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Anti-Corruption: As Stakeholders Review Buhari’s Commitment

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During President Muhammadu Buhari’s electioneering campaigns ahead of the 2015 Presidential election, he never stopped talking about his intention to effectively wage a war against the menace of corruption in Nigeria. In fact, that was one of his unique selling points, as there is a consensus that corruption is at the center of Nigeria’s woes.

Five months into his administration as President and Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces, there are divergent views as to whether the President is ‘walking his talk’ on anti-corruption. Stakeholders, especially the Civil Society, waited for long and were at a loss, regarding the anti-corruption policy direction of the present administration. The ideas expected to top the anti-graft agenda appear not to be on the priority list of the administration.

More worrisome are recent revelations on the alleged mismanagement of recovered assets by anti-graft agencies, being a justification for the Proceeds of Crime Agency (POCA) in Nigeria. The continued mindless killing of innocent citizens by terrorists in northern Nigeria, with no reliable clue on the sources of funding of the terrorists is another source of worry. It also justifies the need for an operationally-independent Financial Intelligence Center in Nigeria, hence, the NFIC.

Prior to transition from the last to the present administration, hopes were very high that the incoming (present) regime was on the same page with key stakeholders. Several presentations and re-presentations were made to the Vice President, Professor Osinbajo and the President himself. Their responses were very positive. Surprisingly, upon resumption, the expected actions never happened.

One had also expected that the anti-graft war should have started from within, as he that comes to equity must come with clean hands. The anti-graft agencies, some of which are personifications of corruption should have been sanitized and new blood injected, with clear mandates and close monitoring, devoid of partisanship. Persons with cases of corruption hanging on their necks, ought not be considered for appointments, as it ridicules the entire essence and dashes the hopes of many Nigerians.

As part of the ongoing support to the efforts towards strengthening the war against corruption in Nigeria, Justice for All (J4A)/DFID, in collaboration with Media Initiative against Injustice, Violence and Corruption-MIIVOC organized a 2-day Stakeholders’ Review Roundtable in Abuja on Nigeria’s anti-corruption situation and the way forward.

The meeting was aimed at reviewing the anti-corruption situation in Nigeria, with a view to proffering a way forward and ensuring a more coordinated, constructive input in the anti-graft war. It also reviewed a proposal on tackling a tripartite menace of Impunity, Corruption and Indiscipline in Nigeria. The meeting also reviewed the strategies at strengthening the legal framework against corruption in Nigeria.

The event was held on the 22nd and 23rd October, 2015, at Valencia Hotel, Abuja. The forum provided a platform for exchange of ideas among stakeholders on Nigeria’s present anti-corruption situation, relevant anti-corruption legislations; ways of tackling impunity, corruption and Indiscipline in Nigeria. It reviewed the necessity of the Proceeds of Crime, Whistle Blowers Protection, Mutual Legal Assistance and Nigeria Financial Intelligence Center bills. There was a consensus that the bills are necessary in Nigeria’s anti-graft war.

Speaking at the event, Justice for All anti-corruption Manager, Emmanuel Uche reminded participants of the damage done to the Nigerian society by the menace of corruption, even as he urged the Civil Society to re-double their efforts in the war against corruption, in order to redeem the Nigerian society, while securing the future of the unborn generation.

Earlier in his remarks, Justice for All National Programme Manager, Bob Arnot reiterated the critical role of the Civil Society in Nigeria’s anti-graft war, but called on the participants to put in more efforts to ensure real and substantial progress in the country’s anti-graft war.

Commenting on the necessity of the Proceeds of Crime, Nigeria Financial Intelligence Center, Mutual Legal Assistance and Whistle Blowers’ Protection bills, Arnot urged all stakeholders to take deliberate steps to ensure that they are re-presented quickly, in the interest of the Nigerian nation.

He pledged the continued support of the J4A to efforts geared towards entrenching transparency in governance, even as he charged the stakeholders not to relent in the war against corruption in Nigeria.

Justice Mohammed Shuaibu of the Federal Court of Appeal described corruption as retarding the country’s progress. “Corruption is the cause of all the Harams. The problems in Syria, Lybia and many other countries are caused by corruption. Nigerians are not more corrupt than anyone else. The only difference is: while others have institutions, laws, conventions and practices which effectively sanction all such things, in Nigeria, ours is deficient. Effective sanctions and laws are part of antidotes to fight corruption.”

“Part of the major problem is that we celebrate and honour corruption. We dine and wine with corruption. There is corruption everywhere, including the judiciary and the society condones it.”

He also made a strong case for the appointment of the right people in rightful positions, in order to move the country forward, even as he threw his weight behind the strengthening of the legal framework against corruption in Nigeria.

In her briefing on the Urgent Need for NFIC, POCA and MLA Bills, former Director, Nigeria Financial Intelligence Unit, Juliet Ibekaku argued that the new (proposed) Nigeria Financial Intelligence Center has a fundamental role in gathering of financial intelligence to support various law enforcement and security agencies to strengthen intelligence collection internally and from international partners and financial institutions. “This Bill will ensure that Nigeria is compliant with international standards in this sector.”

On the Mutual Legal Assistance Bill, she explained that it will enhance the exchange of information and strengthen international cooperation between Nigeria and other countries as required by the United Nations Convention against Corruption-UNCAC. “This Bill will enhance recovery of stolen funds and enhance judicial process in international related matters.”

