By Erasmus Ikhide
The Africa Network for Environment and Economic Justice (ANEEJ), through its Monitoring of Recovered Assets in Nigeria with Transparency and Accountability (MANTRA) project held a Citizens’ Dialogue meeting in Abuja to further chart a course on how best the $322.5m recovered Abacha loot can be utilised, as much as prevent barefaced looting in the nearest future.
The Citizen’s Dialogue meeting attracted participants representing a wide range of Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) from across Nigeria. The dialogue also had in attendance representatives of international CSOs, donor agencies, the Federal Ministry of Justice and the Secretariat of the Open Government Partnership in Nigeria.
Participants at the Citizen’s Dialogue consented that Nigeria has made measured progress in the incorporation and implementation of some of the principles agreed upon at the Global Forum for Asset recovery (GFAR) in Washington, DC in December 2017. They arrive at the conclusion that Principle 10 requiring the inclusion of non-government stakeholders in asset recovery and management processes and Principle 4 on transparency and accountability has so far been strictly adhered to.
The consortium of (CSO) at the Citizen’s Dialogue meeting noted the need to strengthen the asset recovery and disposition regime in the country to bring it in line with the broader letter and spirit of the GFAR Principles which made it mandatory that the recovered assets benefit the ultimate victims of corruption, utilising recovered assets to repair the damage caused by corruption and for the achievement of development goals of the country and the preclusion of corrupt officials from the benefits of the disposition of recovered assets, amongst others.
Addressing the Citizen’s Dialogue ANEEJ Executive Director, Rev. David Ugolor charged the federal government to be more transparency in the national asset recovery regime and ensure that the Asset Recovery and Management Unit of the Attorney General’s Office furnishes the public with monthly reports on assets recovered, the value of the assets and the specific purposes for which they are utilised.
“At the Citizen’s Dialogue resolution, ANEEJ urge that the National Assembly should prioritise and intensify efforts to pass the various Bills before it that are expedient to ensure transparent, accountable and effective recovery and management of looted assets in Nigeria including the Proceeds of Crime Bill, the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit Bill, and the Whistle-blower Protection Bill.
“Government and civil society should place more emphasis on preventing the fresh looting of assets and flight of such assets out of the country, rather than the current reactive regime in which more effort is invested in tracing, recovering and managing looted assets. One way to do this is to deepen budget and procurement transparency and accountability work at all levels of government.
“Receiving countries of looted assets should step up cooperation with Nigeria on the issue of safe havens, deduction of costs of recovery, interests accrued on assets in such jurisdictions and Mutual Legal Assistance to ensure prevention, and where unavoidable, speedy tracing and repatriation of such assets.
“Recovered assets should be invested in legacy projects whose impact can be felt by the broad citizenry that would stand the test of time and not on piecemeal projects and initiatives.
“The capacity of state agencies and CSOs involved in asset recovery and management processes should be enhanced by targeted training and learning programmes.
“The monitoring of the implementation of budgets at all levels of government should be enhanced to prevent loopholes for looting of public funds.
“To enhance the broader institutional framework for anti-corruption in Nigeria, emphasis should placed on empowering constitutionally created governance institutions like the office of the Auditor-General and Code of Conduct Bureau. These institutions should be properly funded and enhanced.
“Discourses around issues of asset recovery in the country should be democratized and decentralised to ensure that that citizens at all levels are able to participate meaningfully.
“The involvement of civil society in processes for the recovery and management of looted assets should be institutionalised. This should be included as an integral element of the ongoing legislative reforms in the asset recovery regime in the country”, ANEEJ Executive Director Rev. David Ugolor said.
Rev. Ugolor further highlights the progress made during the country’s participation at the maiden GFAR where the central role of the country’s civil society in the asset recovery process was recognised in the Memorandum of Understanding signed between the Swiss Government and the Nigerian Government as a major milestone and the first, globally.