The finance and account directors of federal agencies found to be involved in the manipulation of the budget for self-gratification will soon be caught by the long arm of the law, says the chairman of The Independent Corrupt Practices And Other Related Offences Commission, ICPC, Professor Bolaji Owasanoye.
The spokesperson of the Commission, Ogugua Chinelo quoted the chairman during the virtual roundtable dialogue organised by The ICIR to discuss the newfound interest of Nigerians, especially politically exposed persons and public servants owning real estate in Dubai (UAE).
The ICIR recently published a series of reports showing the list of Nigerians owning property in Dubai, one of the international havens for ill-gotten wealth.
Quoting a statement by her boss, Ogugua said: “We will take up anybody caught being manipulative or creative with the budget because Nigeria can’t survive the way budget fund is being siphoned from the country. If you keep doing this we will catch you, and we will not spare you, even if you say your own is small, we will use you as an example.”
She also defended the ICPC against the public perception that corruption is getting deeper because the Commission only targets small crooks and leaves out the corrupt big shots.
Ogugua said the Commission and other anti-graft agencies are rather winning the war against corruption because of the strong inter-agency collaboration. “Things are better now than when we started,” she added.
According to the ICPC spokesperson, the agency has engaged in several sting operations which have led to arrests and help the agency go after corrupt Nigerians involved in dubious practices.
“Sometimes we engage government agencies, not for the sake of investigating anything, but to check their systems and look for loopholes which resulted in the work we were able to do at the port sector and the results were commendable.
“What we are doing is still evolving because preventive measures take time. It involves a comprehensive outlook. So in the course of doing preventive work to block loopholes, we sometimes see infractions and we flag it,” she said.
She however noted that the challenges facing the ICPC is hydra-headed, from poor funding to low staff strength, inadequate capacity and others.
“One of the major problems the ICPC has faced in recent times is the staff strength. We have less than 1,000 officers in Nigeria who are currently operating in only 15 states. And you can imagine that the number of investigators in the entire investigative arm is at most 300.
“When we tried to recruit last year, the outbreak of COVID-19 last year forced us to stop so even if we start recruiting again we will continue from where we stopped,” she said.
She also stated that the ICPC was limited by poor funding and in-depth capacity building of its staff to embark on investigations in specialised areas like tracking illicit financial flows in the oil and gas sector.
She commended the work of investigative journalists, especially those working in partnership with the ICPC, but highlighted the limitation of watchdog journalism in investigating corruption.
“When you carry out your investigative journalism which gives us a well-detailed report that shows you’ve done your homework we can’t take it anywhere with all due respect because we need to conduct independent investigations of our own and dig deeper to see how it stands under the weight of the law.”
Explaining the procedure of the anti-corruption agency in addressing corruption cases, she revealed that even if the ICPC is confronted with intelligence reports from journalism reports, a petition will need to be filed before investigations can commence.
“If you write your reports and say the intelligence is out there without a petition then there is no assurance that we are going to work on it because we schedule our investigations and can’t just jump on every report of corruption from Nigerians,” she said.
Speaking further, Ogugua emphasised that ICPC’s approach to the fight against corruption hinges on lawful enforcement and preventive measures which is very slow especially for the public sector because technicalities could emerge that could jeopardise its court cases.
” So when it comes to serving public servants you follow the rules, for instance, if a case should be decided in 90 days and for 180 days you are still on it your case could be thrown out of court for that technicality which is why you’ll hear people say the person is still serving or we didn’t hear anything about that case.
“This is why we are thorough with our investigations to keep our court cases watertight,” she said.
In 2016, the ICPC secured 11 convictions out of 70 corruption-related cases it had filed in court after receiving a total of 1,569 petitions, according to its 2017 annual report.
Speaking at the session, Aliyu Wamako, President Real Estate Developers Association of Nigeria (REDAN), said the agreement between the United Arab Emirate, UAE, and Nigeria which mandates Nigerians who intend to sell properties in the UAE to obtain a permit from the Nigerian embassy would help check illicit financial outflow.
“Any Nigerian who owns a property in Dubai, before you can sell it out, you have to get a letter from the Nigerian embassy which is a good development because it will help us keep track of people who are taking our resources to develop Dubai which is an all-round loss for the country.
“We had a collaboration with SCUML [Special Control Unit Against Money Laundering], an arm of EFCC that are mandated to check, money laundering and terrorism because we believe most of the monies go-to real estate which is the basis for the collaboration with them,” he said.