President Muhammadu Buhari recently authorised the sale of all assets seized from corrupt public office holders, civil servants and others within six months. The Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice(AGF), Abubakar Malami (SAN), who disclosed this last week, also announced the inauguration of a 22-member Inter-Ministerial Committee approved by the President to supervise the sale of the forfeited assets said to be proceeds of crimes. The Committee, with members from relevant agencies that deal with recovery and disposal of government assets, is headed by the Solicitor-General of the Federation and Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Justice, Mr. Dayo Akpata (SAN).
Interestingly, the Committee has been given the mandate to ensure the expedient disposal of all the forfeited assets and remit the proceeds to the Federation Account. Members of the Committee include representatives from the Office of Chief of Staff to the President, Auditor General of the Federation(AUGF), Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Independent Corrupt Practices and Other related Offences Commission (ICPC), the Army, Police, Navy.
Others are from the Federal Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Works and Housing, Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps, Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Department of State Services (DSS), National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR), National Oil Spillage, Detection and Response and Bureau of Public Procurement as well as representatives of Civil Society Organisations, youths and the media.
The plan to dispose the forfeited assets is quite in order. Good enough, it is coming at a time of dwindling federal revenue. However, we caution that the exercise must be diligently carried out to ensure that the assets are not sold to those in power and their cronies. Before the sale, the assets must be properly assessed to avoid selling them at ridiculous prices.
We believe that the members of the committee will discharge their duties with utmost patriotism and sincerity of purpose. In other words, the sale of the assets must be transparent and devoid of official meddlesomeness, which is common in this part of the world. President Buhari had in October 2018, following the recommendations of the Presidential Audit Committee on Recovery and Management of Stolen Assets, called for an effective management of recovered assets as an interim measure, pending the passage of the Proceeds of Crime Bill before the National Assembly. Therefore, the latest order to sell all the forfeited assets is in compliance with the 2018 recommendations. To that effect, the Office of the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice has issued an instrument known as Asset Tracing Recovery and Management Regulations, 2019. This provides the legal and administrative frameworks for the investigation, tracing, seizure and disposal of stolen or illegally acquired assets and proceeds of crime.
The regulation is drawn from the extant laws of relevant anti-corruption and law enforcement agencies. Altogether, it is aimed at ensuring proper coordination of the disposal of the assets and for promoting a uniform, harmonised and transparent procedure to safeguard the assets recovered by the relevant agencies in line with the government’s anti-corruption war.
There is need for due process and accountability in the sale of the forfeited assets. Since the inception of this administration in 2015, it has recovered many proceeds of crime from high profile public officials. Also, the disposal of some of these assets has been mired in controversy because of reported lack of due process.
That is why we call for transparency in the disposal of the forfeited assets. They should not, by any means, be undervalued for proxies to buy them off. Getting the appropriate value of the assets is critical to avoid corruption that reportedly characterised such exercises in the past.
We also believe that the President’s order must have been given after the conclusion of all litigations concerning the assets. This is necessary to avoid future litigations on the matter. We have no doubt that the sale of the assets, if duly implemented, will deter others from engaging in official malfeasance in future.