The Federal Government of Nigeria has said that the absence of a legal and institutional framework is hampering transparency and accountability in the management of returned assets, just as Civil Society Watchdog monitoring the disbursement of the returned $322.5million under the aegis of MANTRA project has disclosed that a total of two hundred and forty-six thousand, one hundred and twenty-three thousand, one hundred and fifty US Dollars ($246,123,150 million) has so far been paid to Eight hundred and twelve thousand, seven hundred and twenty one (812, 721) poor Households in Nigeria.
Head of Asset Recovery and Management Unit, Federal Ministry of Justice, Mrs Ladidi Muhammed stated the challenge at a side event jointly organised by the Africa Network for Environment and Economic Justice (ANEEJ), the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), and the Civil Forum for Asset Recovery e.V. (CIFAR) at the just concluded 9th Conference of State Parties (COSP) of the United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC) holding in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt.
Ladidi Muhammed, however, noted that the Federal Government has made much progress in the implementation of the GFAR principles. “The major challenge is putting in place legal and institutional framework to ensure transparency and accountability in the management of assets,” she said.
Executive Director of ANEEJ, the Rev David Ugolor in his presentation of MANTRA findings from the monitoring of restituted $322.5 million Abacha loot disclosed that a total amount of $246,123,150 (both reconciled and unreconciled payment), representing 76% has so far been disbursed by the Federal Government to vulnerable households with a balance of $99,127,523 (yet to be reconciled payment) being payment for backlogs from the period of Aug/Sept/Oct/Nov 2021.
“The total amount disbursed and reconciled is $146,995,987, representing 46%
A total of $ 75,156,428 is expected to be paid to beneficiaries as backlog in December 2021.” Ugolor stated.
Relying on GFAR Principles 4, 5,6,8 &10 to present the management of Abacha ll case, and how MANTRA project provided the enabling framework for Civil society to engage both Nigerian and Switzerland Government, Ugolor also noted the support of World Bank facilitating role and the marked improvement of Abacha ll compared to Abacha l which was largely re-looted and commended the handlers of the management of Abacha 11 thus far.
“Payment and reconciliation is presently on going in 8 States (Benue, Nasarawa, Ekiti, Imo, Kaduna, Kano, Yobe and Zamfara).
“4 States have been having issues with their Payment Service Operators (PSPs) since their last payment in December 2019. They include, Edo, Enugu, Ondo and Kebbi. The issues have been resolved now and they have been cleared for payment for MAY/June 2021 Payment Cycle. We currently have a total beneficiaries on the list as 1, 632, 206 (in 33 States excluding Edo, Enugu, Ondo and Kebbi) “ Ugolor submitted.
Mrs. Ladidi Muhammed listed the Global Forum on Asset Recovery (GFAR) principles complied with by government, particularly in the area of transparency and accountability, as:
“Continued to strengthened its Anti-Corruption and Law Enforcement Agencies in the fight against corruption and asset recovery processes;
“Put in place mechanism for the implementation of the five (5) pillars of the National Anti-Corruption Strategy (2017 – 2022) particularly pillar 5 which focuses on the ‘‘recovery and management of proceeds of Crime. Such as launching the Central Database For Recovered Assets under the Asset Tracing, Recovery and Management Regulations, 2019 for centralized record system;
“Put in place interim measures pending the passage of legal framework on the management of assets (Proceed of Crime Bill which is before the National Assembly) by inaugurating the Inter-Ministerial Committee on the Federal Government’s Forfeited Assets in accordance with Section 10 (2) of the Asset Tracing, Recovery and Management Regulations, 2019. As at date, the Committee has collated, verified and tagged all finally forfeited assets across the country. As at October, 2021, the list of assets were published in national newspaper (ThisDay, Punch and Daily Trust) to ensure citizen participation, transparency and accountability imbibed in the disposal of proceeds of crime, ” among others.
Director of CIFAR, Jackson Oldfield, who provided an overview of asset management and the role of civil society touched on the various global principles relating to the management of recovered assets.
He emphasized the key principle is to return assets to the original owner, noting that Stolen funds by international repatriation rules are to be returned to the people from whom it was stolen and explained that specific use can differ widely, but international standards encourage that returned funds are used for: Compensation to victims/victims groups where identifiable, the realisation of economic, social and cultural rights and achieving the SDGs as well as its use for anti-corruption efforts.
Jackson Oldfield cited two examples from Southern Africa Africa, drawing on a forthcoming report by CiFAR and supported by GIZ. He stated that South Africa created the Criminal Assets Recovery Account (CARA) and that Money and property derived from criminal activity, deposited into the CARA which are used to fund projects or directly compensate victims of economic crime, disbursed when funds become available
Oldfied also informed the meeting that Until recently, there was no specific procedure on the management of recovered stolen assets in South Africa, but the Asset Recovery Bill (Regime Jurídico Especial de Perda Alargada de Bens e Recuperação de Activos), adopted in 2019 which created the Asset Management Office. Within, there is a department responsible for managing state property with an aim to preventing depreciation of assets, including from Hidden Debt case.”
Executive Director of CSILAC, Auwal Musa (Rafsanjani) in his presentation emphasized that despite the modest progress in international asset recovery to Nigeria, Kenya, and some other countries, there are still challenges of responsible management of recovered assets.
Auwal Musa said “it will not serve the purpose for the impoverished Africans if we continue shifting the blame and celebrate modest progress and reminded the audience that while Nigeria has recovered what seems as a substantial value of stolen assets, Nigeria has continued to lose money at an unprecedented rate through Illicit Financial Flows.
He stated that “while almost $20bn are lost abroad from Nigerian every year, most of it through tax avoidance, we emphasize asset recovery but if we do not reduce illicit financial outflows, money laundering and related crimes, most of the asset recovery effort is only a destruction from addressing the real problems.”
Representative of the United Nations Office for Drug and Crime (UNODC), Ms. Roberta Solis Ribeiro Martins welcomed the opportunity to participate in the side event and reiterated the StAR initiative of the World Bank in addressing issues of asset recovery globally and reiterated the StAR initiative willingness to continue to work with Civil Society.
Mrs. Ladidi Muhammed thanked Civil Society Organisations particularly, the Africa Network for Environment and Economic Justice (ANEEJ), Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC) and Civil Forum for Asset Recovery (CIFAR) for organizing the side event.