By Jonathan Nda- Isaiah, Abuja, BUKOLA IDOWU and KAYODE TOKEDE, Lagos
Acting President Yemi Osinbajo has beamed the ant-corruption light on financial institutions in the country in search of commercial banks that collude with treasury looters to keep away funds from legitimate owners.
Specially, Osinbajo declared yesterday that the act of connivance among looters and the banks who aid and abet their fraudulent transactions will henceforth be criminalised, just as anti-graft agencies will ensure that the stolen assets are retrieved and returned to their appropriate owners.
The acting president stated this at the opening of a conference on Promoting International Co-operation in Combating Illicit Financial Flows and Enhancing Asset Recovery to Foster Sustainable Development at the presidential villa, Abuja.
He decried a situation whereby the financial institutions conspicuously show that they expect to have “a handshake” before agreeing to return stolen money.
According to him, while proceeds from drug trafficking have been generally regarded as dirty money, it was not the same with proceeds of corruption, which explains why looted funds did not attract outrage.
Osinbajo said, “Somehow proceeds from political corruption has not attracted the same outrage that proceeds from narcotics and trafficking in persons have attracted. It took years for some people to agree that when somebody loots money where people make decent living that is more criminal than crime against humanity, more dangerous than trafficking in drugs.
“It is a good thing that we are here with our partners who agree that not only are these stolen assets criminalized but that they are returned to their appropriate owners.
“There is no way this transfer of this assets can happen without a handshake between the countries that they are transferred to 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 delegitimizing those kind of financial institutions and criminalizing them, so that banks and financial institutions that actually engage in this are called out and made to face the consequences of engaging in criminal practices”.
The acting president observed that if the financial institutions involved in these dirty transactions are not delegitimised and criminalised, the country would likely to go very far in the fight against corruption.
“For there to be collaboration, there must first be connivance. In the agreement and conventions we will be signing, we must find a way and ensure that financial institutions are not given a free run and hold them accountable”, he pointed out.
Osinbajo called on African and other developing countries to realize that it was their responsibility to ensure they not only found the monies but to make sure they were returned.
His words: “It is not enough to talk about it. Some countries are somehow reluctant about it. Many have civil processes that make it difficult. They say our courts are handling this matter and there is very little we can do about.
“We must make it a national call, a call for other developing countries to have the same outrage for drugs, terrorist financing for illicit financial flows. We must emphasize at every point and call out institutions that are not cooperating and ensuring that they recognize that this for us a serious issue”.
He warned that there was every possibility of corruption fighting back and overwhelming government, noting that corrupt persons had tagged the war on corruption as media trial as a way of fighting back.
He continued: “In Nigeria for instance where corruption fights back so eloquently that government itself if not careful can be overwhelmed, 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.
“So, this whole idea of trying to legitimize corruption is definitely being fueled and sponsored by those who have these resources, who have stolen funds. Unless we see it as a problem that can bring down our system, then we will never be able to fight”.
On his part, the chairman, Presidential Advisory Committee against Corruption (PACAC), Prof. Itse Sagay, drew attention to a study which showed that 55 top Nigerian government officials and private businessmen illicitly diverted a total of N1.35 trillion between 2006 and 2015.
Sagay specifically noted that trillions of naira were lost to fuel subsidy scam in the country and millions of dollars stolen by an ex-minister to allegedly bribe election officials in 2015.
He further stated that the annual flow of criminal activities is estimated at between $1 and $1.6 trillion and half of this comes from developing countries like Nigeria.
“It is therefore vital that we increase our capacity of understanding the illicit financial flows- the hemorrhage, 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”.
Reacting to the development, experts yesterday commended the federal government for making frantic efforts to curb corruption in all facets of the national life of Nigerians.
According to analysts who spoke with LEADERSHIP, the move is a welcome development.
However, the managing director and chief executive of Cowry Assets Management Company, Johnson Chukwu noted that for the federal government to be able to sanction a bank for holding illicit funds, it must have proven through a court of law that the said funds are actually illicit.
He said, “It is only when such funds have been declared illegal that the bank can be sanctioned. If not it is going to be a long shot for the government. What they can do is to actually speed up the prosecution of the cases that they have and step up the anti-corruption drive and have more ways to achieve more convictions. That is when they will be able to sanction banks. This is because they will have no way of asserting that the money in the bank is illegal unless they have a conviction or a confession.
On his part, the president, Renaissance Shareholders Association of Nigeria, Mr. Timothy Olufemi said, “We have anti-money laundering act that the federal government is not using up till now to sanction financial institutions. Why is FG not implementing that ACT and do they need to threaten any banks right now?
A former member of House of Representatives and a finance expert, Dr Wunmi Bewaji, said, “The federal government must state specific sanctions that await financial institutions for aiding money laundering. The government must tell the public the allegation against the banks.”