Industry players express concerns over forfeited properties
One of the tools available to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) is the power to seize the property od someone on suspicion of having committed an offence listed in the Act. But there is a bit of disharmony in the law relating to forfeitu
THE once boisterous building located close to Ikeja under bridge, at Awolowo Road has remained a shadow of its old self courtesy of the recent sealing order obtained by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
The mixed-used building, which used to be centre of attraction, is currently placed under lock and key by the anti-graft agency and undergoing investigation. Hitherto, the two buildings were renters’ delight before the unfortunate incident, with an office space put at N200, 000 to N300, 000 per annum depending the size and the position of the space. However, that is not the same now as part of the buildings have become haven for destitute, while hawkers capitalize on the situation to display wares in its front.
The case of Savannah bank buildings in Lagos, Wuse 2 - Abuja, and other parts of the country are more pathetic. The building were sealed over 10 years ago and were allowed to deteriorate without any plan of proper man- agement by the authorities. The facilities either serve as hide out for criminals or miscreants or better still homes for lunatics.
With proper management, the buildings valued at hundreds of million of naira, an estate surveyor and valuer, said could be cash cow for parties in dispute but they are wallowing in abject neglect, leading to depreciation in rental and commercial values.
With the increasing number of ongoing trial of politically exposed persons in court, the lists of seized and forfeited properties are expected to swell, thereby raising questions over how the properties, whose values runs into billions of naira are left to rot thereby loosing their economic value to the nation.
For instance, the Federal Government had in its publication last year, included 22 farmlands, 182 completed buildings, among non-cash recoveries made within May 2015 and last May 2017.
On Monday, August 7, 2017, there was a final forfeiture order from a Federal high Court, Lagos of a $37.5m (N11.75bn) property on Banana Island, Ikoyi, Lagos allegedly belonging to a for- mer Minister of Petroleum Resources.
The same court ordered the temporary forfeiture of a landed property belonging to the minister valued at N325, 400,000, to the Federal Government of Nigeria. The vacant plot of land is said to be located at Plot 13, Block 11, Oniru Chieftaincy Family Private Estate, Lekki, Lagos.
Also a Federal High Court, Lagos on April 24, 2018 ordered the temporary forfeiture of a 12-storey building at 27, Marine Road, Apapa belonging to a serving senator over an alleged contract scam of N1.5 billion.
Already, opinions are diverse over the management of these properties and assets, which the EFCC Act 2004 allows the commission to attach or seize. Specifically, sections 24, 28 of the EFCC Act, put the forfeiture of property and assets suspected to connect to fraud or connected thereto on the doorstep of the antigraft agency.
Under Section 30 (1), a copy of very final order forfeiting the asset and property of person convicted under this Act shall be forwarded to the Commission and Section 30 (2) says upon receipt of final order pursuant to this section, the Secretary to the commission shall take steps to dispose of the property concerned by sale or otherwise and where the property is sold, the proceeds then, shall be paid into the Consolidation Revenue fund of the Federation.
The intention was to maintain the value of real estate and to ensure that, the assets remained available to the suspect in the event that no final forfeiture order was made.
But concerns over the management of the properties grew stronger when the Chairman of Panic Alert Security System ([PASS), Dr. George Uboh accused former Executive Chairman of EFCC, Mr. Ibrahim Lamorde of continual concealment of the details of the unsold properties forfeited by both Tafa Balogun and DSP Alamieyeseigha despite receiving rent revenues from some estate agents on the said properties.
Uboh had alleged that Lamorde of concealing the details of the unsold properties forfeited by both Tafa Balogun and DSP Alamieyeseigha despite receiving rent revenues from some estate agents on the said properties.
“For example Etudo & Co. estate agents aggregate N 185,663,336.62 in Access Bank to wit: 28/3/2012 (N70, 655,872.47), 13/9/2012 (N99, 083,241.75) and 6/3/2012 (N15, 944,222.40)”, he noted.
But EFCC denied wrong doing, saying that Etudo & Co. has never served as EFCC asset manager on any property forfeited either by Tafa Balogun or DSP Alamieyeseigha.
“The rent proceeds, which date of payment and total sums were cited by George Uboh, were actually payments by Etude & Co from the management of forfeited properties of suspects/accused persons other than Tafa Balogun or DSP Alamieyeseigha.
