By Gabriel Ewepu – Abuja

The Centre Society Legislative Advocacy Centre, CISLAC, Tuesday, launched Strengthening Accountability Networks Among Civil Society, SANCUS, Project, to fight ‘dirty money’ in Nigerian politics.

The SANCUS project was unveiled in Abuja by the Executive Director, CISLAC, Auwal Musa Rafsanjani, at a working Group Meeting, which is being implemented by Transparency International Secretariat and supported by the European Commission.     

Rafsanjani said: “The SANCUS project is being implemented by Transparency International Secretariat through its chapters in 21 countries and is supported by the European Commission.

“The project runs from January 2021 to December 2023, the project aims to improve the democratic accountability of public institutions globally by empowering CSOs to demand systemic change to address accountability and anti-corruption deficits.

“In Nigeria, the ever-increasing and soaring problem of dirty money in the Nigerian politics which suggest a high level of impunity among politically exposed individuals who seek to gain power and accrue wealth through illegal means with zero accountability has been a growing concern locally and internationally.

“The SANCUS project zooms in contributing to address this core problem of dirty money in Nigeria’s politics which perpetuates a culture of lack of accountability and corruption for power preservation and self-enrichment.

“The project plans to advocate for: 1) the operational independence of anti-corruption agencies;

“2) an increased enforcement of existing anti-money laundering provisions and policies;

“3)an improved oversight function of the National Assembly;

“4) improve capacity of the media and civil society to investigate the presence of dirty money in Nigeria’s political processes and finally.

“5) increase citizens demand for accountability in the funding of political processes.

“This hopefully, will instil some level of sanity in the Nigerian political elites whose actions continue to tarnish the good image of the country as a democratic space which operates within the purview of maximum respect for the rule of law.

 “Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, illicit financial flows are a serious problem globally and we all know the damage that illicit financial flows have caused in Nigeria. Nigeria is the largest Illicit Financial Flows offender in the continent with about $18bn estimated to be lost annually.

“This figure is likely to increase, if necessary, measures are not taken to curb the excesses of these crimes.

“For instance, we are battling different scandals like the P&ID scandal where Nigeria is contesting the arbitration award of about 6.6bn with an interest of 7% annually and the Malabu Scandal.

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“The sad part is that after citizens are deprived from access to basic needs and the diversion of funds meant for the covid-19 response, these funds, at least in part, are stashed either at home or abroad only to be used when it is time for political campaigns and elections.

“This is the challenge we are up against, and we should ensure that all hands are on deck to combat this.

“This project comes to Nigeria at the critical junction of the pre-election period for 2023 elections.

“We all know what is at stake and I would like to invite us to discuss how to mitigate the role of dirty money in the upcoming electoral circle.

“On the positive side, the necessary institutional and legal infrastructure is in place.

“We have the Independent National Electoral Commission and laws in place that in theory, should regulate how money enters politics.

“We also have a myriad of anti-corruption agencies and law enforcement that is getting ever better in investigating financial crimes.

“On the negative side, we seem to have so much money in politics that it seems to have the power to erode our institutions. Our laws are not enforced or are outrightly ignored.

“According to the widely shared public opinion, political contest has little to do with ideas but rather corruption and populism take the upper hand.

“This crisis of the image of politics has led to a widely disillusioned public electorate that expects profiting from the corruption instead of trying to stop it. In the last general elections, over one-quarter of voters came to the ballot box with the offer to sell their vote to the highest bidder.

“There is a crisis on the top but equally on the bottom – at the grass-root level.”

“It is evident that the sanctions provided in the constitution and the law is ridiculously mild and possibly accounts for the disdain currently being exhibited by political parties and their candidates in complying with directives relating to party finances and election expenses.

“Civil society groups and organizations must mount and sustain advocacy for reasonable, rational and deterrent sanctions against the leaders of political parties and the parties for violation and willful refusal to comply with the law and the constitution relating to party finances and election expenses.

“The sanctions must include an increase in the fines and prison term for the leaders of defaulting parties.

The Chairman, Information and Voter Education Committee of INEC, Festus Okoye, in a goodwill message said, “It is evident that the sanctions provided in the constitution and the law is ridiculously mild and possibly accounts for the disdain currently being exhibited by political parties and their candidates in complying with directives relating to party finances and election expenses.

“Civil society groups and organizations must mount and sustain advocacy for reasonable, rational and deterrent sanctions against the leaders of political parties and the parties for violation and willful refusal to comply with the law and the constitution relating to party finances and election expenses.

“The sanctions must include an increase in the fines and prison term for the leaders of defaulting parties.

 “We believe that the sovereign right of the people as is exclusive as their votes remains the only sources of truth in the leadership succession in Nigeria.

“Illegal, extrajudicial and extra-constitutional means to distort and render valueless the vote and mandate given to the people must be vigorously resisted. We, therefore, encourage CSOs to act collectively to protect our democracy.

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The Chairman of Independent Corrupt Practices Commission, ICPC, Prof Bolaji Owasanoye (SAN), represented by Hussein Salihu, in a goodwill message said the Commission is all out to fight politicians who are into using ‘dirty money’ to derail the electoral process in Nigeria.

Owasanoye said: “The Independent Corrupt Practices Commission, ICPC, is an anti-corruption agency that is charged with the responsibility of fighting corruption with three key mandates; the mandate of enforcement, the mandate of system study, and the engagement to civil society and mobilizing the civil society in the fight against corruption so ICPC is happy to be here and to be involved in the issue of dirty money in politics. The issue of dirty money in politics refers to a giver and a taker.

“Politics is in the confines of the ICPC statutory function and power. So ICPC the source of fighting dirty money in politics are likely to commission up, it is a national offences, economic offences, corruption offences.

“Such dirty money could trigger up and viciously utilized to commit corruption in the political and electoral process.

“The concern about solving this problem of dirty money in politics if we need to safeguard and sustain democracy, and the fundamental causes of dirty money in politics should be outright uprooted in this we in ICPC is happy to be here to partner CISLAC to do all that it takes to wipe out the use of dirty money in politics. The ICPC chairman is committed in wiping out dirty money in politics.”

Chairman Senate Committee on Anti-corruption and Financial Crimes, Sen Suleiman Abdu Kwari, represented by Executive Director, Global Organisation of Parliamentarians Against Corruption, GLOPAC, Ashley Emenike, in a goodwill message said NASS is aware of the need to engender a healthy, accountability eco-system which will birth institutional responsiveness, transparency and general good governance.

“We believe that Nigerians ought to be confident in the way government administers resources entrusted upon them. It is therefore being accountable and boldly taking responsibility for our actions that desired dividends of democracy can be actualized.

“The monitoring of this accountability is one of the constitutional roles of the National Assembly through its various instruments such as the Public Accounts Committee, and the Committee on Anti-corruption and Financial Crimes to mention but a few.

“However, the challenge in this process identifying the gaps in the corporate governance structures in our MDAs.

“A strong corporate governance structure will need a strong result in the activities of the departments, parastatals and agencies of government, and unless that governance is instituted democratic dividends will not be yielded”, he said.

Vanguard News Nigeria

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