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No need for another anti-graft agency

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Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami

A proposal to set up a ‘‘Proceeds of Crime Recovery and Management Agency’’ by the Federal Government is un-called for at this time of austerity. Going by the explanation, given by the Attorney-General (A-G) and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, who initiated the idea, there is absolutely no need for it.

Malami had announced after a recent Federal Executive Council of the federation meeting that the agency would be as an ‘‘institutional component’’ that would be saddled with the responsibility of managing the assets that constitute the proceeds of crime in Nigeria. He went on:

‘‘what happened before now is that the proceeds of crime are scattered all over, and mostly in the hands of different and multiple agencies of government inclusive of the police, the DSS…EFCC…and ICPC…’ So, with that kind of arrangement which is ad-hoc, there is no agency of government that is saddled with the responsibility of data generation, and agency that can give you offhand the number of landed assets, number of immovable assets, the amount of cash that are recovered by the Federal Government, by way of interim forfeiture…’’ On the whole, the A-G held that the aim of creating a ‘‘one-stop-shop’’ layer of bureaucracy (which is what this project is merely about) is ‘‘establishing the desired transparency, the desired accountability which has not been available before now.”

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If, in respect of recovered proceeds of crime, the aim is to achieve ‘transparency,’ ‘‘accountability’, ‘‘a holistic appreciation’’ and ‘‘information’’ for purposes of planning and budgeting by the relevant ministries, this newspaper submits that these and more can be achieved with the existing structures of government. But this is if government is faithful to the provisions of the statues it makes. A perusal of the provisions of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission Act, 2004 spelt out the procedure for handling [proceeds of crime. Whatever functions the proposed agency is intended to serve are essentially incorporated in the act and ipso facto, charged to the EFCC institution. Section 6(c) charges the commission with the ‘‘coordination and enforcement of all economic and financial crime laws and enforcement functions conferred on any other person or authority.’’ Malami’s claim that ‘‘any recovery made by the police, DSS, the Ministry of Justice is not in a position to know’’ is unacceptable and hollow.

As stipulated in the section quoted, these agencies of government have no role in respect of assets recovered as proceeds of financial crime. Indeed, Section 7(2) (a-f) charges the commission with enforcing the provisions of a whole range of laws on such crimes as money laundering, advanced fee fraud, failed banks and financial malpractices in banks, miscellaneous offences, and ‘‘any other law or regulations relating to economic and financial crime including the criminal  code of the Penal Code.’’ The exclusive power of the EFCC is further stated in Section 42 of the relevant act.  So, how will it be that other agencies would in any way whatsoever, be in possession of seized proceeds of financial crime?

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Section 6(j) (v) of the EFCC Act provides for ‘‘maintaining data, statistics, records, and reports on person, organisations, proceeds, properties, documents or other items or assets involved in economic and financial crimes.’’  Part V, Section 31(1) grants the reasonable assumption that every forfeited asset is in the records of the EFCC. It states that ‘‘a copy of every final order forfeiting the asset and property of a person convicted under this Act shall be forwarded to the Commission.  Subsection 2 empowers the EFCC to ‘‘dispose of … property by sale or otherwise, and where the property is sold, the proceeds thereof shall be paid into the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the Federation.’’  Recovered cash assets must also be paid by the holding bank ‘‘to the Commission without any further assurance than this Act and the Commission shall pay the money into the Consolidated Fund of the Federation.’’  Subsection 4 allows that ‘‘the Attorney General of the Federation may make rules or regulations for the disposal or sale of any property or assets forfeited pursuant to this Act.’’ This is to reasonably presume that no proceeds of financial crime is held in the custody of the Commission, or indeed can be disposed of, without the knowledge of the AG.

The point to make from all these is that the Federal Government does not need to establish another agency to do what the EFCC is fully empowered to do, as long as it supervised with the utmost integrity, is given the free hand, the personnel and material resources, and above all, that the Commission itself has the integrity to so do. And, integrity is key in this matter.

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The only reason that more law enforcement agencies are created is that existing ones do not function with the utmost integrity. But the solution to a perennial dereliction of duty by persons in position of responsibility is not to create another body. It is to address the failure of character in the managers of government ministries, departments and agencies.

This newspaper takes notice of Section 43 of the EFCC Act, 2004, which provides that ‘‘The Attorney General of the Federation may make rules or regulations with respect to the exercise of any of the duties, functions or powers of the Commission under this Act.’’ But this does not necessarily grant a free hand to create another cost centre in the already overburdened machinery of government. The All Progressives Congress manifesto promised lean government in order to conserve public resources. This government must as a matter of honour, keep its promise. It would also lend some credibility to its repeated claim of a paucity of funds.

Meanwhile, it is baffling why this administration doesn’t rely on institutional memory that should be robust in the presidency. This newspaper recalls that a Proceeds of Crime Bill (POCB) was indeed passed by the 7thAssembly presided over by the David Mark as chairman of the Joint Session of the National Assembly shortly before Dr. Bukola Saraki was elected to preside over the Joint Session of the 8th Assembly. The Bill was passed and sent to Buhari for his assent to become Proceeds of Crime Act (POCA) in 2015. They should ask Senators Victor Lar and Ndoma Egba who were the arrowheads then when Financial Action Task (FATF) and Egmont Group of Financial Intelligence Units pressed for its existence to prevent a ban. But the president never touched the bill till the present.

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Why is the Attorney General talking now as if he was going for a new Bill? Whatever happened to institutional memory in the presidency, the Federal Ministry of Justice and the National Assembly Information and Legal Services Departments? Why can’t an officer nudge the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice about the fact that Buhari failed to sign the POCB into law in 2015? Since the time is no longer favourable for his legislation, the existing institutions, notably the Central bank of Nigeria, (CBN), which controls the Consolidated Revenue Account and Assets Management Company of Nigeria (AMCON), an agency of the same CBN should be allowed to manage proceeds of crime at this time. If there is any need to amend any acts to accommodate this lacuna (in the laws), that should be pursued immediately instead of setting up another agency solely to manage proceeds of crime.

A nation that needs to create new laws and establish more law empowerment bodies, is clearly a nation of increasingly lawless people. It is also one sign of a failing state. Since Nigeria is not a failing state, it needs less, not more laws and agencies of government. As long as the existing ones operate with the highest sense of efficiency, effectiveness and most of all, probity.

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