Empower Citizens to Pursue Grand Corruption, Asset Recovery against Govt

Empower Citizens to Pursue Grand Corruption, Asset Recovery against Govt

Precious Ugwuzor

Legal Adviser at Amnesty International’s International Secretariat, London, Dr Kolawole Olaniyan, has called for citizens to be empowered to pursue grand corruption and asset recovery actions against their governments. 

He called for the development of domestic laws on stolen wealth recovery.

Olaniyan also urged the international community to look to international human rights law to implement the growing consensus that corruption undermines the rule of law, hampers development efforts, stifles democracy, and harms the most vulnerable throughout the world.

These were some of the recommendations he made in his new book: “Ownership of Proceeds of Corruption in International Law.”

The author noted that recovery of proceeds deriving from corruption is now increasingly recognised as a principle of contemporary international law. 

He, however, said people’s sovereign and ownership rights over their wealth and natural resources have remained more theoretical than real, especially in the global fight against corruption. 

As a result, the populations of victim-states often cannot hold their governments accountable for misusing proceeds of corruption, and do not benefit from the recovery, repatriation, management, and use of returned proceeds. 

Olaniyan, therefore embarked on the first comprehensive study on the issue.

In the book, he challenged the conventional notion that sovereign and ownership rights over wealth and natural resources – and by extension, the proceeds of corruption – should be exclusively exercised by states.

The author, who was previously director of the Africa Programme, has been a researcher and visiting lecturer at universities in the United States and United Kingdom. 

He holds a doctorate in international law on corruption and economic crimes from the Law School of the University of Notre Dame. 

Olaniyan is the author of a seminal book on Corruption and Human Rights Law in Africa. He has authored many other book chapters and articles on international law on corruption, economic crimes, and human rights law. He is a member of the Nigerian Bar Association.

Activist-lawyer Femi Falana (SAN) said the new book addresses lingering legal and practical challenges and discusses the complex interplay between the legal rules on corruption, asset recovery and human rights law. 

Stressing the extent of the problem, he said: “Corrupt officials routinely use states’ institutions and coercive powers to steal people’s wealth with almost absolute impunity. 

“Even though the value of the assets returned has varied over time, the total amount recovered since 2010 is reported to be just over $4 billion– a tiny fraction of the estimated staggering $3.6 trillion lost to international corruption every year.” 

Falana noted that when the very institutions and officials charged with preventing and combating corruption and pursuing asset recovery cases are themselves corrupt, the victims are left with no recourse, and the resulting sense of powerlessness and betrayal often compounds the injury and makes redress more difficult. 

“Through the analyses of theories, concepts, jurisprudence and case studies, the book makes a compelling case for people’s ownership rights of proceeds of corruption. 

“It discusses contemporary doctrinal issues as well as the legal and practical challenges confronting asset recovery. 

“By offering both a theoretical framework and an analysis of case studies in these fields, Kolawole seeks to advance the coherency, consistency and effective implementation and enforcement of both anti-corruption and human rights standards.

“Kolawole’s extensive treatment of the rarely addressed private sector corruption is particularly welcome. The focus on private sector corruption is quite important especially given the well-documented complicity of private actors such as banks and financial institutions in public sector corruption.

“Thorough and scholarly, yet eminently readable, the book addresses important and topical issues such as the sharing of proceeds of foreign bribery, universal jurisdiction, and international cooperation and assistance in asset recovery cases, including the proposed International Anti-corruption Court.

“The book also discusses how the current legal rules and mechanisms on corruption and asset recovery still have very little to offer to victims. Kolawole’s focus throughout is on the rights of individuals and people to seek redress when states are either unwilling or unable to pursue asset recovery cases.”

In the preface, Dinah L. Shelton, Professor of International Law Emeritus at George Washington University Law School, says Olaniyan “combined theoretical and practical aspects of the struggle to recover the proceeds of corruption to create a masterful and comprehensive treatise”. 

