Voice of Nigeria: Nigeria has called for the reform of Article 51 of the United Nations Convention Against Corruption and the Article 16(1)(c) of the African Union Convention for Preventing and Combating Corruption for easier repatriation of stolen assets.
President Muhammadu Buhari made the call at the opening of the 8th Commonwealth Regional Conference for Heads of Anti-Corruption Agencies in Africa holding in Abuja.
President Buhari, who was represented by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, said that these conventions were in urgent need of reform to remove all conditions militating against the repatriation of stolen assets.
“The effective implementation of these Conventions depends to a considerable extent on the willingness, cooperation and the assistance of states in the areas of mutual legal assistance (MLA), law enforcement cooperation, asset recovery and return, and technical assistance. Regrettably, the procedures to obtain Mutual Legal Assistance to seize, confiscate and repatriate proceeds of corruption are often complex and problematic, and in urgent need of reform.”
According to President Buhari, fighting corruption would be futile if nothing was done to ensure that the proceeds of corruption find no safe haven and that such proceeds are fully recovered and promptly repatriated.
“Recovering stolen assets not only accomplishes the goal of restitution, it also serves as a potential deterrent to future corruption,” he said.
The Nigerian leader noted that the absence of a legal basis for cooperation in some countries, differences in legal and procedural frameworks, language barriers, bank secrecy, jurisdictional issues, a lack of funding – are some of the obstacles standing in the way of effective mutual legal assistance.
He said it was the complex web of public-private collusion that results in proceeds of corruption ending in foreign countries and especially in their financial institutions and systems.
Mutual Legal Assistance
President Buhari said Nigeria has been at the forefront of sponsoring resolutions aimed at enhancing Mutual Legal Assistance, MLA, on assets recovery and return.
Among these was the “Facilitating International Cooperation in Asset Recovery and the Return of Proceeds to Crime” – Resolution 6/2 2015” sponsored by Nigeria and South Africa, which was passed at the 6th Session of the Conference of States Parties of the United Nations Convention against Corruption held in St. Petersburg, Russian Federation in 2015
Others were the “Facilitating International Cooperation in Asset Recovery” – Resolution 5/3 2013 at Panama City, Panama in 2013 and the “Strengthening Mutual Legal Assistance for International Cooperation and Asset Recovery”- Resolution 7/1 2017, in Vienna, Austria in 2017; both of which were sponsored exclusively by Nigeria.
“Nigeria has also worked hard to mobilize other countries, especially African Countries, around the issue of asset recovery; and we were key participants in the London Anti-Corruption Summit of 2016, which marked a milestone for our administration’s anti-corruption agenda,” he stated.
Conditional Cash Transfer
President Buhari said an additional $320 million that was recovered from funds looted by former military dictator, Late General Sani Abacha, was invested in the Conditional Cash Transfer, one of the components of the his administration’s flagship programme, Social Investment Programmes.
He said this was one of the aftermaths of the Global Forum on Asset Recovery (GFAR) which held its inaugural meeting in Washington, DC, in December 2017 and brought together four countries from which resources had been stolen, including Nigeria, Sri Lanka, Tunisia and Ukraine.
He said that the GFAR saw the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between Nigeria and the government of Switzerland on the return of the Abacha loots, which included a commitment that funds would be invested in the Conditional Cash Transfer scheme “targeted at the poorest and the most vulnerable households in our country.”
In her speech, the Secretary-General of the Commonwealth, Baroness Patricia Scotland, said “Nigeria is getting its money back,” pointing out that “here in Nigeria; over three billion dollars of ill-gotten gains have been recovered.”
Earlier in his address of welcome, Acting Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, Ibrahim Magu lauded President Buhari for his commitment in the fight against corruption.
Others who spoke were former President of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki, Chief Justice of Nigeria, Walter Onnoghen, Nobel Laurette, Professor Wole Soyinka, two former Heads of State, Yakubu Gowon and Abdulsalami Abubakar.