Let NASS pass Anti-graft bills to reduce corruption

By Charles Iyare

Several monies worth over two $225m have been recovered by the federal government through the whistle blowers’ policy. And this is within the space of four months. Some of these monies were banked under guise, using fake identities, while some were kept in homes, business shops and offices. The amounts include the sum of N8 billion, $151 million, N15 billion (in different currencies of $38 million, £27,000 and N23 million); $9 million, N448,850 million, N250 million, N49million, and all amounted to over 70billion in local currency. Public office holders and close government allies were responsible for this outrageous plunder of the nation’s common wealth.

These discoveries of stolen funds by the anti-graft agencies are scandalous and have not only sent shock waves to the spines of Nigerians, but they are a reason of the present economic recession in the country. Funds numbering billions of dollars have been looted within and are either siphoned from our shores or stashed in highbrow buildings and shanties. Most of the funds become unproductive and hardly contribute to our economy. While all this larceny goes on, public facilities, hospitals, schools and security are poorly funded. There is maternal mortality, poverty, unemployment and insecurity is on the increase. Many Nigerians schooling abroad, business owners who rely on foreign currency for importation of raw materials to do business, have been forced to shut down because of the non-availability of foreign currency.

The administration of President Muhammadu Buhari, upon resumption of office vowed to recover monies looted from the country’s treasury over the years. Within his first one year in office, an unprecedented amount of N3.4trillion was recovered from looters. This amount is equivalent to half of Nigeria’s yearly budget. Over USD200 billion is still stocked in Dubai alone, while about USD300 million is being expected from the government of Switzerland, including the UK & US among others.

Many Nigerian workers are still faced with huge backlog of unpaid salaries and gratuities of pensioners who had served their country meritoriously. There is incessant strike by workers across institutions owing to poor emolument, inadequate infrastructures in health, education, and other sectors. The poor funding of IDPs camps, insufficient funding of security equipment to fight the insurgents – and the reliance on excessive borrowing, juxtaposed with the amounts being stolen daily dents Nigeria in the eyes of the international community. These stolen funds are now hidden in homes, soakaway pit, cemeteries, villages, business centres and other strange areas that would hardly cross the minds of unsuspecting citizens.

While some Nigerians have continued to heap praises on the country’s anti-graft agencies’ effort in recovering looted monies, there is still cause for concern in the terms entered with foreign countries. For instance, within the period the policy was formed, it still is not backed by the law for adequate regulation. Lots of issues have been thrown up on the absence of an efficient legal instrumentality which regulates and enhance the activities of the various anti-graft agencies.

The speedy passage of the key anti-graft bills such as Proceeds of Crime Act (POCA), Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters (MA), Nigeria Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU) and Whistle Blowers Policy Bill (WBPB) into law, can institutionalise Nigeria’s fight against corruption, rather than making it seem like one -man- show.

Recommendation 29 of the Financial Action Task Force mandates countries to establish an independent Financial Intelligence Unit, FIU, to serve as a national Centre for receiving, analysing and propagation of suspicious transaction and other information regarding potential money laundering or terrorist financing. The FATF has a framework for countries to implement and combat money laundering, terrorist financing, and the financing of proliferation ammunition. By implication, Nigeria risks sanction from the FATF over poor legislation on money laundering. More worrisome is the fact that it is happening at a time when Nigeria needs the information most, considering the challenge of terrorism and recurrent looting of the nation’s resources.

The unwarranted delay it has taken to pass the bills which have either passed through second reading or waiting presidential assent or still pending at the National Assembly, has created difficulty in the repatriation, management, disbursement and utilization of recovered funds. This will pose a major setback to the economic recovery plan of the government, and make it difficult for an average Nigerian to feel the impact of the reinvested loot in the economy.

Finally, passing of these bills is critical to foreign investors interested in the protection of their investments. Therefore, the government must stand up to its responsibility to support the anti-corruption fight by ensuring immediate passage of the bills, to create some form of cooperation between anti-corruption agencies, create independence and avoid overlapping of their functions. Most importantly, credible and reliable persons must be appointed to head the agencies to avoid re-looting of these recovered monies.

Iyare is of the Human Rights Department, ANEEJ.