On Wednesday, the Federal Executive Council approved a bill to establish an agency that will take charge of proceeds recovered by anti-graft agencies in Nigeria.
The bill titled: ‘Proceeds of Crime Recovery and Management Agency Bill’ is designed to take the management of recovered assets and funds off the responsibility of the anti-graft agencies. The Attorney General of Federation, Abubakar Malami was directed to forward the bill to the National Assembly for passage.
The development was disclosed by Malami after the FEC meeting, presided virtually by president Buhari on Wednesday. The Minister of Justice said currently, recovered assets and funds are in the care of multiple government agencies, but the passage of the bill will ensure that the proceeds are in the care of a responsible agency.
“The bill is targeted and intended to have in place legal and institutional framework. The legal component of it is having a law while the institutional component is to have an agency that will be saddled with the responsibility of managing the assets that constitute proceeds of crime in Nigeria.
“What happens before now is that proceeds of crime are scattered all over, and mostly in the hands of different and multiple agencies of government inclusive of the police, DSS (department of state security), EFCC, (economic and financial crimes commission) and the ICPC (independent corrupt practices commission).
“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, an agency that can give you offhand the number of landed assets, immovable assets, the amount in cash that is recovered by the Federal Government by way of interim forfeiture. So, it is indeed over time a kind of arrangement that is not uniform and consistent,” he explained.
The Minister of Justice said it will mean a next level of accountability to put in place and agency of government that is exclusively responsible for proceeds of crime.
“It will be a one-stop shop arrangement by which all the assets that are recovered arising from crime that are indeed vested in the Federal Government, you have a one-stop arrangement where you can have an information,” he added.
Though Malami said the bill has been in the pipeline for long, and there had been failed attempts to present the bill to FEC in 2007, 2011, and 2019, and has nothing to do with the current saga surrounding the EFCC, many beg to disagree.
Part of the allegations leveled against the former boss of the EFCC, Ibrahim Magu were of relooting and mismanagement of recovered assets and funds. The report filed by the investigating panel mentioned ‘discrepancies in the records of the EFCC and the Federal Ministry of Finance on recovered funds,’ which includes the declaration of N539 billion as recovered funds instead of N504 billion earlier claimed, and the sale of recovered properties to Magu’s cronies.
The indicting financial misappropriation allegations are believed to be the reason for the FEC’s approval of the ‘Proceeds of Crime Recovery and Management Agency Bill’ even though there had been attempts in the past to pass the bill.
Consequently, Nigerians have kicked against the development as it is seen as further evidence of inadequate anti-graft agency. Nigeria has two anti-graft agencies; the EFCC and the ICPC. The two are believed to be functioning under incapacitation and thus need revitalization.
Many believe that the motive behind the creation of a new agency is ulterior and is based on Malami’s desire to be in control of assets recovered by the anti-graft agencies.
It could be recalled that Malami asked the National Assembly in 2019 to approve a commission of 2.5% of recovered loots proceeds to be paid to the Asset Recovery Unit in his office. Magu also accused the Attorney General of working with the EFCC to dispose of the vessels involved in illegal activities which resulted in Nigeria being sabotaged of recovered assets worth N283 million.
Based on these incidents, and the fact that creating a new agency in the time of economic downturn will increase the burden that the high cost of governance already bestows on Nigeria’s economic growth, many see the new bill as irrelevant.
Human rights lawyer, Inibehe Effiong told Premium Times on Thursday that the Federation Account exists to receive funds and assets recovered from crime, which makes the new bill nonsensical.
“It is nonsense to me: to begin with, if there are assets recovered from criminal suspects and corrupt individuals, they are supposed to be remitted into the Federation Account. It is going to go into the public revenue of the Federation. After that, the national assembly must now appropriate by way of budget. The government on its own does not have powers to start spending.
“If it is about recovery of looted assets, it is nonsensical to create a new agency. EFCC already has the powers to do that under its establishment Act. This is another multiplication of executive agencies which does not have any bearing in fighting corruption. If the federal government is keen on fighting corruption, it is supposed to strengthen EFCC. We don’t need another similar agency,” he said.
Other Nigerians who waded into the matter opine that the bill if passed, will amount to wastage of scarce resources.
“I reiterate that we need to reduce the number of agencies. I have often advocated for the introduction of a new rule: for every new agency you create, scrap at least two existing ones. Still, I would like to read the draft bill first,” former DG of BPSR, Dr. Joe Abah wrote on Twitter.
Adding his voice, Osasuo wrote on Twitter: “It is ridiculous to set up yet another government agency for corruption. This is a government that is borrowing externally to meet recurrent expenditure.”