The executive bill passed by the Senate will help in tracking down corrupt elements

The Senate recently passed a bill to enhance the nation’s anti-corruption war by ensuring that suspects do not evade justice locally and enjoy the proceeds of their crimes abroad. This followed the adoption of the report of its Committees on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters, Anti-Corruption and Financial Crimes, and Foreign Affairs.

An executive bill, it is for mutual assistance in criminal matters between Nigeria and other foreign states to facilitate the identification, tracing, freezing, restraining, recovery, forfeiture and confiscation of proceeds, property and other instrumentalities of crimes. It is intended to provide a legal framework that will strengthen the fight against corruption, terrorism, economic and financial crimes, money laundering and other related offences. The bill is also intended to effect the temporary transfer of persons in custody to assist in investigations or appear as witnesses, facilitate obtaining and preserving of computer data, and providing any other assistance that is not contrary to the law of the requesting state.

In summary, the bill, which provides to repeal the Money Laundering Act of 2011 prohibits money laundering activities, expands the scope of money laundering offences, provides protection for employees of various institutions and provides appropriate penalties for offences.

When concurred to by the House of Representatives, and signed into law by the President (which is expected since it is an executive bill) Nigeria would be able to request that any country where a money laundering suspect is resident can prosecute such person in line with the relevant laws of that country. Nigeria can also supply such country with evidence to further the case against the suspect.

This bill is therefore considered a critical component of the country’s anti-corruption war, which would facilitate the required collaboration to prevent individuals from escaping prosecution and justice by taking refuge in another country. In this age of globalisation and the increasing cross border form of crimes, the passage of this bill is commendable.

While some may choose to criticise the bill as an ‘outsourcing’ of justice, it remains a legal process to ensure justice against criminals, and deterring potential money launderers for whatever purposes. In this case, the law is a necessary means to an end, where the eyes should be kept on the prize.

We commend the passage of the bill. But it is necessary to point out that without the necessary political will, the aims and objectives of the bill would not be achieved. We have always canvassed the need to build strong institutions, and we are again doing that. Anti- corruption agencies that are subject to the whims of the powers that be would not be effective in implementing this law.

For instance: would the authorities have the courage to seek transfer of a crony of the president or be willing to supply necessary evidence that could ensure the conviction of someone in the good books of the president? This consideration is necessary particularly as cases of corruption seem to fizzle out the moment a ‘suspect’ politician renounces his party and decamps to the ruling one.

Again, the anti-graft agencies themselves have to get more serious and thorough with their investigations. Media trials would not be enough to secure convictions in climes where the justice system is based on facts, and not sensationalism or hearsay. These are not enough even in local courts as evidenced by the inability to secure any notable conviction despite the mudslinging of ‘suspects’ of stolen national funds in the recent times.

The message therefore is clear: If the anti-graft agencies do not get their act together, invest time in credible and reliable investigations, partnership countries would not take Nigeria serious.