out to be a fraudulent transaction.

I am [an undergraduate] and also an over-the-counter bitcoin trader.

I am writing your office to request that my bank account which you have restricted since 27 November 2019 be unrestricted so I resume banking activities.

To enable you have the information you might need to unrestrict my bank account without further delay after over 2 weeks now, I will now proceed to give a detailed explanation of what ensued on 27 November 2019.

On the 15th of November 2019, when a certain man contacted me via WhatsApp, he said that he got my number from Facebook where I posted information about a free cryptocurrency class for beginners. He introduced himself as Abdullahi and said he needed bitcoin. After discussing the details of the amount of bitcoin he wanted and agreeing on costs, he didn’t proceed with the transaction. According to him, he was experiencing network issues, thus preventing him from making a transfer. He promised to retry when he’s back from work later at night.

At night, he came up with another excuse, telling me that he didn’t get the money he was expecting. He said he will get back to me when he was ready.

On 18th November 2019, he approached me again. He said he needed bitcoin worth $5,600. We negotiated the rate and we agreed to trade, but he couldn’t make a transfer. He sent me a screenshot of the error message “You will exceed your cumulative limit of 500,000, your regular limit will be set after 2 days.” So he said he has contacted his account manager and even sent me the screenshot of their conversation. Due to this, my transaction with him was postponed.

On 22nd November, I asked him if we were still going to deal since it has exceeded two days already. He said he was out of funds, after using the available money to order for his goods. I asked him what he sells. He said he is into selling of communication gadgets and boutique items. He went further by saying that “But i need to purchase some goods outside Nigeria and they accept bitcoin, that’s why i would need btc.” He added.

On 27th November, Abdullahi chatted me up again, telling me he was ready to buy bitcoin worth $6,950. He asked if I had it readily available. I told him yes (since I usually source it from other OTC traders). He paid the Naira equivalent of $6,950 to my GTBank account with your branch, amounting to ₦2,529,800 (at the rate of 364/$).

I reached out to a merchant to get the bitcoin. I discussed rate with the merchant and we agreed to deal at 359/$. I sent the merchant the sum of ₦2,495,050 hoping he has all the bitcoin. He didn’t, but bought in bits from others to complete the needed amount. This caused a serious delay and a great deal of pressure from Abdullahi was put on me while this went on. I finally got his payment at 6:35pm but he got his last bitcoin at 8:40pm of 27 November 2019. He complained about the delay. I apologized and promised to give him a call when I settled. He said I shouldn’t call that he had low battery.

Few minutes later, he left my WhatsApp group where I teach people the basics of cryptocurrency. I thought it was because of the delayed transaction. “You’ve left my group”, I asked. He replied that he “will join later. Still need to learn but not like that”. A few minutes later, Abdullahi blocked me on WhatsApp. I didn’t understand why but I supposed that he wanted absolute privacy. I went about my business.

After some time that night of 27 November, I wanted to make a transfer through the now restricted bank account. I got a message from the bank that my account has been restricted. I didn’t understand how or why. So I called GTCONNECT help line. I even tried recharging my phone through my bank account, the same error message came up. So I had to use another sim to call the bank. I was advised to call back in the morning. Early the next morning, a GTBanker called me to ask what transaction I did the previous day. I told her about my transaction with Abdullahi. That was when said my account has been flagged for fraudulent transaction by the account owner. I was shocked. I tried calling Abdullahi but his number has not been going through up to the date of writing this letter. My GTBank account remains restricted.

I have the proof of all the above information, since my communication with Abdullahi was entirely on WhatsApp.

Having recounted what transpired between Abdullahi and me and having disclosed the details of the transaction, I request that my bank account with your branch be unrestricted to enable me have access to my account.

As GTBank bank customer, I deserve better treatment and service from you. Restricting my account for over two weeks without any prior information to me to give me an opportunity to be heard first is most unfair. You have effectively frozen my account which is illegal under our laws without a court order. It is not right. My GTBank account houses all I have. All I have in my account is the sum of [amount withheld for privacy and security reasons] for my personal welfare. I have suffered a lot of discomfort in the last two weeks over this issue. The bitcoin transaction I had only made me the sum of ….. Naira. NotHing more. I am only an undergraduate and I need to resume banking activities. GTBank’s decision has financially excluded me and denied me access to my savings.

Please unrestrict my GTBank account immediately. Should you need any more information, I will be available to assist.

Thank you for your understanding and cooperation.

