Nigeria’s anti-corruption agencies have recovered roughly N900 billion (about $2.2 billion) in stolen assets over the last two decades, a new report by pro-democracy group, the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD), has said.
In the report titled, ’20 years of Anti-Corruption efforts in Nigeria,’ the group chronicles significant achievements of the federal government’s leading agencies established to mitigate the endemic corruption in Nigeria, over the last two decades.
The agencies whose activities are reviewed in the report are the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission (ICPC), and the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB).
The report applauded the anti-corruption agencies for their efforts on recoveries of stolen assets at about N900 billion.
It attributed “the high rate of recovery” on the innovations adopted by the anti-graft agencies such as plea bargain voluntary repayment of unexplained wealth and assets forfeiture, as well as the “President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration anti-corruption strategy”.
”Nigeria’s anti-corruption agencies have also recovered roughly N900 billion in stolen assets over the last two decades. Asset forfeiture—whether through a criminal conviction or via civil action—has become the primary mechanism for depriving corruption suspects of the material gain from their alleged financial or economic crime.
”Though always a priority, asset recovery has arguably been a cornerstone of the Buhari government’s anti-corruption strategy. Reflecting this strategic shift in emphasis, the EFCC now painstakingly seeks to identify assets from the start of any corruption investigation in order to freeze them and see if they can be linked to a defendant’s alleged predicate crimes,” the report read, in part.
Concerns over management of recovered assets
But the report also raised concerns over the management of recovered assets.
“The increasing rate of asset forfeiture is, however, straining the capability of the EFCC and ICPC to manage and dispose of those assets. Whether buildings, active businesses, vehicles, or luxury goods, seized items must be accounted for, managed, maintained, and/or safely stored until they can be auctioned or repurposed for public gain.
“Unfortunately, many of these assets deteriorate before they can be sold, losing some or all of their value while
agencies’ navigate bureaucratic and legal obstacles preventing their quick disposal.”
It however commended the transfer of some recovered buildings to government agencies by the EFCC.
This, it said, demonstrated anti-corruption agencies’ acknowledgement of their failures managing the recovered assets.
“In a few instances, the EFCC has innovated by turning over seized buildings to other government agencies to use as office space; that way, the government can gain use from the property well even if the legal process surrounding its final forfeiture has yet to be resolved.
“This tactical shift demonstrates that Nigeria’s anti-corruption agencies are aware of their own failures and capable of taking some steps to offset them,” the report stated.
According to the report, the EFCC played the most prominent and impactful role amongst the other two agencies by securing a total of 3,362 convictions between 2010 and 2020.
Of the total convictions, CDD said the commission secured 50 cybercrime convictions for every corruption case involving a Politically-Exposed Person (PEP).
The number of convictions secured by the ICPC was not mentioned in the report.
”Number of EFCC convictions: 2010-68 convictions; 2011-67 convictions; 2012-87 convictions; 2013-117 convictions; 2014-126 convictions; 2015-103 convictions; 2016-128 convictions; 2017-189 convictions; 2018-312 convictions; 2019-1246 convictions; 2020-865 convictions.
“Out of Nigeria’s three main anti-corruption agencies, the EFCC plays the most prominent and impactful role. Larger and better funded than the ICPC and Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB),
“It enjoys a broad range of investigatory and law enforcement powers. Roughly 3,000-strong, the EFCC is mostly staffed by seconded police personnel. In addition to investigating prominent politicians and powerful bureaucrats, the commission routinely prosecutes those involved in internet scams, currency counterfeiting, and other economic crimes.
“Indeed, it secures roughly 50 cybercrime convictions for every corruption case involving a politically-exposed person.
The report also said the prevalence of state actors such as the Attorney General and influence from the Presidency in subsequent governments, interfering in corruption investigation “has shaped the outcome of high-level corruption prosecutions over the decades”.
”These recent episodes illustrate how easy it is for vested interests to delay or derail high-level corruption prosecutions. Though direct interference is unmistakable, high-level political pressure is often subtly conveyed; anti-corruption agencies often pay close attention to the ‘body language of the President and Attorney General as it relates to politically sensitive high-level cases they are pursuing.
”If they sense that the President opposes a particular investigation or prosecution, they may slow or suspend it. Until the frequency and intensity of political interference decreases, it will continue to cast a shadow over Nigeria’s anti-corruption track record.”
Last year, the group in its five-year assessment report of the achievements and gaps in the anti-corruption programme titled, ‘The Buhari’s Report Card C for corruption,’ accused the government of President Buhari of constantly protecting “many notorious kleptocrats” within the administration and the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) party for corruption.
CDD further accused President Buhari’s leadership and the APC of “adopting the same toxic behaviours and corrupt norms that have characterised Nigeria’s post-1999 electoral politics- both in governance and elections.”
It, however, described its modus operandi as “indistinguishable from its predecessor”.
CDD called on the Presidency and the National Assembly to exercise stronger oversight over ministries, departments and agencies.
”They should work together to strengthen the legal and administrative mandates of those government entities that help prevent corruption, particularly the CCB, ICPC, Bureau for Public Procurement and Bureau of Public Service Reforms.
”The National Assembly should revise the Code of Conduct Bureau Act to permit public disclosure of officeholders’ asset declarations without jeopardising officeholders’ privacy or safety.
”The Presidency and National Assembly must strengthen their supervision over ministries, departments, and agencies and collaborate to reinforce their legal and administrative mandates.
”Finally, Nigeria’s international partners should support national efforts by taking firmer measures to deter public funds theft and prevent illicit financial flows.”
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