Unless the federal government gives priority to enforcement of laws enacted to tackle money laundry, corruption and electoral malpractices in the the country, Nigeria will continue to suffer huge financial loses and disruptions.
Nigeria has the unenviable position as the biggest loser as well as offender in terms of Illicit financial flows (IFFs) in Africa.
With an estimated $18 billion lost annually to illicit financial outflows, Nigeria was ranked the 7th biggest loser globally and the first in Africa, according to the Global Financial Integrity Report.
The ever increasing and soaring problem of laundered/dirty money in politics which suggests a high level of impunity among politically exposed individuals, who seek to gain power and accrue wealth through illegal means with zero accountability has been a growing concern locally and internationally.
Worried by this trend, Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC) and other stakeholders recently converged on Lagos at a forum themed “Strengthening Accountability Networks Among Civil Society (SANCUS) to sentisise the public.
As the 2023 General Elections draws approaches, the need for all stakeholders to unite in stamping out the trench of money laundering and circulation of other dirty monies’ which births different electoral malpractices was the focus at the workshop organised by CISLAC.
SANCUS is a project that runs from January 2021 to December 2023 and is being implemented by Transparency International Secretariat through its chapters in 21 countries with support from the European Commission.
CISLAC as Transparency International Nigeria (TIN), is currently implementing this project in Nigeria with the focus on solving the core problem of dirty money in Nigeria’s politics, which perpetuates a culture of lack of accountability and corruption for power preservation and self-enrichment. The project aims to improve the democratic accountability of public institutions globally by empowering CSOs to demand systemic change to address accountability and anti-corruption deficits.
The forum had participants and representatives amongst them were civil society organizations, the media, Inter – Governmental Action against Money Laundering in West Africa – GIABA, Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU) and National Orientation Agency (NOA).
Reeling out the aims of the gathering, the conveners said the SANCUS objective is to advocate the operational independence of anti-corruption agencies, an increased enforcement of existing anti-money laundering provisions and policies; an improved oversight function of the National Assembly; improve capacity of the media and civil society to investigate the presence of dirty money in Nigeria’s political processes and finally to increase citizens demand for accountability in the funding of political processes. They hoped that the sensitization would instil some level of sanity in the Nigerian political elites whose actions continue to tarnish the good image of the country as a democratic space which operates within the purview of maximum respect for the rule of law.
With Nigeria known as the largest IFFs offender in the continent with about $18 billion estimated to be lost annually, gave credence to the need for such forum. This figure they believe is likely to increase, if necessary, measures are not taken to curb the excesses of these crimes.
The SANCUS project with the CSOs forum seeks to develop ways to strategically align the SANCUS with the existing interventions of the AML-CFT CSO forum to have a more robust advocacy towards the strengthening of Nigeria’s AML regime
In his opening remarks, executive director, CISLAC Auwal Musa Rafsanjani expressed concerns on the enforcement of laws enacted to tackle money laundry, corruption and electoral malpractice “Our laws are not enforced or are outrightly ignored. According to the widely shared public opinion, political contests have little to do with ideas but rather corruption and populism take the upper hand.”
He said this crisis of the image of Nigerian politics have led to a widely disillusioned public electorate, that expects profiting from the corruption instead of trying to stop it. He noted that although there was a crises at the leadership of the country, the people are equally guilty. Citing the 2019 general elections, he said over one quarter of voters came to the ballot box with the offer to sell their vote to the highest bidder. “We all know the problem IFF causes and as CSOs working around the themes of money laundering there is a need to call out the wrongdoings of the government as well as commend the government when they are taking the right actions.
“Doing this will greatly reduce IFF in Nigeria and you agree with me that with the high rate of borrowing, it is important for us to block these leakages.
“All hands must be on deck to ensure that scenarios where looted funds are stashed either at home or abroad only to be used when it is time for political campaigns and elections is reduced to its barest minimum.”
Speaking about the project, Rafsanjani said SANCUS project comes to Nigeria at the critical junction of the pre-election period for the 2023 elections, as there was a need for all CSOs to unite and come up with strategies aimed at mitigating the role of dirty money in the upcoming electoral circle, and also develop a strategic document for CSOs on how to advocate for a reduction of dirty money in politics.
