FORFEITED ASSETS AND MATTERS ARISING

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The EFCC and ICPC should be held to account

The integrity of the anti-corruption project of the President Muhammadu Buhari administration and the machinery for its prosecution were called to question last week by no less a personality than the Senate President, Dr Bukola Saraki. While lamenting that Nigeria was finding it difficult to convince some Western countries to return funds looted from our treasury, Saraki attributed this challenge to their “exasperation over the management of returned assets”.

According to Saraki, “the National Assembly has been strident about the opacity shrouding the management of recovered funds, which in many cases get re-looted by the agencies that investigated and recovered them”. This, he said, had necessitated the composition of an ad hoc committee of the Senate, “which is investigating some administrative infractions in the executive, has discovered that many properties recovered from a fugitive from the law have not been accounted for by the investigating agency”.

Against the background that the weighty allegation is yet to be refuted, we call on both the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC) to urgently compile and publish a comprehensive list of all assets and funds they have so far recovered since their inception. Even if there were no allegations of impropriety, adherence to transparency and accountability should ordinarily be the hallmark of the two agencies. That also demands that the public be informed of the disposal and disposition of all such recoveries to date and the appropriation or expropriation of the proceeds.

Beyond that, there are salient questions that need to be addressed: Can the EFCC and ICPC publish or disclose the aid, donations and assistance they have received from international agencies, foreign governments, etc., on a yearly basis and how this ties into their legitimate budget? How many public auctions or bid sessions for recovered assets – movable and fixed – have the EFCC and ICPC held to avail the public of an opportunity to buy these assets in a transparent process? Is it asking too much for the public to request and expect the accounts of the EFCC and ICPC to be audited annually and the summaries of these audits made public?

Apparently worried by some of the reports he was getting, President Buhari recently inaugurated a three-member committee to audit all assets recovered by relevant government agencies. The committee is to audit all accounts in which the recovered assets were lodged while its report is expected within four weeks, even though Nigerians may not hear anything about such report in the next six months. In fact, there are those who believe the committee may also end up being investigated by another committee in a familiar and endless racketeering. Yet, the conclusion from that is simple: if the missing assets and cash recovered by an administration that came to power with an agenda to fight corruption are merely being cornered by fresh thieves, then the whole anti-graft war may be no more than just another hollow ritual.

Therefore, what the foregoing also reveals is that corruption in Nigeria is a socio cultural problem that is rooted in the very foundations of who we have become and we can only fight such a challenge through a holistic, rigorous and transparent approach. As things stand, the agencies we are expecting and using to fight corruption – the judiciary, the police, EFCC and ICPC – are always looking for ephemeral successes. Yet to win the war against graft in Nigeria, we need both medium and long term strategies that will anchor on the rule of law.

In the meantime, the Nigerian public must be reassured that those who superintend the anti-corruption efforts of the current administration are not feeding off the outer network of crime syndicates in politics, government departments, National Assembly and the private sector, at public expense.