Enforcement of anti-money laundering laws will stem illicit financial flows
Unless the federal government prioritizes the enforcement of laws enacted to combat money laundering, corruption and electoral malfeasance in the country, Nigeria will continue to suffer enormous financial losses and disruption.
Nigeria occupies the unenviable position of the big loser and violator in terms of illicit financial flows (IFFs) in Africa.
With around $ 18 billion lost each year due to illicit capital outflows, Nigeria was ranked 7th among the biggest losers in the world and first in Africa, according to the Global Financial Integrity Report.
The ever growing and growing problem of laundered / dirty money in politics, which suggests a high level of impunity among politically exposed people, who seek to gain power and enrich themselves through illegal and unaccountable means, is growing concern at local and international levels.
Worried by this trend, the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Center (CISLAC) and other stakeholders recently converged on Lagos at a forum on “Strengthening Accountability Networks Among Civil Society (SANCUS) to Raise Public Awareness .
In the run-up to the 2023 general election, the need for all stakeholders to unite to root out the trench of money laundering and the flow of other dirty funds that engender various electoral malpractices was at the center of the issue. workshop organized by CISLAC.
SANCUS is a project that runs from January 2021 to December 2023 and is implemented by the International Transparency Secretariat through its chapters in 21 countries with the support of the European Commission.
CISLAC, as Transparency International Nigeria (TIN), is currently implementing this project in Nigeria with a focus on addressing the central issue of dirty money in Nigerian politics, which perpetuates a culture of lack of accountability. and corruption for the preservation of power and personal enrichment. The project aims to improve the democratic accountability of public institutions globally by enabling CSOs to demand systemic change to address accountability and anti-corruption deficits.
The forum brought together participants and representatives including civil society organizations, the media, intergovernmental action against money laundering in West Africa – GIABA, the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU) and the ‘National Guidance Agency (NOA). Stemming from the objectives of the meeting, the organizers stated that the objective of SANCUS is to defend the operational independence of anti-corruption agencies; increased enforcement of existing anti-money laundering provisions and policies; an improved oversight function of the National Assembly; improve the capacity of the media and civil society to investigate the presence of dirty money in Nigerian political processes and finally to increase citizens’ demand for accountability in the financing of political processes. They hoped that outreach would instill some level of sanity in Nigeria’s political elites whose actions continue to tarnish the country’s good image as a democratic space that operates with maximum respect for the rule of law.
With Nigeria being known as the biggest IFF violator on the continent, with around $ 18 billion in estimated annual losses, this has given credence to the need for such a forum. This figure, according to them, is likely to increase, if necessary, measures are not taken to curb the excesses of these crimes.
The SANCUS project with the CSO Forum seeks to develop ways to strategically align SANCUS with the existing interventions of the AML-CFT CSO Forum in order to have stronger advocacy for strengthening Nigeria’s AML regime.
In his opening remarks, the executive director of CISLAC Auwal Musa Rafsanjani expressed his concerns about the application of the laws promulgated to fight against money laundering, corruption and electoral embezzlement âOur laws are not enforced or are ignored altogether. According to widely shared public opinion, political competitions have little to do with ideas, but rather corruption and populism take over.
He said this crisis in the image of Nigerian politics has led to a largely disillusioned public electorate, who expect to profit from corruption instead of trying to stop it. He noted that although there has been a crisis in the leadership of the country, people are also to blame. Citing the 2019 general election, he said more than a quarter of voters turned out to vote with the offer to sell their vote to the highest bidder. âWe all know the problem with the IFF and as a CSO working on money laundering issues there is a need to speak out against government wrongdoing and praise the government for taking the right action.
âDoing this will drastically reduce IFFs in Nigeria and you agree with me that with the high borrowing rate it is important for us to stop these leaks.
“All hands must be on deck to ensure that scenarios in which looted funds are hidden at home or abroad only to be used in political campaigns and elections are reduced to their bare minimum.”
Speaking about the project, Rafsanjani said that the SANCUS project arrives in Nigeria at the critical juncture of the pre-election period for the 2023 elections, as there is a need for all CSOs to unite and develop strategies to mitigate the role of l ‘dirty money. in the upcoming electoral circle, and also develop a strategic document for CSOs on how to advocate for a reduction in dirty money in politics.
