A group, the Association of Anti Money Laundering Specialists, Nigeria chapter, on Wednesday honoured a former Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Nuhu Ribadu, the Director General of the Nigeria Governors Forum, Asishana Okauru, for their efforts in the fight against money laundering in the country.
Deputy Director at the Central bank of Nigeria, CBN, Obot Akpan as well as the founder and Managing Director of Data Pro, Abimbola Adeseyeju and others were also honoured.
The awards were given at the opening of the second Anti-Money Laundering/Combating Financial Terrorism Stakeholders Consultative Workshop which held at Barcelona Hotel in Abuja.
The co-chair of the group, Isa Buhari, said the awardees were being recognised for their efforts in combating money laundering.
He said the awards were meant to spur the awardees to do more and to also encourage others to toe their lines.
“No nation can eliminate criminality and achieve greatness, if it does not recognise those who have done very well in their chose fields,” he said.
All the awardees in their various comments paid glowing tribute to Mr. Ribadu, who they said basically restored the country’s pride after Nigeria was blacklisted by almost all anti money laundering and illicit financing organisations across the world.
The DG of governors’ forum, Mr. Okauru, who served as the Director of the Nigeria Financial Intelligence Unit, FIU, in the EFCC under Mr. Ribadu said the country owes gratitude to the retired AIG for his contribution in the reforms undertaken in the financial sector and how he was eventually treated.
Mr. Okauru also said even at present, wherever he goes across the world, people remind him of the wonderful job done to restore the country’s image through the effective implementation of the financial sector reforms.
On his part, Mr. Adeseyeju of Data Pro paid tribute to Messrs. Okauru and Ribadu for their support to his job.
“Coming from the private sector, government officials often shut you down, not Mr. Okauru.
“Äs for Mallam Ribadu he gave his all and his was selfless service to Nigeria. This country owes this man apology, he literally put his life down so that this country will change.
“My heart bleeds when I see him struggling with politicians, they can never understand him,“ he said.
Also speaking, Mr. Obot said before the reforms in the financial sector, the country’s green passport “was a sign of danger”, but not anymore due to the efforts of these great men,” he said.
In his remark, Mr. Ribadu said he was gladdened to have left the AML/CFT space better than he met it.
“In 2003, Nigeria was on the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) blacklist of Non Cooperative Countries and Territories (NCCT). There was a FinCEN (The US Financial Intelligence Unit) Advisory on all transactions emanating from Nigeria.
“This limited the capacity of financial institutions to structure transactions with correspondent banks in North America and Europe. Our financial institutions could not do business with MASTERCARD and VISA. No bank could therefore issue credit or debit cards. “419 letters” were commonly referred to as the “Nigerian Letters”. Students could not redeem scholarships abroad. The list is endless,” he said.
Mr. Ribadu said “by 2007, when the new government interrupted my tenure, we had almost completely reversed the above situation”.
Ribadu said a vigorous and genuine anti-graft war is at this stage in Nigeria’s history non-negotiable and inevitable.
He said Money laundering and terrorism significantly account for the underdevelopment of the Nigerian economy.
Within his first month in office as the pioneer chairman of the EFCC, Mr. Ribadu met with officials of the Financial Services Authority in the UK and the Treasury Department of the US.
The two bodies also facilitated a meeting with all the major banks in the two countries and according to Mr. Ribadu, his team was able to “convince the banks of the resolve of the EFCC to reform the financial sector in Nigeria”
“This led to the re acceptance of Nigeria among the comity of nations. The US advisory note against the country was withdrawn, the Financial Action Task Force, FATF, also removed the country’s name from its list of blacklisted nations
“That was what enabled us to convince Mastercard and Visa to come. Nigerian Banks also then got the chance to access funds globally which was not the case before, in fact, our banks were also listed in major financial institutions world wide,” he said.
He also recalled that lots of energy were expended on stopping the failed bank syndrome which led to the arrest and prosecution of some CEO’s of Banks.
He said the number of Banks were eventually cut down and the remaining ones were recapitalized when Charles Soludo assumed office as governor of the Central bank.
“We were working as a team under the economic management team under the guidance of President Obasanjo himself.
“We had people Ngozi Okonjo Iweala, Oby Ezekwesili, Charles Soludo, Nasir El Rufai and Bode Augusto.
“The actions taken convinced the world to accept Nigerian and Nigerians once again and our people began to have the chance to open accounts outside the country.
“We advocated and pushed for Nigerians to have credit cards because that way it would be easy to access financial transactions of individuals whenever the need arises
“People were also not disallowed from travelling with their cash, we however, put in place a requirement that travelers should declare a particular sum of money they are travelling with,” he said.