Buhari Demands Unconditional Repatriation of Looted Funds

By Isiaka Wakili

President Muhammadu Buhari has demanded that identified funds stolen from Nigeria and stashed away in foreign countries be repatriated without delay or preconditions.

Buhari was speaking in London Wednesday at the Commonwealth event tagged “Tackling Corruption Together: A Conference for Civil Society, Business and Government Leaders”.

He called for the establishment of an international anti-corruption infrastructure that would monitor, trace and facilitate the return of such assets to their countries of origin.

He said he was aware of the challenges of fighting corruption in a manner consistent with respect for human rights and the rule of law, noting that as a nation that came out of prolonged military rule only 16 years ago, it would clearly take time to change the mentality and psychology of Nigeria’s law enforcement officers.

President Buhari said while he was committed to applying the rule of law and respecting human rights; he also required Nigerian security agencies to do same.

He said his administration was seeking the support of many countries for the prosecution of certain individuals residing in their jurisdictions as”there are a few cases where apparently stringent rules have been applied as a result of threats to national security and the likelihood that certain persons may escape from the country or seek to undermine the stability of Nigeria.”

He assured that his government would provide the necessary legal documents and whatever mutual assistance required to secure conviction of such individuals as well as facilitate the repatriation of Nigeria’s stolen assets.

” Unfortunately, our experience has been that repatriation of corrupt proceeds is very tedious, time consuming, costly and entails more than just the signing of bilateral or multilateral agreements. This should not be the case as there are provisions in the appropriate United Nations Convention that require countries to return assets to countries from where it is proven that they were illegitimately acquired,” he said.

He also stated that Nigeria was favourably disposed to forging strategic partnerships with governments, civil society organizations, organized private sector and international organizations to combat corruption.

He stressed that Nigeria’s sad experience had been that domestic perpetrators of corrupt practices do often worked hand-in-hand with international criminal cartels.

He described corruption as a hydra-headed monster and a cankerworm that undermines the fabric of all societies, saying “It does not differentiate between developed and developing countries. It constitutes a serious threat to good governance, rule of law, peace and security as well as development programmes aimed at tackling poverty and economic backwardness.”

He said while the endemic and systemic nature of corruption in Nigeria demanded a strong resolve to fight it, his government was demonstrating its commitment by bringing integrity to governance and showing leadership by example.

He also noted that “Tackling the menace of corruption is not an easy task, but it is possible even if many feathers have to be ruffled.”

He said his government’s commitment to tackling corruption was also evident in the freedom and support granted to national anti-corruption agencies to enable them to carry out their respective mandates without interference or hindrance from any quarter including the government.

“Today, our frontline anti-corruption agencies, namely, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related Offences Commission (ICPC), the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) and the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT), have become revitalised and more proactive in the pursuit of perpetrators of corrupt practices, irrespective of their social status and political persuasion. This is a radical departure from the past,” he stated.

He said the Treasury Single Account (TSA) implemented by his government would make it impossible for public officers to divert public funds to private accounts as was the practice before.

“Through the effective application of TSA and the Bank Verification Number (BVN), we have been able to remove 23,000 ghost workers from our pay roll, thereby saving billions that would have been stolen,”, he added.

He said his administration was also reviewing our anti-corruption laws and had developed a national anti-corruption strategy document that would guide its policies in the next three years and possibly beyond.

The president also emphasized that apart from the looting of public funds, Nigeria was also confronted with illegal activities in the oil sector.

He said that the sector had been enmeshed in corruption with the participation of the staff of some of the oil companies was well established, adding that “Their participation enabled oil theft to take place on a massive scale.”

He called the international community to designate oil theft as an international crime similar to the trade in “blood diamonds, as it constitutes an imminent and credible threat to the economy and stability of oil-producing countries like Nigeria. The critical stakeholders here present can lead the charge in this regard.”

He stated: “Some of us in this hall may be familiar with the Report released by Chatham House, here in London, in 2013, titled “Nigeria’s Criminal Crude: International Options to Combat the Export of Stolen Oil.” The important findings of the Chatham House document are illuminating and troubling. Part of the Report concluded that: (a) Nigerian crude oil is being stolen on an industrial scale and exported, with the proceeds laundered through world financial centres by transnational organized criminals.

” (b)Oil theft is a species of organized crime that is almost totally off the international community’s radar, as Nigeria’s trade and diplomatic partners have taken no real action. (c) Nigeria could not stop the trade single-handedly, and there is limited value in countries going it alone.”

According to President Buhari, it is clear that the menace of oil theft, put at over 150,000 barrels per day, is a criminal enterprise involving internal and external perpetrators.

“Illicit oil cargoes and their proceeds move across international borders. Opaque and murky as these illegal transactions may be, they are certainly traceable and can be acted upon, if all governments show the required political will. This will has been the missing link in the international efforts hitherto. Now in London, we can turn a new page by creating a multi-state and multi-stakeholder partnership to address this menace,” he said.

Buhari said by the end of the international anti-corruption summit on Thursday, a rules-based architecture to combat corruption in all its forms and manifestations should be agreed upon.

He said he agreed fully with the Commonwealth Secretary-General that anti-corruption is a shared agenda for civil society, business and government, requiring commitment from companies, creating a space for civil society and governments providing support for whistle-blowers.

“A main component of this anti-corruption partnership is that governments must demonstrate unquestionable political will and commitment to the fight. The private sector must come clean and be transparent, and civil society, while keeping a watch on all stakeholders, must act and report with a sense of responsibility and objectivity,” he advocated.

President Buhari assured of Nigeria’s commitment to signing the Open Government Partnership initiatives alongside Prime Minister Cameron at the summit on Thursday.

Source: Daily Trust

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