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 Guardian (Nigeria) - - PANORAMA - By Ber­tram Nwan­nekanma

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

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