…Buhari rallies support for anti-graft war in Africa, others
…We didn’t know corruption during our time – Gowon
…Magu: War against corruption, collective fight
Nobel laureate, Prof Wole Soyinka, on Monday, said some leaders of the country will soon be guests of the new headquarters of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) in Abuja, urging the anti-graft body to help Nigeria recover its remaining loots in other countries.
The Nobel laureate stated this at the 8th Commonwealth Regional Conference for Heads of Anti-Corruption Agencies in Africa, held in Abuja, lamenting that Nigeria has been bled dry by corruption.
His words: “We have been bled dry by corruption in Nigeria. Some of our leaders will soon pass through the doors of the EFCC new headquarters. I want to see the Presidential wing at the EFCC. Your responsibility is to help us recover the remaining loots in other countries.”
Soyinka, who was reacting to the theme of the conference, said that corruption is not just an affairs of one nation but a collectivity of all nations
Speaking earlier, President Muhammadu Buhari called on African countries and Commonwealth member states to put the necessary framework to fight corruption in the continent, saying that the cost of corruption imposed on all African countries and governments a moral obligation to fight it with vigour and political will.
The president declared that corruption had continued to be one of the greatest challenges in the continent and called for international collaboration to stem the “scourge”.
The President, who was represented by Vice Yemi Osinbajo said that the fight against corruption should be done by strengthening all institutions and systems involved in law enforcement as well as in promoting a culture of transparency and accountability.
According to him, while public sector corruption is the usual focus, the private sector’s complicity is significant, such as when large multinational corporations engage in tax evasion or transfer pricing.
He noted that it was the complex web of public-private collusion and connivance that resulted in proceeds of corruption ending up in foreign countries and especially in their financial institutions and systems.
“Dismantling the conspiracies that facilitate export of stolen assets is probably as important as the theme of this conference, “Partnering towards Assets Recovery and Return,” he added.
The President disclosed that the $320million stolen funds by the former military Head of State, the late General Sani Abacha, would be spent on the Conditional Cash Transfer scheme of the administration to support the poor.
He said this was one condition given by the Switzerland authorities for the repatriation of the funds.
The Global Forum on Asset Recovery (GFAR) after its inaugural meeting in Washington, DC, in December 2017, had facilitated efforts toward asset recovery and return, Buhari said.
“The GFAR saw the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between Nigeria and the Government of Switzerland for the return of an additional $320 million of the Sani Abacha loot.
“Included in that agreement is the commitment that the funds would be invested in one of the Nigeria’s flagship social investment programmes, the Conditional Cash Transfer scheme targeted at the poorest and most vulnerable households in our country, he added.
Buhari also quoted a 2014 report by the One Campaign titled: “One Trillion Dollar Scandal”, which claimed that developing countries lost $1 billion annually to corporate transgressions, with most of them traceable to activities of companies with secret ownership.
The president recalled another report in 2015 by the High Level Panel on Illicit Financial Flows from Africa, chaired by former South African President Thabo Mbeki, which stated that Africa had lost over $1 trillion over a 50-year period.
The report added that Africa had lost more than $50 billion annually to illicit financial flows mostly perpetrated in the extractive sector and through companies with hidden ownerships.
“It underscores the fact that fighting corruption is futile if we do not ensure that the proceeds of corruption find no safe haven.
“Recovering stolen assets not only accomplishes the goal of restitution, it also serves as a potential deterrent to future corruption,’’ he stated.
Buhari decried the absence of a legal basis for cooperation in some countries, differences in legal and procedural frameworks, language barriers, bank secrecy, jurisdictional issues, and a lack of funding as obstacles to effective mutual legal assistance.
He, however, expressed gladness on the renewed commitment to collectively identifying the most effective means of overcoming all of the existing legal and technical obstacles to asset recovery and return.
The president urged African countries to come together to keep the issue of asset recovery and return on the front-burner of international discourse and also work hard to build cooperation and mutual understanding with global partners.
“We must insist that recovered stolen assets be returned to the country of origin, without any preconditions, in line with Article 51 of United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC),’’ he added.
Buhari said that states should agree to apply the highest standards possible of transparency at all stages not just of the recovery and return process, but also in the management and disposal of recovered and repatriated assets.
He also called on governments of African States to adequately fund their anti-corruption agencies as the fight against corruption was far more sophisticated, vicious and nuanced than ever before.
