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NFIC, POCA, MLA Bills: Laying Solid Foundation For Buhari’s Anti-Graft War

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Among all the campaign promises of Nigeria’s President-elect, General Mohammadu Buhari, his promise of commitment to the war against corruption in Nigeria was most fascinating to me. Throughout the electioneering campaigns, he never stopped reiterating this commitment to a genuine war against corruption in Nigeria.

Incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan was accused repeatedly of not doing enough to punish corrupt practices since the start of his presidency. He claimed that the anti-graft agencies under his watch had more convictions than at any other time in Nigeria’s history.

No doubt, efforts have been made in the past eleven years to bring Nigeria in compliance with international standards as it relates to protecting the integrity of our financial system, fighting corruption, money laundering and terrorist financing, as well as strengthening the framework for international collaboration in criminal matters.

A look at Nigeria’s anti-corruption strategy and Agencies shows that there are uncountable loopholes, both in the enabling laws establishing the anti-corruption agencies and in the strategy itself. More so, the need to strengthen the legal framework against corruption in Nigeria cannot be over emphasized. Three critical areas that are yet to be effectively dealt with are: money laundering, terrorists financing and Assets Management.

In recognition of these critical ‘threats’, President Goodluck Jonathan threw his weight behind earlier sponsored bills for acts of parliament to tackle the key areas, as initiated by the Chairman, Senate Committee on Drugs, Narcotics and Financial Crimes, Senator Victor Lar and his House of Representatives Counterpart, Hon. Jagaba Adams Jagaba. President Jonathan’s administration sponsored executive bills in support of the Nigeria Financial Intelligence Center-NFIC and Proceeds of Crime-POCA bills; a development that prompted the consolidation of the bills at the both chambers of the National Assembly.

Another critical bill in this regard is the Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters, popularly referred to as the MLA Bill, which seeks to enhance international collaboration in the handling of criminal matters. The MLA facilitates the proper and effective implementation of the Proceeds of Crime across international borders.

The MLA Bill had long passed through second reading on the floor of both the Senate and House of Representatives, prior to the general elections. The Senate had long held a Public Hearing on it, where stakeholders unanimously endorsed it. Findings reveal that the Public Hearing report has been laid on the floor of the Senate and may be considered this week for passage.

For time constraints, it is expected that, in the interest of Nigeria, the House of Representatives should simply adopt the Senate Report and concur with the Senate, as soon as it is passed. Attempting to organize a Public Hearing at this time will simply amount to an academic exercise, as the stakeholders will simply submit the same Memoranda they submitted to the Senate. Their positions have not changed.

The NFIC Bill seeks to establish a national agency that will be responsible for the receipt of information from financial institutions and designated non-financial institutions, analysis of the financial information for the purpose of turning the information into financial intelligence and dissemination of the financial intelligence to all law enforcement agencies. The Bill will ensure that the NFIC is not tied to any agency but will have adequate measures to build an independent financial intelligence system.

The NFIC Bill is designed to provide a sustainable and credible legal framework for the Financial Intelligence Center in Nigeria. As is the accepted practice in other jurisdictions, the Bill seeks to provide the FIC with operational independence and autonomy, and greater ability to provide financial intelligence to all relevant competent authorities in order to strengthen anti-money laundering and combating the financing of terrorism (AML/CFT) measures.

The NFIC which seeks to establish the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Center was a subject of controversy following what pundits describe as “several misconceptions caused by distortion of facts by those opposed to its passage”.

The NFIC Bill had since been passed by the both chambers of the National Assembly. One is therefore left to wonder, why the Conference Committee Report submitted to the House of Representatives some months ago is still being suppressed. No doubt, the forces that battled the passage of the Bill are still at work; but the lawmakers must realize that this is about our dear country Nigeria. We must not allow the selfish and corrupt objectives of a few to jeopardize the collective future of 180m Nigerians and the generations unborn.

