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Editorial News of Saturday, 25 September 2021

Source: www.sunnewsonline.com

Eradicating dirty money from Nigeria’s political space

The photo used to illustrate the story The photo used to illustrate the story

Strengthening Accountability Networks among Civil Society (SANCUS). That was the theme and major focus of a forum held on Thursday in Lagos by the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC) in conjunction with other critical stakeholders.

The major concern of various discussants at the workshop was the escalating problems of ‘dirty money’ in politics in Nigeria. As the 2023 general elections draw nearer, many Nigerians – individuals and organisations – as well as several international bodies, are becoming increasingly worried at the alarming rate at which laundered money and other illegitimate funds are being channelled towards electioneering in Nigeria and some other countries. Many have become totally uncomfortable with the high level of impunity being displayed by politically exposed individuals, many of who work their ways into high political offices after accruing wealth through illegal and questionable means.

SANCUS is a project that is being implemented by Transparency International Secretariat through its chapters in 21 countries. With support from the European Commission, the project started in January 2021 and it’s expected to run till December 2023. In Nigeria, CISLAC, which is also Transparent International Nigeria (TIN), is the body implementing the project.

The focus of the organisation “is to solve 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. The project aims to improve the democratic accountability of public institutions globally by empowering CSOs to demand systemic change to address accountability and anti-corruption deficits,” CISLAC asserted.

On Thursday, critical stakeholders converged on Regent Hotel, Ikeja, for the workshop. The participants came in their numbers, with representatives from civil society organisations, the media, and other governmental and non-governmental organisations such as Inter-Governmental Action against Money Laundering in West Africa – GIABA, Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU) and the National Orientation Agency (NOA).

Two resource persons virtually participated in the discussions from abroad – Matthew Jenkins, SANCUS Policy Lead, Transparency International, Berlin, Germany and CISLAC Policy Consultant, Vaclav Prusa. The discussion kicked off with the conveners adducing reasons for the gathering. Participants were informed of SANCUS’  objectives: “To advocate the operational independence of anti-corruption agencies;  an increased enforcement of existing anti-money laundering provisions and policies;  an improved oversight function of the National Assembly; improve capacity of the media and civil society to investigate the presence of dirty money in Nigeria’s political processes and finally to  increase citizens demand for accountability in the funding of political processes.”

Hopes were expressed that at the end of the exercise, the sensitisation would have instilled some level of sanity in the Nigerian political elites whose actions continue to tarnish the good image of the country as a democratic space, which operates within the purview of maximum respect for the rule of law.

Indeed, some remarks from the conveners would evoke a good dose of anger from many Nigerians. It was stated, for instance, that Nigeria is the largest illicit financial flows (IFF) offender on the African continent with about $18bn estimated to be lost annually. This figure would likely increase, they said, if necessary measures are not taken to stop the ignoble practice.

Auwal Musa Rafsanjani, Executive Director, CISLAC, in his opening remarks, was not comfortable with the enforcement of laws enacted to tackle money laundry, corruption and electoral malpractice.

His words: “Our laws are not enforced or are outright ignored. According to the widely shared public opinion, political contests have little to do with ideas but rather corruption and populism take the upper hand.” He noted further that the crisis of the image of Nigerian politics has led to a widely disillusioned public electorate, who now expects to profit from the corruption instead of trying to stop it. He noted that although there was a crises at the leadership of the country, the people are equally guilty.

He recalled that during the 2019 general elections, over one quarter of voters came to the ballot box with the offer to sell their votes to the highest bidder. 

“We all know the problem IFF causes and as CSOs working around the themes of money laundering there is a need to call out the wrongdoings of the government as well as commend the government when they are taking the right actions. Doing this will greatly reduce IFF in Nigeria. You will agree with me that with the high rate of borrowing, it is important for us to block these leakages. 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,” Rafsanjani contended.

While giving further explanations about SANCUS, Rafsanjani said the project was coming to Nigeria at very critical pre-election period for the 2023 elections. He said there was the need for all CSOs to unite and come up with strategies aimed at mitigating the role of dirty money in the upcoming electoral circle, and also develop a strategic document for CSOs on how to advocate for a reduction of dirty money in politics. But it is not all gloom, he noted. “On the positive side, the necessary institutional and legal infrastructure is in place. We have the Independent National Electoral Commission and laws in place that, in theory, should regulate how money enters politics,” he said.

He said the SANCUS project plans to advocate for the operational independence of anti-corruption agencies, an increased enforcement of existing anti-money laundering provisions and policies, and an improved oversight function of the National Assembly. He said the project would also advocate for an improved capacity of the media and civil society to investigate the presence of dirty money in Nigeria’s political processes and increase citizen’s demand for accountability in the funding of political processes.

In his remarks, Moses Azege, representative of Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU) at the workshop informed that non-state actors play a unique role in supporting state actors in such ways that result in more effectiveness in the nation’s democratic efforts. Such collaborations, he said, result in innovative concepts like the theme of SANCUS Nigeria Project.

He spoke further: “This initiative could not be more timely, bearing in mind that we are about to begin another electioneering process and we know that electioneering is expensive on the ordinary Nigerian because more corrupt proceeds tend to flow into the electioneering space. 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 in ways that will mitigate these illicit flows.’

Also speaking during the forum, Director Legal, National Orientation Agency, Amina Elelu-Ahmed explained that the issue of dirty money in Nigeria’s politics with its attendant negative consequences was no doubt a threat to good governance.

“Politics in Nigeria,” she said, “perhaps more than other avenues, is a leading means of money laundering. Many see political parties as avenues for investment, by moneybags, 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 positions spent during elections.”

She said it was necessary for the Code of Conduct Bureau, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and others to  investigate people aspiring to contest various positions, “so that patriotic Nigerians driven by the passion to serve are not schemed out by those in positions of dirty money.”

She also urged political parties to consider reducing the huge amount paid for nomination forms and money spent during elections so that it would not be beyond the reach of ordinary persons who have the interest of Nigeria at heart. She said doing that would drastically discourage dirty money laundered into politics.

CISLAC Policy Consultant, Vaclav Prusa said the institutions of government should be built in such a way that, in fighting dirty money in politics, there will be nowhere for the culprits to hide.

“There should 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 said. He also averred that the institutions must ensure that no one helps the culprits against the law, financial institutions, lawyers, real estate agencies, accountants or corporate service providers.

Asked to provide some hints on what the CSOs and others can do to fight dirty money in politics, he said” “They are to monitor compliance, monitor campaign, political spending, follow up money in politics, press for the fulfilment of anti-corruption pledges, educate the public about political integrity, expose unexpected wealth of politically-exposed persons (PEPs), and mobilise critical mass of people who reject dirty money politics.”

Representative from Inter Governmental Action Against Money Laundering in West Africa (GIABA), Timothy Melaye said money-laundering activities has cost Nigeria billions of dollars. He urged individuals holding public office positions not to accept bribes and refuse to partake in corrupt activities.

“We don’t want dirty money in politics and whatever clean money we have, it should be controlled. Dirty money should not be reduced. It should be out.” He insisted that if one loses integrity, there is nothing more to lose. “My grandmother has a saying that ‘you rather die of hunger than take the neighbour’s yam.”

He contended that if dirty money was not stopped from coming into politics, owners of the dirty money would be the ones that would always win election and rule over everyone.

“But even the clean money should be regulated. This is because, if you put N2 billion in contesting election, after you have won, you will take your money back. So, even if you have clean money, it should still be within the treasury,” Melaye said.

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