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‘Why CSOs must mobilise against dirty money in politics’

By Gbenga Salau
26 September 2021   |   3:34 am
Money and godfatherism have always shaped the outcomes of political contests in Nigeria. The irony of this is that many of these persons are people of questionable character....

INEC

Money and godfatherism have always shaped the outcomes of political contests in Nigeria. The irony of this is that many of these persons are people of questionable character, whose sources of fund are clandestine and product of illicit financial flow. And because they have huge sum of money to spend and bribe their way through, those with genuine interest to serve are schemed out, thereby undermining the electoral process and the system.

There was a case of a woman, who is a leader of a syndicate trafficking girls to Italy for commercial sex. She attempted to secure her party’s ticket as the House of Representatives candidate, but had to backtrack when her human trafficking activities were exposed.

This is why critical stakeholders are concerned that the political influence of persons with questionable sources of income must be curtailed. So, they said dirty money in politics must be reduced to the barest minimum or stamped out, especially as the country marches towards the 2023 general elections.

These stakeholders spearheaded by the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), the national chapter of Transparency International (TI) in Nigeria argued that there is no better time than now to ensure that people with dirty money do not have their way in the country’s political process either directly or through godfathers.

To help achieve its goal of stamping out dirty money in politics, especially as count down to the 2023 general elections has begun, CISLAC and TI kicked off the mobilisation of civil society organisations (CSOs) to gather support base for its objective, knowing fully well that CSOs play critical role in the country’s governance and political processes.

The mobilisation is being piloted through the Strengthening Accountability Networks Among Civil Societies (SANCUS) project in Nigeria.

Speaking at a CSOs forum last week, the Executive Director, CISLAC, Auwal Ibrahim Musa Rafsanjani, said the project aims to improve the democratic accountability of public institutions globally by empowering CSOs to demand systemic change with a view to address accountability and anti-corruption deficits.

Disclosing that the project would run from January 2021 to December 2023, he said the ever increasing and soaring problem of dirty money in politics in Nigeria, which suggest a high level of impunity among politically exposed individuals, who seek to gain power and accrue wealth through illegal means with zero accountability has been a growing concern locally and internationally.

He was optimistic that the project would contribute to address the core problem of dirty money in Nigeria’s politics, which perpetuates a culture of lack of accountability and corruption for power preservation and self-enrichment.

According to Rafsanjani, the project seeks operational independence of anti-corruption agencies; increased enforcement of existing anti-money laundering provisions and policies; improved oversight function of the National Assembly; improved capacity of the media and civil society to investigate the presence of dirty money in Nigeria’s political processes and increased citizens demand for accountability in the funding of political processes.”

He hopes the project will instil some level of sanity in the Nigerian political elites whose actions continue to tarnish the country’s image, as a democratic space, which operates within the purview of maximum respect for the rule of law.

“We all know the problem Illicit Financial Flow (IFF) causes and as CSOs working around the themes of money laundering, there is a need to call out the wrongdoings of government as well as commend government when they are taking the right actions. Doing this will greatly reduce IFF in Nigeria.”

Rafsanjani noted that with the country’s high rate of borrowing, it is important to block the leakages and all hands must be on deck to ensure that scenarios where looted funds are stashed either at home or abroad only to be used when it is time for political campaigns and elections is reduced to its barest minimum.

“On the positive side, the necessary institutional and legal infrastructure is in place. We have the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and laws in place, that, in theory, should regulate how money enters politics. We also have a myriad of anti-corruption agencies and law enforcement that is getting ever better in investigating financial crimes.

“On the negative side, we seem to have so much money in politics that it seems to have the power to erode our institutions. Our laws are not enforced or are outrightly ignored. According to the widely shared public opinion, political contest has little to do with ideas, but rather corruption and populism take the upper hand. This crisis of the image of politics has led to widely disillusioned public electorate that expects profiting from the corruption instead of trying to stop it.

“In the last general elections, over one quarter of voters came to the ballot box with the offer to sell their vote to the highest bidder. There is crisis on the top but equally on the bottom – at the grassroots level,” Rafsanjani said.

