Benjamin Nworie in Abakaliki
The House of Representatives has initiated a Bill for an Act seeking to grant conditional economic amnesty to treasury looters as a tool for the rapid return of illicit financial flows and other assets, which would be invested in Nigeria to scale up development in the country.
Sponsor of the bill and Member representing Ohaozara/Onicha/Ivo Constituency, Hon. Linus Okorie noted that Nigeria urgently requires a more effective means of securing the return of illicit financial flows to Nigeria to be invested in development.
In a copy of the bill which the sponsor gave to THISDAY in Abakaliki, Okorie noted that the Bill also seeks to address the abuse of the whistle-blowing policy, the issue of tax evasion and losses as well as address the disturbing tendency of different security agencies storming homes, offices and places of economic activity with its attendant human rights concerns in search of suspected loots and hidden assets.
Okorie said â€œwhile the move towards freezing, seizing and repatriating the assets involved is welcome, virtually none of the targets involved has ended up imprisoned or otherwise made to account for their crimes through asset forfeiture. This is because sophisticated offenders take advantage of the slowness of the asset recovery process as well as their own ability to use illicitly acquired funds to hire top-notch lawyers to wage a long drawn out legal battle against the pursuing stateâ€.
The lawmaker noted that illicit financial flows from Nigeria have become a critical concern because of the enormous scale and negative impact it has on Nigeriaâ€™s finances, macroeconomic stability, and governance.
According to the proposed legislation, the Economic Amnesty Bill will grant amnesty to former public officers who have looted Nigeriaâ€™s treasury, ensure quick recovery of hidden funds, and provide appropriate punishment through prosecution to those who bear the responsibility of transferring illicit funds out of Nigeria.
The Bill, which is expected on the floor of the House of Representatives for second reading will operate for three years from the date of commencement, with the establishment of the Voluntary Taxable income Recovery and Amnesty scheme.
Okorie noted that the bill would face ominous legality challenges in granting prosecutorial amnesty to declarants without first putting a definite legislative framework in place.
He added that the Economic Amnesty Scheme would benefit the country immensely, as the quantum of resources envisaged to be declared and invested in the Nigeria economy would bring about massive economic growth within a short time.
Okorie said â€œDespite considerable time and money expended on pursuing the return of looted wealth, the actions of Nigeria to repatriate all, or even most of the stolen assets has often been in vain and governments encountering such disappointing outcomes often find themselves facing a difficult dilemma, whether to accept the return of even a small part of the assets in return for reduction in scope or full cessation of criminal prosecution, or face the almost certain prospect of getting nothing at all.
â€œIn effect, our anti-corruption drive would then be prosecuted on a new paradigm and robust strategy supported by a national consensus built upon a positive attitudinal shift,â€ he stated.
Okorie therefore appealed to the Federal Government to demonstrate the requisite political will by throwing its full support behind the Amnesty Bill while urging his colleagues for accelerated hearing.