As the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) records more convictions and judges rule that properties acquired through corrupt means should be forfeited to government, there are concerns over the management of such properties. Recently, the Nigerian Institution of Estate Surveyors and Valuers (NIESV) observed that most of those confiscated assets were disintegrating, deteriorating, losing value, and painfully wasting away.
A former chairman of the body, Elder Wiliam Odudu, descried the situation thus: “In the villages, you cannot sell the properties. All you do is just seal them up and leave them to deteriorate. EFCC advertised about a year ago that they want to appoint surveyors to take over the management of some of these properties. Up till today, there has been no outcome…” He added that Nigeria had been losing millions of Naira every year as a result of the neglect of seized or forfeited properties, citing examples of several seized high-rise buildings in Lagos and Abuja which have been taken over by rodents.
Sections 20 and 21 of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) Establishment Act 2002, which explains the issue of asset forfeiture, say: “For the avoidance of doubt and without any further assurance than this Act, all the properties of a person convicted of an offence under this Act and shows to be derived or acquired from such illegal act and already the subject of an interim order shall be forfeited to the Federal Government. Where it is established that any convicted person has assets or properties in a foreign country, acquired as a result of such criminal activity such assets or properties, subject to any treaty or arrangement with such foreign country, they should be forfeited to the Federal Government. The Commission shall, through the office of the Attorney-General of the Federation, ensure that the forfeited assets or properties are effectively transferred and vested in the Federal Government.”
Though the law is very clear, there has been a debate on the need for transparency in the disposal of the forfeited asset and those who should benefit from the money realised from the sale of such items. However, those properties that are very expensive and could not be quickly disposed of, especially luxury buildings and motor vehicles, are exposed to deterioration and waste if they are not properly managed or put in use. In Abuja where many houses have been marked as being under investigation or having been forfeited, it is common to find the premises being overtaken by weeds or their roofs caving in or other parts disintegrating. Motor vehicles are most vulnerable as they quickly rot away after being exposed to the inclemency of the hot sun or constant rainfall in a short space of time.
We call on the Executive and the Legislature to take a look at the relevant sections of the EFCC Act and make necessary amendments that would arrest this ugly situation. The amendments should recommend how properties that are not sold off after, say six months, should be managed by the Federal Ministry of Justice and/or the relevant government department. For instance, such abandoned luxury buildings could be allocated to government Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) that lack office spaces. There are many government agencies facing shortage of space or accommodation to the point that many offices are overcrowded with civil servants. Properties recovered from corrupt persons could be redistributed to such agencies for use.
Alternatively, they could be handed over to professional estate managers who could redesign and convert such buildings to structures that would be of use for residential or commercial purposes. When they are put on lease or rented out to other users, such property could generate huge revenues for government instead of being left at the mercy of thieves, rodents and inclement weather.