Also contributing, SANCUS Policy Lead, Transparency International, Matthew Jenkins and CISLAC, Policy Consultant, Vaclav Prusa joined the forum virtually. While Jenkins provided background for the project seeking strong buy-in of critical stakeholders, Prusa, providing insight on ways to check dirty money in politics, said government institutions should be strong enough to ensure no hiding place for culprits.

“It should be built in a way that there will be no secrecy of jurisdiction, no anonymous companies, every company must be clearly identified and their owners known, just like the idea of hiding under cryptocurrency to perpetrate the act should not be allowed.”

He added that critical stakeholders like financial institutions, lawyers, real estate agencies, accountants or corporate service providers do not help the culprits against the law.

Prusa implored CSOs to monitor compliance, monitor campaign, political spendings, follow up money in politics, press for the fulfillment of anti-corruption pledges, educate the public about political integrity, expose unexpected wealth of Politically Exposed Persons (PEPs), and mobilise critical mass of people to reject dirty money politics.

The Director/CEO, The Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU), Mr. Modibbo-Haamman Tukur, represented by Head, Real Estate, Mr. Moses Azege, who noted that non-state actors play a unique role in supporting state actors in such ways that result in more effectiveness in the democratic efforts, said the initiative could not be more timely bearing in mind that Nigeria is about to begin another electioneering process and knowing that electioneering is expensive on the ordinary Nigerian because more corrupt proceeds tend to flow into the electioneering space.

“It has been noted in the National Risk Assessment (NRA) exercise 2016 and the Mutual Evaluation Exercise (ME) that corruption is the most prevalent predicate criminal offense that results to money laundering in Nigeria. It is also noted that corruption is not just a threat in itself but an enabler of other illicit conducts.

“Consequently, the motivation for corruption is more widespread during the period leading to elections. Therefore, all stakeholders have to be alert to this and collaborate is ways that will mitigate these illicit flows.

“It is on this basis that we believe that the efforts of the ED CISLAC and his able team and partners, TI, will challenge us to find ways of reversing these unfortunate trends.

This SANCUS Nigeria project is therefore a welcome collaboration between state and non-state actors in the fight against corruption in Nigeria.”

Also, the Director General of National Orientation Agency (NOA), Dr. Garba Abari, represented by Director, Legal, National Orientation Agency  (NOA), Hajia Amina Elelu-Ahmed, stated that dirty money in Nigeria’s politics with its attendant negative consequences is no doubt a threat to good governance, noting that politics in Nigeria perhaps more than other avenues, is a leading means of money laundering.

“Many see political parties as avenues for investment, by money bags, with an expectation for return on investment and therefore would never be guided by the rules of accountability and transparency in governance. It is in this regard that I think a deeper look should be taken on sources of funding that those present themselves for political position spent during elections.

“It is also necessary that the code of conduct Bureau, the EFCC, and others should investigate people aspiring to contest various positions, so that patriotic Nigerians driven by the passion to serve are not schemed out by those in position of dirty money.

It is also necessary for political parties to consider reducing the huge amount paid for nomination forms and money spent during elections so that it would not be beyond reach of those ordinary persons who have interest of Nigeria at heart, this will drastically discourage dirty money laundered into politics.”

He disclosed that in furtherance of its mandate, the NOA has continued to discourage people from all electoral malpractices. “No doubt, during elections, money plays a huge role. Incident of vote buying and selling is rampant. It is in realisation of this that the NOA carries out sensitisation against vote buying and selling throughout the country. Very often, the funds used to perpetrate vote buying and selling are dirty money.”

Abari added that as the country approaches the 2023 general elections, NAO would intensify its sensitization campaign against it.

“Also, as part of NOA mandate, we established what we called the Local Government Assembly, which is designed to get citizen buy-in for government imitative especially in the fight against corruption. This corruption awareness among citizens at the rural level is a key step towards weakening the support base of corruption in the country and strengthening accountability in both politics and governance,” Abari said.

The representative of Inter Governmental Action Against Money Laundering in West Africa (GIABA), Timothy Melaye, who noted that Nigeria loses billions of dollars to money laundering activities, said if dirty money was not stopped from coming into politics, owners of the dirty money will be the ones to win election to be in charge of daily activities and governance.