Thursday, March 14, 2013

NIGERIA: The Laundering Of $182 Billion

Punch Editorial, Friday, March 15, 2013

NIGERIA has been financially haemorrhaged by some corrupt leaders, as a report from the United States-based Global Financial Integrity indicates. The agency recently said a total of $182 billion was stolen and laundered offshore between 2000 and 2009. Nigeria is ranked eighth out of 20 countries notorious for illicit financial outflows, just as it is placed 135th out of 176 in the Transparency International’s Global Corruption Perception index.

 The plundering of our commonwealth by just a few goes against the grain of prevailing crippling poverty, unemployment and decrepit socio-economic infrastructure.

The GFI described Nigeria as “the leading source of illicit financial outflow from sub-Saharan Africa.” This is a huge paradox as the theft happened under a democracy. Since 1999, the country has been under civil rule. According to the GFI, it relied on analysis of data from the World Bank and International Monetary Fund to reach its conclusion, stressing that developing countries lost a total of $903 billion in 2009. Even now, the trend is accelerating as graft is worn as a badge of honour.
What fostered this heist is not difficult to fathom. Ours is a government being run by narrow minds, and harder hearts. Mismanagement of oil wealth and illegal oil bunkering have strewn a cobweb of corruption, making slush funds easily available for pillaging. However, the seemingly industrial scale of the looting, despite the operations of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission and the Independent Corrupt and other Related Offences Commission, should arouse some curiosity. Is it that the anti-graft bodies were deficient, complicit or looked the other way while the looters had a field day? And what role did the banks play? These are genuine concerns.
The Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit and the Special Control Unit against Money Laundering were established to strengthen the performance of the EFCC. Under the act, through automation, banks alert the EFCC on transactions that fall within the “suspicious thresholds.” From periodic revelations of how public funds are looted by public officials, with banks as conduits, it is obvious that extant laws on money laundering are observed only in the breach. Annually, the Central Bank of Nigeria and the Nigeria Deposit Insurance Corporation audit the books of these banks; yet the humongous illicit transactions that pass through their systems in violation of extant financial regulations are not made public. Nevertheless, the only oasis was the CBN’s hammer of 2009, which fell on some corrupt bank chief executives who were not only relieved of their jobs but were prosecuted.
Money Laundering Prohibition Act (2011) as amended prescribes limits of financial transactions in banks by individuals and bodies corporate, beyond which a bank must alert the EFCC or make transaction reports. The MLPA increased the threshold for reporting transactions by individuals from N1 million to N5 million and between N5 million and N10 million for corporate bodies. Abuse of this regulatory regime was evident in the pension funds looting spree uncovered by the Senate in a recent investigation.
The political leadership is not sincerely committed to the eradication of corruption. As the chairman of the ICPC, Ekpo Nta, once put it, “there is no political will to fight corruption in Nigeria.” Key public officials do not demonstrate exemplary conduct such as adopting a modest lifestyle, and avoiding corruption themselves. People found guilty of corruption are not punished because of their position or status in the society. The “big fish” are not only protected from being prosecuted for corruption, the unlucky few that are prosecuted get light sentences. Besides, spurious state pardons are remedial measures for the few that get convicted. It is this vacuous moral compass that led the administration of the late President Umaru Yar’Adua, in cahoots with corrupt politicians, to hound the pioneer chairman of the EFCC, Nuhu Ribadu, out of office.
In the corporate sphere, the scourge is as corrosive and devastating as it is in the political arena. A disgraced former bank executive reportedly acquired 12 homes in the United States, 28 shops and seven residential houses in Dubai, and four houses in South Africa, all bought with laundered funds. Indeed, the rot in the banks is very deep. Since successful money laundering is largely a product of either connivance of, or negligence of, bankers, the Chartered Institute of Bankers of Nigeria Act 2007 has a redemptive role to play here. Striking out names of its members aiding and abetting money laundering from its register has become imperative. By so doing, such elements become professionally prostrate and are seen as lepers who should never be employed by other banks.
But, the situation is becoming hopeless. The former US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, described the level of corruption in Nigeria as “unbelievable.” Fighting corruption requires a strong political leadership. The basic requirement of civilised democracy is that everyone plays by the rules and that the rules command public confidence. Brazen stealing of public funds will continue until laws aimed at fighting corruption are strictly and consistently applied.
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