- Says looters using media to fight back
- Won’t accept conditions to recover looted funds
The Acting President of Nigeria, Yemi Osinbajo has said that Federal Government will heavily sanctions against banks and other financial institutions that are housing looted funds and aiding looters.
Osinbajo disclosed this on Monday while declaring open the Conference on Promoting International Co-operation in Combating Illicit Financial Flows and Enhancing Asset Recovery to Foster Sustainable Development, at the State House Conference Center, Abuja.
He said that until that is done Nigeria and other developing countries will not go far in the fight against corruption.
The event was convened under the auspices of the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption (PACAC) in collaboration with the Federal Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Federal Ministry of Justice.
He said for there to be collaboration there must first be connivance, urging that in the agreement and conventions that he will be signed at the end of the three-day event, member countries must find a way and ensure that financial institutions are not given a free run and hold them accountable.
A report on the level of illicit financial flows in and out of Nigeria, Africa as whole and emerging market economies has been put at between $2 trillion and $3.5 trillion yearly.
A Washington-based think-tank, Global Financial Integrity (GFI), which released the report, said Africa is the most vulnerable to the flight of capital needed for investment and other purposes.
According to Osinbajo, developing countries must display the same outrage for drugs, terrorist financing for illicit financial flows, describing illicit financial flows as worst crime than crime against humanity.
“It took years for some people to agree that when somebody loot money where people make decent living that is more criminal than crime against humanity, more dangerous than trafficking in drugs.
“Is a good thing that we are here with our partners who agree that not only are these stolen assets criminalize but that they are returned to their appropriate owners.
“There is no way that transfer of these assets can happen without a handshake between the countries that they are transferred and the international banking institutions in the countries in which they are transferred, there is no way it will happen without some form of connivance.
“We have to look at somehow delegitimizing those kinds of financial institutions and criminalizing them, so that banks and financial institutions that actually engage in this are being called out and made to face the consequences of engaging in criminal practices. If that isn’t done we are not likely to go very far.
“For there to be collaboration there must first be connivance. In the agreements and conventions we will be signing we must find a way and ensure that financial institutions are not given a free run and hold them accountable.
“Another point is that African countries and developing countries must realize that is our responsibility to ensure that not only must we get these monies, we must make sure that there are returns. It is not enough to talk about it. Some countries are somehow reluctant about it, many have civil processes that make it difficult, they say our courts are handling this matter and there is very little we can do about.
“We must make it a national call, a call for other developing countries to have the same outrage for drugs, terrorist financing for illicit financial flows. We must emphasis at every point and call out institutions that are not cooperating and ensuring that they recognize that this for us a serious issue.”
The Acting President reiterated President Muhammadu Buhari’s call that “if we don’t kill corruption, corruption will kill it. When corrupt monies finds safe havens it will begin to fight back and if government is not careful it can fight back.”
Osinbajo dismissed allegations that the current administration is merely fighting corruption on the pages of newspapers as an indication that corruption is fighting back.
He accused corrupt individuals of using the media to fight the government and slow down the anti-corruption campaign.
According to the Acting President: “When corrupt monies find safe havens it will begin to fight back and if government is not careful it can’t fight back. In Nigeria for instance, corruption fights back so eloquently that government itself if not careful, can be overwhelmed.
“If you look at the anti-corruption fight in Nigeria there is a major fight back in the media. There is a media war, between people fighting corruption and those behind the stolen funds.
“It is called media trial; I don’t know what that means. If you discover for instance large sums of money in an air-conditioned room, there is no way it will not make news anywhere in the world.
“So, this whole idea of trying to legitimize corruption is definitely being fueled and sponsored by those who have these resources, who have stolen funds.
“Unless we see it as a problem that can bring down our system then we will never be able to fight. I hope we will be able to advance this with other African countries.”
Osinbajo also noted that the Thebo Mbeki report shows that most of the illicit funds flow that comes out of Africa is from Nigeria saying “and that shows us very clearly especially the security agencies that we simply have to do more. It is evident that so much money is leaving our shores.”
He described as absurd developing countries going in cap in hands asking for aid while so many monies are being stolen, insisting “we ourselves must take responsibility and ensure we keep talking about this.”
