•Banks still housing looted funds, says Osinbajo
From Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye, Abuja
Fifty-five top government officials and private businessmen in Nigeria illicitly diverted N1.35 trillion (about $7.5m then) between 2006 and 2015, a study has revealed.
Chairman, Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption (PACAC), Itse Sagay, who made this known at the “Conference on promoting international co-operation in combating illicit financial flows and enhancing asset recovery to foster sustainable development,” at the State House Conference Centre, Abuja, yesterday, said corruption was impeding the country’s bid to meet its sustainable development goals.
The event was convened by PACAC in collaboration with the Federal Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Federal Ministry of Justice.
A report on the level of illicit financial flows in and out of Nigeria, Africa as a whole and emerging market economies has been put at between $2 trillion and $3.5 trillion yearly.
A Washington-based think-tank, Global Financial Integrity (GFI), which released the report, said Africa was the most vulnerable to the flight of capital needed for investment and other purposes.
According to Sagay, the stolen or diverted fund included trillions squandered in fuel subsidy scam, billions on Dasukigate scam, hundreds of millions of dollars taken from the NNPC by the former minister to bribe election officials in 2015, among others.
He said one third of stolen funds could have provided 600.18 kilometres of road, 36 ultramodern hospitals per state, education for children from primary to tertiary level at the rate of N5.34 billion per child and 20,062 units of two-bedroom houses.
He also lamented that Nigeria had the largest number of incomplete projects.
According to Sagay: “Most of the financial assets stolen in Nigeria are taken out of the country as part of the illicit financial flow. The immediate impact is that Nigeria is deprived of the capacity to realise its sustainable development goals of the UN.
“These include no poverty (eradication of poverty), zero hunger (eradication of hunger), good health, quality education, clean water and sanitation, affordable clean energy etc.
“It is hard for any country to achieve that when it has looted 90 per cent or its resources and this hemorrhage is leaving our shores- underdeveloped world- to the developed world, developing them more while we are regressing.
“I have always said it, and you know Nigerians don’t like the truth, but this is the truth, give our elite an opportunity to do a project, vote money for that project, the first thing they do is divide that money amongst themselves. Nigeria has largest number of incomplete projects in this world. Many people just take the money and walk away in collusion with the ministries and agencies that awarded the contracts.
“Let me draw the connect between unrestrained looting and illicit financial flows. Most of the financial assets stolen in Nigeria are taken out of the country as part of the illicit financial flow. The immediate impact is that Nigeria is deprived of the capacity to realise its sustainable development goals of the UN officially known as transforming our world. These include no poverty (eradication of poverty), zero hunger (eradication of hunger), good health, quality education, clean water and sanitation, affordable clean energy etc.”
While declaring open the conference, Acting President Yemi Osinbajo called for heavy sanctions against banks and other financial institutions housing looted funds and aiding looters.
He said until that was done, Nigeria and other developing countries would not go far in the fight against corruption.
Osinbajo said for there to be collaboration there must first be connivance, urging that in the agreement and conventions that would be signed at the end of the three-day event, member countries must find a way to ensure that financial institutions were not given a free run, but held them accountable.
He charged developing countries to display the same outrage for drugs and terrorist financing for illicit financial flows, which he described as the worst crime against humanity.
“It took years for some people to agree that when somebody loot money where people make decent living, that is more dangerous than trafficking in drugs.
“It’s a good thing that we are here with our partners who agree that not only are these stolen assets criminalised but that they are returned to their appropriate owners.
“There is no way that transfer of these assets can happen without a handshake between the countries that they are transferred and the international banking institutions in the countries in which they are transferred; there is no way it will happen without some form of connivance.
“We have to look at somehow delegitimising those kind of financial institutions and criminalising them, so that banks and financial institutions that actually engage in this are being called out and made to face the consequences of engaging in criminal practices. If that isn’t done we are not likely to go very far.”
Osinbajo also noted that the Thebo Mbaki report showed that most of the illicit funds flow that come out of Africa are from Nigeria saying, “and that shows us very clearly, especially the security agencies, that we simply have to do more. It is evident that so much money is leaving our shores.”
The keynote speaker Akere Muna, Chair, International Anti-Corruption Conference Council, former Vice-Chair, Transparency International (TI), and member, African Union High Level Panel on Illicit Financial Flows otherwise known as the Thabo Mbeki Panel, stressed the need for the meeting to consider what was recommended in the Thabo Mbeki Report: the creation of escrow accountss within the Development Banks.
“Frozen money should not stay with the complicit bank, but in an escrow account with a third party, pending the courts’ or competent authorities’ determination as to the rightful owners of the funds.
“I have seen, in the context document prepared for the meeting, the issue of the management of recovered funds. I personally resent the fact that people who were complicit in the theft should turn around and start laying down conditionalities for the recovery of the same assets. Funds, whether recovered or still in the government coffers should not be stolen, period,” he said.