Screenshots of the transactional chat between the faceless bitcoin buyer and Emmanuel were enclosed with the letter to GTBank Uyo Branch.

Regardless of Emmanuel’s letter to GTBank above particularly considering the bank-customer relationship between GTBank and Emmanuel and the lack of a freezing order by the court, GTBank handed Emmanuel over to the Nigeria Police.

To clear his name, Emmanuel eventually visited GTBank Branch Uyo on 16 December 2019. This was following the invitation extended to him by GTBank. Emmanuel’s account manager had also advised him to visit the branch about the matter, when Emmanuel contacted his account manager as he wanted to be assured that GTBank would handle the matter professionally and fairly. When Emmanuel submitted his letter in respect of the matter to GTBank and met with GTBank Uyo Branch officers, GTBank started by checking the reason(s) behind the restriction placed on his account. GTBank then demanded that Emmanuel should look for the person whom he transacted the business with. GTBank also demanded that Emmanuel returns the money involved in the transaction. When Emmanuel could not meet these demands, GTBank asked him to return to the branch the next day 17 December 2019.

When Emmanuel returned to GTBank Uyo branch the next day as required, GTBank contacted the owner of the GTBank account from which the money had been sent. By 12:19pm, Emmanuel had been handed over to GTBank security. And by 1:18pm, GTBank security had handed Emmanuel to the Mobile Police (Mopol). About one hour letter, Emmanuel was in police station, A Division, Uyo.

Emmanuel was detained in this police station for days until Christmas day when he was transferred to Kano, the state of the GTBank account owner from whose account the money in question was paid to Emmanuel’s account.

After spending Christmas, New Year, and Valentine’s Day in police detention, Emmanuel finally secures bail on 21 February 2020.

After SiBAN’s attention was brought to the matter on 8 February 2020, SiBAN swiftly moved into action by constituting an Ad Hoc Committee chaired Nathaniel Luz, Country Manager of Dash Nigeria and Co-Founder of Cheetah Africa.

The Ad Hoc Committee, after pulling resources together and with the support of the SiBAN community, secured a Kano-based lawyer to represent Emmanuel. Under section 172 of the Kano State Administration of Criminal Justice Act, the legal counsel that SiBAN got for Emmanuel eventually secured Emmanuel’s bail on 21 February 2020.

The Ad Hoc Committee has also been in contact with Emmanuel’s father, Mr. Etim, who lives in Uyo and had been overwhelmed with the case against his son. Through Emmanuel’s legal counsel, the Committee has also been open to a possible resolution of the matter with the complainant who has asked for refund of the money, ₦2,529,800.

Emmanuel is grateful to the SiBAN community for standing by him and securing his liberty.

After his bail and his return to Uyo, Emmanuel has expressed his appreciation to the SiBAN community for their support. His message reads below:

“I’m so much excited and short of words to express my heartfelt gratitude to SiBAN and the entire community. I don’t know how to start.

Thank you so much all for the concern, care, prayers, contribution. You guys choose to support me like your brother, stood by me through out the tough times, in such a manner I would never imagine. I’m so much grateful. Thank you so much. May the good Lord bless and reward you all. I feel so much indebted.

I don’t know how to really pour out my mind to show how much I’m grateful. I thank you so much al. God will definitely stand by you all anytime you’re faced with disadvantageous situations. He shall make a way for you all even at a point where there seems to be no way.

Thank you for coming through when all my dad tried to regain my freedom proved futile. In fact I wish I could repay you guys, but I trust God who knows how best to reward you all, reward you guys richly in Jesus’s name, amen.

Thank you so much for being my brother and sister.”

Nathaniel Luz, the Ad Hoc Committee Chairman had this to say:

“Firstly, if SiBAN had been aware earlier, Emmanuel would not have had to spend so much time in detention. Members of the community should inform SiBAN early about issues like this. It took us 13 days to get Emmanuel out and that was even because there were legal hurdles along the way due to unavoidable procedures.

“Secondly, we need to take blockchain and cryptocurrency education to the regulators. We need to take education to the guys on the street. Most law-enforcement agents think that we are all scammers. This is something we need to watch as a community. SiBAN as a community is positioned to look at this. SiBAN is presently made of the the best minds and it has the best interest of the community in mind. Whatever issues anyone may have, I can confidently say and endorse that SiBAN is properly set up to be the organization that will represent us.”

