The Proceeds of Crime Bill has scaled second reading at the Senate.
The bill , which was first read in December 2020, seeks to ensure the management of the funds and property confiscated from criminals.
It also seeks to address the lack of transparency and accountability associated with the management of recovered funds by anti-corruption agencies in the country.
The eight assembly had passed and transmitted the bill to President Muhammadu Buhari for assent but the latter declined assent.
Prior to the passage of the bill, there was controversy as to which agency would handle proceeds of crime as they were scattered among different and multiple agencies.
In October 2020, Mr Buhari transmitted the legislation to the Senate for consideration and passage.
The bill, he said, was critical in sustaining the fight against corruption, money laundering and illicit movement of stolen funds through the banking system and across Nigerian borders.
The second reading of the bill was a sequel to a debate on the provisions of the legislation, led by the Senate Leader, Abdullahi Yahaya.
Some objectives of the bill
The bill, according to the president, seeks to improve the ability of law enforcement agencies to seize, freeze, and confiscate stolen assets in Nigeria while observing all related constitutional and human rights laws.
It proposes the creation of the Proceeds of Crime (Recovery and Management) Agency – which will ensure that the provisions of the bill are enforced in all collaboration with anti-corruption and other law enforcement agencies.
The agency, he said, will also ensure that Nigerians benefit from proceeds of crime by ensuring that once recovery is made, the properties and assets will be secured and that the final forfeitures granted through a court order can be paid into the Confiscated and Forfeited Account to be domiciled in the Central Bank of Nigeria.
And the funds will be used for development projects approved by the National Assembly under the annual Appropriation Act and also support the work of the law enforcement and anti-corruption agencies.”
In his presentation, Mr Yahaya explained that efforts to develop a comprehensive bill have been impeded by agency rivalry since 2011.
He said the effort to sign the Proceeds of Crime Bill into law in 2019 was delayed as a result of complaints by agencies that claimed that the Bill is intended to take away their powers.
And the lack of a centrally managed database on recovered assets made it difficult to track and maintain the actual number of the seized assets, their location and their value.
“There have been reported and verifiable instances over the years that showed that some recovered assets were being misused, stolen or lost.
“Further investigations have shown that some of the agencies opened multiple accounts for the payment of forfeited assets without keeping proper records. And for this reason, the president constituted the Presidential Audit Committee on Recovery of Assets (PACRA) in 2017,” he explained.
Following the submission of the report of PACRA in 2018, the President directed that the following measures amongst other be put in place pending the passing of the Proceeds of Crime Bill into law:
– The establishment of an Asset Recovery and Management Unit in the Federal Ministry of Justice.
– A central asset recovery (final forfeiture) account be opened and a central (interim forfeiture) account in the Central Bank of Nigeria. This is to enable the FGN track all recovered assets and the benefits derived from them.
– Use of recovered assets/funds as a source of revenue in the Appropriation Act of 2018 and in subsequent Appropriation Acts.
The lawmaker also noted that a strong asset recovery measure can also disrupt the activities of criminal organisations and reduce the level of insecurity in the country.
In his remarks, the Senate Minority Leader, Enyinnaya Abaribe, commended the federal government for the legislation which he said is an effort to tackle corruption.
He also said the bill is commendable because Nigeria, as at today, has no procedure for handling recovered loot and the legislation will help streamline the procedure.
He,however, disagreed with the proposal to set up an asset management agency to handle proceeds of crime.
The bill was referred to the Senate Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters for further legislative work. The committee is to report back in two weeks.
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