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Reps seek legal backing for public officers to operate offshore accounts

By The Citizen
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The members of the House of Representatives on Wednesday sought to amend an existing code that prohibits public officers from operating foreign bank accounts.

Through a bill that passed the second reading at the House yesterday, the legislators are seeking a leeway to amend the existing Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act, 2004, which makes it a criminal offence for a public officer to operate an offshore account.

The bill seeks to amend this law 'so as to make the leave of the Bureau necessary for a public officer to maintain or operate a bank account outside Nigeria.'

One of the supporters of the bill, Mr. Bamidele Faporosi, argued that the current law was 'weak and ineffective,' as no public officer had been successfully prosecuted for flouting it.

He explained that the amendment proposed included a proviso that the public officer must get the approval of the bureau before opening such an account.

He claimed that the disclosure would remove the secrecy surrounding foreign accounts.

Faporosi argued further, 'Today, people are operating such accounts by proxy or even in the open because they know that nothing will happen.

'This amendment says you can operate the account but this must be with the leave of the bureau.

'People now know that there will be punishment for non-disclosure.'

Another lawmaker, Mrs. Aisha Dahiru from Adamawa State, told the House that the secrecy surrounding foreign accounts encouraged 'the monumental corruption' in the country.

But some members expressed reservations, fearing that the proposal would simply give public officers a licence to stash more government funds in private accounts overseas.

For example, the Deputy House Leader, Mr. Leo Ogor, held the view that the bill 'stands logic on its head.'

He noted, 'This amendment can actually encourage corruption rather than reduce it.

'Why not say public officers should operate domiciliary accounts in the country?'