By Tabia Princewill
There is no shortage of excitement in Nigeria today. Although the incredible revelations regarding #DasukiGate read like something straight out of a telenovela, one must appreciate that it is necessary to purge the system of corrupt acts and persons in order for this country (and its government) to successfully function.
Many of the agencies and parastatals seem to be in a state of chaos, with their heads being successively interrogated for various counts of either fraud or mismanagement. The case of the NIMASA DG and other such agencies which earned revenue in dollars yet allegedly only remitted a lesser Naira equivalent to the Federal Government, proves that without the anti-corruption war, the many loopholes and leakages created and enforced by past administrations, would prevail, thus robbing Nigeria and its citizens of the much-needed funds to develop this country.
The EFCC recently communicated that it has been interrogating Sally Mbanefo, DG Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation over the misuse and possible misappropriation of N600 million. If this proves to be true, what is left for the next DG to work with? So, to those saying Buhari has not fulfilled his campaign promises, let us sincerely ask, how can he, without first of all recovering the funds necessary to fulfill said promises?
Permanent tax waivers
Most Nigerians don’t pay taxes. In fact, according to the country Director of Action Aid, Ms. Ojobo Atuluku, Nigeria lost an estimated $3.3billion in revenue last year because many companies don’t pay taxes.
Curiously, the Federal Government under the past administration signed permanent tax waivers with some companies, which therefore make only profits and remit nothing to government. This estimated $3.3 billion (N750 billion) lost is three times Nigeria’s budget for healthcare and education. So, again, how can Buhari fulfill his campaign promises without plugging such holes and leakages, which exist due to corruption?
Now, let us come to the immoral, complicit banking system that houses these “lost” funds, which rightfully belong to the Federal Government and to the Nigerian citizenry. Let us also compare this to what obtains in other climes. Last year HSBC was fined £28 million for assisting money laundering through “organisational deficiencies” which meant the bank helped a mixture of mafiosos, politicians and businessmen from the developing world (of which some top Nigerians listed in a public report) to make their money appear legitimate.
At the end of the trial, Geneva’s chief prosecutor, Olivier Jornot, said to the bank executives: “This (the so-called organisational deficiencies) is an excuse which will only apply once.” When will Nigerian banks be given such notice? It is not enough for those on trial for corruption to say: “we didn’t know where the money was from”.
The Nigerian financial sector is opaque and awash with criminal funds.
Every time a bank launches a meaningless, would-be empowerment scheme which barely benefits a handful of people, and we excitedly celebrate them for handing the people crumbs, I think back to the words of Mark Carney, the English Central Bank Governor who in 2013 cautioned banks against being “socially useless”.
Any bank that doesn’t focus on the real economy, on building small businesses by providing loans to entrepreneurs, a bank that only truly deals with the funds of the 1%, can be deemed “socially useless” for not helping businesses to invest their money and create jobs.
The millions still operating outside of the banking sector often because their money is regarded as “too small” to make a difference, show Nigerian banks are disconnected from real people and their trades which it could build its profit on.
Our banks prefer government officials’ quick, easy money. Hence why the Treasury Single Account, TSA, was so vehemently opposed by the banks and the politicians whose dirty money is no longer welcome in most Western countries: even Switzerland is attempting reform! Then there is the issue of foreign exchange transactions and round tripping, aided by bank staff.
The illegal diversion of money from the inter-bank market to the parallel market, benefits bureau de change operators; it is this system that enables such allegations as $35 million used to rig an election.
To counter “socially useless” banks and to enable government more firmly control and benefit from forex transactions, the Tobin tax (named after Nobel Laureate and economist James Tobin) is used in financial centres confronted with speculative trading and round tripping (e.g. Mumbai, Johannesburg, Hong Kong).
This tax on large forex transactions not only raises money for government but can also be used to finance its debt. In Nigeria, given that many banks were rescued by AMCON using public funds, and to top it all, do little to economically empower the public, why shouldn’t they be taxed?
The state needs funds to deliver change for the common man: let’s get creative and rescue public funds from those holding it hostage. After all, AMCON MD, Ahmed Kuru says rich Nigerians who owe the corporation money still fly around in private jets rather than repay what they owe!
Nigerian banks don’t invest in Nigerians (we believe it is only the bank of industry or micro credit banks’ job to do this) whereas most of our financial institutions operate under commercial banking licences. Rather than focusing on auto loans or mortgages, or encouraging hard working Nigerians to invest or buy shares, we prefer to accumulate non-performing loans awarded to various characters who see shareholders’ money as their personal play thing.
In the #DasukiGate saga, it is interesting that none of the banks holding the funds paid to Olisa Metuh or any of the other accused, are being made to explain the role they played.
Funds of dubious origin
These companies are as of yet just witnesses, but if Buhari’s proposed anti-money laundering bill is passed, banks and asset managers handling the alleged proceeds of corruption will be prosecuted, as is done all over the world because a party has indeed committed an offence if he knows or ought reasonably to have known that the funds are of dubious origin.
A certain Nneka Ararume, a former wealth manager with Assets Resource Management, ARM, claimed during the Metuh hearing, that she received $2 million in $100 bills from him, for investments. She was quoted as saying: “We only have access to the funds when the client transfers money to us or when the client asks us to transfer money to them, we have all clients’ account details on file.” In which case, why didn’t anyone raise the alarm?
Thankfully, section 15 of Buhari’s anti-money laundering bill states: “It is a criminal offence for anyone to make or accept a cash payment beyond a particular amount” and if such a transaction occurs, it must be reported by the institution and/or its employees. Concealment of such an act is criminal. One thing’s for sure, 2016 will be a most interesting year. A rewarding one too, for those who refused to take part in the looting.
It is evident that Nigerian politicians do not understand the way a democracy works. If an allegation leveled against you is false, let it be proven to be so, allow the authorities to investigate without insulting them. EFCC isn’t “deceiving” Nigerians or indulging in “smear tactics” by letting the public know its findings.
Nigerians have a right to know what is alleged to have happened to public funds, which government officials hold in trust. The common man’s human rights matter too.
The challenge facing the war against corruption: our corrupt judiciary. What about establishing special courts? Corruption, with these mind-boggling revelations, is a crime against the citizenry. If properly explained to Nigerians there would be wide spread support for special courts to circumvent corrupt judges. I might even be in favour of using international bodies to try these cases, perhaps the UN or the ICC as no one is impartial in Nigeria and the accusations are grave enough. Why not an international criminal tribunal, like in Sierra Leone after the war? Make no mistake, we are indeed at war against those willing to destroy Nigeria.