On the part of Sule Momoh, the Kano-based lawyer and cryptocurrency enthusiast representing Emmanuel in this case, he maintained that:

“[c]ryptocurrencies or virtual assets are global innovations in a digital economy. The seeming criminalization of bitcoin/cryptocurrency by the establishments is not lawful and this is a disservice to the Nigerian youth, especially young people who are innovating in this new area.

Cryptocurrency is like pregnancy. No matter how the existing system tries to deny its existence, it will continue to get bigger. So rather than fighting it or being in denial, should we not all be preparing for the imminent future?

The security agencies, as a matter of urgency should not be left behind with regards to the wonders of the digital age. The security agencies should understand that dealing in cryptocurrency is not a crime in Nigeria. Bitcoin traders are not criminals. Cryptocurrency is not a scam; neither does it connote fraud.”

SiBAN leadership speaks on Emmanuel’s case, strongly emphasizing that bitcoin traders, banks, and law-enforcement agencies embrace best practices and professionalism, otherwise the real criminals will continue to get away with crimes.

Paul Ezeafulukwe, SiBAN Chairman, advice to bitcoin and virtual asset traders generally:

● Adoption of Know Your Customer (KYC) Policy. Anonymity is one of the problems bedeviling bitcoin. To avoid what happened to Emmanuel, bitcoin traders should as a matter of importance know their customers by collecting–if not all–but the necessary information from their customers. Be wary of any person or persons trying to sell buy or bitcoin (BTC) or other cryptocurrency without Know Your Client (KYC) checks.

● Need for Business Registration and Documentation. To avoid or minimize fraud risks, bitcoin or crypto traders should register as a business entity or partner with a registered business. It goes to show that a trader is a business person. Traders should have a book of account showing entries of record of sales. Where possible receipt should be issued to customers. This is important because by being a “bitcoin trader”, it presupposes that the person is into the business of buying and selling bitcoin, therefore there should be some documents to support this fact.

Paul Ezeafulukwue, SiBAN Chairman, advice to law-enforcement agencies handling matters involving bitcoin or virtual asset matters generally:

● Proper education about blockchain and cryptocurrency. Law-enforcement agencies should urgently and comprehensively educate themselves about blockchain and cryptocurrency nationwide. No law-enforcement agency, by virtue of the critical role they play in criminal justice, should be heard in 2020 maintaining that virtual assets or specifically cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin, ethereum for example, does not exist. No law-enforcement agency should be heard or seen treating bitcoin as a scam, “MMM” or Ponzi scheme. This is wrong. Completely wrong. The Inspector General of Police (IGP) is advised to urgently enrol all its officers, in blockchain and cryptocurrency courses. The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and other law-enforcement agencies are advised to also consider this. We cannot continue to persecute or wrongly prosecute young Nigerians simply because they deal in bitcoins or other cryptocurrencies.

● Forensic and Cyber Crime Unit. Every law-enforcement agency should have a Forensic and Cyber Crime Unit specially responsible for investigating alleged offences relating to phishing, cyber thefts, account compromise, phone number tracking, forensic investigation, computer hacking, wire and card fraud etc. This unit should be solely responsible for investigating offences enumerated above or cyber crimes. The Cybercrimes (Prohibition, Prevention, etc) Act 2015 contemplates the existence of such a unit.

● Police Investigation should be handled by officers knowledgeable in the field of investigation. Investigation of a case involving possible bank-account hacking by a faceless third party who transacts business with a bitcoin trader who has also lost money having transferred bitcoin to the buyer should not be handled by persons who do not understand and appreciate cryptocurrency transactions. Investigation should be carried out by officers knowledgeable in a particular aspect of an offence. In the course of investigation, the testimony of the accused person must be taken into consideration and investigated. For the fact that a person is alleged to have committed an offence, it is not a license for the Police to pronounce him or her guilty. The prosecution should be guided by investigation. Simply ignoring the faceless party whom Emmanuel has alleged is the criminal in this case is disturbing and is not in the interest of justice.

● Professionalism. Law-enforcement agents should be professional in the discharge of their responsibility. Ethnic prejudices shouldn’t be a consideration performing their duties.

“As a fall-out of this issue, I have instructed the Vice Chairman on Policy & Regulations to drive adoption of our model KYC policy for cryptocurrency or virtual asset traders. We expect affected members of the community to cooperate”,

said the SiBAN Chairman, Mr. Ezeafulukwe.

