Needed: Looted Funds In­vest­ment Agency

Sunday Trust - - PAGE 3 COMMENT -

Only last week, agents of the Eco­nomic and Fi­nan­cial Crimes Com­mis­sion [EFCC] raided an apart­ment on the 7th floor of a fourbed­room apart­ment at Os­borne Tow­ers lo­cated at 16 Os­borne Road, Ikoyi, La­gos and made a star­tling dis­cov­ery. 43.4m US dol­lars, N23.2m and £27,800 were dis­cov­ered hid­den in draw­ers and cab­i­nets. It was said that a whistle­blower alerted EFCC’s La­gos of­fice, which swooped down on the apart­ment. Sur­pris­ingly it has taken many days with­out the pub­lic get­ting to know who owns the money. All those that were men­tioned as the al­leged own­ers, in­clud­ing a gov­ern­ment se­cu­rity agency, have de­nied own­er­ship and a court has or­dered that the money be de­posited in the Cen­tral Bank of Nige­ria, CBN.

Be­fore the re­cent find, the most star­tling dis­cov­ery made by EFCC was early in Fe­bru­ary when its agents re­cov­ered nearly $10m hid­den in a run­down house at Sabon Tasha, Kaduna be­long­ing to former Group Man­ag­ing Di­rec­tor of the Nige­ria Na­tional Petroleum Cor­po­ra­tion, Mr. An­drew Yakubu. The “spe­cial op­er­a­tion” con­ducted on Fe­bru­ary 3, 2017 found the monies hid­den in a fire-proof safe. It in­cluded $9,772,800 and an­other £74,000. That money was for­feited on an in­terim ba­sis fol­low­ing a court or­der. Though Yakubu filed a court case to try to re­trieve the money, say­ing it was a gift from well wish­ers, he later with­drew the case.

Last month, EFCC also an­nounced that it in­ter­cepted N49m aban­doned at Kaduna air­port by per­sons whose iden­ti­ties are not yet dis­closed. The money was said to have been found in gi­ant Ghana Must Go bags which were how­ever unat­tended to, and its agents swooped in and carted them off. Nor were these the only finds made by EFCC. Some­time last year, money in bil­lions of naira were said to have been dis­cov­ered at a farm al­legedly be­long­ing to a politi­cian in Nasarawa State. Not much has been heard of that money since the dis­cov­ery and it never re­ceived the pub­lic­ity that sub­se­quent EFCC re­cov­er­ies made. Then also, there were re­ports of the lux­ury high-rise build­ing on Ba­nana Is­land, Ikoyi, La­gos, which EFCC re­port­edly re­cov­ered from former Min­is­ter of Petroleum Re­sources Diezani Alison-Madueke. The build­ing was said to cost $37m. Diezani was said to have pur­chased the build­ing be­tween 2011 and 2012.

These were only the best known of the re­cov­er­ies. Apart from them, money in bil­lions of naira and its for­eign cur­rency equiv­a­lents were also re­port­edly re­trieved from many of­fi­cials of the former Jonathan regime who par­took in the shar­ing of monies meant for weapons pur­chases. The pres­i­den­tial com­mit­tee that probed that “Da­suki­gate scan­dal” to­gether with EFCC and po­lice re­cov­ered sums from many politi­cians, busi­ness­men and oth­ers. Then there were also the man­sions, com­mer­cial build­ings as well as huge sums of money re­trieved from mil­i­tary chiefs, es­pe­cially the former chiefs of Air Staff.

Put to­gether, these monies and other as­sets are huge in­deed. It is a pity that Nige­ri­ans do not yet have ac­cu­rate fig­ures of the dis­cov­er­ies and re­cov­er­ies. Last year, the gov­ern­ment promised that Pres­i­dent Muham­madu Buhari would dis­close the amounts so far re­trieved in his first an­niver­sary na­tional broad­cast, but it was shelved at the last minute. EFCC’s Act­ing Chair­man Ibrahim Magu, too, failed to give an es­ti­mate of the re­cov­ered sums dur­ing his Se­nate screen­ing, or since then.

We be­lieve it is time to put things in or­der. Gov­ern­ment and its agen­cies as well as the courts should not end­lessly go about re­cov­er­ing and re­triev­ing looted funds with­out the most thor­ough ac­count­abil­ity be­fore the Nige­rian peo­ple. The case of the Abacha loot read­ily comes to mind. Hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars and pounds were re­trieved from fam­ily mem­bers and as­so­ciates of the late dic­ta­tor, only to be re-looted again by of­fi­cials. Most hor­ren­dous in this re­gard was the rev­e­la­tion that former Na­tional Se­cu­rity Ad­viser Colonel Sambo Da­suki got a small com­mit­tee to rec­om­mend to Pres­i­dent Good­luck Jonathan the re­lease of those monies to him for al­leged se­cu­rity op­er­a­tions.

We are not al­leg­ing that EFCC or other agen­cies are visit­ing cur­rent funds with the Da­suki treat­ment but un­less the most trans­par­ent ac­count­ing is done of these monies, the pos­si­bil­ity of abuse can­not be ruled out, now or in the fu­ture. Trans­par­ent ac­count­ing is only the first step. We also rec­om­mend that a law be en­acted which should set out a care­fully thought out pol­icy of putting these monies to the best use of the peo­ple. For, by the time the court cases end and the author­i­ties se­cure per­ma­nent or­ders of for­fei­ture, the best that will hap­pen is that these monies will be fun­nelled into the Fed­eral trea­sury or even the Fed­er­a­tion Ac­count for shar­ing by the three tiers of gov­ern­ment. Such an out­come will be un­sat­is­fac­tory be­cause the monies will dis­ap­pear with­out vis­i­ble trace in a re­newed cy­cle of cor­rup­tion, mis­ap­pli­ca­tion, wrong pri­or­i­ties and bud­get pad­ding.

We there­fore lend our voices to the cre­ation of a Spe­cial Looted Funds In­vest­ment Agency with a clear man­date to chan­nel the funds into a clearly iden­ti­fied area of na­tional need such in­ter­ven­tion in ed­u­ca­tion, health care, child nutrition or ru­ral wa­ter sup­ply. The board of trustees of such a fund should be men and women of unim­peach­able in­tegrity but the fund should also have in place sys­tems and pro­cesses that check­mate hu­man weak­nesses. We be­lieve that Nige­ri­ans de­serve such an ar­range­ment af­ter the mul­ti­ple trauma and jeop­ardy that we have been through with this busi­ness of looted funds. It will be dou­bly tragic if, af­ter all is said and done, these monies are re­cov­ered and we nei­ther see nor hear any­thing about them again, un­til the next na­tional loot re­cov­ery ex­er­cise.

EFCC act­ing Chair­man, Ibrahim Magu

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