The Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, SAN, has said that developing countries in Africa lose over $148 billion to corruption annually partly due to Illicit Financial Flows (IFFs).
Malami, who spoke at the International Conference on IFFs and Asset Recovery organised by the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC), also disclosed that over $700 million stolen funds from Nigeria have been returned to the country in the last four years.
He said, “Nigeria, through proactive and collaborative efforts with other countries has recovered and ensured the return of over $700 million from the United States, the United Kingdom, Bailiwick of Jersey, Switzerland, and Ireland in the past four years. We are still working with our international partners and other countries to ensure that all Nigeria’s assets that are identified are recovered.”
The Minister, who was represented at the conference by the Senior Special Adviser to the President on Justice Sector Reforms, Barr. Juliet Ibekaku-Nwagwu, expressed worries that IFFs have become rife and growing at 20.2 percent annually in Africa because of weak national and regional capacity to stem the tide.
He lamented that the illicit movement of huge funds out of Africa has resulted in underdevelopment and insecurity across the continent.
His word, “No doubt, the impact of such criminal flow of funds means lack of health and education services, low levels of growth, high level of poverty and lack of infrastructure in many African countries.”
The ICPC Chairman, Prof. Bolaji Owasanoye, in his welcome address, noted that the effect of IFFs on developing countries in Africa was huge.
He stressed that the need to tackle the menace, which falls under the mandate of the Commission, has become paramount in order to shore up the dwindling revenue of the Federal Government.
He said, “Estimates of the quantum of IFFs lost globally varies, but it is generally agreed that a significant proportion of the loss is suffered by developing countries. African countries are particularly affected by loss through IFFs thus depriving the continent of much-needed resources for development.”
Also speaking at the conference, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama, who was represented by the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry, Ambassador Gabriel Aduda, said the Ministry was working assiduously to ensure the return of stolen funds and assets to Nigeria.
Onyeama said IFFs was responsible for many of the societal ills and underdevelopment the country is grappling with, adding that the Federal Government has put in place measures to block illicit outflows of funds.
He said, “Illicit Financial Flows deny developing countries of vital resources that belong to them; resources that should have been spent on their development priorities. It reduces tax revenues, hinders development endeavours, undermines constituted authorities and threatens the stability and sustainable development of all affected states.
“IFFs also provide the financial network that supports terrorist activities, fuels conflict and leads to internal displacement and refugees conditions, divert money from public priorities, and hampers government effort to mobilise domestic resources.
“The most effective deterrent remains to ensure that proceeds of IFFs are recovered and returned to countries of origin. It is for this reason that the government of Nigeria will continue to call on leaders whose countries are the main destination for IFFs to take concrete steps to prevent and stop the receipt of such funds into their countries, assist in tracing, freezing, seizing and returning illicit assets and its proceeds, already in their countries.”
The Minister reiterated that Nigeria will not succumb to any stringent conditions as it fights to ensure the return of funds and assets stolen from the country by corrupt people.
According to him, “Let me also add that any imposition of tough conditions for returning proceeds of illicit origin, in the face of the current financial difficulties and the economic hardship and recession occasioned by the rampaging impact of COVID-19 pandemic would be counter-productive. I, therefore, encourage representatives of countries of destination to consider waiving, or reducing to the barest minimum, the processes and costs of recovery.
“Nigeria’s delegation will continue to initiate and negotiate, on behalf of all developing countries, resolution on IFFs, with emphasis on asset recovery and return within the United Nations system.
“Our diplomats will remain bold and assertive in telling representatives of countries whose policies assist in habouring proceeds of IFFs that their actions and or inactions affect the lives of millions of people and deprive developing countries of resources required to achieve the 2030 Agenda for sustainable development.”
On her part, the Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Dr. (Mrs) Zainab S. Ahmed, stated that unless tackled, IFFs would continue to hamper economic development across the continent including Nigeria.
Dr. Ahmed, who was also represented by the Permanent Secretary (Special Duties) in the ministry, Alhaji Aliyu Shinkafi, called for mutual cooperation between Africa and countries of destination of IFFs, while stressing that leadership and political will are key in addressing the issue of illicit financial flows.
