By Abdulwahab Abdulah
Stakeholders at a recent seminar organised by Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, SERAP, have called on the Federal Government to comply with the order of the Federal High Court which directed the government to account for the looted funds recovered since 1999 till date to promote transparency and accountability.
This came as a human rights lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana, SAN, accused the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) of failing to remit over $20.2bn to national coffers since the return of democracy in 1999 to date, saying that, “Instead of piling up external loans, the Federal Government should be compelled by the Nigerian people to embark on the immediate recovery and repatriation of hundreds of billions of dollars from the NNPC.”
Prominent Nigerians who participated in the national seminar with the theme, Promoting Transparency and Accountability in the Recovery of Stolen Asset in Nigeria: Agenda for Reform, organised by SERAP in collaboration with the Ford Foundation, USA, said, transparency and accountability were the only way to save the country from impunity and corruption.
Those at the seminar included Eva Kouka, Senior Program Officer, Ford Foundation, Linda Ochiel, Ford Foundation, Sonia Warner, DFID, Osai Ojigho, Director, Amnesty International Nigeria, Adeniyi Kayode, Open Government Partnership, Obono Obla, Senior Assistant on Prosecution to President Muhammadu Buhari. Mr Abiodun Aikomo who represented the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr Abubakar Malami, SAN, and Bola Oyebamiji, Commissioner for Finance, represented the Ogun State Governor, Rauf Aregbesola.
Falana who presented the lead paper said, “Transparency and accountability are interconnected to the application of economic, political and administrative management of the affairs of a state. The exercise of these affairs is that they must be seen to be exercised by the citizens of a state. Where a government parastatal such as the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) is said to have failed to remit oil revenue to the tune of $20 billion, issues of good transparency and governance become a crucial issue.
“The Federal Government has to re-focus its recovery of stolen assets by vigorously pursuing recovery of assets from multinational corporations and not just the countries that are illegally keeping the looted wealth of the country. The recovery of our looted wealth should also be extended to the few Nigerians who have been indicted in the Panama and Paradise papers. The EFCC and the Federal Inland Revenue Service should recover appropriate taxes from the offshore companies set up by such individuals.”
Speaking on efforts the government needs to make in the recovery of the funds looted by public officials, the lawyer stated that unless the Federal Government adopts diplomatic and legal measures, it would be a difficult task retrieving the stolen funds. The lawyer who talked about transparency and accountability, asset recovery, criminalisation and legal framework for forfeiture in Nigeria, noted that transparency and accountability in political office imply that elected government officials are conscientious and accountable for their decisions and actions and imbibe integrity, selflessness and neutrality in order to ensure probity in service.
Falana noted: “It is undoubtedly clear that the governments of western countries and the United Arab Emirates are not going to co-operate with Nigeria in the repatriation of the nation’s looted funds unless the Federal Government is prepared to adopt appropriate diplomatic and legal measures. In addition, the labour unions and other civil society organisations in the affected countries have to be mobilised to mount pressure on their governments to return our looted wealth.
He submitted: “Upon the inauguration of the Muhammadu Buhari administration, the governments of the US, United Kingdom and Switzerland assured the Federal Government that funds and assets stolen from Nigeria would be repatriated. Not only have these countries refused to cooperate with Nigeria, they have also frustrated the efforts of the Federal Government to recover and repatriate such tainted funds and assets.
“Transparency and accountability in political office imply that elected government officials are conscientious and accountable for their decisions and actions and imbibe integrity, selflessness and neutrality in order to ensure probity in service. Transparency and accountability in public services create confidence in the citizenry in terms of implementing governmental processes to promote the public good.”