The Federal Executive Council (FEC), recently approved a new bill – Proceeds of Crime Recovery and Management Agency – for enactment into law by the National Assembly. The central objective of the bill is to secure a legal and institutional framework that will assist in harnessing proceeds of crimes that are currently scattered across several government agencies and bring them under one roof.
The reasoning behind the pursuit of a legal framework for recovered assets is understandable from the point of view of a government that came into power on the mantra and commitment to eliminate corrupt practices in all their manifestations. The government is convinced that there is a necessity to hold someone or agency responsible for the provision of data on landed assets, immobile assets as well as the value of cash recovered.
Much as this newspaper shares the anxiety of the government in this regard, it is also imperative to point out that the creation of another anti- corruption agency is one too many considering the fact that the bureaucracy is huge and unwieldy already. The Oronsaye report had recommended a trimming of government agencies to manageable level. That report is presently gathering dust somewhere.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and its sister organisation, the Independent Corrupt Practices, Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) are already on ground. All that is required, in our opinion, is for the government to fine tune their operations to make them more efficient and effective.
We, therefore, suggest that the two agencies be merged and brought under one management with enhanced powers to drive the process of ridding the country of the endemic corruption in a more meaningful way. This, in our view, will help avoid a duplication of functions which is what is actually going on now. To continue to keep the two anti-graft agencies as separate entities is creating space for unhealthy competition with the attendant possibility of clash of interest. We strongly believe that the war against this monster-corruption will not necessarily be won through a multiplication of agencies but by exhibiting propriety among all agencies of government as well as causing a revolutionary change in the orientation of the citizens.
In our opinion, the two agencies when merged into one should be structured to have its mandate expanded in order to confront the emerging challenges. Also, the proposed new agency should be domiciled in a new EFCC that is also strengthened to perform the roles and functions presently performed by ICPC.
We recommend this arrangement bearing in mind that this is the era of meagre resources. Heavy recurrent expenditure is at present constituting a burden on the budget. Even worse is the realisation that capital expenditure that ought to drive the development of the nation is unnecessarily bugged down by inadequacy of fund to finance it. The implication of this is obvious which has resulted in a surfeit of decayed infrastructure and other indices of economic growth and development.
It is pertinent to point out that the problem of Nigeria as a country has never been lack of requisite agencies or laws but the political will to implement existing statutes. What is urgently needed is a streamlining of institutions which are strengthened to play their roles effectively.
Nigerians are aware that President Muhammadu Buhari made fighting corruption one of the cardinal points of his administration. Recall that in 2018, he signed into law Executive Order 6 for the preservation of suspicious assets connected with corruption. The new law seeks to prevent owners of assets under investigation for corruption from conducting any transaction on those assets. The executive order focuses on Nigeria’s public officials who served between 1999 and 2015 and are under investigation for corruption by the country’s various anti-corruption bodies.
No doubt, corruption has been a cankerworm destroying the fabric that holds the society together. The Human Environmental Development Agenda (HEDA) had reported that following an intensive global research it conducted in collaboration with its international partners, spanning several months, it has been revealed that Nigeria lost at least $600 billion dollars to corrupt officials since 1960. This is worrisome and calls for concern by any serious government.
However, we insist that the country should carefully design its modus operandi for the fight against this monster outside the thought of creating new agencies. Investments in technology and the political will are certainly indispensable weapons in the fight.
Accordingly, we call on the federal government to empower the existing anti- corruption agencies for utmost performance. We aver that a new EFCC as suggested above should be independent, transparent and be empowered to leverage on technology in the discharge of its duties. We believe that when the anti – corruption bodies are truly independent, they will be less susceptible to the whims and caprices of political leaders and earn the desired credibility and better public perception which should be the starting point.