Fighting Corruption in Nigeria’s Forestry and Fishery Industries

Although Nigeria is known mainly for oil and gas production, Nigeria’s agriculture sector, including forestry and fisheries, now accounts for over 21% of the country’s GDP. Despite the benefits of the forestry and fisheries industries to Nigeria’s development, corruption-fueled illicit activities in these sectors threaten to destabilize local communities and damage the environment. Two areas of illicit activity are of particular concern:

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Nigeria’s Government Assistance Programs for Small Businesses: A Gateway for Corruption

Nigeria’s Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) are the backbone of the country’s economy, accounting for 96% of Nigeria’s businesses, 84% of its labor force, and 48% of its GDP. SMEs also provide Nigeria’s oil-dependent economy with some important economic diversification. Nevertheless, difficulties in securing startup or operational funds, among other problems, makes starting and operating a small business in Nigeria remarkably challenging. To mitigate these difficulties, the Nigerian federal government has created an assortment of agencies to support SMEs. In addition, at least 26 of Nigeria’s 36 state governments have established at least one SME development agency or office.

Unfortunately, government funds meant to help small businesses often fail to reach their intended recipients. Instead, the government’s SME programs often function as gateways for corruption, either in the form of misallocation of resources for political patronage, or as outright embezzlement of funds. This corruption problem is well illustrated by two of the most important national-level government programs meant to support Nigerian SMEs:

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Guest Post: Why Nigeria’s Main Anticorruption Body Should Not Become a Debt Collection Agency, and How to Stop It

Today’s guest post is from Pallavi Roy and Mitchell Watkins, respectively Research Director and Research Fellow at the University of London, SOAS Anti-Corruption Evidence Consortium (SOAS-ACE).

Nigeria’s Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), established in 2003, was initially effective at investigating and prosecuting bribery, fraud, tax evasion, money laundering, and a host of other financial crimes. Indeed, it was instrumental in prosecuting senior political leaders and corporate actors involved in illegal activities, as well as in recovering significant stolen assets that belonged to the Nigerian state. More recently, however, the Commission has been subject to frequent political interference and corruption. For example, a recent SOAS-ACE study found that private actors—commercial banks, businesses, and high net-worth individuals—routinely exploit the coercive power of the EFCC to help them recover their debts, rather than turning to the courts and other civil dispute resolution mechanisms. This occurs even though, as a matter of law, civil debt collection lies outside the EFCC’s jurisdiction. Continue reading

Fighting Police Corruption in Nigeria: Learning from SARS’ Alleged Dissolution

In 1992, the Nigerian police force created the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) to combat violent crimes such as armed robbery, kidnapping, murder, and hired assassination. In each state, SARS operates under the criminal investigations department of the state’s police command. Alas, SARS developed a reputation for corruptly extorting money from the targets of its investigations. To offer one example, a local software engineer alleged that heavily-armed SARS officers stopped him and ordered that he withdraw one million Naira (approx. $2,607.56 USD) for his release. Such allegations are not unusual, as demonstrated by an online Twitter campaign, labeled #EndSARS, in which numerous Nigerians recounted their personal experiences with SARS. These allegations were serious enough that the Inspector General of Police (IGP) recently released an order to dissolve SARS altogether.

One might reasonably suppose that this dissolution order will result in the elimination of SARS and the corrupt practices that pervaded its department. However, such conclusion would be incorrect, or at least premature, for a couple of reasons. First, the dissolution may turn out to be little more than a publicity gambit that does not have lasting effect. This most recent order is actually the fourth IGP order in four years that has sought to restrict, reorganize, or ban SARS’ operations. In the previous three directives the restrictions were not implemented, and the current order may not be either. Second, even if SARS is dissolved, the root causes of the corruption that pervaded its units are not unique to SARS. If left unaddressed, those same underlying causes can be expected to give rise to similar sorts of extortive corruption in other police units.

So, what factors contributed to the widespread corrupt practices within SARS? Part of the problem may be general systematic inadequacies—factors that contribute to corruption throughout the Nigerian government—but we can also identify three specific factors that made SARS particularly prone to extortive corruption. Continue reading

Combating Money Laundering in Africa: John Hatchard’s Latest Guide for African Corruption Fighters

The war on corruption is being fought on many fronts. One where victory is especially critical is the battle to prevent leaders of poor countries from robbing their citizens blind, and nowhere will a victory be more welcome or more hard-fought than in Africa.   Seventy percent of the world’s poor live on the continent while, thanks first to colonialism and then to Cold War machinations, Africans are saddled with governments ill-equipped to keep greedy leaders in check.  Courts, legislatures, and other accountability institutions are weak; the media and civil society hobbled by repressive, non-democratic measures.

