Lawyers demand EFCC, AGF’s synergy for accountability
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) claimed to have recovered about N152 billion, among other funds in foreign currencies, in 2021. However, the lack of a clear-cut process of monitoring the management and utilization of these funds has remained a major concern for many Nigerians. How can the EFCC be made accountable for recovered funds? AKEEM NAFIU seeks lawyers’ views
Some senior lawyers have expressed concerns over the way and manner funds recovered by anti-graft agencies are being handled by those in charge.
These recovered funds running into trillions in both local and foreign currencies have been forfeited to the Federal Government through various court orders.
The lawyers who spoke on the heels of a recent report by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) on its recoveries in 2021, alleged that management of the funds have been shrouded in secrecy.
The EFCC had Monday last week indicated that it recovered the sums of N152 billion and $386 million, among other foreign currencies, between January and December 2021. In a statement signed by its spokesperson, Wilson Uwujaren, the anti-graft agency said it arrived at the figures following a review of its operational activities last year.
Aside the Naira and United States Dollar recoveries, Uwujaren disclosed that the sums of £1.182 million, €156,000, 1,723 million Saudi Riyal, 1,400 Canadian Dollar and 1,900 South African Rand were also recovered. He added that the recoveries also included a digital currency component with 5,36957319 Bitcoin and 0.09012 Ethereum.
Giving a breakdown of the role played by the Commission’s zonal offices in achieving the feat, Uwujaren revealed that the EFCC’s headquarters contributions dominated the recoveries with a total of about N67.3 billion, $375 million and £1.2 million.
According to him, the headquarters was closely followed by the Lagos Command which recovered N70 billion, $9.3 million and £21,500.
He added that the Kaduna Zonal Command emerged third in terms of Naira recoveries with a total sum of N3.4 billion while the Ibadan Zonal Command took the same position in terms of Dollar recoveries to the tune of $387,385.00.
Giving an overview of the performance, EFCC’s Chairman, Abdulrasheed Bawa, while lauding the agency’s personnel for their contributions, said the funds included direct and indirect recoveries for the different tiers of government (federal, state and local governments), corporate organisations and individuals (victims of crime) within the year under review.
Recoveries from 2015 to 2019
Prior to the suspension of the former Acting Chairman of the EFCC, Ibrahim Magu on July 7, 2020, by President Muhammadu Buhari, over alleged corruption and insubordination, the anti-graft agency came up with figures about what it recovered between 2015 and 2019. Reports indicated that the following recoveries were made by the EFCC between 2015 and 2019;
Recoveries in Naira
N33,180,830.790(2015) N170,276,862,880(2016) N473,065,195.970(2017) N216,455,497.764(2018) and N46,534,536.954 (as at August 2019)
Recoveries in Dollars
$42,917,205(2015) $69,142,551(2016) $142,505,121(2017) $47,290,174(2018) and $13,458,041(as at August 2019)
Recoveries in Pounds
£147,100(2015) £44,785(2016) 294,852(2017) £873, 278 (2018) and £4,644,493(as at August 2019)
Recoveries in Euros
€832,237(2015) €56,470(2016) €7,247,364(2017) €298,055(2018) and €53,025(as at August 2019) In the period under review, about 407 mansions were also reported to have been seized, out of which 126 have been finally forfeited while 281 are under interim forfeiture. 98 parcels of land were also seized, out of which 56 are under interim forfeiture, while 42 have been forfeited finally to the federal government.
The EFCC also secured about 1,636 convictions between 2015 and 2019. Notable amond these were the prosecution and convictions of two former governors, Joshua Dariye of Plateau State and Rev. Jolly Nyame of Taraba State.
As laudable as all these efforts by the anti-graft agency are, many Nigerians have expressed concerns about what they perceived as lack of transparency in the handling of the recovered funds by the EFCC. In one of such instances, a retired Judge of the Federal High Court, Mojisola Olatoregun, had while delivering judgement in one of the forfeiture cases filed before her by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), raised an alarm over the safety of various funds already forfeited to the Federal Government since the beginning of President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration.
She was concerned about the inability of an EFCC’s lawyer to furnish the court with an account where forfeited funds have been kept despite repeated demands.
Besides, an indication that all may not be well with the handling of the recovered funds also emerged in 2018, when the Ministry of Finance disputed claims by the Acting Chairman of the EFCC, Ibrahim Magu, that his agency recovered N739 billion between 2016 and 2017.
In faulting Magu’s claims, the Ministry of Finance disclosed that its calculation of recovered funds within the period was just N91.3 billion. The N91.3 billion was said to have also included assets under final and interim forfeitures and funds recovered in foreign currencies.
Efforts at ensuring transparent management of recovered assets and non-conviction-based approach to asset recovery led to the passage of the Proceeds of Crime (POC) Bill by 8th National Assembly.
The lawmakers were motivated by the need for transparency in the management of recovered assets to avoid suspicions about the caretakers of the assets.
One of the high points of the POC Bill is that it gives room for an independent agency to manage all recovered assets in a transparent manner which could be used to fund the budget. President Muhammadu Buhari
however withheld his assent to the Bill owing to concerns by anti-graft agencies that the Bill would reduce or limit their powers on seizure and management of recovered assets.
The Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption (PACAC) headed by Prof. Itsa Sagay (SAN) have also developed guidelines for asset management. The guidelines were said to have been made pursuant to the fulfillment of the United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNAC) to Nigerians.
