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NFIU Guidelines: An Anti-corruption Czar’s Battle With Wounded Lions

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  “Insanity is doing the same thing, in the same manner, over and over again, but expecting different results” – Albert Einstein

Financial corruption is almost as old as Independent Nigeria. As far as some persons are concerned, corruption in high places is the sole reason Nigeria has remained an unfulfilled potential, a paper tiger and a dream that is yet to come to pass. Many Nigerians believe that if not for corruption and mismanagement of public funds that have been in the country’s DNA, at all levels for successive generations, Nigeria would have been on the same level of development, if not better than countries like Singapore, Malaysia, UAE, Brazil, Indonesia, India etc as we were doing better than most of them in the early days of our independence.

It started with what they used to call ‘10 percent corruption’ in the First Republic whereby contractors and ministry officials will share 10 percent of contract monies. But the cankerworm has long grown to be more devastating over the years. Politicians, soldiers in political offices, contractors and civil servants have over the decades graduated into stealing 20 percent, 50 percent, 100 percent and even more than that.      

In the days of the military, many Nigerians accused soldiers in government circles as the most corrupt set of people created by God. The return of democracy in 1999 therefore gave people a ray of hope that the days of mindless looting were over. 19 years down the line, the reality on ground does not conform to that wishful thinking at all.

Despite the huge billions in security votes which they use for whatever they like without accounting for the funds, state governors in Nigeria  have since 2003 taken advantage of the State and Local Government Joint Account to shortchange the last tier of government.

The governors have over the years virtually monopolized access to funds in that supposed joint account. They dip their hands into the account and take monies belonging to the local government without accounting to anyone. They have in recent years graduated into not allowing elections take place at that level at all so that chairmen and councilors will not be too independent to resist their corrupt plot. What they do is appoint loyalists who are more often than not the least qualified in each local government and ward as chairmen and councilors respectively. These appointees are so flattered by the positions that they take whatever peanuts that gets to them just to pay salaries (most times, they don’t even pay) and pocket the rest. Meanwhile, the governors spend the rest of the funds on jamborees like hiring private jets for local and foreign travels, paying exorbitant overhead costs on their thousands of needless aides, painting and refurbishing Government Houses for their individual comfort and some other lustful adventures. These governors have by their actions not hidden their determination to kill the local government system and avoid any autonomy for that tier of government.

A statistical analysis of how much the 774 local government areas have earned in the last few years vis-a-vis the excruciating poverty and general infrastructural decay in these places will leave tears in the eyes of every patriotic Nigerian. According to data from the office of the Accountant-General of the federation, N14, 708, 838, 964, 375.70 (over 14.7 trillion naira) was allocated to the 774 local government areas between 2008 and 2018. The larger percentage of this allocation has been diverted by governors into the state account and misappropriated. This financial cruelty has not only stunted development at the local government levels, there is also nothing to show for all the monies collected in the states.

The data also revealed that the top five states with the highest amount of allocation to their local governments during the period reviewed included Kano, which  received the highest allocation amounting to N832.6 billion, Lagos – N829.6 billion, Katsina – N613.4 billion, Oyo– 569.6 billion, and Kaduna– N504.9 billion.

The five states, whose local governments have received the lowest allocation in the past 10 years are Bayelsa – N167 billion, Gombe – N219.4 billion, FCT – 226.8 billion, Ebonyi – N230.9 billion, and Nasarawa – 240.4 billion.

The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) came along in 2003 to act as check on the suspicious financial activities of kleptocrats masquerading as governors and other public office holders at all levels, but like the proverbial ancient bird which has learnt to fly without perching since hunters have also learnt to shoot without missing, these governors developed thick skin and resolved to make it difficult for them to be brought to book. At the slightest attempt to put their activities to check, they rush to court to either claim the effort is unconstitutional or seek a perpetual order to stop anti-graft agencies from investigating and/or arresting them.                    

To the rescue of Nigerians is a certain gentleman who now heads an agency which existed as a mere unit under the EFCC for many years.

Modibbo Hamman Tukur is a no-nonsense, shrewd financial intelligence expert who has made his mark among the very best financial crime experts in the world. Having received world class education and exposure in Nigeria and abroad, he joined the intelligence unit of EFCC as a pioneer staff in March 2005 as a Financial Intelligence/Transaction Analyst and Bank Compliance Examiner and rose through the ranks in both NFIU and mainstream EFCC to the top of financial intelligence gathering, analysis and sharing in the country. He was, for many years, behind international linkages that helped tackle important issues in Nigeria’s fight against financial crimes.

The NFIU was created as a stand-alone agency, away from the control of its mother-agency, the EFCC by the National Assembly, in November, 2018. The bill was passed after a long period of high-level intrigues and back and forth as a lot of interested and influential figures from within and outside the anti-corruption circles didn’t want the dream to turn to reality for reasons they will have to explain to posterity. Following that breakthrough, the Egmont Group, a global body of 155 financial intelligence units across the world which facilitates the exchange of financial intelligence, expertise and capability, at its 25th plenary held in Sidney, Australia, in December 2018, therefore lifted the suspension of Nigeria. It had earlier suspended the country NFIU’s lack of independence.

As a follow-up, the new law passed by the National Assembly provided that the NFIU should be headed by a director/CEO while the agency would now be domiciled in the Central Bank of Nigeria. And when President Muhammadu Buhari appointed Tukur as pioneer director/CEO of the new agency, the lawmakers concurred within days and then a new positive chapter in Nigeria’s efforts to tackle graft and money laundering was opened.      

