There are rising speculations and distortion of facts on the issue of asset recovery and disposal by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). But the commission says that guidelines and procedures on the issue are clear enough to demonstrate transparency and accountability.
By the sheer weight of its works, it is apparent that the EFCC has its hands full. The tasks of investigation, prosecution of cases, asset tracing, forfeiture and disposal are not for the faint-hearted. They are quite daunting. This fact is a double-edged sword for the commission. In one breath, analysts are commending it for being diligent and painstaking in handling its heavy assignments of tackling economic and financial crimes, in another breath, certain analysts are raising insinuations on some issues relating to asset forfeiture, disposal and associated matters.
Clarifying the contentious issue, the EFCC’s acting director, Directorate of Asset Forfeiture and Recovery Management, Mr. Aliyu Yusuf, said the issue of asset tracing, forfeiture and disposal need not be a grey area on the grounds that there are guidelines and procedures clearly spelt out in the establishment act of the EFCC.
According to him, “Section 31 of the Act is clear about the matter of asset. The secretary of the commission is empowered to dispose of any asset finally forfeited to the government.”
He also disclosed that the EFCC has been thorough and transparent in handling every asset traced to any suspect facing investigation and prosecution: “Asset forfeiture is usually the result of legal processes necessary for the resolution of illegally-acquired assets traced to any suspect investigated by the EFCC. Whenever a case of economic and financial crime is being investigated by the EFCC, careful attention is usually paid to any asset acquired with the proceeds of the crime.
“The asset may be monetary or physical properties like buildings, landed properties, vehicles, oil vessels, jewellery, etc. As soon as investigations show any linkage of any asset to an act of corruption, legal processes of forfeiture would be initiated and the resolution of the matter will determine what is done to the asset.”
Yusuf further explained that asset forfeiture may be interim or final, saying, however, that disposal of assets could only be done when a final forfeiture order was granted by the court. Regarding the issue of monetary asset, Yusuf said funds may be forfeited to individuals, private companies or government, depending on the source of the stolen funds.
He said, “When funds are forfeited to individuals and companies, payments are done directly to them by the EFCC. A case in point is the burst $242 million Brazilian bank robbery case involving Emmanuel Nwude and his gang of fraudsters. The EFCC investigated the case, recovered the money and restored it to the bank.”
He also disclosed that such restitution was allowed because investigation linked the bank robbery to Nwude and the appropriate thing to do was to return the money to the victim.
“In the case of buildings and landed property, the procedure of forfeiture may also be interim and final. Every final forfeiture of assets places responsibilities on the EFCC to dispose off the assets. Section 31 of the EFCC Establishment Act (2004) authorises the secretary to the commission to dispose of the assets and pay the proceeds into the Consolidated Fund of the Federation.
“Please, note that these recovered funds, subject to appropriation by the National Assembly, are used to fund the national budget.”
According to Yusuf, “Disposal of assets in this instance may be through auctioning or through direct disposal for other uses as may be determined by the government. Government may use forfeited assets for other purposes of national importance.”
He explained that the provisions of the Public Procurement Act clearly stipulate the procedures to be followed in auctioning forfeited assets. The procedure involves: engagement of auctioneers, advertisement of the assets to be auctioned in the media, spelling out of qualifications of auctioneers and ensuring that every bit of the required qualification is met, and public auction of the assets.
He stressed that, “The EFCC has credible guidelines for auctioning forfeited assets. The guidelines ensure that relations of suspects and relations of EFCC staff are not allowed to participate in the auctioning to allow for integrity and transparency.”
On the issue of alleged ‘re-looting’ of recovered asset, Yusuf stressed that “there is nothing like systemic re-looting of assets by any EFCC official. This is because there are established guidelines and no compromise is allowed in following the guidelines.”
Dismissing insinuations that some recovered assets like vehicles were routinely given out to government agencies or individuals, the acting executive chairman of the EFCC, Mr. Ibrahim Magu, said, “Such a breach of established guidelines of asset disposal is not feasible because there are laws in place and the laws are sacrosanct. Sometimes, auctioning of assets is done. This is not peculiar to the EFCC alone.
“The Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) is always auctioning different items seized from smugglers. The service follows extant rules in doing this. This is the same procedure the EFCC is following. Anyone claiming any asset is disposed to any agency or individual may not be familiar with the Public Procurement Act or may be simply mischievous.”
In 2019, the EFCC publicly auctioned more than 200 trucks and other vehicles forfeited to the Federal Government by illegal oil bunkerers in Port Harcourt, Rivers State. The auctioning processes were publicly advertised and licensed auctioneers were invited to carry out the exercise.
Nigerians from all walks of life converged in Port Harcourt and participated in the exercise. The secretary to the commission, Mr. Ola Olukoyede, supervised the entire process and those who participated in the exercised attested to the openness and transparency of the entire bidding process.
This auction by the EFCC was done in collaboration with the Nigerian Army, Department of Petroleum Resources and the registrar of the Federal High Court in Port Harcourt.
While the public auctioning of the trucks and other vehicles were going on between December 20 and December 23, 2019, Olukoyede stressed the need for members of the public to submit their bids for any of the trucks and vehicles being auctioned. The response was overwhelming. Responses came from the whole country and the bidding processes were quite open.
“As an anti-corruption agency, we cannot organise auctioning processes that would not be credible. So, all the procedures are being followed and everyone here can see the transparency of the entire exercise. We cannot do anything less than this,” Olukoyede said.
It is instructive to note that the commission has concluded plans to auction more vehicles and other items in its various zones nationwide. The fresh auction is in response to a Federal Government directive to that effect.
As usual, the secretary to the commission will roll out the procedures and the provisions of the Public Procurement Act. Interested members of the public would be invited and the bidding processes would be set out.
As far as Yusuf is concerned, “the important thing is to ensure that laid down procedures are followed and as long as they are followed, the campaigns of cover-up by some critics of the EFCC would no longer stand.
“The commission is absolutely committed to doing the right thing at all times. We will remain committed to this,” he added.
•Amokeodo is Special Assistant on Media and Publicity to the Acting Executive Chairman of the EFCC