Repatriating stolen funds and its challenges
The Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo has lamented the deep frustration which the Nigerian government has faced in its efforts on repatriating stolen funds which are lodged in off-shore accounts. This, Osinbajo said, was in spite of the fact that Nigeria had signed protocols and agreements with the appropriate international bodies. He made this assertion in Abuja recently while declaring open the 18th Ministerial Committee Meeting of the Inter-Governmental Action Group Against Money Laundering in West Africa (GIABA).
The Vice President went on to challenge the major economic nations of the world to make the process of funds’ repatriation less cumbersome in order to match their call on Nigeria to tackle the menace of corruption. He also referred to the Panama and Paradise Papers which made it clear that offshore accounts are domiciled in some countries that have their system safe havens for laundered funds. These so-called big countries including the United Kingdom, France and the United States of America have not made repatriation of funds easy. Herein lies the contradiction and hypocrisy of the Western world.
Often the governments of these nations are in the know when such huge funds cross into their banking system. To be sure there are financial regulations that compel disclosure of huge funds whenever they are lodged. But because their economies benefit from such slush funds they turn the blind eye. It is worse when a legitimate government like the Nigerian requests that stolen funds be returned and those countries begin to create hurdles. As long as such barriers exist it would be difficult to win the war on corruption.
The Nigerian government must not give up. Corruption always fights back. The international monetary system accommodates all kinds of criminally-minded individuals who would rather die than part with the returns on ill-gotten investments. Collaborators are part of the long chain. The truth is that once huge funds leave any economy all monitors within the system get wind of it. Some are shadier than others because of the subterfuge that they use. To be sure such illegal funds are facilitated by the high and mighty in society. It is on record that Swiss Banks hold the hugest deposits of illegal or stolen funds. As a result of the enshrined secrecy in transactions such funds often remain unclaimed when the owners succumb to the frailty of the human experience. Rather than return such funds to the home countries of the loot owners, they are stashed away and the banks and Swiss economy become beneficiaries.
The Federal Government should also keep its battle properly focused. So far the perception is that the war is selective. All pro-government former and current office holders are shielded somewhat. This is a travesty of any claim to corruption fighting. The fight should be like the sword of justice which is blind. Indeed the Federal Government is beginning to lose the confidence of the people.
The double standards shown by the anti-corruption agencies stick out like a sore thumb. Also, the government claims to have recovered billions of naira or dollars from corrupt individual. Nothing has been heard of the funds in terms of where they are kept or the total amount involved. Already there are speculations that officials of some anti-corruption agencies have lined up their pockets with stolen funds which were seized from indicted citizens. The Maina matter which involved some highly-placed individuals in the Buhari administration has not helped the image of the government.
We call on the government to employ all strategies in the books to retrieve the billions of dollars which had been stolen from the coffers of the Nigerian State. President Buhari should use the good will which he still enjoys in the comity of nations to push the matter beyond niceties. The stakes are high. The persons involved are highly placed and often well-connected. The methods of achieving the goals of government should also be lofty, forceful and aggressive.
Finally, we call on the international community to walk their talk by providing institutional support for the Federal Government to enable Buhari fulfill one of his election promises to the Nigerian people and to the world – that of ensuring that it cannot be business as usual in looting the treasury anymore. The anti-corruption agencies should rise above the fray and ensure that the integrity of the system is protected.
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