* As Reps, UK, CSO pledge support for successful implementation
By Alex Enumah
The federal government on Thursday launched two tools — the Central Database on Recovered Asset and the Central Criminal Justice Information System (CCJIS) — to enhance transparency in its fight against corruption in the country.
The tools, offshoot of the Asset Tracing, Recovery and Management Regulations, 2019 and the National Anti-Corruption Strategy, is to give bite to the President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration’s war against corruption by preventing re-looting of recovered assets and win international collaboration towards checkmating illicit financial flow and other crimes.
The scheme, which was unveiled by the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Mr Abubakar Malami (SAN), in the presence of critical stakeholders, is aimed at specifically bringing into one central platform recovered loots by the various anti-graft agencies in the country.
“What we are witnessing today is a product of our commitments, as a government towards the fight against corruption with particular reference to our membership of international organisations inclusive of financial action taskforce, open government partnership targeted at deepening transparency within this context of United Nations Convention Against Corruption.
“The database that will be put in place will ensure uniformity of process and real time access and information feeding,” he said.
The minister, who noted that without the central database, it would be difficult to know the exact figures of recovered assets, disclosed that since 2018, President Buhari has included recovered assets in the budget, adding that they are tied to specific infrastructural projects including the Kano-Abuja Expressway, Lagos-Ibadan Expressway and the 2nd Niger Bridge, amongst others.
Also speaking, the Chairman of the House Committee on Justice, Hon. Ugonna Ozurigbo, who represented the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, at the occasion, noted that asset tracing, recovery and management is a core value of good governance.
He stressed that the “effective management of this venture will serve as a deterrent to would-be fraudulent-minded individuals who may find themselves in public offices”.
“States resources must not be allowed to be stolen but if that happened by fraudulent individuals, efforts must be taken to trace the proceed, recover same and manage for the interest of the generality of the people. Remember that ‘a crime is crime ‘ therefore, when the proceeds of crime is traced and recovered but again re-looted by government officials, I dare to say such act amounts to crime of tertiary capacity and must be avoided,” he added.
Ozurigbo, while arguing that the initiative cannot be done without effective coordination of various anti-corruption bodies in the country, said the National Assembly particularly, the House of Representatives, will continuously collaborate with the AGF in areas of oversight and amendments of legislations when the need arises.
The Acting Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Mr Mohammed Umar, noted that a central database is very important in the fight against corruption.
Umar added that the establishment and efficient functioning of the centre is a task that all anti-corruption agencies must support and ensure that it succeeds.
He disclosed that the EFCC already has in place a functional database where all court’s orders on forfeitures are kept, adding that EFCC will key into the central database.
Similarly, the Chairman of the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission (ICPC), Prof. Bolaji Owasanoye, said that the need for a central database was long over due, adding that information about seized assets is critical to advance the fight against corruption in the country.
According to Owasanoye, there is no other office that could handle the task than the office of the AGF, because the recovery agencies are not in a position to manage recovered assets.
Assuring the government that ICPC will key into the project, the chairman urged that the central database should be put online for easy access, particularly as it would help to reduce public misgiving about recovered assets and the agencies to verify whether a suspect has bad record with the police.
Owasanoye said that the management of recovered assets should not be limited to monies, “it should include property that littered the court premises and police stations”.
On his part, the representative of the United Kingdom, Mr Andrew Clowes, advised the ministry to ensure transparency in the management of the central database.
He also appealed to the country to utilize recovered assets to provide needed infrastructure in the country and improve the welfare of citizens.
The representative of the civil society organization (CSO) and Executive Director, Africa Network for Environment and Economic Justice (ANEEJ), Rev. David Ugolor, however urged the government to put recovered assets to judicious use.