Executive Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Mr. Ola Olukoyede has called for urgent and unconditional return of Nigerian stolen assets stashed in foreign countries.
He made this call on Tuesday, December 12, 2023, at the ongoing 10th session of the Conference of State Parties, COSP, to the United Nations Convention Against Corruption, UNCAC, holding at the Georgia World Congress Centre, Atlanta, United States of America.
According to him, the return of stolen assets warehoused in foreign countries, has become imperative for the growth of the economy and expansion of frontiers of development within and outside Nigeria. He warned that economic and financial crimes have become transnational crimes and no nation serving as a custodian of stolen assets should hold on to them.
“We need the cooperation of all the countries that are custodians or in charge of warehousing all these stolen assets from Africa. It has become extremely important for us to see you as our collaborators, as countries that support us in the fight against corruption. Now, when you look at corruption, it has become a transnational crime. If you are holding on to those assets, you are creating very difficult legal hurdles in recovering those assets. You are indirectly encouraging the perpetrators of the crimes we are talking about. And when you encourage it in Africa, it has a tendency of affecting you too, because the kind of financial crimes we are talking about have become global in nature. So, it has become important for you to cooperate with us”, he said.
The EFCC’s boss, in a presentation made before a global audience on asset recovery efforts and successes of Nigeria so far, pointed out that Nigeria had “probably done much more than any other country, perhaps the whole world, in the area of asset recovery. We have been able to achieve something because of the legal and regulatory framework that the government of Nigeria has been able to put in place”. He listed measures already taken in this regard to include, the enactment of the Proceeds of Crimes( Prevention and Prohibition) Act, 2022, use of extant laws on civil forfeiture of assets, banking reforms mandating bank customers to have a Bank Verification Number, BVN, for all transactions and the professional activities of the EFCC and other anti-corruption agencies to trace, investigate and prosecute ill-gotten assets within and beyond Nigeria, as potent measures yielding optimal results in asset recovery.
“There is an aspect of our law that allows for civil forfeiture. Civil forfeiture is a situation where you will not necessarily get a criminal conviction of an offender but you can easily attach assets and forfeit the assets and that has greatly assisted us in asset recovery. There is another aspect that we have tried to put in place, a year ago. It is the enactment of the Proceeds of Crime Act which has created legal and regulatory regimes for asset recovery by various agencies in Nigeria. Also, our ability to cooperate and collaborate with the rest of the world to drive home the fact that both the people that have stolen money and the countries that have received the money are also culpable”, he said.
He reiterated the need for the global community to support Nigeria’s efforts towards asset recovery, pointing out that, “we will only be able to see you as a friend if you are willing to support us in recovering such assets that have been traced to your jurisdiction”. He applauded the courage and commitment of President Bola Ahmed Tinubu in driving the asset recovery initiatives of the EFCC and other anti-graft agencies and assuring the world that stronger financial discipline is now in place in Nigeria. “ President Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu has promised the whole world that we are ready to run our financial system in Nigeria in such a way that is transparent and responsible”, he said.
Olukoyede harped on his preventive framework as a new modality capable of yielding impactful results in the fight against corruption. “I can also pledge that on our part, we are ready to adopt very strict preventive measures which we have started in Nigeria now. As a matter of fact , it was one of my policy objectives when I assumed office over a month ago, to use the instrumentality of prevention as one of the major forces to fight financial crimes and corruption in Nigeria. It costs less for you to prevent than for you to enforce. We are holding on to that. Again, I want to pledge that going forward, we will ensure that there is accountability and transparency in application of whatever asset is recovered”, he said.
Earlier in an address, the Nigerian Country Director, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Oliver Stolpe, applauded Nigeria on its asset recovery efforts, describing her as “ world’s champion in asset recovery”. “ Nigeria in many ways has been leading the asset recovery efforts on the African continent and I like to refer to Nigeria as the world’s champion in asset recovery because, certainly in African comparison, you have more cases and recovered large amounts”, he said.