By Alex Enumah
The federal government yesterday 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, were to give a bite to the President Muhammadu Buhari administration’s war against corruption by preventing the 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, was aimed specifically at 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 Task Force, Open Government Partnership targeted at deepening transparency within this context of the 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, Buhari has included recovered assets in the budget, adding that they are tied to specific infrastructural projects, including Kano-Abuja Expressway, Lagos-Ibadan Expressway and 2nd Niger Bridge, amongst others.
Also speaking, 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 added 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 the same and manage for the interest of the generality of the people. Remember that ‘a crime is a crime,’ therefore, when the proceeds of crime are traced and recovered but again re-looted by government officials, I dare to say such act amounts to the crime of tertiary capacity and must be avoided,” he added.
Ozurigbo, while arguing that the initiative could not be done without effective coordination of various anti-corruption bodies in the country, said the National Assembly particularly the House of Representatives would continuously collaborate with AGF in areas of oversight and amendments of legislations when the need arises.
In a goodwill message, the Acting Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Mr. Mohammed Umar, described a central database as 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 EFCC already has in place a functional database where all court’s orders on forfeitures are kept, adding that EFCC would key into the central database.
Similarly, the Chairman of the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission (ICPC), Prof. Bolaji Owasanoye, said the need for a central database was long overdue. He added that information about seized assets is critical to advance the fight against corruption in the country.
According to him, there’s 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 that ICPC would 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 the suspect has a bad record with the police.
Owasanoye said management of recovered assets should not be limited to monies but should include property that litters the court premises and police stations.
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 utilise recovered assets to provide needed infrastructure in the country and improve the welfare of citizens.