The Federal Government on Monday said it will now criminalise and sanction financial institutions that aides and houses illicit financial flows.
This is even as the government alleged that media organisations in Nigeria are being used to fight back against corruption.
Acting President Yemi Osinbajo, made the call to criminalise international banks noting that illicit flows will not be possible without connivance, while speaking at the Conference on Promoting
International Co-operation in Combating Illicit Financial Flows and Enhancing Asset Recovery to Foster Sustainable Development in Abuja.
He asked that the agreement which will be signed at the end of the three days conference expected to come up with resolutions on modalities for promoting international cooperation in combating illicit financial flows and enhancing asset recovery should include ways of holding conniving financial institutions accountable.
“There is no way this the transfer of this assets can happen without a handshake between the countries that they are transferred and the international banking institutions in the countries in which they are transferred, there is no way it will happen without some form of connivance.
“We have to look at somehow delegitimising those kind of Financial institutions and criminalising them, so that banks and financial institutions that actually engage in this are be called out and made to face the consequences of engaging in criminal practices. If that isn’t done we are not likely to go very far.
“For there to be collaboration there must first be connivance, in the agreement and conventions we will be signing we must find away and ensure that financial institutions are not given a free run and hold them accountable”.
Africa is said to be losing between $50-$80 billion annually through illicit financial outflows, despite relying on developed nations for aids. Also, most of the illicit funds flow that comes out of Africa are said to be from Nigeria.
The Acting President said that African countries and developing countries must realize that it is a collective responsibility to ensure that the monies are not only found but returned to the
“It is not enough to talk about it. Some countries are somehow reluctant about it, many have civil processes that makes it difficult, they say our courts are handling this matter and there is very little we can do about” he said adding that there must be a national call for other developing nations like Nigeria to have the same outrage for drugs, terrorist financing for illicit financial flows. “We must emphasis at every point and call out institutions that are not cooperating and ensuring that they recognize that this for us a serious issue” he said.
Osinbajo decried the fact that corruption was fighting back especially through the media adding that “If you look at the anti corruption fight in Nigeria there is a major fight back in the media. There is a media war, between people fighting corruption and those behind the stolen funds.
“It is called media trial, I don’t know what that means. If you discover for instance large sums of money in an air condition room there is no where it will not make news anywhere in the world”.
According to him legitimising corruption was being fuelled and sponsored by those who have these resources, who have stolen funds and unless it is seen as a problem that can bring down the Nigerian system then “we will never be able to fight. I hope we will be able to advance this with other African countries”.
Chairman, Presidential Advisory Committee against Corruption (PACAC), Itse Sagay, in his presentation noted that it is vital to increase the capacity of understanding illicit financial flows seeing the haemorrhaging effect. According to him “if we are to meet our sustainable goals or if we are ever to transform something better. We have to acquire the capacity to stop the hemorrhage”.
Drawing the connect between unrestrained looting and illicit financial flows in the country, Sagay said most of the financial assets stolen in Nigeria are taken out of the country as part of the illicit financial flow. “The immediate impact is that Nigeria is deprived of the capacity to realize its sustainable development goals of the UN officially known as transforming our world. These include no poverty (eradication of poverty), zero hunger (eradication of hunger), good health, quality education, clean water and sanitation, affordable clean energy etc”.
He put the annual flow of criminal activities at between $1 and $1.6 trillion adding that half of this comes from developing countries like Nigeria.
The keynote speaker Akere Muna, Chair, International Anti-Corruption Conference Council, former Vice-Chair, Transparency International (TI), and Member, African Union High Level Panel on Illicit Financial Flows otherwise known as the Thabo Mbeki Panel, stressed the need for the meeting to consider what was recommended in the Thabo Mbeki Report: the creation of escrow accounts within the Development Banks. “Frozen money should not stay with the complicit bank, but in an escrow account with a third party, pending the courts’ or competent authorities’ determination as to the rightful owners of the funds.
”I personally resent the fact that people who were complicit in the theft should turn around and start laying down conditionalities for the recovery of the same assets. Funds, whether recovered or still in the government coffers should not be stolen, period. The fact, that for budgeting reasons,
these may be earmarked for specific projects and under certain criteria, like the state or region from which the funds were stolen, is entirely a different matter for the countries
themselves to decide in all sovereignty”.
The anti corruption parley which is also being attended by multinationals will be looking at illegal practices such as direct looting, money laundering, tax evasion, profit shifting by multinational corporations, trade mispricing among others.
The event will also consider how to enhance the asset return process and diminish delays, bottlenecks and apathy that currently characterize the asset return process. It will also consider the use of returned stolen assets for Sustainable Development Goasl (SDGs) and human rights.