Not that in recent years there have not been promising developments. South Africa’s once powerful leader Jacob Zuma was forced to resign the presidency over corruption allegations for which he is now on trial.  Former Guinea Minister of Mines Mahmoud Thiam forfeited $8.5 million and was sentenced to seven years in prison for corruptly granting virtually the whole of his nation’s mineral sector to a Chinese conglomerate.  The son of former Mozambique President Armando Guebuza is one of over a dozen members of the country’s ruling circle facing trial for his role in the “hidden debt” scandal.

What will be required to continue this progress is the theme of John Hatchard’s latest book,  Combating Money Laundering in Africa: Dealing with the Problem of PEPs. Like his earlier ones on African anticorruption laws and institutions (here, here, and here), it’s a must have for African corruption fighters.

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Suspended EFCC Chair Answers Anonymous Charges

Opponents of Ibrahim Magu, suspended chair of Nigeria’s powerful anticorruption agency the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, are doing their best to convict him of corruption in the court of public opinion.  While Chairman Magu patiently waits for a chance to clear his name before a special panel investigating charges levelled against him by Abubakar Malami, Minister of Justice and Attorney-General, stories of his supposed corruption appear daily in Nigeria’s raucous media. In response, his counsel Wasab Shittu has begun responding.  Below are excerpts from his July 26 letter.

Alleged Questions Over [the Chairman’s] Asset Declaration.

Our client has NEVER been confronted with any such allegations purportedly arising from the Panel’s proceedings. The story attributed to the panel, which has become a recurring decimal, is a dangerous attempt to discredit the work of the honorable panel.

Funds recovered from indebted NNPC marketers for the NNPC.

Contrary to the misleading media reports, EFCC under our client’s watch NEVER misappropriated any funds recovered for NNPC [Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation]. The truth of the matter is that well over N329billion recovered by EFCC under our client’s watch was remitted directly in10 NNPC dedicated accounts via REMITTA under a special arrangement endorsed by NNPC, EFCC and the affected NNPC’s indebted marketers.

Suspended Nigerian Anticorruption Agency Head Rebuts Charges

As this blog has reported, Ibrahim Magu, the Acting Chair of Nigeria’s Economic and Financial Crime Commission, was detained July 7 by the state security service on vague charges involving corruption and misfeasance in office.  Since then, in what would appear to be an orchestrated campaign to discredit him, the Nigerian press has been awash with allegations of Magu’s wrongdoing.  They range from a claim that he secretly owns property in Dubai to charges he has embezzled millions from the Commission to an assertion he has paid off Nigeria’s sitting Vice President.

A point-by-point rebuttal of the allegations, issued by Mr. Magu’s counsel Wahab Shittu, is below.  An interview with Mr. Shittu on the public affairs program “Law Weekly,” is here, and a discussion of the issues raised by Magu’s treatment and their implications for Nigeria’s fight against corruption is here.

Many Nigerians fear that the real reason Magu was detained and subsequently suspended from office is that he has been far too effective a corruption hunter (examples here and here). Let’s hope the Presidentially appointed panel investigating Magu acts promptly, fairly, and decisively.  Nigeria needs an strong, effective Economic and Financial Crimes Commission to fulfill President Buhari’s pledge to fight corruption.

THE CHAIRMAN                                                                                                                               The Presidential Investigation Committee on The Alleged Mismanagement Of Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC)                                                                               Federal Government Recovered Assets and Finances From May 2015 to May 2020.

Attention: Hon Justice Isa Ayo Salami (Rtd)

Gentlemen:

PUBLICATIONS PREJUDICIAL TO THE PROCEEDINGS OF THIS HONOURABLE PANEL Continue reading

Undermining President Buhari’s Fight Against Corruption? Alarming News out of Nigeria

Nigerian media have been filled with conflicting accounts (here and here) about whether Ibrahim Magu, Acting Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, was himself arrested for corruption Tuesday.  A press release issued by a member of the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption meant to clarify the situation reveals highly disturbing ongoing machinations within the Nigerian government over President Buhari’s effort to curb corruption.  It is reprinted below. UPDATE: Since its appearance, other advisory committee members have said they do not endorse it.

