It will soon become impossible for recovered looted funds to be relooted as the federal government has put certain measures in place to prevent the corrupt act in the country.
As part of these measures, the federal government yesterday launched a Central Database under the Asset Tracing, Recovery and Management Regulations (ARTM) 2019 and the Central Criminal Justice Information System (CCJIS) under the National Anti-Corruption Strategy (NACS) 2017 – 2011.
The main objective of the exercise, according to the minister of Justice and attorney-general of the federation (AGF), Abubakar Malami (SAN), is to prevent the re-looting of recovered assets as is of the case in the past as well as to assist in the fight against corruption generally.
Speaking at the launch of the database in Abuja, Malami said that the database will ensure uniformity of process, access and information feeding to deepen transparency and accountability in the management of recovered assets.
To ensure compliance, he said that his office was developing legislation for the full implementation and operation of the CCJIS.
“We will work together to establish and re-enact transparency and accountability in governance and management of our resources which we have committed to do by way of strengthening international cooperation of our membership of Open Government Partnership”, Malami said.
On his part, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, said the regulation on asset tracing, recovery and proper management of proceeds of crime was signed on 24th October, 2019 and to take effect from 1st November, 2019, replaces the proceeds of Crime Regulation of 2012.
The Speaker who was represented by the chairman, House Committee on Justice, Ugonna Ozurigbo, noted that the new regulation ritled: “Asset Tracing, Recovery and Management Regulations 2019”, empowers the AGF to take charge of the custody and management of all final forfeited assets.
Gbajabiamila further listed the powers vested on the AGF to include approval and appointment of asset managers and operating and maintaining a database for the records of all recovered assets within and outside Nigeria.
He said the AGF’s office under the new regulation is also required to coordinate inter-agency investigations into recovery matters within and outside Nigeria from all law enforcement agencies which law empowers them to undertake recoveries and maintaining a depository for all forfeiture orders issued by Nigerian courts and courts outside the country.
Asset Tracing, Recovery and Management, according to the Speaker, is a core value of good governance and its effective management will serve as a deterrent to would be fraudulent minded individuals who may find themselves in public offices.
States resources, he said, must not be allowed to be stolen, but in the event where it happens by fraudulent individuals, efforts must be taken to trace proceeds, recover same and manage for the interest of the generality of the people.
He continued: “When the proceeds of crime is traced and recovered but again re-looted by government officials, I dare to say such act amounts to crime of tertiary capacity and must be avoided.
“Assets not accounted for are assets lost; loss of assets undervalues the economic potential of a country and will negatively impact on the net worth of a country. Accordingly, Asset Tracing Recovery and Management is a panacea to rekindling of the value system of a nation”.
He disclosed that the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) had reported that about $110billion was being looted annually from the Nigerian treasury and that stolen money stashed in foreign accounts by corrupt Nigerian public office holders increased from $50billion in 1999 to $170 billion in 2003.
While pointing out that the figure has increased over the years, the Speaker said it must not be allowed to continue unabated.
Gbajabiamila further noted that asset tracing, recovery and management of central database will help in addressing asset repatriation to country of origin through effective coordination of various anti-corruption bodies in the country.
He assured the AGF of the support of the National Assembly, particularly the House of Representatives, in areas of oversight and amendments of the legislations when the need arises.
Earlier in his speech, the solicitor-general of the federation and Permanent secretary, Dayo Apata (SAN), said the actualisation and development of the central database for recovered assets and the central criminal information system are practical expression of the present administration’s willingness to have a one-stop information centre where timely and verifiable information is sourced and provided to all stakeholders.
Apata listed the objectives of the Centralised Database for recovered assets to include centralised asset depository for easy coordination for all stakeholders with regards to asset management, providing timely access on all recovered asset within and outside the country, and assisting in the collection and collation of data for statistical analysis on assets recovered by Nigeria.
Other objectives, according to the Solicitor-general are adequate record keeping to conform the status of assets whether interim, seized or final forfeiture, strengthening of the efficiency of the anti-corruption agencies and law enforcement agencies, preventing the re-looting of recovered assets, assisting citizens, civil society organizations and journalists as well as the general public in monitoring recovered assets and disposal of the assets, serving as reference point and source of information on recovered assets, and assisting of researchers with materials and other information regarding recovered assets.
He said the central database for recovered assets complements the Central Criminal Justice Information and will also strengthen the legal, institutional and operational framework designed to prevent and combat corruption.
The scope of the Criminal Justice Information System covers the courts, Nigerian Correctional Service, regulatory and supervisory agencies, law enforcement agencies, academic institutions and associations, among others.
In his message, the auditor-general of the federation, A M Ayine, said that the anti-corruption fight will only be relevant if there is transparency and accountability in the management of recoveries of proceeds of crime.
He stated: “Over the years, anti-corruption agencies, such as the EFCC, ICPC, Police, DSS and Ministry of Justice have recovered several assets of properties and cash arising from proceeds of crime. But Nigeria as a country cannot say at a glance, what is where and how much.
“This is because recovery agencies treat proceeds of crime independently and show case such when the need arise”.
He applauded the AGF for the Proceeds of Crime and Management Agency Bill, which he sought the approval of the Federal Executive Council to transmit to the National Assembly for passage into law.