From Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye, Abuja
Nigeria’s frozen stolen assets outside the shores of the country is estimated to currently stands at $5 billion Transparency International and the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), have said.
The country is also said to be responsible for the highest illicit financial flow annually in Africa.
CISLAC Policy Advisor, Vaclav Prusa said this at day one of a two-day media workshop on effective reporting of Nigeria’s asset recovery and management system organised by CISLAC, the national chapter of Transparency International in Nigeria (TI), in Abuja.
The workshop targeted at investigative journalists with focus on the need to improve the reporting of Nigeria’s asset recovery process.
According to him, the estimated volume of money lost annually in Nigeria is between $18 to $25 billion.
Prusa noted that all the assets recovered in Nigeria so far, the intelligence came from the media and not the domestic law enforcement agencies, hence the need for the media to continue to find where stolen assets are and exposed them.
He said: “In the case Nigeria it is estimated that $5 billion stolen assets are frozen. What does this mean? It means this is money sitting somewhere in Switzerland or somewhere waiting for reparation. It means even though some money have been repatriated from New Jersey, Switzerland back to Nigeria but there are a lot of money still out there. I think it’s important to rely on the media to push for these assets.”
According to Prusa, should the $5 billion be returned to Nigeria, it will cover 20 percent of the country’s 2021 budget for three months, noting that the amount is just a fraction of the New Jersey assets that has left the country’s jurisdiction.
He further said that out of the $18 to $20 billion that leaves the shores of the country is through tax evasion.
The CISLAC policy Advisor noted that Nigeria is an important player in assets recovery and has made two international commitments against stolen assets.
Prusa, however noted that the inability of the country to pass the legislation law despite commitments maybe as a result of a government agencies or individuals who profit from the current statusquo, urging the media and the civil society organizations to expose.
The CISLAC policy Advisor recalled that the sacked former Acting Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Ibrahim Magu, had in 2017 boasted at an international forum that the sum of $2.9 billion was recovered domestically but without making it publicly accessible, stating that there is no guarantee that such assets will not be relooted.
He commended the federal government’s efforts in assets recovery but said it was still peanuts. He stressed it was unacceptable that it took as long as 10 years to recover looted assets from Abacha and Ibori and that 50 percent of the recovered funds go to international law firms.
Transparency International’s African Regional Advisor, Samuel Kaninda, noted that annually African countries lose billions of dollars due to corruption and Nigeria being the biggest economy on the continent is also the biggest losers in the continent.
According to him, not only does the proceeds of corruption find safe havens in the world’s financial sector but also are concealed domestically.
Kaninda noted that recovering such proceeds of corruption which deprives citizens of much needed resources in tackling development challenges, is a complex and lengthy one which range from tracing, freezing of assets, confiscating and repatriating to countries.
He added that recovered funds when used to fund political campaigns undermines what he called representative of democracy.
He urged the media to increasingly report assets and recovery systems and what agencies managing the funds are doing in order to stall re-looting of the funds, noting that without the recovered assets, the continent will continued to be denied required resources to fund development projects as well as achieve SDG 16.4 which targets to significantly reduce illicit financial and arms flows, strengthen recovery and return of stolen assets, and combat all forms of organized crime by 2030.
Speaking on the importance of the workshop, the Executive Director, CISLAC, Auwal Musa Rafsanjani, expressed concern that various security agencies in the country were working without synergy, noting that the lack of transparency as regards recovered loot in the country creates room for re-looting and mismanagement.
He said: “Currently, various institutions like the EFCC, Independent Corrupt Practice and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC), Code of Conduct Bureau, Nigeria Custom Service, National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), the Nigerian Police and other agencies recover assets without synergy.
“This lack of transparency in respect of recovered assets in Nigeria creates room for re-looting and mismanagement. The much-awaited Proceeds of Crime management Bill has not yet been signed into law, supposedly because of the power struggle within agencies about economically and politically lucrative mandate to confiscate and manage stolen assets.
“Lack of transparency in the management of these assets provides an ample room for corruption and mismanagement in “re-looting” of the looted assets. Moreover, it has also become a political weapon as accusations of the mismanagement of recovered assets are frequently used against anti- corruption agencies to settle political scores.
“This workshop plans to engage selected journalists to increase its reporting of asset management and pressure governmental and legislative representatives on the need to improve transparency in managing recovered assets. CISLAC plans to work with the media to uncover national and international cases of stolen corrupt assets with links to politically exposed persons. These assets need to be recovered, better utilized for a post COVID-19 economic recovery.”
Meanwhile, CISLAC), the national contact of Transparency International in Nigeria has accused the President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration of lack of transparency in the recovery of stolen assets.
Rafsanjani, who addressed a press conference in Abuja, said in six years of the administration’s rule, there has been nothing to show in the fight against corruption.
It also called on the National Assembly to enact a legal framework for the management of the recovered stolen assets.
He said further that although President Buhari promised Nigerians to fight corruption, he has however not shown much commitment to deliver on his promises.
According to him, money recovered by the current administration is being looted by politicians.
While speaking on the corruption in the judiciary, he added that Nigeria loses over $10 Billion annually to tax evasion alone and that due to corruption in the judiciary much has not been done to prosecute the culprits.
The CISLAC boss, therefore, called on the Federal Government to account for the billions of dollars that have been recovered from corruption proceeds from former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration till date.