NFIC Bill, when passed shall make Nigeria compliant with international regulations and treaties, which the country is a signatory to.

Posterity will forever remember the immediate past Director of the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit, NFIU, Barrister Juliet Ibekaku, who initiated various reforms in the anti-corruption sector from 2000-2013. She initiated and drafted the bill to set up the Nigeria financial intelligence center-NFIC in compliance with international standards. While working as the manager for anti-corruption section of the DFID’s Justice for All Programme and as an Advisor to the Attorney-General of the Federation, She also initiated the review of the terrorism bill, the mutual legal assistance bill, and the proceeds of crime bill.

The Proceeds of Crime Bill, which seeks to set up an Assets Management Agency for Nigeria is also an important bill. It is no news that the assets recovered from corrupt politicians in Nigeria cannot be accounted for. They are simply re-looted, thereby making a mess of the anti-corruption war. In some other cases, criminals are allowed to keep and enjoy the proceeds of their criminality. The Proceeds of Crime (POCA) bill seeks to establish a central Agency to manage the proceeds recovered from convicted criminals.

In the light of the international obligations and standards imposed by various international instruments to which Nigeria has acceded to, it is imperative that steps are taken to ensure effective management of assets recovered from corrupt public office holders, having properly defined and passed the Bill for the establishment of the NFIU by clearly defining its mandates in law.

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, while influencing 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.

The Proceeds of Crime bill is focused on recovering illegally acquired property through forfeiture, confiscation or civil recovery and provides the powers to seize, freeze, and restrain criminals from dealing with their property. It is critical in Nigeria’s anti-corruption war.

POCA 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 absence of a comprehensive legal framework to deal with recovery and management of assets has hampered the anti-graft war in Nigeria.

Today, the laws on the recovery and management of proceeds of crime 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 have 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.

Wholesale theft and corruption threatens the future of the Nation and 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 threaten the fabrics of the nation, with avoidable security implications. The new way is that which is described within the Proceeds of Crimes bill.

NFIC, POCA and MLA are relevant legislations that will strengthen anti-corruption war in Nigeria and discourage looting of public treasury and when passed, will help to promote the rule of law, as it will strengthen the legislative framework against corruption in Nigeria.

The security challenge, especially, that of terrorism facing Nigeria and our present economic difficulties, make these bills indispensable.

The 7th National Assembly will be doing a great disservice to the nation, if they do not pass and conclude every parliamentary exercise on the bills before the end of Assembly. It should in fact, be their parting gift to Nigerians. It will also show their support to the incoming administration of General Muhammadu Buhari.

This piece will not be complete without remembering the Chairman, Presidential Committee on the Financial Action Task Force, Mr. Steve Oronsaye, who was resilient, even at the face of threats and blackmail. He refused to be intimidated, but invested even personal and material resources towards ensuring that Nigeria’s anti-corruption war is strengthened. The history of strengthening the legal framework against corruption in Nigeria cannot be told without the duo of Mr. Oronsaye and Barrister Ibekaku.

While in office as Head of Service of the Federation, he initiated the Civil Service reforms and took practical steps to sanitize the public service. The ‘Oronsaye Report’ on reducing the cost of governance in Nigeria remains the roadmap towards Public Service Reforms and shows that he is indeed a genius. President-elect, Muhammadu Buhari must look for the duo of Oronsaye and Ibekaku in order to move the anti-graft war forward.

President Jonathan must also conclude the good work he started in the bills, by ensuring that he assents to them, when transmitted, as posterity will always remember him for his contribution to national building.

No doubt, when passed and signed into law, it shall amount to laying a solid foundation for the incoming administration in its planned anti-graft war.

Let all hands be on deck!

Disclaimer: "The views/contents expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of Walter Duru and do not necessarily reflect those of The Nigerian Voice. The Nigerian Voice will not be responsible or liable for any inaccurate or incorrect statements contained in this article."

Articles by Walter Duru