With the signing of anti-graft treaties with the United Arab Emirates penultimate week by President Muhammadu Buhari, the noose is now tightening on looters. But the success or failure of the pacts also lies squarely on how the nationâ€™s legal authorities are diligent with their cases, writes Davidson Iriekpen
In a bid to strengthen the nationâ€™s anti-graft war, President Muhammadu Buhari, penultimate week signed instruments of ratification for a number of bilateral agreements on anti-corruption with some countries, including the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The agreements to be ratified are the pact on mutual legal assistance in criminal matters, the agreement on mutual legal assistance in civil and commercial matters, agreement on the transfer of sentenced persons and extradition treaty.
In his remarks after signing the agreements, President Buhari said he was delighted to perform the duty of executing instruments of ratification of certain agreements on behalf of Nigeria, pursuant to the powers conferred on him by Section 5(1) (a) and (b) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) and Article 7 of the Vienna Convention on the law of treaties of 1969.
The president directed all relevant agencies to ensure that they play their defined roles in the implementation and application of the treaties, with a view to providing Nigeria with the inherent benefits. He said the agreements which had equally been replicated in the UAE on the relevant treaties, provides Nigeria with the full-fledged opportunity to enjoy cooperation with foreign authorities in the anti-corruption campaign.
â€œTodayâ€™s ceremony marks a very important milestone in our demonstration of sovereign capacity to fulfill our international obligations and take important steps for the benefit of our economy, security and the anti-corruption war within and outside Nigeria. The full implementation of the agreements has however been delayed due to the need by both sides to conclude their respective ratification processes.
â€œI am happy to note therefore that pursuant to a memorandum presented to the Federal Executive Council by the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, council has approved the ratification of the said agreements, thus paving the way for todayâ€™s ceremony.
â€œWith this sovereign act, which has been replicated in the UAE by their responsible authorities, we are now in a position to utilise these agreements fully to foster cooperation between our respective authorities, particularly for the purpose of prosecuting the anti-corruption campaign of this government
â€œIt is my hope that these instruments which are signed today will reinvigorate the anti-corruption war and check the illicit flow of funds out of our country to other jurisdictions, improve national security, food security, boost our economic and tax regimes, and improve the overall well-being of our creative community. All agencies of government with roles to play under the respective treaties now ratified are hereby directed to ensure that they play their anticipated roles in an effective and responsible manner in order to ensure that we reap the full benefits of these agreements,â€ Buhari stated.
Before the latest signing, officials in the Buhari administration had signed a similar one when the president and the Crown Prince of the UAE Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan met in January 2016.
Speaking at a reception after the signing of the agreements, Buhari reiterated his commitment to fighting corruption and restoring Nigeriaâ€™s dignity in the comity of nations
He also urged all Islamic countries to support the fight against terrorism in Nigeria and denounce the atrocities of Boko Haram as un-Islamic and against the teachings of the Holy Prophet.
In his remarks, Crown Prince Zayed Al Nahyan said the relationship between Nigeria and the UAE would be strengthened by President Buhariâ€™s visit and the signing of the agreements.
Since the 1990s when Western nations adopted increasingly tough measures to stop the laundering of stolen Third World monies in their countries, crooked businessmen and public officials have been searching for alternative places to hide looted funds. Dubai, the UAEâ€™s second largest emirate and city, offered itself as a very welcoming alternative.
Not because UAEâ€™s rulers welcome theft and vice but because their free-wheeling open-arms commercial ways were quickly abused by crooked Nigerians.
Money looted from federal, state and even local governments as well as from banks and private companies, found its way into Dubai in particular and UAE in general and was laundered in property, stocks, trading and other commerce.
According to an international crime threat assessment prepared for the United States government by the Federation of American Scientists in 2002, â€œmoney-laundering activity in the UAE total $1 billion annuallyâ€ after Dubaiâ€™s property sector was opened up to foreign buyers. But the authorities do not agree as they play down the extent of money laundering, saying there were laws to fight it.
For instance, a very good example was the case of a former managing director of a defunct bank in Nigeria. Under the plea bargain deal she made with the Assets Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON), she reportedly forfeited 100 different assets in Dubai alone, including shops and houses.
It was gathered that a former military administrator owns a 35-storey tower named after him in the city. The structure is worth several millions of dollars. A former vice-president also has a state-of-the-art building in the upscale district, close to the Atlantis Hotel, which is one of the most expensive and luxurious hotels in the world.
