Nigeria's Attorney General and Minister for Justice, Mohammed Bello Adoke (SAN) says, the Proceeds of Crime (POCA) and Mutual Legal Assistance (MLA) Bills presently being considered by the National Assembly shall strengthen the country's anti- corruption war.

Adoke, who gave the explanation while declaring open, a stakeholders' Roundtable on the POCA and MLA Bills, organized by the Media Initiative against Injustice, Violence and Corruption-MIIVOC, in collaboration with the Justice For All/DFID reiterated the commitment of the present administration to the fight against corruption in Nigeria.

Represented by his Senior Special Assistant, Professor Peter Akpet, the Attorney General stressed that the bills, when passed, shall enable Nigeria meet international requirements and give further mileage to the country's anti-graft war.

Also speaking, Chairman, Presidential Committee on the Financial Action Task Force, Mr. Stephen Oronsaye, justified the need for the POCA and MLA legislations, describing them as critical to the nation's war against corruption.

Represented by Mr. S.A. Barde, Mr. Oronsaye pledged the commitment of the FATF Committee to continue to work with relevant partners to strengthen the legal framework against corruption in Nigeria, even as he urged all stakeholders to support the Bills.

Speaking earlier, Anti-corruption Manager of the Justice For All and representative of the British Council, Mr. Emmanuel Uche reiterated the Organisation's readiness to continue to support Nigeria in its war against corruption.

He described corruption in the public sector as one of the most difficult crimes to effectively prosecute and called for collaborative action against the menace.

Justifying the need for the Proceeds of Crime Bill, Uche explains:

“Allowing criminals to keep the proceeds of their criminality encourages re-investment in criminal enterprise. It sets criminals up as negative role models and encourages more crime and influences others to take up a criminal lifestyle. It raises the cost of law enforcement and due process. It allows criminals to become all-powerful, creating an environment where crime and criminals flourish as they are able to pay for protection from the rule of law by bribing the law enforcement and the judiciary.”

He described the Proceeds of Crime Bill as a tough New Legislation to the rescue; tightly focused on recovering illegally acquired property with or without conviction, through forfeiture, confiscation or civil recovery and provides the powers to seize, freeze, and restrain criminals from dealing with their property.

In his presentation on the implications of the Proceeds of Crime Bill on Nigeria's anti-corruption war, a Resource person and Justice of the Court of Appeal, Hon. Justice Mohammed Shuaibu described POCA as critical in the country's anti-corruption war.

He critically x-rayed the relevance of the Bill and made a case for its speedy passage, even as he urged Nigerians to take the anti-graft war very seriously, in the interest of the country's future.

Shuaibu also made a strong case for the Mutual Legal Assistance Bill, describing it as a strong legislation that will enhance international collaboration in the handling of criminal matters.

Earlier in his presentation, Deputy Director in charge of legal drafting in the Federal Ministry of Justice and Resource person at the event, Mr. Ike Udunni, in his overview of POCA, explained that the Proceeds of Crime Bill makes comprehensive provisions for the confiscation, seizure, forfeiture and management of assets derived from unlawful activities.

“The Bill provides a legal and institutional framework for the recovery and management of proceeds of unlawful activities. It also seeks to harmonize and consolidate the existing legislative provisions on the recovery of proceeds of crime and related matters in Nigeria. The Bill further makes provision for the restraint, seizure, confiscation and forfeiture of property derived from unlawful activities and any instrumentalities used or intended to be used in the commission of unlawful activities.”

In further justification of the Bill, Udunni argued that the absence of a comprehensive legal framework to deal with recovery and management of assets has hampered the anti-graft war in Nigeria.

“At the moment, the laws on the recovery and management of proceeds of crimes in Nigeria

are fragmented in some existing legislations including the Economic and Financial Crimes

Commission (Establishment) Act, 2004, the Independent Corrupt Practices Offences and Other

Related Matters Act, 2000, the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency Act, 2004 etc.

Although there are some provisions in these statutes that allow the government to recover the

proceeds of crime, they are in the main, disjointed, underused and ineffective.”

“Criminals have been tried and convicted; yet, they manage to hold onto their ill-gotten

gains. Some have bargained those gains away for reduced sentences. Those gains, directly or

indirectly, belong to the people of Nigeria and they should be unconditionally returned to the

people. Property that has been frozen by order of the court in the past has been allowed to

languish and rot, businesses have been allowed to die and any value in these things that should

be properly returned to the people amounts to nothing. Even when assets have been

recovered, they have been dissipated, lost, or in any event, not properly accounted for.

For the sake of Nigeria, this cannot continue.”
He further explained that “wholesale theft and corruption threatens the future of the Nation, adding that a new way of asset recovery and management is required to effectively demonstrate that crime does not pay and that whole sale theft and corrupt practices threatens the fabrics of the nation with avoidable security implications.”

The new way, according to him, is that which is described within the Proceeds of Crimes Bill.

“Properly applied, the system that is envisaged will create a comprehensive toolbox of measures designed to effectively remove the proceeds of criminality from the criminals. It will allow for a full financial investigation of the criminal and of criminally acquired proceeds. This will be followed by substantial measures to preserve and manage assets and finally, it will allow assets to be fully realized and fully accounted for.”

In her commentary on the necessity of the Mutual Legal Assistance in Nigeria's anti-corruption war, Joke Adediran of the Nigerian Institute of Advanced Legal Studies argued that the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty facilitates the proper and effective implementation of the Proceeds of Crime across international borders.

She described POCA and MLA as relevant legislations that will strengthen anti-corruption war in Nigeria and discourage looting of public treasury, even as she urged all well-meaning Nigerians to support it.

Earlier in his presentation, Executive Director, Media Initiative against Injustice, Violence and Corruption-MIIVOC, Walter Duru described the Proceeds of Crime and Mutual Legal Assistance Bills as key to moving the country's anti-graft war forward.

He urged all stakeholders to support the Bills on their merit, citing international requirements for acceptance into global organizations.

Adding his voice, a Civil Society representative, Okechukwu Nwanguma of the Network on Police Reforms in Nigeria-NOPRIN commended the National Assembly and President Jonathan for their efforts in strengthening anti-corruption legislations, pledging the continued commitment of the Civil Society to the war against corruption in Nigeria.

He however urged the President to make haste to sign the recently passed Nigeria Financial Intelligence Center Bill into law, even as he warned that Civil Society Organisations shall resist any attempt to hijack or appoint stooges to manage the affairs of the Center.

Highlights of the Roundtable were questions and answers sessions, review of the country's anti-corruption war and deliberations that bothered on collaborative efforts.

The Roundtable was attended by representative of the Senate leader, Senator Victor Ndoma Egba, thirty five Civil Society Organisations from across the country, Central Bank of Nigeria, Ministry of Justice, members of the Presidential Committee on the Financial Action Task Force, among others.

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Articles by Chike Duru