Saturday, 4 July 2015

A VIEW FROM MY WINDOW: THE CHALLENGES OF FIGHTING FINANCIAL CRIMES IN NIGERIA



A VIEW FROM MY WINDOW

THE CHALLENGES OF FIGHTING FINANCIAL CRIMES IN NIGERIA



Throughout Africa not one situation attracts the anger of the majority of peoples as much as the brazen financial crimes pervading all levels of government and businesses.

So seemingly pervasive and entrenched is it in Nigeria that when we use the word corruption, 99% of the times we mean financial corruption and even here 99% of the time we again mean the conversion public money to personal wealth. AIn only about 10% of the cases do we even consider tax crimes as corruption. This is the reality of our perception.

The amounts of money involved are sometimes so nauseatingly huge that it boggles the mind. Sources say United Nations figures are put at a whopping $148 billion (One Hundred and Forty-Eight billion dollars)stolen from African Countries by political leaders. Leaks from Swiss Banks indicate that Nigeria alone has $266 Million (Two Hundred and sixty-six million dollars) stashed away by Nigerians in accounts that are under investigation. Two Hundred and sixty-six million dollars just stashed away and not doing any productive work for either the nation or even the account beneficiaries themselves.


Financial crimes have evolved from simple bribery to more sophisticated embezzlement and these days, even more ingenious electronic theft.

Justice Emmanuel Olayinka Ayoola, Chairman of Nigeria's ICPC in 20005-2010 admitted:

      "The commonest form of corruption used to be bribery but in recent years this     has been overtaken in level of prevalence by embezzlement of public funds, abuse of public power for private gains ... extortion and illegal party financing."
JUSTICE EMMANUEL OLAYINKA AYOOLA


The critical questions that arise in the minds of most of us are : "Why? Are Africans by nature simply corrupt? Is it that we have a corruption DNA implanted in our genes? Or is that maybe, we have learned too well from our erstwhile masters? "

Although the questions can go on and on, the most important query for me is: "Why is it so difficult for us to fight financial crimes in Nigeria? "

But before we even begin to examine this let us first establish that the average Nigerian is no more corrupt in his DNA than the average American, or the average Briton, or Asian or whatever race on the face of the earth. Historically, and traditionally as a matter of fact the average Nigerian was always exceptionally honest and forthright. Time was, (our grandfathers will swear to this), when traders left their wares and the sales made on the day, overnight unguarded in their open stalls, without fear of losing even a pin the next day. You could leave the 'household' of your wealth untended and no one would touch it, much less steal it. Sounds mythical maybe, but this was true for generations. The fear of the traditional gods of the land kept fickle fingers and fickle minds straight. That was the age of innocence.

As a matter of fact the generation of our fathers fathers, believed that the decline in moral standards began when Europeans made their foray into Africa, and began planting the seeds of mass deception, brazen lying and subterfuge in the minds of the African traditional elite -- the African kings, their chiefs, and top members of African societies-- with the aim of capturing their peoples as slaves, usurping power and ultimately controlling the wealth of Africa. And Africa lost her innocence.

In general there is widespread belief amongst us, the masses in Africa that international media makes us look more corrupt than we really are. Our nations are branded corrupt simply because a few of our leaders are corrupt. There are millions of Nigerians who are hardworking and dedicating their lives each and every single day to making honest living through their creativity, sweat, tears and sometimes blood but they simply do not make the headlines because their stories are not considered newsworthy. This for most of us is the story of our lives and in our heart of hearts we denounce the branding of all of us as a race of corrupt people, and in our heart of hearts we desire passionately that those few who give us the 'bad name' be brought to book.

Herein however, lies the dilemma. In Nigeria for instance the Evidence act was passed into law in 1945. 1945, and it has not been revisited since. This law does not allow for the admission of electronically generated evidence in court. How then can we ever hope in this 21st century to at least, effectively prosecute financial crimes committed electronically when any defense lawyer worth his onions would immediately glide through this gaping hole with a smiling client firmly strapped to his back. If the 8th National Assembly of Nigeria is committed to frontally engage financial crime as it proclaims, this is one of those loop-holes it has to effectively seal off with a little bit more than brick and mortar.

Second. The penal code for financial crimes is over 50 years old and as a result does not even recognize some types of financial crimes. In an instance for example where someone who steals billions of Naira is successfully prosecuted , he may actually and in reality get only 2 years of jail term. This is definitely not a disincentive. Many I know would gladly take the two years.

Third. For me this is the most important. There is really no law that allows for investigation based asset sequestration. What this means is that if I do my calculations well, I can successfully steal 2 Million Naira, put aside 1 Million Naira for the dust, shame, investigation, legalities, legal fees and what have you, that are bound to follow, and I promise you I can enjoy the remaining 1 Million Naira thereafter.

If however there is a law which says that once I am under investigation for some financial crime, my accounts will be sequestered, then it would be impossible for me to use the stolen funds to fight the justice system. This would make me think twice before I engage in any financial crime. The downside however is that some governments may use this to intimidate critics of an oppressive regime and if not applied under strict oversight from an "above-board" body, it could become a very dangerous tool in the hands of any investigating agency of government.



Fourth: Financial Intelligence Unit. A country as populous as Nigeria needs to have an independent, standalone, financial intelligence unit whose main functions would be to gather financial intelligence, interpret same and grant agencies of government like the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), ICPC and the Police access to this intelligence.

With major gaps like these existing within the system as a whole it is easy to see how difficult it can be to successfully prosecute financial crimes in Nigeria. The simple and singular most important recommendation is that the law makers in this 8th assembly, (proponents of change as they call themselves ) should as a matter of priority overhaul all laws relating to financial crimes.

                                Written by Victor Omotayo Sawyerr
 

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