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Buhari At Malborough House: Bringing Anti-Graft War To International Focus

Buhari9Post
Posted: May 12, 2016 at 3:30 am   /   by   /   comments (1)

Ejikeme Omenazu

Lagos–  President Muhammadu Buhari on Wednesday May 11, 2016, addressed Commonwealth leaders at the Commonwealth Secretariat, Malborough House, London, United Kingdom. The audience included the Commonwealth Heads of State and Governments, business leaders and representatives of Civil Society Organisations (CSO). Buhari spoke on “Tackling Corruption Together: A Conference For Civil Society, Business And Government Leaders.” The Secretary General of the Commonwealth, the Rt. Honourable Patricia Scotland, was also present.

The President in his speech, maintained that corruption described as a hydra-headed monster and a cankerworm that undermines the fabric of all societies. In his view, corruption does not differentiate between developed and developing countries and constitutes a serious threat to good governance, rule of law, peace and security, as well as development programmes aimed at tackling poverty and economic backwardness. He stressed that these considerations informed his decision to attend the event as well as the Anti-Corruption Summit organised by the British Prime Minister, David Cameron, which held the next day, May 12 at the Lancaster House.

Buhari noted that in 2003, when the world came together to sign the United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC) that entered into force in 2005, it was with a view to tackling the growing threat that corruption had become to many nations. He lamented that 11 years since then, the problem had continued unabated, and had even become more intractable and cancerous. Buhari used the opportunity to share with the stakeholders the Nigerian government’s experience in combating corruption, which he said is the three priority programmes of his administration. He identified the three key areas as combating insecurity, tackling corruption and job creation through re-structuring the declining national economy. He  stated: “Our starting point as an Administration was to amply demonstrate zero tolerance for corrupt practices as this vice is largely responsible for the social and economic problems our country faces today.

The endemic and systemic nature of corruption in our country demanded our strong resolve to fight it. We are demonstrating our commitment to this effort by bringing integrity to governance and showing leadership by example. “Tackling the menace of corruption is not an easy task, but it is possible even if many feathers have to be ruffled. Our government’s dogged commitment to tackling corruption is also evident in the freedom and support granted to national anti-corruption agencies to enable them to carry out their respective mandates without interference or hindrance from any quarter including the government. “Today, our frontline anti-corruption agencies, namely, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related Offences Commission (ICPC), the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) and the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT), have become revitalised and more proactive in the pursuit of perpetrators of corrupt practices, irrespective of their social status and political persuasion. This is a radical departure from the past.” President Buhari stated that so far, his government had implemented the Treasury Single Account (TSA) whereby all Federal government revenue goes into one account.

This measure, he added, would make it impossible for public officers to divert public funds to private accounts as was the practice before. He also informed that through the effective application of TSA and the Bank Verification Number (BVN), the government had been able to remove 23,000 ghost workers from its pay roll, thereby saving billions that would have been stolen. He revealed that the government was reviewing its anti-corruption laws and had developed a national anti-corruption strategy document that would guide its policies in the next three years, and possibly beyond. Buhari stated: “I am not unaware of the challenges of fighting corruption in a manner consistent with respect for human rights and the rule of law. As a country that came out of prolonged military rule only sixteen years ago, it will clearly take time to change the mentality and psychology of law enforcement officers. I am committed to applying the rule of law and to respecting human rights. I also require our security agencies to do the same.

“I admit that there are a few cases where apparently stringent rules have been applied as a result of threats to national security and the likelihood that certain persons may escape from the country or seek to undermine the stability of Nigeria. It is for this reason that we are seeking the support of many countries for the prosecution of certain individuals residing in their jurisdictions. Of course, we will provide the necessary legal documents and whatever mutual assistance is required to secure conviction of such individuals, as well as facilitate the repatriation of our stolen assets. “Unfortunately, our experience has been that repatriation of corrupt proceeds is very tedious, time consuming, costly and entails more than just the signing of bilateral or multilateral agreements. This should not be the case as there are provisions in the appropriate United Nations Convention that require countries to return assets to countries from where it is proven that they were illegitimately acquired.”

He disclosed that his government was favourably disposed to forging strategic partnerships with governments, civil society organisations, organised private sector and international organisations to combat corruption. He bemoaned the sad national experience that domestic perpetrators of corrupt practices had often work hand-in-hand with international criminal cartels. This evil practice, he maintained, manifested in the plundering and stealing of public funds, which were then transferred abroad into secret accounts. He therefore, called for the establishment of an international anti-corruption infrastructure that would monitor, trace and facilitate the return of such assets to their countries of origin. He also stressed that the repatriation of identified stolen funds should be done without delay or preconditions. Buhari lamented that in addition to the looting of public funds, Nigeria was also confronted with illegal activities in the oil sector, the mainstay of our export economy. The industry, he stressed, had been enmeshed in corruption with the participation of the staff of some of the oil companies. Their participation, he added, enabled oil theft to take place on a massive scale. Buhari added:

“Some of us in this hall may be familiar with the Report released by Chatham House, here in London, in 2013, titled ‘Nigeria’s Criminal Crude: International Options to Combat the Export of Stolen Oil.’ The important findings of the Chatham House document are illuminating and troubling. Part of the Report concluded that: Nigerian crude oil is being stolen on an industrial scale and exported, with the proceeds laundered through world financial centres by transnational organised criminals; Oil theft is a species of organized crime that is almost totally off the international community’s radar, as Nigeria’s trade and diplomatic partners have taken no real action; Nigeria could not stop the trade single-handedly, and there is limited value in countries going it alone. “It is clear therefore, that the menace of oil theft, put at over 150,000 barrels per day, is a criminal enterprise involving internal and external perpetrators. Illicit oil cargoes and their proceeds move across international borders. Opaque and murky as these illegal transactions may be, they are certainly traceable and can be acted upon, if all governments show the required political will. This will has been the missing link in the international efforts hitherto. Now in London, we can turn a new page by creating a multi-state and multi-stakeholder partnership to address this menace. “ We, therefore, call on the international community to designate oil theft as an international crime similar to the trade in ‘blood diamonds’, as it constitutes an imminent and credible threat to the economy and stability of oil-producing countries like Nigeria. The critical stakeholders here present can lead the charge in this regard.”

Buhari expressed the hope that by the end of the summit, the participants should be able to agree on a rules-based architecture to combat corruption in all its forms and manifestations. He said he shared the view of the Commonwealth Secretary-General, Patricia Scotland, that anti-corruption should be a shared agenda for civil society, business and government, requiring commitment from companies, creating a space for civil society and governments providing support for whistle-blowers. He stressed that: “A main component of this anti-corruption partnership is that governments must demonstrate unquestionable political will and commitment to the fight. The private sector must come clean and be transparent, and civil society, while keeping a watch on all stakeholders, must act and report with a sense of responsibility and objectivity.” Buhari maintained that Nigeria was committed to signing the Open Government Partnership initiatives alongside Prime Minister Cameron during the Summit. He commended the Commonwealth Secretary-General, Rt. Hon. Patricia Scotland, and her team for hosting the important event. The summit, he concluded, was a very encouraging way to start her tenure, even as he wished her the very best as she would continue to guide the affairs of the Commonwealth family in the years to come.

 

Comments (1)

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