November 18, 2020

Sale of forfeited assets

PRESIDENT Muhammadu Buhari’s directive for sale of the forfeited assets recovered from proceeds of corruption and looting of public treasuries should present an opportunity for a transparent and accountable exercise.

A 22-member Inter-Ministerial Committee on the Disposal of the Federal Government of Nigeria Forfeited Assets empanelled on October 27, 2020, headed by the Solicitor General of the Federation and Permanent Secretary of the Federal Ministry of Justice, Dayo Apata, has six months to carry out this assignment.

Buhari’s directive is a follow-up to recommendations of the Presidential Audit Committee on the Recovery and Management of Stolen Assets in 2018, which guided the Office of the Attorney General of the Federation to issue the legal guidelines for the investigation, tracing, seizure and disposal of such assets.

With these elaborate and methodical preparations towards the disposal of the forfeited assets, Nigerians expect the actual sales to be fair, transparent and accountable. This “open house” approach is commendable.

If followed through, it will ensure that the bidding process will be in the public domain to prevent a situation where only those who are well-connected to the government and the ruling party are allowed to pick them up at virtual giveaway prices.

We call for a live televised process so as not to allow any form of favouritism to bedevil it.

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These are national assets. They belong to all Nigerians equally, and prospective beneficiaries must be given equitable opportunities to bid and buy at competitive prices.

We, however, caution that all the legal processes concerning such forfeitures must have been comprehensively exhausted to prevent situations whereby people are deprived of their property with impunity.

We emphasise this because of the partisan political mindset which foreshadowed the asset seizures when this regime came to office in 2015.

We call for a revisit of activities of the Ibrahim Magu-led Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC’s, handling of the asset seizures and “sales”, as well as those already returned to their owners based on political grounds. These must be brought back and subjected to due process.

It must also be borne in mind that many of the forfeited assets rightly belong to the state governments. All assets recovered from governors and state officials must be given back to the states.

We do not believe that the Federal Government has the right to sell stolen properties of states and pocket or spend the proceeds. The states must be involved in this process.

Most importantly, the Federal Government must ensure that proceeds of these sales must be invested in sectors of the economy that will benefit all Nigerians and not in programmes (such as “conditional cash transfers”) which enable corrupt public servants to re-loot the people’s patrimony.

Vanguard News Nigeria