In his presentation on the implications of the Proceeds of Crime Bill to the Nigeria’s anti-corruption war, Deputy Director, Legal Drafting Department in the Federal Ministry of Justice, Mr. Ike Udunni, argued that the Proceeds of Crime Bill, 2015 provides a legal and institutional framework for the confiscation, seizure, forfeiture, recovery and management of assets or proceeds derived from unlawful activities and instrumentalities used or intended to be used in the commission of unlawful activities. The Bill, according to him, seeks to harmonize and consolidate the existing legislative framework on the recovery of proceeds of crime and related matters in Nigeria.

According to him, “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 is that which is described within the Proceeds of Crime 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.”

Adding his voice, Chairman, Board of Governors, Freedom of Information Coalition in Nigeria-FOICN and Executive Director, Media Initiative against Injustice, Violence and Corruption-MIIVOC, Walter Duru, in his presentation on ‘Nigeria Financial Intelligence Center Bill and Terrorist financing in Nigeria’, argued that “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.”

“It is common knowledge that money laundering cannot be separated from terrorism, drug trafficking and other high profile crimes. Available statistics show that a greater percentage of funds laundered are used for dangerous intercontinental and cross-border crimes. One now asks: At this critical time of security challenges and increase in drug trafficking, what is Nigeria doing to tackle the mother crime- money laundering? Why is NFIU not yet autonomous?”.

Executive Director, Africa Network for Environment and Economic Justice (ANEEJ), David Ugolor, in his presentation on ‘International Asset Recovery Regime’ (IARR), urged President Mohammed Buhari to urgently initiate a process that will ensure that there is a National Asset Recovery Strategy that will provide a coordinated action in Nigeria, adding that recovery of Proceeds of Corruption should form part of the overall strategy of tackling corruption in Nigeria. “Government should strengthen the domestic governance system to strengthen the institutional framework to tackle the challenge of asset recovery.”

Emeka Ononammadu, Executive Director, Citizens Centre for Integrated Development and Social Rights, in his presentation on the ‘Non-state actor entry point and new engagement strategies for anti- corruption war in Nigeria’, argued that “the first strategy open to CSOs is to convene or request government to convene a multi-stakeholders dialogue to review past strategies, policies and adopt a new strategy/policy which will place responsibilities on different stakeholders. “Nigerians should be made to own the anti-corruption fight from inception. Engaging this regime with debate on efficacy of current anti-corruption policies and required laws will help to redirect them away from past mistakes. It is also urgent that CSOs should commence engagement with the newly established anti-corruption advisory committee so that they can understand laws, policies and activities that will be necessary if the war against corruption must be won. If this government fails in its fight against corruption; it is not only government that will be blamed, CSOs will receive a good proportion of the blame.”

Lanre Arogundade, Director, International Press Centre (IPC), Lagos, in his presentation on ‘New Approaches for Media Engagement on Anti-Corruption’, tasked participants on monitoring of trends on media coverage and reportage of anti-corruption issues in order to identify the strengths and the gaps. “Where gaps are identified, steps can be taken to address them. We should also tap into and make more effective use of the New and social media in all its ramifications.”

Dayo Olaide, who spoke on ‘Illicit financial flow and the Nigerian economy’; using graphs and figures, argued that “large commercial corporations are by far the biggest culprits of illicit outflows, followed by organized crime. Corruption and weak governance capacity are major facilitators.”

In a 10-point Communiqué issued at the end of the event, stakeholders urged President Buhari not to disappoint Nigerians in the anti-graft war and urged him to strengthen the legal framework against corruption in Nigeria, by throwing his weight behind relevant anti-graft legislations.

“The Nigerian government should as matter of urgency, re-present the POCA, MLA, Whistle Blowers Bills, NFIC and other anti-corruption bills to the 8th National Assembly for expedited hearing and passage for quick accent. The President should ensure effective engagement with civil society and other stakeholders on anti-corruption. The Federal government should sanitize, adequately fund and strengthen the operations of anti-corruption agencies to enable them effectively carry out their functions. The federal government should strengthen Anti Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing regime by scaling up the institutional autonomy of NFIU to provide effective intelligence to all law enforcement agencies in the country. President Muhamadu Buhari must demonstrate the Political Will to tackle corruption by ensuring that all anti-corruption agencies are properly resourced and equipped to effectively carry out their functions. The federal government must explore all opportunities to tap into the commitment by the international community in the global fight against corruption. The federal government should prioritize the recovery of proceeds of crime using civil procedure approach as against the traditional approach of focusing on law enforcement and imprisonment of offenders. Civil society welcomes the setting up by the President of a Presidential Advisory Committee on Corruption and urges the committee to open up and reach out to civil society and other stakeholders,” the Communiqué reads in part. The event was attended by over sixty Civil Society and Media Organisations in Nigeria. New strategies for engagement were adopted.

No doubt, hopes are very high that under the present administration, anti-graft war will be strengthened and no excuses whatsoever shall satisfy the curiosity of Nigerians.

Meanwhile, there is need to take forward, most of the resolutions reached at the meeting, especially, the quarterly Multi-stakeholders Roundtable, Anti-corruption debate, Report until something happens (RUSH), Watching the Watcher (monitoring of anti-graft agencies) and the Reward-based initiative for stakeholders.

President Muhammadu Buhari, Nigerians gave you our mandate. Fight corruption today with every constitutional power, as our entire future depends on victory over the menace!

No excuses, please!

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