The NFIU had stirred the hornet nest in May this year by rolling out new guidelines to ensure direct allocation of funds to local governments from the Federation Account and ensure financial autonomy for the local government leadership. The new guidelines which took effect on June 1, 2019 barred governors from interfering with statutory allocations accruing to the local governments directly from the Federation Account.

The guidelines titled: ‘NFIU enforcement and guidelines to reduce crime vulnerabilities created by cash withdrawal from Local Government funds throughout Nigeria,’ imposed a daily N500, 000 cash transaction limit on all the 774 local governments. It also barred banks, financial institutions, public officers and other stakeholders from tampering with local government statutory allocations. The NFIU vowed to deal with individuals and firms abetting the diversion of the funds. It warned that defaulters will face international and local sanctions, such as likely blacklist of erring governors and the Chief Executive Officers of the affected banks; shutdown of any erring bank; and watch-list of violators in 160 countries where they cannot transact business or pay bills.

The agency said the guidelines are in accordance with its legitimate powers under the NFIU Act 2018 and that any violations of the guidelines would be sanctioned appropriately. The directive was sequel to findings which indicated that cash withdrawals and transactions of the State and Joint Local Government Accounts posed the biggest corruption, money laundering and security threats at grassroots level and to the entire financial system and the country as a whole.

– Abdulrahman is an Abuja-based journalist

It has now become customary in Nigeria that when Politically Exposed Persons (PEPS) are either accused of corruption or stopped from dipping their hands into the treasury, they look for cheap escape route in the constitution and begin to quote the document in isolation, just to push a narrow and selfish narrative. That the 1999 Constitution of the country and the NFIU act did not specifically entrust the monitoring of local government funds in the hands of NFIU doesn’t mean these guidelines are illegal. The NFIU act mandates it to monitor all financial transactions in the country to check for money laundering, and terrorism financing or any potential security threats and so it must be able to provide regulations for how monies meant for long-suffering people at the grassroots are spent to avoid diversion into illegal activities.

The governors are acting like frustrated, wounded lions who are accustomed to devouring, looting, plundering and scavenging resources that do not belong to them and can’t stand anyone make attempt  to take away their unfettered access to treasury they see as their birthright. But the country can’t continue that way, things must change as most of the poor governance, security challenges and poverty we talk about are worst at the local levels and the governors have made sure the local government system remains a disaster.

Rather than the blackmail and threats coming from governors who are acting like over-pampered kids , what the NFIU needs now is all the support it can get from all stakeholders for it to successfully implement these brilliant guidelines. Up till now, it is still a shock to me that Nigerian students, civil society groups etc are yet to hit the streets in protest, to support the NFIU efforts to take away what constitutes over 60 percent of the financial corruption in Nigeria. As known victims of Stockholm Syndrome, what Nigerian youths love to do is take sides with their oppressors especially having collected some peanuts from them. It won’t be a surprise therefore to see some fake activists roll out in a matter of days and start accusing the NFIU of violating the constitution.               

It is equally laughable that while threatening fire and brimstone over the NFIU’s patriotic action, a statement credited to the Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF) actually accused the agency of ‘ridiculing’ the governors’ ‘collective integrity’. While typing that statement, one wonders what exactly was on the mind of the NGF spokesman, Abdulrazaque Bello-Barkindo, because even a toddler in Nigeria is aware that the word ‘integrity’ or any of its synonyms, is far from that group of individuals. Since 1999, I don’t know of any group of political office holders who have been accused, prosecuted and jailed for excessive looting as much as governors. Two of their colleagues are cooling their feet in Kuje Prison at the moment for graft while so many of them are still in court facing varying degree of corruption charges. I am sure if these wonderful guidelines had come about when the convicts were in office, they would have also attributed non-existent integrity to themselves.

These governors often rush to quote Section 162 of the 1999 Constitution especially subsection 6, which created the State Joint Account. The reason (the spirit and letters of that law) for that Account is to ensure that the money meant for the local government is properly accounted for and spent in a transparent manner. In their inexhaustible capacity for mischief, they often forget to quote subsection 7 of that Section which made it compulsory for the state governments to contribute their own share of revenue to that Account for the sake of the local government administration.  The state governments often fail in contributing their own part, all they are interested in is to keep plundering local government funds from federation account. We all know that the governors’ resort to constitutional niceties in their frustration-laden response to the new guidelines is not because they are so much in love with the rule of law, it is because this set of guidelines will stop the incessant diversion of local government funds which is like the oxygen they run their extravagant lifestyle on.    

The launch of the new guidelines is however just the beginning of what should be a long journey towards saving the local government administration from the vice grip of executive bullies at the states and ultimately curing the cancer of corruption in Nigeria. What the President needs to do now is to send an executive bill to the National Assembly seeking the amendment of certain provisions of the constitution which give the governors power to dominate the local governments and include sections that will make it a criminal offence for them to touch local government funds. This will give the new fantastic set of NFIU guidelines the legal backing it may require to function effectively in the long run. Indeed, the best way to fight corruption is to strengthen the institutions and the laws to make it difficult for career kleptocrats to have access to the funds and that is what the NFIU is doing with these guidelines.

In the meantime, carry go Hamman Tukur. God bless Nigeria.                                           

Abdulrahman is an Abuja-based journalist. He can be reached on 08078257609.

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