This was the clear statement by H.E. Muhammadu Buhari, President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to H.E. Thabo Mbeki, former President of the Republic of South Africa and Chair of the African Union High Level Panel on Illicit Financial Flows from Africa. The President further emphasized that for his administration, fighting corruption and illicit outflows of national assets are non-negotiable. The Chair visited the President who is also the current Champion of AU Anti-Corruption Campaign, to follow up on the efforts of AU Member States to implement the recommendations of the High-Level Panel Report (endorsed by the AU in 2015) and ultimately tackle IFFs nationally. The visit also saw the Chair call upon the President in his capacity as the AU Anti-Corruption Champion to lead the efforts to engage action from other AU Member States towards tackling IFFs at the national, regional and continental level.
Prior to the Presidential visit, H.E. Thabo Mbeki met with representatives of the Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) of the Federal Government of Nigeria which deal with Financial and legislative matters. These included several principal Nigerian officials such as the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Hon. Abubakar Malami; the Permanent Secretary for the Ministry of Finance, Mahmoud Isa-Dutse; the Special Adviser to the President on Economic Matters, Dr. Adeyemi Dipeolu and the Executive Chairman of the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS), Tunde Fowler. Also in attendance were representatives of the Central Bank of Nigeria, the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption (PACAC) and the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit. The objective of the meeting was to gain an understanding of the country’s ongoing efforts to tackle Illicit Financial Flows.
In his remarks to the MDAs, the Chair recalled the 2015 Special Declaration to address IFFs which was a realization by African leaders of the excessive losses due to illicit outflows. “The view was that the continent was losing resources which should have been available for its development to these illicit outflows” said the Chair. He delivered further background on the evolving and growing issue of IFFs despite the efforts which he and the Panel had delivered. This was emphasized by the level of losses from IFFs which at the time of the Panel’s Report was 50bn USD annually, but has now grown to about 80bn annually from the continent. He said on a more positive note however, that “Providentially, in this instance, Africa has led this agenda and brought it to global attention. This was evident when the African Heads of States asked our Panel to help address this issue”.
H.E. Thabo Mbeki highlighted some of the recommended actions to address these IFFs saying that Nigeria and in turn all other AU member states need legislation to deal with money laundering, financial intelligence and tax evasion. He underlined that this issue also requires action from global partners, “since these funds leave the continent to these destination countries, it is not a problem that can be solved by Africa alone. However, from within the continent, we need to act on this matter in any capacity necessary”. The Chair concluded by stating that the Panel was in Abuja to listen its stakeholders from Nigeria and although, all present were aware about the capacity constraints nationally and continentally, “In the end as Africans we must say having identified the nature and size of the problem, we must work to address the issue”.
The Deputy Executive Secretary and Chief Economist of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), Dr. Abdalla Hamdok reinforced the words of the Chair and saying that as a result of the Chair’s leadership on this issue, Africa was able to put the challenge of illicit finance on the global map. He referred to the Panel’s work and Report which has serious impact and has led to several important continental and global frameworks including the Addis Ababa Action Agenda as well as its inclusion in the Sustainable Development Goals. He emphasized at this point, that the Chair is required to report back to the AU Assembly of Heads of States and Government annually on the progress of implementing the recommendations of his Panel’s Report. “Therefore, in order to feed into this report, several actions are being carried out including this visit to Nigeria to determine the state of reaction to this issue as well as “a technical project which is being worked on by the ECA to help capacitate AU member states against IFFs and this will be presented tomorrow”. Dr Hamdok concluded by stressing that all these efforts and those not yet mentioned are still however based on political will which is crucial to reducing IFFs from the continent.
The Attorney General of the Federation (AGF), Hon. Abubakar Malami, in his remarks, began by welcoming the Chair and other members of the Panel to the country. He expressed sincere happiness to the unfolding of action in relation not the fight against corruption and addressing the issue of IFFs in Africa and particularly in Nigeria. By way of sharing the experience of the country, he said that “Nigeria has gone far in implementing strategies to curb corruption and reduce IFFs in the country. From the Nigerian perspective, we have taken major multi-dimensional policy decisions relating to institutions, legislation…and above all, recognizing the need for international collaboration as it relates to the fight against corruption and indeed, the minimization of illicit financial flows”. The Honorable Attorney General highlighted that through legislative processes and as a nation, Nigeria has succeeded in establishing and capacitating institutions which are mandated with the statutory role of working to enforce financial regulations as well as tackle various misconducts including corruption and IFFs. These include the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Federal Inland Revenue Services (FIRS), Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC), Code of Conduct Bureau and the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit. In terms of legislation as well, there are ratified laws which are in place and enforced to support the work of these institutions. These laws include the ‘Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Bill’ which enhances collaboration between Nigeria and other nations to fight these illicit practices as well as the Proceeds of Crime Bill which makes provisions for the confiscation, forfeiture and management of proceeds of crime derived from unlawful activities. The Attorney General of the Federation further detailed the efforts of the country in fighting corruption and IFFs through the deployment of relevant technology and international collaboration. He concluded by highlighting the need for collaboration to make it more difficult for IFF perpetrators to move freely, invest in businesses and benefit from the proceeds of crime. He stressed that “we must work to repatriate these funds from the external perpetrators while working to detain them.
The Permanent Secretary of Finance, Mahmoud Isa-Dutse delivered remarks on behalf of the Minister of Finance for Nigeria. In the speech, he commended the Chair and Panel for fighting this plague saying that IFFs have robbed Africa of the required wealth to help build schools, hospitals, roads and other necessary infrastructure. He added that the quest for Africa’s financial development will be accelerated if the efforts to recover these lost funds are successful and the continent’s development will no doubt receive a necessitated boost. In this regard, he spoke on the work of the (Nigerian Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative (NEITI) which is being led by the Minister of Finance and has helped the country recover lost assets from taxes because of the increased transparency.
The two-day event culminated with a technical workshop on the following day which saw H.E. Thabo Mbeki, Dr. Raymond Baker, President, Global Financial Integrity and Member of the High Level Panel as well as the Secretariat of the Panel meet with the representatives of the financial agencies and departments. Part of the objectives of the workshop was to discuss the ECA’s proposed Development Assistance Project which aims to support Nigeria and other member states in the fight against IFFs. Following this visit, the Secretariat is expected to further engage the government of Nigeria and foster collaboration to build its capacity to stem IFFs from the country.