Senator Ihenyen, SiBAN General Secretary, advises banks who freeze or restrict customers’ account without a freezing order by a court of law:

● A bank’s duty of care to its customer. The relationship between a bank and its customer is a special relationship that banks are required to protect and maintain without unduly acting in a way that compromises the interest of the customer.
● Freezing a customer’s bank account requires a court order. No bank in Nigeria has the right to freeze or restrict a customer’s bank account without a court order to that effect. A mere instruction or directive, no matter how strong, cannot be stronger than the authority and force of law. Recently, in a case involving GTBank acting on the instruction of EFCCC, Guaranty Trust Bank v. Adedamola [2019] 5 NWLR, 30, the Court of Appeal held that:

“[b]efore freezing customer’s account or placing any form of restrain on any bank account, a bank must be satisfied that there is an order of court. By the provisions of section 34(1) of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission Act, 2004 the Economic and Financial Crime Commission has no power to give direct instructions to Banks to freeze the account of a customer without an order of court, so doing constitutes flagrant disregard and violation of the right of a customer.”

A legal practitioner and blockchain lawyer, Senator Ihenyen emphasized that:

“[d]ealing in bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies does not amount to a scam in Nigeria. Bitcoin or other cryptocurrencies are virtual assets that enable transfer of financial value. No government in Nigeria has pronounced bitcoin or other cryptocurrencies illegal. From the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC); from the National Deposit Insurance Commission (NDIC) to the Judiciary, bitcoin or cryptocurrency has not been declared illegal. CBN, SEC, and NDIC have only cautioned banks and the general members of the public about these cryptocurrencies or virtual assets as they are neither legal tenders nor accepted securities in Nigeria. So at SiBAN, we expect our banks, law-enforcement agencies, and other persons in the society to stop treating Nigerians–especially young people–who deal in bitcoin or other cryptocurrencies or virtual assets with a presumption of guilt without affording them fair hearing. These traders, like every other persons engaged in other legitimate businesses, have rights too. The discrimination, harassment, or intimidation need to stop.”

What Emmanuel has suffered since he was arrested 17 December 2019 after GTBank handed him over to the Nigeria Police.

● An undergraduate, Emmanuel has lost both tuition and study time.

● A Nigerian youth committed to investing in his self-development, Emmanuel got a 6-month loan in November 2019 which requires that he pays a specific amount monthly. Not only has Emmanuel defaulted on repayment plans but he also had no opportunity to apply the loan for the purpose it was meant for.

● A Nigerian youth determined to access career mentorship, Emmanuel enrolled for an online mentoring program worth three times the money he was expecting from the transaction that eventually landed him in detention, but due to his time in detention he couldn’t complete the online course.

● A Nigerian youth determined to create legitimate income to support his welfare and dreams, Emmanuel doubles as a data bundle retailer. But due to his time in detention, he has Iost his customers.

● A Nigerian youth determined to develop his marketing and sales skills, Emmanuel enrolled in a sales training, but due to his time in detention, he couldn’t complete the course.

● A Nigerian youth determined to improve his analysis skills, Emmanuel enrolled for a Technical Analysis class. But due to his time in detention, he couldn’t complete the class.

● Emmanuel’s sister couldn’t resume school for 5 weeks after his father spent all he could raise to get Emmanuel out of detention.

Difficult and avoidable experiences as those experienced by Emmanuel above could pull any person to stop believing in our country Nigeria. But Emmanuel remains positive, always committed to realizing his legitimate dreams.

SiBAN is also confident that Nigeria can get it right. But we must all be courageous to do the right thing and always stand for what is right, without fear or favour. Ethnic and religious affiliations should get matter, as it has been our unfortunate experience in this matter.

Moving Forward: The Nigerian society, public agencies, private bodies, SiBAN, and the rest of us.

Our society, due to failings of our institutions–private and public–should not needlessly turn our youth, the future of this country, into suspects, accused persons, defendants, or convicts. Without our youth, there is no future. Not every Nigerian youth who deals in bitcoin or cryptocurrency is a “Yahooboy“, cyberfraud, Ponzi scheme pusher, or an MMM vendor.

Therefore, any false imprisonment, harassment, intimidation, unlawful arrests, or other illegal acts by any person or agency must be discouraged. They must stop so we don’t end up nurturing the beast we should be fighting together–criminality and illegality.

In Nigeria’s blockchain and virtual assets or cryptocurrency community, there are responsible men and women–young and old–who are in legitimate businesses.

SiBAN is happy to cooperate and collaborate with our public agencies and institutions so that rather than (unintentionally) victimizing members of our community, we can work together to (intentionally) sanitize the community.

SiBAN is a law-abiding community.

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