The first plenary session of the conference featured a presentation on International Asset Recovery: Milestones and Challenges delivered by Barr. Juliet Ibekaku-Nwagwu, Senior Special Adviser to the President on Justice Sector Reforms.
She said that some of the challenges of implementing international asset recovery, according to the 2020 IRG/COSP report, were that most states are yet to adopt the non-conviction-based approach; and most still do not have a legal mechanism to cover compensation for alleged victims.
She also revealed that issues related to dual criminality and lack of explicit filing requests still present a significant challenge in many of the reviewed states; and that while many states foresaw the need for the return of proceeds of corruption through asset sharing agreement, many were found not to have mechanisms for victim compensation and protection of bonafide third parties.
She then recommended, amongst other things, that the weakness in national systems should be addressed by enacting laws, continuous dialogue, training, exchanging information and sharing best practices.
In his contribution, Mr. Olanrewaju Suraj, Chairman, Human, and Environmental Development Agency, HEDA, said that the political will of African states was important in stemming the tide of IFFs while suggesting serious and aggressive combat of the menace.
Mr. Suraj who opined that some governments in Africa had shares in the big companies that engage in IFFs thereby slowing down the progress of stopping it, charged victim countries to challenge beneficiary countries as encouragers of IFFs.
He suggested that law enforcement agencies, Civil Society Organisations of victim states should collaborate with their counterparts in beneficiary states in order to achieve the right pressure.
Rev. David Ugolor, Executive Director, Africa Network for Environment and Economic Justice, ANEEJ, in his contribution at the international conference, mentioned some milestones of successful collaboration between Nigeria and other jurisdictions such as Switzerland, UK, US, etc.
On challenges, Rev. Ugolor listed the non-passage or delay in the passage of the Proceeds of Crime Act (POCA); misunderstanding and doubt as to whether recovered loot should be returned to its state of origin, like in the Ibori case; and synergy amongst anti-corruption agencies.
He then recommended that the POCA should be considered and passed to give a clear framework for dealing with returned funds; and a sustained cooperation with international communities etc.
The second plenary session was on IFFs and the Development Dilemma and the lead presentation was by Prof. Melvin Ayogu, a US-based consultant on IFFs.
He started by charging partner countries not to condone IFFs if they actually wish to help Africa.
He advised governments to depend less on foreign aid by looking inwards and developing especially the Small and Medium Enterprises, SMEs which will help to increase the government’s tax buoyancy.
Prof. Ayogu also said Private-Public Partnership should be explored especially the areas of ICT and infrastructure which should all be carried out with commitment and transparency.
In her own contribution on the Role of the Enablers, Ambassador Manorma Soeknandan shared some experiences of the Caribbean community which consists of 3 continental member-states and 11 English-speaking island member-states.
She said the Regional Security System (RSS) Asset Recovery Unit was set up in 2015 to tackle serious organized crime in the Caribbean Common Law jurisdictions through partnership and the robust application of proceeds of crime and money laundering legislation.
She revealed some achievements of the Unit to include: US$ 26.8 m of criminal assets identified and restrained; US$ 7.5m forfeited by the courts using cash seizure provisions; 85 persons charged with money laundering offences etc.
She said that the enablers were mostly educated persons (accountants, lawyers, politicians, etc.) who knew the loopholes, the people and the culture/mindset of the people and also who had the budget to calculate the “corruptive practices”.
On Beneficial Ownership, Thom Townsend, Executive Director, Open Ownership, UK, said his organisation was working in partnership with the World Bank to support the Corporate Affairs Commission, CAC, with the goal to remove technical and usability barriers to compliance; ensure usable data by agencies and businesses and CSOs are available.
He recommended that there was the need to draw a growing diversity of international best practices; integrate discussion about business owners’ disclosure into other policy areas to grow awareness and popularize the issue of disclosure of true company ownership information and finally to use the data that was made available.
The virtual Illicit Financial Flows conference is a 2-day event by ICPC in collaboration with the AU-ABC and Coalition for Dialogue in Africa (CoDA).