Africa Network for Environment and Economic Justice, ANEEJ have called on Nigeria government to put to an end lack of accountability in asset recovery framework in the country.
Africa Network for Environment and Economic Justice made the call in its recent reserch conducted and entitled;”The Extant Regime for Asset Recovery and Management in Nigeria: Developments, Challenges and Prospects” presented by the group Executive Director, Reverend David Ugolor.
According to Africa Network for Environment and Economic Justice, between 2015 and most specifically 2017 to 2020, Nigeria made an increase in the recovery of looted assets up tune of 724 million dollar.
Africa Network for Environment and Economic Justice said in December 2017, Switzerland returned 322.5 Million dollar, August 2018, United Kingdom returned 85 Million dollar, February 2020, United States of America and Island of Jersey returned 311 Million dollar and August 2020, Republic of Ireland returned 5.5 Million dollar making it a total of 724 Million dollar recovered looted aassets.
The group said the looted funds recovered from oversea is in addition to recoveries done by the Nigeria Police Force, I.C.P.C and other anti corruption and law enforcement agencies.
The group said the alleged fraud case against the immediate past acting Chairman of E.F.C.C, Ibrahim Magu made it well pronounced that the E.F.C.C, Nigeria Police Force and other anti corruption and law enforcement agencies lack the requisite capacity to manage and dispose off seized and confisticated assets.
OsazuwaAkonedo reports that Ibrahim Magu was sacked over allegation of converting seized and confisticated assests into personal property.
Part of the reserch reads thus: Legal Gaps: The most obvious challenge with the extant regime for the recovery and management of looted assets in Nigeria remains the lack of robust legal provisions on the issue.
Even though the laws establishing Anti-Corruption Agencies, ACAs such as the E.F.C.C and I.C.P.C make provisions for the confiscation of the proceeds of corruption,there are no detailed provisions on how these institutions and other Law Enforcemnt Agencies, LEAs should manage those assets or otherwise dispose them.
This created room for each institution involved in the recovery of proceeds of crime – including the E.F.C.C, I.C.P.C, Nigeria Police Force, Department of State Services and the Nigeria Customs Service – to deal with the management and disposal of assets as it deems fit based on its internal policies and regulations.
The outcome of this is a disorderly and deficient system for managing recovered assets that is inimical to efficiency and accountability.
Lack of Expertise: As ACAs and LEAs, the institutions currently involved in the management and disposal of recovered assets – including the Federal Ministry of Justice – lack the requisite capacity and expertise to adequately carry out this function.
This is a function best performed by certified and professional asset managers who have the capacity to effectively manage and dispose of the relevant proceeds of crime in a manner that preserves the value of the assets and increases government revenue in the process.
This is significant considering the repeated reports of the deterioration of valuable assets in the custody of various ACAs and LEAs.
Lack of Transparency and Accountability in the Management and Disposal of Recovered Assets: Over the last few years, Nigeria has taken proactive steps to introduce transparency in governance through the implementation of mechanisms such as the Nigerian Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative and the Open Government Partnership.
However, the asset recovery regime still lacks such transparency reforms. For instance, ACAs such the E.F.C.C and I.C.P.C periodically state amounts of money and properties confiscated without any breakdown of specific timeframes during which such recoveries were made or the cases to which they are connected.
The 2019 Regulations: For instance, Section 28 of the I.C.P.C Act provides that, “Where in respect of any property seized under this Act, there is no prosecution or conviction for an offence under this Act, the chairman of the Commission may, before the expiration of twelve months from the date of the seizure, apply to a judge of the High Court for an order of forfeiture of that property, if he is satisfied that such property has been obtained as a result of or in connection with an offence [under the Act].
However, they have failed to achieve this objective as the database of recovered assets created pursuant to the Regulations are not accessible to the public, with only stipulated ACAs and LEAs allowed to login to access the database.
Non-Binding International Regime on Utilisation of Recovered Assets: Even though Chapter V of the United Nations Convention Against Corruption is dedicated to asset recovery, there are negligible provisions on the disposal or utilisation of recovered assets.
