The inauguration of the Audit Committee on Recovery and Management of Stolen Assets within and outside the country by President Muhammadu Buhari last week helped to put allay Nigerians’ fears that the assets are scattered, not coordinated and are therefore not properly accounted for. Members of the committee are Olufemi Jinadu, Chinyere Bibiogha and Mohammad Nami.
Buhari said his administration embarked on tracing and recovering all stolen assets within and outside Nigeria using legal and diplomatic resources as government’s disposal. He said pursuant to requisite directives, recovered assets were progressively being returned to designated accounts by the anti-graft agencies and other agencies of government involved with the process. Buhari said, “In the course of implementing this exercise and given the number of agencies who are concurrently pursuing specialized initiatives and making recoveries for government, it has become obvious that fundamental gaps still exist in ensuring that the recovered assets are accounted for and managed in an accurate, transparent and logical manner.”
He said it was in realisation of this that he directed, earlier in the year, that all agencies should send in detailed reports of all their recovered assets as at March 2017. He also said the decision to inaugurate the audit committee was the next step in ensuring that all returns filed by the various agencies were accurate and consistent with the actual recoveries made. He said the committee is expected to judiciously undertake an audit of all recovery accounts established by government agencies from the date of opening such accounts up to April 10, 2017.
This is a good initiative as many agencies such as Department of State Services (DSS), Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the police are involved in the recoveries. This is a chaotic arrangement which, if not property audited, there is the likelihood that some of the looted funds can be re-looted again. Even some that are not in cash such as houses and hotels can be diverted.
We however advice that in view of past experiences, houses and hotels that are recovered from looters should be properly managed and put to continued use through estate agencies. It is very wasteful for the national economy to see sealed houses and commercial properties all over our cities that are wasting away. If the owner wins the case, the money accrued during the trial period should be given to him or her. Such sealed and disused properties could also become hideouts for criminals or they could be illegally occupied by squatters.
And where the owner of landed property loses at court, the house should be converted to government offices, schools and hospitals where possible. They should not be occupied by government officials, lest they be claimed as theirs later.
Government should be careful of selling them in the guise of disposing them where government officials and their cronies would end up buying choice property very cheap, casting doubt, that the recovery may be ploy for some people to cash on and gain from the theft of others.
After the recovered loot is audited and accounted for, the next most important question is the use to which it is put. If these monies are to be put back in the Federation Account and shared out between the three tiers of government, Nigerians will see it as a wasted effort because much of the money could be re-looted again. The best thing is to commit the monies to one or a few well conceived, well planned and very carefully managed project or projects of great national development value whether educational, health or transport. That way all Nigerians would know that the money has been put to very good use. Otherwise the recovered loot would disappear with little evidence to show to Nigerians the gain we have made after this protracted process of loot recovery.