âOn the positive side, the necessary institutional and legal infrastructure is in place. We have in place the Independent National Election Commission and laws that in theory should regulate how money goes into politics.
Rafsanjani also noted that the SANCUS project planned to advocate for the operational independence of anti-corruption agencies, increased enforcement of existing anti-money laundering provisions and policies, and an accountability function. improved oversight of the National Assembly.
He also said he would also advocate for a better capacity of the media and civil society to investigate the presence of dirty money in Nigerian political processes and, “to increase the demand of citizens to be held to account in the funding of political processes.
For his part, the representative of the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU), Moses Azege, noted that non-state actors play a unique role in supporting state actors in order to increase the effectiveness of our democratic efforts. According to him, this kind of collaboration results in innovative concepts like the theme of the SANCUS Nigeria project, âwhich is to address the issue of dirty money in Nigerian politics.
“This initiative could not be more timely given that we are about to start another electoral process and we know that the electoral campaign is costing the ordinary Nigerian dearly as more proceeds of corruption tend to flow into the country. electoral space.
Azege concluded that corruption is not only a threat in itself, but a catalyst for other illegal behavior. Consequently, the motivation for corruption is more prevalent in the period leading up to elections. Therefore, all stakeholders must be vigilant and work together to mitigate these illicit flows, âhe said.
While talking virtually about dirty money in politics, two resource people joined in the speech from abroad. They were Matthew Jenkins, SANCUS Policy Officer, Transparency International, Berlin, Germany, and CISLAC Policy Consultant Vaclav Prusa.
On how to fight illegal money, Prusa said government institutions should be built in such a way that in the fight against dirty money in politics, the culprits have nowhere to hide.
“It should be built in such a way that there is no secrecy of jurisdiction, no anonymous companies, each company must be clearly identified and its owners known, just like the idea of ââhiding under a crypto -money to carry out the act should not be allowed. “
Continuing, Prusa said the institution must make sure that no one is helping the culprits against the law, whether they are financial institutions, lawyers, real estate agencies, accountants or service providers. business services.
On what CSOs and others can do to tackle dirty money in politics, he said, “they need to monitor compliance, monitor campaign, monitor political spending, monitor money in politics, lobby for the fulfillment of anti-corruption commitments, educate the public about political integrity, expose the unexpected wealth of Politically Exposed Persons (PEPs) and mobilize a critical mass of people who reject dirty money politics.
Also speaking at the forum, the legal director of the National Guidance Agency, Amina Elelu-Ahmed, explained that the issue of dirty money in Nigerian politics, with its negative consequences, was undoubtedly a threat to good governance.
âIt is no longer news that politics in Nigeria, perhaps more than other avenues, is a major means of money laundering. Many see political parties as avenues for investment, through bags of money, with an expectation of return on investment and would therefore never be guided by the rules of accountability and transparency in governance.
“It is in this regard that I think we should deepen the sources of funding that those who stand for political posts spent in elections.”
She said there was a need for the Code of Conduct Office, EFCC and others to investigate those aspiring to challenge various positions, “so that patriotic Nigerians motivated by a passion to serve are not plotted by those in dirty money positions “.
Nothing was also necessary for political parties to consider reducing the huge amount paid for nomination forms and money spent during elections so that it was not beyond the reach of ordinary people who have the best interests at heart. Nigeria, as it would greatly discourage dirty laundered money in politics.
Speaking on the issue of dirty money in politics, Intergovernmental Action Against Money Laundering in West Africa (GIABA) representative Timothy Melaye noted that Nigeria is losing billions of dollars to cause of money laundering activities.
He also urged those in public office to refuse to accept bribes and participate in corrupt activities.
According to him, âwe don’t want dirty money in politics and whatever clean money we have, it has to be controlled. Dirty money should not be reduced. He should come out.
Melaye said that if you lose your integrity there is nothing left to lose: âThat’s why I remember my grandmother saying, ‘You’d rather starve than take the yam from the neighbor “.
He said that if dirty money is not prevented from entering politics, the owners of dirty money will be the ones who win the election and rule over everyone. âBut the point is, even clean money should be regulated. This is because, if you put N2 billion in the election elections, after winning, you will get your money back. âSo even if you have your own money, it should still be in the treasury,â Melaye said.