The anti-graft treaties
Nigeria recently signed some treaties with some countries across the globe. The treaties, according to the President, are crucial to the war on corruption, the major plank of President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration. In a ceremony witnessed by ambassadors from Switzerland, the European Union, United States of America, Britain, Chad, and Niger, the President said that the treaties would help to block the flow of illegal funds from Nigeria across borders. These treaties, signed on mutual legal assistance in criminal, civil, and commercial matters, are indeed welcome as they would help ensure victory in the war against corruption. They also cover extradition, tax, and intellectual property. Any nation that wants to be taken seriously must act in concert with important stakeholders across the world to put on end to cross-border crimes.
Trans-border crimes have become phenomenal and sophisticated particularly with the coming of electronic transfer of funds. Criminals and sundry gang members are able to move funds across borders within the shortest possible time. The good news is that monies which are laundered within the banking system leave trails. Illicit transfers are often done by a syndicate, with a list of strategic persons at different points in the criminal chain. Across the world, there are the so-called ‘safe havens’, destinations where illegal funds are kept without questions being asked. For many decades, banks in Switzerland served this purpose for businessmen and government officials. The case of the notorious Mobutu Sese Seko, one-time President of Zaire, readily comes to mind. Also, the recently leaked Panama Papers showed just how much funds have been discreetly looted from different countries and deposited in banks.
Some Nigerian officials have made these destinations richer while impoverishing their home land. Billions of dollars of stolen funds are locked in the vaults of banks in America, London, Switzerland, the Caribbean Islands, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Tragically, those banks utilise these funds to fund their legitimate operations as loans to businessmen and deposits in their respective countries. The result is that while cheap funds are available to businessmen abroad, Nigerian or African legitimate businessmen are starved of funds or are compelled to borrow at double digit interest rates. Taken to its logical conclusion, the receiving countries of illegal wealth therefore not have the moral authority to point accusing fingers at other countries.
In the spirit of mutual cooperation, it is commendable that some countries have started working with the Nigerian government both to repatriate stolen funds and to punish offending citizens. With these treaties, Nigerian security and judicial systems can get extradited and punish persons who are in breach of the law. This is really desireable and commendable.
Nigerians, however, want to see results. In the last two years, Nigerians have been told about seized funds, some of them stupendous in quantum. Also, there have been claims that some of Nigeria’s leaders who looted the treasury in the past kept their takings in some banks with which treaties have now been signed. What has become of those funds? Nigerians need full discussions. The findings of the Panel set up to investigate sums allegedly found in an apartment in Ikoyi have not been properly reported to the Nigerian people. The monies that have been seized from some politicians are also shrouded in mystery. What has become of the Abacha loot that was returned to the Nigerian government? What has become of the humungous sums of money allegedly stolen by some officials of the immediate past administration?
In principle, the move to sign treaties with nations that are known to provide havens for laundered funds is strategic. It will give bite to the fight to infuse sanity in Nigeria national affairs. Dubai has become a fashionable destination for officials who have looted the economy. They buy up and develop property running into billions of naira in value. The treaty with these countries is therefore excellent. But this should not be the end of the matter. The will to retrieve stolen funds must be rejuvenated and sustained. Besides, the war must not be partial or selective. So far the perception is that persons who are sympathetic to the ruling party are spared by the arms of the law. This, if true, would be a travesty of any moral fight. Also as much as possible, there should be no sensational media trials which often end up being vitiated by the courts. Diligent investigation should be the watchword.
Finally, the impetus and provisions provided by the treaties should be judiciously explored to ensure that cases are watertight before they are brought to the public domain or the courts. No effort should be spared in ensuring that looted funds by any public official are returned to the coffers of the state. And the system must be built to forestall looting of any kind.
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