“On the positive side, the necessary institutional and legal infrastructure is in place. We have the Independent National Electoral Commission and laws in place that, in theory, should regulate how money enters politics.
Rafsanjani equally noted that the SANCUS project plans to advocate for the operational independence of anti-corruption agencies, an increased enforcement of existing anti-money laundering provisions and policies, and an improved oversight function of the National Assembly.
He also said it would also advocate for an improved capacity of the media and civil society to investigate the presence of dirty money in Nigeria’s political processes and, “increase citizen’s demand for accountability in the funding of political processes.
On his part, representative of Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU), Moses Azege noted that non-state actors play a unique role in supporting state actors in such ways that results in more effectiveness in our democratic efforts. According to him, these kind of collaborations result in innovative concepts like the theme of SANCUS Nigeria Project, “which is to address the issue of dirty money in Nigeria politics.
“This initiative could not be more timely bearing in mind that we are about to begin another electioneering process and we know that electioneering is expensive on the ordinary Nigerian because more corrupt proceeds tend to flow into the electioneering space.
Azege concluded that corruption is not just a threat in itself but an enabler of other illicit conducts. Consequently, the motivation for corruption is more widespread during the period leading to elections. Therefore, all stakeholders have to be alert to this and collaborate in ways that will mitigate these illicit flows,” he said.
While speaking virtually on dirty money in politics, two resource persons joined the discourse from abroad. They were Matthew Jenkins, SANCUS Policy Lead, Transparency International, Berlin, Germany and CISLAC Policy Consultant, Vaclav Prusa.
On how to fight the illicit money, Prusa said the institutions of government should be built in a way that, in fighting dirty money in politics, there will be nowhere for the culprits to hide.
“It should be built in a way that there will be no secrecy of jurisdiction, no anonymous companies, every company must be clearly identified and their owners known, just like the idea of hiding under cryptocurrency to perpetrate the act should not be allowed.”
Continuing, Prusa said the institution must ensure that no one helps the culprits against the law, either financial institutions, lawyers real estate agencies, accountants or corporate service providers.
On what the CSOs and others can do to fight dirty money in politics, he said, “they are to monitor compliance, monitor campaign, political spendings, follow up money in politics, press for the fulfillment of anti-corruption pledges, educate the public about political integrity, expose unexpected wealth of Politically Exposed Persons (PEPs), and mobilise critical mass of people who reject dirty money politics.”
Also speaking during the forum, Director Legal, National Orientation Agency, Amina Elelu-Ahmed explained that the issue of dirty money in Nigeria’s politics with its attendant negative consequences, was no doubt a threat to good governance.
“It is also no longer news that politics in Nigeria, perhaps more than other avenues, is a leading means of money laundering. Many see political parties as avenues for investment, by money bags, with an expectation for return on investment and therefore would never be guided by the rules of accountability and transparency in governance.
“It is in this regard that I think a deeper look should be taken on sources of funding that those present themselves for political positions spent during elections.”
She said it was necessary for the Code of Conduct Bureau, the EFCC, and others to investigate people aspiring to contest various positions, “so that patriotic Nigerians driven by the passion to serve are not schemed out by those in positions of dirty money.”
Nothing that it was also necessary for political parties to consider reducing the huge amount paid for nomination forms and money spent during elections so that it would not be beyond reach of those ordinary persons who have interest of Nigeria at heart, as this will drastically discourage dirty money laundered into politics.
Speaking on the issue of dirty money in politics, representative from Inter Governmental Action Against Money Laundering in West Africa (GIABA), Timothy Melaye noted that Nigeria loses billions of dollars as a result of money laundering activities.
He likewise urged that individuals holding public office positions should refuse to accept bribes and partake in corrupt activities.
According to him, “we don’t want dirty money in politics and whatever clean money we have in, it should be controlled. Dirty money should not be reduced. It should be out.”
Melaye said if one loses integrity, there was nothing more to lose, “That is why I remember my grandmother’s saying that ‘You rather die of hunger than take the neighbour’s yam’.”
He said if dirty money was not stopped from coming into politics, owners of the dirty money will be the ones that will win election and rule over everyone. “But the point is, even the clean money should be regulated. This is because, if you put N2 billion in contesting election, after you have won, you will take your money back. “So, even if you have clean money, it should still be within treasury,” Melaye said.