But the Nigerian Institution of Estate Surveyors and Valuers (NIESV) has asked the federal government to discontinue the practice of allowing the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to manage property seized from corrupt Nigerians.
The institution further charged the government to establish a National Property Management Agency to manage all the assets confiscated by the anti-graft agency for proper
accountability and transparency.
According to NIESV, the antigraft agency should not be allowed to superintend over the management of property seized from those who have been found to amass
wealth illegitimately noting that the war against corruption would not be effectively won if such practice were allowed to stand. Former president of the Institution, Olorogun James Omeru has expressed the feelings of NIESV during the 46th annual national conference of the Institution in Abuja.
He stressed that for Nigeria to achieve transparency and proper utilization of properties seized from corrupt public officials, the anti-corruption agencies such as the EFCC and ICPC must hands off the management of those properties.
“We as Estate Surveyors are saying that the same organs that are fighting corruption should not superintend over the management of properties they have confiscated. If I were the chairman of EFCC in the present day Nigeria and I’ve been given power to seize people’s properties and you still ask me to manage, most of the properties will be in my village and that is what is happening”, he said. He stressed that neither the EFCC or ICPC nor both should not be the organs to sell or manage seized properties but what we are doing now amount to moving from one level of corruption to another”, he added.
Other members of NIESV also expressed less satisfaction with the management of the properties. According to them, Nigerians need to know how much money, the properties forfeited to the federal government are generating in a transparent manner.
Expressing concerns over this, former chairman, Estate Surveyors and Valuers Registration Board of Nigeria, (ESVARBON) Elder William Odudu, said the country is losing millions every year as a result of neglect of seized or forfeited properties. He Lamented that the fact of buildings like, Savannah bank Lagos that they sealed up in Lagos for many years, and most of the things in the building were just thrown out and nobody is doing anything about it.
He said; “That building would have been yielding millions every year. There are several of them in Benin, Kaduna, Abuja, and Awolowo Road Ikeja. How long time will EFCC and other agencies of government take to carry out investigations? By the time they finish, the properties would have been ruined/ it has been locked up for many years. We are wasteful. The same apply to AMCON. They took over many properties, they locked them up and by the time they come back, the property would have deteriorated. It’s quite unfortunate”.
Elder Odudu stressed that the situation is more pathetic in the rural areas, where property seized from politicians were left to rot away in villages and local areas.
“In the villages, you cannot sell the properties, all you do is just seal them up and left them to be deteriorating. EFCC advertised about a year ago that they want to appoint surveyors to take over management of some of these properties up till today, no outcome. We applied and did not get any. They have properties in Maiduguri, Yola and other places in areas where we have Boko Haram insurgency”.
“It is difficult to stop the situation, if they speedily take actions and unseal the prosperities even now, no body is buying because the property market is flooding now, selling them is difficult because of government policy that did not allow those with money to bring them out because of the prying eyes of the EFCC, people are afraid to bring out money to buy”, he added.
Also, legal experts at a National Stakeholders Workshop on Recovery and Management of Recovered Assets, organised by the Presidential Advisory Committee on Corruption (PACAC), agreed that the practice of decentralised assets management regime by various law enforcement agencies and anti-corruption agencies has proved to be ineffective, wasteful and a distraction from the core or primary focus of the respective agencies concerned with the fight against corruption and money laundering.
They called for enactment of law, which would provide for a centralised administrative agency to manage recovered assets. Pending when the law is passed, they suggested that a multi-disciplinary Central Assets Management Committee should be created to centrally administer the recovered assets.
According to them, government must keep a record of all the restrained properties and maintain a database that will include description of assets, suspected source of funding, history of assets/timeline, beneficiaries of the assets, information of cases around the assets, classification of the assets as to whether they are perishable and non-perishable as well as the value of the assets.
PACAC Executive Secretary, Prof. Bolaji Owasanoye has also said the Federal Government has decided to centralise the management of recovered stolen assets to establish a system for constant monitoring. According to him, government has started an initiative to collate government assets through establishment of an Assets Register.
Efforts to get the EFCC respond to this, proved abortive as its spokesman, Wilson Uwajaren asked to be given two days to respond. A week after, he neither picked telephone calls nor reply text messages sent to his mobile phone.
One of the EFCC seized property