*Says Abacha looted over $2m in 1998 alone
*Adds Buhari has vowed to recover every kobo
By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
ABUJA—The Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, SAN, yesterday, said the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, has so far recovered more than $2 trillion (about N400trn at current exchange rate) looted from the national treasury.
Of the huge funds he said were stolen by “criminal groups and public office holders” within the past 12 years, the AGF said it was estimated that in 1998 alone, the late former Head of State, General Sani Abacha, laundered over $2million.
The AGF, who made the disclosure in a keynote address presented at the ‘First Annual Conference on Financial Fraud, Cyber-Crime & Other Cross-border Crimes’, in Abuja, yesterday, said President Muhammadu Buhari has vowed “to recover the fortunes that criminals have made illegally by returning every penny that belongs to the Nigerian public.”
He observed that the passage of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, ACJA, had made it possible for criminal matters to enjoy accelerated hearing in courts.
The AGF said: “With more than 166 million inhabitants, Nigeria represents more than half of Africa’s total population. Nigeria’s major source of revenue is oil and Nigeria is ranked ninth highest exporter of crude among members of the Oil Producing Exporting Countries (OPEC) and 13th across the globe.
“In 1998, Nigeria came under severe attacks from the international community. Political and economic sanctions were imposed on the country to pressurise the military regime at the time to create an enabling environment for democratic election.
“During this period, the Nigerian financial system suffered crisis of confidence, caused in part by the inability of the financial supervisory authorities and the enforcement agencies to prevent the abuse of the financial system and enforce national and international financial laws and regulations.
“It is estimated that General Abacha alone laundered more than USD2 million during this period. It was not just the financial system that broke down under severe mismanagement but also the justice system due to lack of comprehensive legal framework, weak law enforcement agencies, ill equipped judiciary, and the over-crowded court system. These were just a few of the problems that contributed to the high rate of economic and financial crimes in Nigeria.
Plan of Buhari’s govt
He continued: ‘“The government of President Buhari is committed to the development of an economically, politically stable and just society where the security of lives and properties are guaranteed and underpinned by a constitutionally independent judicial system that ensures respect for rule of law and promotes equal rights to justice.
“It is no longer in dispute that internal security remains a challenge, especially as internal conflicts, including religious extremism, and ethnic conflicts have had a debilitating effect on the country’s development since independence. Nigeria is not an exception in Africa when it comes to internal conflicts, insurgency and terrorism”.
He said that trends and statistics from the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, indicated that on the average, Nigerian banks lose huge amounts of money annually to different forms of cyber-crime and cyber-criminals.
“The total estimated loss incurred by the financial system alone from 2012 to 2014 could be more than N64 billion or USD321.689m.”
Besides, the AGF noted that the Nigerian Deposit Insurance Corporation, NDIC, had in a report it issued in 2014, observed that the increase of fraud in the country was a result of “astronomical increase of online banking and use of ATM as well as fraudulent withdrawal of funds.”
He further identified “illicit funds flows” as a major area of organised crime in Nigeria, saying a report compiled by the presidency in 2013, identified a total of over $33.144bn (N20.6 trillion) illicit flows during 2000 to 2013, “of which over $7.456trn were proceeds of corruption and embezzlement in Nigeria”.
Malami said: “As you all know, illicit funds transfer has a number of severe effects on a country like Nigeria. It drains the country’s foreign exchange reserves, reduces tax base, increases poverty levels, increases insecurity as a potential source of terror funding, and hurts the country’s international image.
“The common crimes that confront Nigeria today include terrorism/ terrorist financing, cyber-crime, fraud, money laundering, corruption, kidnapping, trafficking in illicit drugs and persons, armed robbery, oil theft, sexual exploitation of young persons. All of these crimes threaten Nigeria’s economy and make Nigeria unattractive for investment.
“Nigeria gained notoriety among the commity of nations since early 1980 because of advanced fee fraud commonly referred to as “419” as well as high incidence of corrupt practices by politically exposed persons and bureaucrats”.
He said that available reports showed that in the past 12 years, since the establishment of EFCC, more than $2 trillion has been confiscated and recovered.
“Recoveries have also been made by ICPC, NAPTIP, NDLEA and DSS. As Nigeria struggles to deal with the high-level criminality associated with greed to acquire so much wealth through criminal activities, my task is to see how we can turn back the gains of criminal groups and to recover the fortunes that criminals have made illegally by returning very penny that belongs to the Nigeria public.
“With the passage of the ACJA, we have seen accelerated hearing of criminal matters. This would need to be sustained through various initiatives that we are developing”, the AGF stated.
Meantime, in his remarks at the event, the Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, Justice Mahmud Mohammed, said there was urgent need for the country to consider and priortise the reform of its laws. “This is heightened by the need to conform with the primary concerns of law and order, national security and public interest.
“However, the desire of every Nigerian for the quick and fair dispensation of justice can only be achieved where stakeholders in the justice sector work in tandem towards a common objective as a chain is only as strong as its weakest link.
“It is time to leave the rhetoric behind and take visible steps forward in this fight against transnational crimes”, the CJN added.