The only reference to this is to be found in Article 57(3c)(5) which provides that consideration should be given to the legitimate owners of looted assets being returned or the victims of the crime of corruption when disposing of such assets.
It further provides that contracting State Parties may consider concluding agreements for the final disposal of confiscated properties on a case-by-case basis.
Based on this provision, most M.O.Us for the repatriation of looted assets to Nigeria often contain clauses that stipulate what such assets should be spent on.
This, however, provides the government in office considerable leverage to determine what returned assets should be used on, even where such use might not be in the best interest of the citizens of the country who are the ultimate victims of corruption.
With no legally binding provisions, guidance on this has been sourced from the Global Forum on Asset Recovery (G.FAR) Principles on Asset Recovery and other Guidelines created by the Stolen Asset Recovery (StAR) Initiative and other institutions.
Whilst have been useful for purposes of advocacy to ensure that recovered assets are utilised for purposes that are most beneficial to citizens in a transparent and accountable manner, there is a need for a more binding framework for this at the international level.
Politicisation of Asset Recovery and Utilisation: Recent developments demonstrate increasing indications of the politicisation of asset recovery and management issues in Nigeria.
As highlighted above, ACAs and LEAs periodically release statements of the number and worth of assets recovered without necessary details, as if to provide political rationalisatisation of their existence and effectiveness.
The issue of asset recovery and management has also been a cause of dispute between the A.G.F and the E.F.C.C in particular.
The outcomes of this include the introduction of the 2019 Asset Recovery Guidelines and the ongoing rather secretive investigation of the erstwhile Chairman of the E.F.C.C, Ibrahim Magu, by a specially constituted Investigative Panel based on allegations levelled against him by the A.G.F.
Whilst it is hoped that the passage of POCA would address most of the legal and institutional loopholes that have enabled these issues, the current apparent politicisation of issues surrounding the recovery and utilisation of looted assets has to be addressed.
At a fundamental level, the objective of ensuring that Nigeria has a strong, transparent and accountable regime for asset recovery and management is to ensure that recovered assets are not re-looted and are rather used for purposes that benefit the ordinary citizens.
Going forward, to enhance the extant regime for asset recovery and management in Nigeria to achieve these objectives, the following recommendations are immediately vital:
• Pass the Proceeds of Crime Bill as soon as possible. In considering the bill in its current form, both chambers of the National Assembly should work with relevant stakeholder, including civil society, to ensure that:
➢ The Proceeds of Crime Recovery and Management Agency established under the Bill is bestowed with the necessary independence to effectively carry out its job without political interference. This should be done with particular regard to the appointment and removal of its leadership and the funding of the Agency.
➢ The mandate of the Agency is distinct and does not overlap with the mandate of the E.F.C.C, I.C.P.C and other ACAs and LEAs operating within the anticorruption and governance space in Nigeria.
This is especially so with respect to the use of non-conviction based forfeiture mechanisms and the handling of properties that are subject to either interim or final forfeiture in criminal proceedings
➢ Substantial provisions are mde to ensure that there would be necessary transparency and accountability in the functions of the Agency.
• Pending the passage of the Proceeds of Crime Bill, the Asset Recovery and Management Unit (ARMU) in the Federal Ministry of Justice – which is the leading department handling asset recovery issues in Nigeria – should adhere to basic standards of transparency and accountability in coordinating the recovery and management of looted assets.
A good starting point would be to ensure that the database of recovered assets is made publicly accessible.
• Concerted efforts should be made to address the apparent political issues that underlie the unremitting conflict between the Office of the AGF and ACAs on asset recovery issues.
Whilst it is essential that the ongoing investigation by the Justice Ayo Salami-led panel of allegations against the former Chairman of the E.F.C.C, Ibrahim Magu is brought to a logical conclusion through due process, concrete actions need to be taken to prevent further political nuances that have the potential of impeding progress in Nigeria’s asset recovery and management efforts.
• Finally, government and civil society actors should work together to leverage extant principles and guidelines to ensure that the proceeds of crime are used on projects and purposes that directly benefit the victims of corruption.
The current framework of paying all such proceeds into the Consolidated Revenue Account puts such funds at risk of being re-looted without providing remedy for the victims of such corrupt activities.