A statement signed by PACAC’s Communication officer, Aghogho Agbahor, indicated that the aim of UNAC is that victim states should establish clear and transparent legal, policy or administrative mechanisms to facilitate the recovery and return of illicit assets back to countries of origin and to apply such assets for priority projects for the benefit of the people whose assets were plundered. PACAC had in the meantime disclosed that the total amount of stolen assets recovered by Buhari’s administration since 2015 is over N1 trillion.
This was disclosed by PACAC’s Chairman, Prof. Itse Sagay, last year December while addressing journalists on the activities of the Committee. He revealed that the Federal Government had been deploying some part of the recovered funds towards financing the annual budget, especially its social intervention scheme.
Sagay said: “Total recoveries are hovering around the N1 trillion mark, and even more remarkably these recoveries have been recycled into the budget to uplift the oppressed and most vulnerable victims of corruption, namely, the young unemployed youths, young school children, who can now enjoy one free nutritional meal a day at school, extremely poor families who now receive the conditional cash transfer of N5,000 a month and women, youths, farmers, etc, who now receive interest free loans to capitalise their small scale businesses.
“So, the recovered loot is pumped back into the lives of the most vulnerable Nigerians, in order to transform them into proud productive Nigerians, who will end up as employers themselves, contributing to the development of Nigeria”.
In the meantime, some members of the wig and gown have asked the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to ensure that proper accounts of the recovered funds are rendered to avoid unnecessary speculation and suspicion by members of the public.
The lawyers, both of the inner and outer Bar, while speaking on the issue of recovered funds at the weekend, equally sought for a synergy between the EFCC and the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) for proper accountability and management of the recovered funds.
Speaking on the issue, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Mr. Seyi Sowemimo, want the EFCC to religiously keep to the tenets of the law by ensuring that it presents annual report about how forfeited funds are kept and expended to the National Assembly. He said: “I think it is a legitimate thing for Nigerians to know where the forfeited funds are kept and how they are being utilized.
The EFCC is by law expected to annually present a report to the National Assembly about how these recovered funds are kept and expended. I am not aware that the anti-graft agency has religiously complied with this requirement of law.
“It is also worthy of note that some persons have gone to court demanding explanations about how these funds are managed. I am even surprised that all these are happening during Buhari’s administration when people expect a lot of transparency.
“So, I am equally concerned about the fact that information concerning these forfeited funds is scare or even non-existent. This will surely give rise to suspicion by people that recovered looted funds might have been relooted by some individuals”.
In his views, Dr. Biodun Layonu (SAN) believed proper accountability will be achieved when all funds recovered and remitted by the EFCC are made to pass through the Treasury Single Account (TSA) of the Federal Government. “Any remittance by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) must go into the consolidated revenue through the Treasury Single Account (TSA) especially if the matter is a concluded one.
The Office of the Accountant General of the Federation or other relevant agency must know this and can be verified through that office”, Layonu said. Another Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Mr. Hakeem Afolabi, opined that the EFCC should ensure periodic publication of recovered funds as well as where they were kept to keep Nigerians abreast of all developments.
Afolabi said: “We should put a mechanism in place that can look into the activities of the EFCC. The National Assembly in the discharge of its oversight function should be able to play that role provided there is objectivity and sincerity. EFCC should not be allowed to see itself as not being accountable.
“Furthermore, the EFCC must be made to publish the content of bank account where such fund is kept for Nigerians to see that in truth such money exist in reality”. A former General Secretary of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Mazi Afam Osigwe (SAN), advocated for the establishment of a body to manage all funds forfeited to the Federal Government.
He said: “By law, the EFCC is expected to present yearly report to the National Assembly. Has the anti-graft agency been doing that? If the answer is in the affirmative, does the report contain a breakdown of funds recovered and where they are kept? How are these funds being managed?
“This is part of the reason why some of us have been clamouring for the establishment of a body to manage these recoveries. Whether funds are temporarily or permanently forfeited to the Federal Government, there must be an account for them.
“Nigerians should be concerned about how these forfeited funds are kept and there should be proper account of how they are expended. The same thing goes for forfeited property and assets.
We should also know how they are being managed, whether they have been sold off or kept somewhere rotten away while litigation goes on. These are critical questions that must be answered in the fight against corruption”. A former Vice-President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA),
Mr. Monday Ubani, called for an independent confirmation of all funds said to have been recovered through the EFCC by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) for proper accountability.
“We need to have independent confirmation by the Central Bank of Nigeria that these huge sums are indeed recovered. They may have recovered the sums as claimed but we need to know where these sums of money are domiciled.
They are public money and should be handled transparently too”, Ubani said. A former National President of the Committee For the Defence of Human Rights (CDHR) Mr. Malachy Ugwummadu, asked Nigerians to exploit the window provided by the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act to get the needed facts about how recovered funds are being managed.
“With the FOI Act, it’s hardly heard these days that such information are not accessible. The media houses or practitioners should make a direct request for such information. In any case, the content and details of the orders and judgements of courts directing interim or final forfeitures are public documents and accessible.
“Forfeited funds should be ploughed back to the society and should be used to empower the weak and vulnerable through provision of social services and supports. Provision of infrastructure and creation of enabling environment for job creation and infrastructure development”, he said.
A rights activist, Mr. Kabir Akingbolu, demanded that the EFCC should make its books available for relevant government agencies like the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).
“It’s a big question to all Nigerians. EFCC under the enabling Act is not to be run as a one-man outfit. It is to maintain a relationship with the office of the Attorney General of the Federation who is to be like a supervising agency.
“The EFCC ought to make its books available to relevant agencies of government like the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and the public, for proper accounting system. But the way the organisation is being run is not only strange but seriously not transparent enough to buy public confidence”, he said