ANTI-GRAFT agencies, media and Civil Society Organisations, (CSOs) in Nigeria gathered in Abuja on Monday to seek an end to Illicit Financial Flows (IFFs) in the country.
The stakeholders met at the Countering Illicit Financial Flow Strategic Communication Programme organised by the UK government through the British High Commission in Abuja.
The project is being implemented by the Torchlight Group to address the problem of money laundering in the country.
Speaking at the meeting, representative of British Council Andrew Clowes said individuals and reputable professional organisations engage in transactions that contribute to illicit finacial flow without evaluating the consequences.
He said this is the reason why advocacy among other interventions are necessary.
He called on the stakeholders to shine light on the efffect of IFF and money laundering.
He, however, noted that the efforts of the stakeholders present at the meeting would go a long way in addressing the issue of IFF, but would not stop it.
In an interview with The ICIR, the Project Lead David Otto described the programme as an avenue for stakeholders in the IFF sector to develop strategic communications that could prompt relevant actors into action towards fixing IFF.
He disclosed that if it was the wish of the stakeholders to see the UK government intercede by restricting Nigerians found guilty of illicit financial flows from entering Britain, such strategic messages could be developed and targeted at the foreign actors.
“This is a blank sheet of paper. What we expect the stakeholders to do is to identify various areas where they believe awareness should be created. If that is by indicating some activities where the UK needs to get involved, then that will be output from this meeting.
“Again, the key to this session is to get the stakeholders to map out who their target audience is. And that is where they will tell us who should this messaging target,” he said.
Asked if the stakeholders resolved to persuade the UK government to sanction the perpetrators of IFF from gaining access to Britain, Otto said, “Through strategic communications, they (stakeholders) can generate some contents on prosecution and how to stop people from getting illicit finance from Nigeria and taking it to the UK.”
“If the messaging is targeted to that, it will now depend on the UK government to look into that demand generated by the Nigerian stakeholders and say this is what we have to do,” Otto added.
He recalled that the UK government already made it clear that it intends to work with the Nigerian government to stamp out illicit financial flows.
“So we are expecting that the stakeholders will come up with these various demands without speculating what they will say.”
Experts have argued that Nigeria loses about $18 billion annually to illicit financial flows. This reportedly accounts for about 30 per cent of Africa’s loss to the IFFs.
The Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) pegged the figure at $10 billion.
The Torchlight Group is the implementing body of the UK government’s intervention to check illicit financial flow in Nigeria.
The project objective is to prevent illicit financial flows through strategic communication by creating better awareness of IFF, its implication to society, and ways to check it.
With the project, the public is also expected to have a deeper understanding of the impacts, sanctions and other punishments that come with committing offenses relating to money laundering and illicit financial flow.
Key stakeholders at the meeting included the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Nigeria Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU), Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC), the Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI), Civil Society Organisations (CSOs), and the media.
“It is about creating content for a targeted audience so that much more people can be aware of some of the ills of the illicit financial flows. It would help reduce the impact.
“One of the key aspects is the institutionalisation. So, it is not just a one-off event. It is something where a framework will be developed and that framework could be used further by the Nigerian stakeholders,” Otto noted.
Besides, he added that the stakeholders were to identify the gaps and other key areas that needed to be addressed in order to tackle IFF.
“They have to generate that content and it will be explicit as to what it wants to achieve. What we do not want to do is to tell them absolutely who to target because they are the stakeholders.”
An expert from the Inter-Governmental Action Group Against Money Laundering in West Africa (GIABA) Tim Melaye identified several negative consequences of IFFs to include the depletion of domestic resources and reduction in tax revenue.
“Aside from reducing resources, IFFs are also symptomatic of other issues that constrain poverty reduction and shared prosperity, such as vested interests and weak transparency and accountability.”