“We must provide adequate resources to investigate, adequately equip operatives, protect their families, and protect whistleblowers and witnesses.
“Let me say to you Heads of Anti-Corruption Agencies in Commonwealth Africa that you have found yourselves in roles that could change the destinies of your nation if you deliver on your mandates.
“You simply cannot afford to fail; on our part as the Government of Nigeria, we are irrevocably committed to the fight against corruption,’’ the president declared.
Secretary General of the Commonwealth, Baroness Patricia Scotland, harped on the need to put in place a sustainable solution that can lead to the success in the fight against corruption in Africa and the Commonwealth nations.
Scotland said globally, over $840 billion are looted annually, calling on the Commonwealth member states and the African countries to build synergy to end corruption.
She applauded President Buhari’s leadership in the fight against corruption, assuring that the Commonwealth would continue to work in collaboration with Nigeria to provide the required mechanism to ensure transparency and accountability in governance.
In his welcome address, the Acting Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Mr. Ibrahim Magu, said there has never been a better, more focused and committed team as far as anti-corruption is concerned, anywhere in Africa than the current leadership in Nigeria.
According to him, the fact that the fight against corruption is central to the administration of President Buhari is not accidental.
Magu said: “This commitment springs from deep humane roots watered by the unshakeable conviction that corruption is at the very centre of the developmental challenges bedeviling our country and indeed, Africa.
“That conviction, which I share, has informed the unrestrained and unqualified support of Mr. President for every policy or action aimed at eliminating the cankerworm in our lives.
“I say ‘unrestrained’ and ‘unqualified’ advisedly, but really, President Buhari gives us, the anti-corruption agencies in Nigeria, unrestrained support, qualified only by his insistence that anti-corruption war be carried out under the strict, unyielding guidance of the law.
“The most valuable support you need to do this job is that of the masses admired with the political will at the very top. Once you have that, the sky would be your starting point. It is my belief and expectation that all have similar experiences in that regard in your various jurisdictions.
“With peer review being at the core of this our much-valued annual cross-jurisdictional interface, we are going to be sharing defining experiences from our peculiar situations and circumstances, our strategies, tactics and so on.
“Beyond the confines of our professional and intellectual exchanges, I wish to urge us all to seize this unique opportunity to forge lasting friendships, contacts and collaborations across our different law enforcement agencies and jurisdictions.
Invariably, when bureaucratic bottlenecks and red-tapes threaten to jeopardise law enforcement activities across jurisdictions, such relationships intervene for the good of all.”
The Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Walter Onnoghen, while delivering his remarks, urged the conference to look into the issue of cross-border crime and illicit financial flows.
Onnoghen said: “Whenever you have a political will you will definitely make a headway in the fight against corruption”.
He assured that the judiciary “is here to sustain the effort and bring corruption down to the barest minimum.”
Also speaking, former Head of State, Gen. Yakubu Gowon, said that during his time in power, they did not know “anything like corruption”.
Gowon said though some of his ministers then were accused of corruption, his government worked to curb it and it did not go into the public service.
He said, “During our time, we did not know anything like corruption. Some of my ministers were accused of corruption but we did not allow it go into the public service.
“After I left office, apart from my salary, it was the staff that worked with me that contributed their estacode so that I have something to live on. During our time, we did not know that thing. We were afraid of being exposed,”
Gowon said it is sad to see reports or articles that portray all former heads of states as “thieves.”
“It is sad to read reports that all former heads of state are thieves.
“I will like to ask you (heads of anti-corruption agencies) to find a way of making those in leadership not to be tempted – let them be honest,” he added.
The former head of state hoped that whatever recovered asset is brought back to the country would be used for the good of all Nigerians especially the underprivileged.
Earlier in his remarks, Governance Adviser, Commonwealth Secretariat, UK, Dr. Roger Koranteng, said that a central part of the Commonwealth’s endeavours is to help member countries face up to corruption and tackle its destructive impact.
“Since our Association was established in 2011, Commonwealth member countries in Africa are generally doing relatively better than their global counterparts.
“The Commonwealth is ideally placed in its strategic efforts to foster genuine partnerships amongst all member states.
Its effectiveness is built upon the ownership by its members, and the trust and confidence that member countries have in the Commonwealth Secretariat to work on this important agenda for dealing with corruption.”