Among others said to own exquisite structures in the Arab city are a former governor in the South-west, as well as a former radical Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Minister from the North. Both properties are in the Deira axis of the emirate. A former governor of a South-south state, who was recently convicted in London and a serving senior army officer are equally said to have eye-popping investments there, among many others.
Figures recently released by anti-corruption agencies in Nigeria put the amount so far stolen from the country and stashed in the UAE either in cash or invested in properties at over $10billion. It therefore became expedient for the Nigerian government to sign the agreement and send shivers down the spines of many crooked public officers and businessmen in the country.
The goal of the agreement is to improve the effectiveness of both countries in the investigation and prosecution of crime as well as the confiscation of criminal proceeds. Under the agreement, proceeds of crime are defined as â€œany assets derived or realised, directly and indirectly, by any person as a result of criminal conduct or the value of any asset, asset itself defined as money and all kinds of moveable or immovable or tangible or intangible property, and include any interest on such property.â€
Under the second judicial agreement, the two countries agreed to â€œextradite to the other, upon request and subject to the provisions of the agreement, any person who is found in the territory of the Requested Party and is wanted in the Requesting Party for any prosecution or trial or execution of a sentence in respect of an extraditable offence committed within the jurisdiction of the Requesting Party.â€
The pact went on to define extraditable offences as those that are punishable under the laws of both countries by a term of imprisonment of not less than two years or by a more severe penalty.
Many anti-corruption crusaders believe that the agreements would facilitate the return of such funds to Nigeria. Not only do crooked officials hide money in UAE; many former public officers also fled to the country, with their entire families, in order to escape investigation by police, EFCC and probe panels, hence the beauty of the extradition agreement.
They therefore advised the federal government to make the best use of agreements and seek as much information and cooperation as possible on laundered Nigerian assets in UAE. They however warned that having reaped enormous benefits from the activities of these crooked Nigerians, the federal government should not think that the UAE would easily seize all their assets and hand them over to the country. The legal authorities must compile their cases diligently and prove their cases authoritatively before Nigeria can reap the benefits of these landmark pacts.
Some of the analysts also urged President Buhari to sign many more agreements around the world as looters, who will definitely not sit idly by and wait for their loots to be recovered will seek alternative safe havens in other parts of the world given that the UAEâ€™s legal system may not have the foxhole-like quality of Western legal systems with endless escape routes.
First to commend President Buhari for signing the agreements is the Executive Chairman of the Centre for Anti-corruption and Open Leadership (CACOL), Debo Adeniran, who said the signing was auspicious and timely â€œwith the background of an expedient need to re-invigorate the anti-corruption drive. It will improve inter-border cooperation among the countries which will enhance their task of ensuring the security of lives and property.â€
Adeniran said it would assist the anti-corruption agencies, particularly the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to trace looted funds stashed in Dubai and extradite the looter to Nigeria to face prosecution, adding that an example which easily highlights the significance of the signing of the treaty on extradition with UAE is the case of a former governor of Delta State, James Ibori.
â€œWe must recall that the man decided to escape to Dubai when the EFCC with active collaboration of other law enforcement agencies were closing-in on him to face prosecution for corruption crimes in Nigeria because there was no extradition treaty between Nigeria and the UAE. However, unknown to Ibori, there was such treaty between the UAE and the UK, which as of then was in search of the former governor. He was thereafter extradited to the UK, where he was prosecuted and convicted on corruption charges
â€œIf you look around, that is why most of Nigerian looters have properties in Dubai. So, it is fashionable for looters to keep their loot in Dubai and tie it down there with properties. The treaty will now assist the EFCC to trace looted funds and seek assistance from the UAE for the extradition of the concerned persons when necessary. It will help the fight against corruption.â€
â€œAs we commend President Buhari for the bold and progressive step as it clearly shows his determination to combat corruption, we hasten to emphasize the quintessence of strengthening institutions, as they are the ones that will ensure the achievements so far endure and built upon as the country progresses. The federal government must also ensure it perseveres in its efforts to have similar treaties or agreements and other legitimate instruments with the UK, USA and other countries where loots from our country are being hidden. Diezani Alison-Maduekeâ€™s extradition as a matter of fact should be on the priority list of fugitives which the FG through its agencies should be pursuing vigorously at present given the plethora of corruption charges she has to answer for,â€ Adeniran concluded.