The Guardian
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The amnesty option


SIR: Several years ago, the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO) reported that about $107 billion of Nigerian money was held in private accounts and assets in the United States and Europe. More recently, the Global Financial Integrity (GFI) think tank showed that Nigeria lost $89.5 billion in illegal outflows to developed nations, between 1970 – 2008.

The other week, Nigerian newspapers published the names of 80 prominent Nigerians who were alleged to have partaken in the Halliburton N27 billion NLNG bribe. Included in this list, are four former heads of state, to former first ladies, a former vice president and 74 other prominent compatriots from every region of Nigeria.

These reports beg the questions: Is the arrest and prosecution suspected of corruption the only tool capable of checking and ameliorating the plague of corruption in the past 50 years? Is it realistic to believe that any Nigerian government in the near future will arrest and prosecute the 80 Nigerians – those that are alive amongst them – fingered in the Halliburton bribe scandal? How about the tens of billions of dollars stashed away by corrupt officials abroad? Will only a policy of arrest and prosecution of corrupt officials lead to the repatriation of these monies back to Nigeria for desperate development.

One needs not look beyond the “Halliburton 80” to realise that until, at least, the establishment of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), corruption was, and may still be, pervasive and widespread in Nigeria. Amnesty may be another solution to dealing with the widespread effects of corruption – a total collapse of Nigerian infrastructure. An Amnesty programme that requires a public official to publicly declared how much he embezzled from the public treasury and to deposit the said money – or what is left of it – in his Nigerian bank account in exchange for Amnesty from prosecution may be another solution.

Amnesty has been proven to be an effective law enforcement and social engineering tool. In 1995, a policy of Amnesty helped South Africans move on from Apartheid. Arguably, in 2009, a policy of Amnesty doused, or at least, limited the tension in the Niger Delta. In 2009, the United States Internal Revenue Service, having realised that the amount of assets that Americans had saved in offshore bank accounts, including UBS, exceeded $18 billion, offered Amnesty to any of such tax payers who pays back taxes and interest on the said amount in the offshore account. In all, about 15,000 American tax payers, with offshore bank accounts took advantage of the IRS Amnesty programme.

For Amnesty to be an effective means of returning Nigeria’s oil monies in the Diaspora, it should be based on the following conditions:

* amnesty should only cover acts of corruption that was perpetrated before the enactment of the EFCC Act;

* persons that want to be eligible for Amnesty should be required to publicly disclose, in full, how much they embezzled; and,

* persons who want to be eligible for amnesty should repatriate the money they embezzled or what is left of it to their Nigerian bank accounts. If a significant amount of Nigeria’s oil money in the Diaspora is repatriated to Nigeria, perhaps, Nigeria will be able to raise the money it needs for infrastructural development, which is prerequisite for Nigeria’s Vision 2020 EI Dorado.

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