*how Nigerian looters use West African countries to launder illicit funds – Magu
By; AUSTIN OWOICHO, Abuja
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and its Niger Republic counterpart, the High Authority Against Corruption and Relating Crimes, HALCIA, on Friday signed a Memorandum of Understanding, MoU in Niamey, the Niger Republic capital. HALCIA is the agency, in charge of the prevention and fight against corruption and related offences in Niger Republic, established by the country’s Law No 2016-44 of December 06, 2016.
The MoU is geared towards the strengthening of the collaborative efforts between the Nigerian front row anti-corruption agency and that of its Niger Republic counterpart.
The signing of the document followed a two-day working visit to Niger Republic, (February 6th to 7th) by the EFCC Acting Chairman, Ibrahim Magu.
Apart from the MoU, the visit became necessary in the light of the growing need to strengthen inter-agency ties and collaborations in the African sub-region and in the continent as a whole in the fight against corruption and terrorism financing.
During the visit, the EFCC boss met some key players and instutitions in the country’s anti-corruption fight.
They included the president, High Authority Against Corruption and Relating Crimes, HALCIA, Abdourmane Gousmane; Mme Aliyu Halima Mamane, Deputee, Republic Du Niger Assemblee Nationale and Chairman, Anti-corruption Committee; Liman Ali Mohamadou, 2nd Vice President, Republic Du Niger Assemblee Nationale.
Magu explained that though there exists a protocol between Nigeria and Niger Republic in the fight against corruption and terrorism financing, there was the need to further strengthen the ties.
It was against this background that an MoU was signed by the EFCC and HALCIA to help eliminate any obstacle and impediment in the exchange of information and intelligence that will help in both countries’ fight against corruption.
Section seven of the MoU captures how the parties will exchange information, including those which are necessary to achieve the objectives of the MoU.
According to the section, “The parties will exchange information in accordance with this Memorandum of Understanding in conformity to the relevant laws of Niger and Nigeria relating to the protection of privacy and confidentiality.”
At the brief MoU signing ceremony, Magu noted that in the course of EFCC’s fight against corruption, it has discovered that “corrupt public officials loot Nigerian treasury and stash their illicit gains abroad, thereby denying Nigerians of viable resources that could develop the nation.”
He stated that the preferred destinations for looters have traditionally been the United Kingdom, United States, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Seychelles, but now fast expanding down home to African countries.
“From available intelligence and our investigations, it has been revealed that looters from Nigeria now go to Ghana, Egypt, Cameroun, South Africa, Equatorial Guinea, Niger Republic, Morocco, Seychelles and so on, to stash their loots. This has led to sharp increase in the number of Nigerians buying properties in African countries.
Magu further noted that corrupt Nigerians “even go to the extent of changing their names and acquiring the destination countries’ international passports in collusion with corrupt public officers in their countries of residence in order to hide their identities and evade detection.” He reiterated that “the fight of the EFCC against looters’ safe havens is total.”
The EFCC boss further disclosed that his visit to Niger Republic was part of his continuing tour at galvanizing international efforts against looters’ safe havens. “We have already visited Ghana and Cameroun, today we are in Niger Republic and we will continue to reach out to other preferred looters destinations in Africa and beyond. Interestingly, the efforts of the Nigerian Government to trace, recover and return assets stolen from Nigeria coupled with our increased advocacy to discourage safe havens have began to yield results,” he said.
He emphasized that inter- international-agency and governmental cooperations are critical in the global effort to eliminate looters safe havens.
“It is my conviction that our collaborative efforts will go a long way in eliminating safe havens. In fact, this is in tandem with renewed global commitment by countries to shut their doors to stolen funds. I also want to call for conscious measures to sanitize and strengthen the legal framework so as to make it difficult for looters to transfer illicit funds to Niger Republic for investment or whatever purpose,” Magu stated.
He called on the global community to urgently redouble its efforts towards strengthening the mechanisms for dismantling safe havens for procceds of corruption and ensuring the return of stolen funds and assets to their countries of origin. And urged his Nigerien counterpart to tighten the noose on corrupt Nigerians in the country and make Niger Republic unhabitable for looters from Nigeria.
To help the Commission take its fight against corruption to Nigerians looters who have found safe haven in Niger Republic, Magu made a five-point appeal to the president of Niger Republic, which include:
(i) Identifying huge cash in the financial system owned by Nigerians to enable us find out if they are looted funds/proceeds of crime.
(ii) Identifying the numerous properties owned by Nigerians including the details of the owners in order to enable the Commission ascertain if such Nigerians acquired the properties from looted funds/proceeds of crime
(iii) Stopping moves by persons who plan to move funds at this period through the usual medium to destabilise the political stage in Nigeria.
(iv) Increased clamp down on Nigerians who are involved in cyber crime and handing over their details to us for further necessary action.
(v) Assisting the EFCC in the arrest of persons on the wanted list of the Commission who absconded to Niger Republic due to the free movement granted to citizens of the ECOWAS states.
The EFCC boss praised President Muhammadu Buhari for the support from his government to the Commission, noting that “Nigeria is ready and willing to partner with international agencies and individual countries on bilaterial basis to confront crimes and corruption.”
While meeting with the parliamentarians, at the Assemblee Nationale, Magu told the 2nd Vice President, Mohamadou that there was the need to rework existing legislations in Niger Republic to help strengthen anti-corruption fight in the country.
He also noted the need for Niger Republic to domesticate the United Nation’s Convention Against Corruption, UNCAC so as to bring its meaning and impact down onto the lives of the country’scitizens.
While decorating the Nigerian Ambassador to Niger Republic, Ambassador Haliru and all the embassy staff with the EFCC lapel, the EFCC Acting Chairman urged them to note that the anti-corruption fight was collective one.
“Whether you are at home in Nigeria or in the Diaspora, you need to make your contribution. Add your voice to the crusade against corruption. The fight is real. Don’t also forget that corruption is fighting back, but together, we shall win”, he said.
Ambassador Haliru, who received Magu in the country praised the EFCC boss for his zeal and passion for the job. “We are hearing and seeing all your achievements in the fight against corruption. We are praying to God Almighty to give you good health and long life to confront the corrupt”.
For the President of HALCIA, Gousmane, there is no better time than now for stronger collaboration between Nigeria and Niger Republic in the fight against corruption.
“We are ready and willing to partner with Nigeria. Nigeria has the experience and the human capacity and with President Muhammadu Buhari who is a reknowned anti-corruption icon, we have no choice than to leverage on Nigeria for capacity building in taming the corruption monster,” Gousmane said.
One of the side attractions of the visit was Gousmane’s presentation of a horse as a special gift to Magu.