He adds: “Along the way, he presents case studies and jurisprudence that support his main thesis that criminal law and efforts to enforce it have been inefficient and largely unsuccessful in preventing or remedying corruption. He addresses the focus on public sector corruption and explains why limiting concern to this topic is misguided, because private sector corruption is just as problematic. 

“This will be a valuable resource for government officials, lawyers, practitioners, scholars, and students alike.”

The book has also received positive global reviews from legal experts and other stakeholders.

Charity Hanene Nchimunya, Executive Secretary of the African Union Advisory Board against Corruption, Arusha, Tanzania, says: “Dr Olaniyan, a seasoned legal guru and anticorruption and human rights lawyer, has meticulously explored the important issues of ownership of proceeds of corruption and highlighted the inadequacies in the current legal rules and implementation mechanisms on asset recovery. 

“Dr Olaniyan has further suggested ways in which these lacunae could be remedied, and the rules and mechanisms synchronised and strengthened to facilitate the recovery and repatriation of the proceeds of corruption to the rightful victims. 

“Dr Olaniyan’s book makes a compelling case for why the global efforts to prevent and combat corruption and advance human rights must be reinvigorated, refreshed and revised to meet contemporary challenges. 

“The book could not have arrived at a better time. This unique and important book is a great resource which should be embraced by all stakeholders; its scope is remarkable, and the suggested remedies could change the narrative in asset recovery.”

A Judge at the ECOWAS Court of Justice and former Chairperson of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, Dupe Atoki, said the book presents a seamless read on the important nexus between corruption and human rights law. 

“This illuminating and timely book therefore is a natural follow up. The global fight against corruption can only be effective when upon eventual recovery of its proceeds, the owners (the people) become real beneficiaries. 

“In its absence, the fight will continue to be a rhetorical sing-song, rather deafening with no soothing sound to the victims. 

“While identifying the complex legal and practical challenges to asset recovery, Dr Olaniyan characteristically proffers well-thought-out suggestions for reforms which if implemented will be a welcome relief to victims denied of their natural wealth and resources. 

“Dr Olaniyan’s book is a seminar contribution to judicial and non-judicial approaches to issues of asset recovery and human rights. For this treatise, Dr. Olaniyan deserves our applause. All victims of corruption are indeed indebted,” Atoki said.

Juan Mendez, Professor of Human Rights Law in Residence, American University – Washington College of Law Commissioner, International Commission of Jurists, said Olaniyan’s new book is an excellent and important analysis of the understanding of the complex issues of corruption, asset recovery and human rights. 

“It makes a significant contribution to the pursuit of access to justice and effective remedies for victims of corruption everywhere. 

“The book is also a huge contribution to the global efforts to prevent corruption as a central objective of democratic public policy and business and commercial policy,” he said.

Director, Human Rights Implementation Centre, University of Bristol Law School UK, Professor Rachel Murray, said the book offers an original academic but also practitioner perspective on the interplay between the legal rules on asset recovery and human rights law. 

“Dr Olaniyan innovatively applies an international human rights law framework to issues of ownership of proceeds of corruption and in so doing advancing the idea of access of victims to effective remedies. 

“I would highly recommend this very impressive work as a valuable resource for students, academics, and professionals alike,” he said.

Secretary General, African Development Bank Group. Professor Vincent O. Nmehielle, said Olaniyan raises provocative questions that entities and individuals in the space of preventing and combatting all forms of corruption in domestic and international jurisdictions need to think deeply about. 

He added: “The place given to the victims of corruption in the international efforts on asset recovery needs to be rethought. 

“Dr Olaniyan’s book provides compelling theoretical, philosophical and legal arguments to vindicate the basic rights of victims of corruption in the context of asset recovery. 

“I commend Dr. Olaniyan in his foresight in adding yet another important monograph to the scholarly literature on the impact of corruption on the lives of citizens of countries. 

“This timely book breaks new grounds and would be a very useful resource to scholars, private sector actors, and policy makers alike.”

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