Nigeria’s Anti-Graft Agencies Set to Track Covid-19 Funds

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ICPC, NFIU, others list 2020 recoveries

By Emmanuel Addeh

Several agencies connected with the enthronement of prudence in government spending, yesterday gave an account of their stewardship, agreeing that there was need to strengthen the tracking of Covid-19 emergency funds to ensure accountability in the country.

In an event to mark the International Anti-corruption Day, organised by the Technical Unit on Governance & Anti-Corruption Reforms (TUGAR) which works on research methods for monitoring anti-corruption and governance initiatives across all sectors in the country, the agencies argued that the nature and manner of release of the funds had made it imperative for more intense oversight.

Some of the participants at the event were the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC), the Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP) and the Nigeria Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative (NEITI).

Others were the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU), National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), Public Complaints Commission (PCC), Fiscal Responsibility Commission (FRC), Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), among others.

At the programme tagged: “Recover Better with Integrity”, the United Nations Secretary General, Mr Antonio Guterres, who was represented by the UNODC representative to Nigeria, Dr Oliver Stolpe, noted that the anti-corruption fight was being weakened by the nature of the release of emergency monies for the containment of the pandemic.

“With Covid-19, the challenges related to anti-corruption work has never been more critical than today. Our collective actions will be critical for recovery. In recent years, anger and frustration have erupted against corrupt leaders and governments.

“In some countries, people have taken to the street with demand for social justice and accountability. Amidst these deep concerns, the Covid-19 crisis creates additional opportunities for corruption.

“Governments are spending rapidly to get economies back on track. They provide emergency support and procurement cum supplies as oversight may be weaker and the development of vaccines and treatments add to the risk of bribery and profiteering.

“Corruption drains resources from people who need them, undermine trust in institutions, exacerbate vast inequalities exposed by the virus and hinders development. Recovery from the virus must include measures to prevent and combat corruption and bribery,” he said.

In his remarks, the ICPC Chairman, who was represented by the commission’s Secretary, Prof. Usman Abubakar, stated that despite the shortage of human and material resources in the organisation, the agency has recorded huge successes.

“Many assets both capital and liquid have been recovered. Recently, as a result of our collaboration with the federal ministry of finance, we were able to retrieve a sum of N142 million from the MDAs. Equipment, tractors, ambulances, transformers, hospital equipment etc were also recovered.

“Earlier this year, the commission seized billions of naira from the federal ministry of agriculture because the money was moved under suspicious circumstances beyond the threshold that put it within the purview of the accountant general of the federation into an offline account in CBN where utilisation was outside the monitoring of GIFMIS,” he said.

The ICPC listed some of the assets recovered to include 23 buildings, 15 business premises , 26 plots of land and two farms, adding that quite a number of other recoveries have been made by the commission.

It added that as a result of its initiatives, 59 contractors handling projects across the country had been forced back to site after they abandoned some projects.

Chairman FRC, Mr Victor Muruako, lamented that many agencies still see the monies they are to remit to the Consolidated Revenue Fund(CRF) as theirs.

“Getting agencies to pay into the consolidated revenue funds has not been easy because we are getting them to do what they are ordinarily not used to, for example, the payment of 80 per cent operating surplus into the CRF

He lamented that the act setting up the body does not provide sanctions, but said that things had improved since it established a new template for calculating operating surplus approve by the federal government.

He stated that since inception, the commission has caused to be remitted over N1.8 trillion and said that not all the states have adopted the fiscal responsibility law, with about 22 out of 36, having different levels of compliance.

The NFIU representative, Mr Babagana Bashir, noted that the advent of the pandemic has opened more vista for corrupt elements to embezzle public funds.

“We have issued advisories to the financial institutions, especially with the advent of the pandemic which has opened up opportunities and windows for corrupt-minded citizens who are prone to embezzlement of funds as a result of emergency spending by government at all levels.

“We have issued advisories to financial institutions to track and monitor funds meant for Covid-19,” he said, adding that as a result of collaborative efforts, the unit has recovered several funds running into billions of naira from civil servants, government officials, among others leading to the current prosecution of several persons in connection with arms procurement fraud.

He said that in one instance, a civil servant incorporated two companies where he’s the director and signatory to the accounts and used his office to divert funds from the country, saying that the NFIU recovered N56.2 billion from the subject.

Executive Secretary of NEITI, Mr Waziri Adio, whose speech was read by the Director of Communications and Advocacy, Dr Ogbonnaya Orji, reiterated that NEITI is committed to the fight against corruption and enthroning transparency and accountability in the oil , gas and mining sector.

“We have ensured that our reports which feed into the larger reforms in the sector are timely and of high quality. This is key to ensure that the data we provide to achieve reforms in the sector are current and reliable.

“NEITI has taken fundamental steps to automate our processes by establishing an audit management system. We have introduced policy instruments, policy papers, analysis, quarterly reviews, engaging the NNPC on key remedial issues.

“Roundtable engagements between NEITI and the NNPC has been most useful. We established the NEITI/ NNPC joint committee on remediation,” he stated.

NEITI added that because of its work with The NNPC, the national oil company has not just bought into the global EITI, but has now accepted the full principles of the global transparency body, assuring that Nigerians will soon begin to feel the impact of their oil and gas revenue.