The Chairman, Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption (Nigeria) PACAC, Itse Sagay, said in his opening remarks said that corruption onslaught was devastating and unrelenting, driving the country further and further from meeting her sustainable development goals.
He also underscored the need for concerted global action against cross-border illicit financial flows, declaring that annual flow of criminal activities is estimated at between $1 and $1.6 trillion and half of this comes from developing countries.
He recalled that a study revealed that between 2006 and 2015, 55 top government officials and private businessmen in Nigeria illicitly diverted a total of N1.35 trillion (about $7.5m then).
“This include trillions squandered in fuel subsidy scam, billions on Dasukigate scam, hundreds of millions of dollars taken from the NNPC by the former minister to bribe election officials in 2015, the list goes on”, he stated.
Sagay pointed out that one third of stolen funds could have provided 600.18 kilometers of road, 36 ultramodern hospitals per state, education for children from primary to tertiary level at the rate of N5.34 billion per child and 20,062 units of two-bedroom houses.
He also lamented that Nigeria has largest number of incomplete projects in the world because those involved just take the money and walk away in collusion with the ministries and agencies that awarded the contracts.
According to Sagay: “Most of the financial assets stolen in Nigeria are taken out of the country as part of the illicit financial flow. The immediate impact is that Nigeria is deprived of the capacity to realize its sustainable development goals of the UN.
“These include no poverty (eradication of poverty), zero hunger (eradication of hunger), good health, quality education, clean water and sanitation, affordable clean energy etc.”
“It is hard for any country to achieve that when it has looted 90 per cent or its resources and this hemorrhage are leaving our shores – under-developed – world to the developed world, developing them more while we are regressing”.
“I have always said it and you know Nigerians don’t like the truth, but this is the truth, give our elites an opportunity to do a project, vote money for that project, the first thing they do is divide that money amongst themselves. The Nigeria has largest number of incomplete projects in this world; many people just take the money and walk away in collusion with the ministries and agencies that awarded the contracts.
“Let me draw the connect between unrestrained looting and illicit financial flows. Most of the financial assets stolen in Nigeria are taken out of the country as part of the illicit financial flow. The immediate impact is that Nigeria is deprived of the capacity to realize its sustainable development goals of the UN officially known as transforming our world. These include no poverty (eradication of poverty), zero hunger (eradication of hunger), good health, quality education, clean water and sanitation, affordable clean energy etc.
“Is hard for any country to achieve that when it has looted 90 per cent or its resources and this hemorrhage are leaving our shores, under-developed world to the developed world, developing them more while we are retarding.”
The keynote speaker Akere Muna, Chair, International Anti-Corruption Conference Council, former Vice-Chair, Transparency International (TI), and Member, African Union High Level Panel on Illicit Financial Flows otherwise known as the Thabo Mbeki Panel, stressed the need for the meeting to consider what was recommended in the Thabo Mbeki Report: the creation of escrow accounts within the Development Banks. “Frozen money should not stay with the complicit bank, but in an escrow account with a third party, pending the courts’ or competent authorities’ determination as to the rightful owners of the funds.
“I have seen, in the context document prepared for the meeting, the issue of the management of recovered funds. I personally resent the fact that people who were complicit in the theft should turn around and start laying down conditionalities for the recovery of the same assets. Funds, whether recovered or still in the government coffers should not be stolen, period. The fact, that for budgeting reasons, these may be earmarked for specific projects and under certain criteria, like the state or region from which the funds were stolen, is entirely a different matter for the countries themselves to decide in all sovereignty.
“All I have said underpins the fact that the fight is global and must necessarily be engaged by the originating countries and the destination countries with the same vigor.”
While applauding the administration’s for making fight against corruption its number one priority, Muna added that “The fight against corruption in our continent is indeed the fight for the soul of Africa. How much longer will we watch our resources depleted and the future of our children mortgaged for the sake of a greedy few?
“The winds of change are blowing across our continent, and they are inevitable. Our young people know better, want better and deserve better. For those who feel that their own personal interest can always take precedence over that of their people, they should take a good look at history.
“We can certainly hide to do certain things, but it is certain that we will never be able to always hide the things we do.”