Press Release: Professor Femi Odekunle, Member, Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption.

This is a preliminary reaction of the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption (PACAC) to the alleged ‘arrest’ of Ibrahim Magu, Acting Chairman the Economic Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). Of course, the real information reaching us is that he was only invited to appear before a Panel set up not long ago concerning some alleged memo by Malami, Attorney General and Minister of Justice, regarding some alleged malfeasance by Magu, along with nominations for his replacement.

It was just that those sent to invite him for whatever reasons best known to them invited some press along and made it look an arrest. That mischief has been confirmed by some apparent afterthought denial by the DSS [the Department of State Services, the domestic intelligence agency] that it was not an arrest. While PACAC has not had a formal meeting on this development, I have discussed with the Chairman and some other members and the following can be considered as PACAC’s preliminary reaction to this development.

The alleged originating Malami memo, up to the current “arrest “ seems an outcome of power-play by power blocs in the corridors of power in which Malami appears to be an arrow-head or major agent of a power bloc that is not really interested in, or in support of, Buhari’s anti-corruption fight.

  1. One can recall the earlier non-confirmation experience of Magu by the 8th Assembly, orchestrated by a power bloc and supported by the DSS ‘Security’ reports.
  2. One can also note the non-resubmission of Magu for confirmation since May 2019 despite the apparent willingness of the 9th Assembly to consider it this time around.
  3. Furthermore, one must take cognisance of the alleged memo referred to earlier i.e by Malami concerning alleged corrupt practices by Magu, along with his own nominations for Magu’s replacement.
  4. Again, we cannot forget Malami’s demand of certain high-profile case files from Magu which the latter has been resisting.

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World Bank Monitoring of Repatriated Assets Should Be Part of Major Settlements

The issue of repatriating the proceeds of corruption to the countries from which they were stolen has attracted substantial commentary, including in multiple posts on this blog (see here, here, here, here and here). Much of the discussion focuses on whether and how to return funds to countries that still suffer from systemic corruption or outright kleptocracy. In these cases, the risk that the assets, if simply returned, will be stolen again is, in the view of some critics, unacceptably high. In some cases, despite these risks, the government that seized the assets nevertheless repatriates the seized funds directly to the government from which they were originally stolen; the US Department of Justice (DOJ) has done this in several cases, including asset returns to Peru, Italy, and Nicaragua. In other cases, by contrast, the seized funds have been funneled to a local NGO rather than to the government. This was done in the agreement among the United States, Switzerland, and Kazakhstan regarding the transfer of corruption proceeds to Kazakhstan (an agreement which created a new NGO called the BOTA Foundation). This mechanism was also included in the DOJ’s settlement with Equatorial Guinea over the disposition of assets stolen by the President’s son, Teodorin Obiang. Another approach, which we saw in this past February’s trilateral agreement among the United States, Jersey, and Nigeria regarding the return of $308 million in assets stolen by former Nigerian dictator General Sani Abacha (which I discussed at greater length in a previous post), entails the earmarking of the repatriated funds for specific infrastructure projects, coupled with oversight by a yet-to-be-determined independent auditor and yet-to-be-determined independent civil society organizations (CSOs), with both the auditor and the CSOs selected by Nigeria, but subject to a veto by the United States and Jersey.

The inclusion of these various conditions is understandable. Notwithstanding the sovereignty-based objections advanced by the so-called “victim countries”—which often assert that they have an absolute right to the unconditional return of assets stolen from their national treasuries—returning huge sums to corrupt or weak governments without any safeguards would be irresponsible. Nevertheless, there are many pitfalls involved with leaving oversight largely to the victim country government and local CSOs, and the ability of countries like the United States to monitor compliance with the terms of repatriation agreements in foreign countries is limited. The best way to address these concerns is to involve an international institution—such as the World Bank, or possibly one of the regional multilateral development banks—in monitoring the terms of repatriation agreements.

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The Murky Business of Asset Recovery for Hire UPDATE

Premium Times and Finance Uncovered offered yesterday a glimpse of the lucrative business of asset recovery for hire.  A story posted on the websites of both the Nigerian paper and the London NGO (here and here) reports that the Nigerian government has hired Johnson & Johnson, a small Lagos-based law firm, to recover as much as several hundred of millions of dollars stolen from it through corrupt oil deals.  In return the firm will be paid five percent of whatever is recovered.  Johnson & Johnson, which apparently “won” the contract through an unsolicited proposal, has partnered with an investor who will pick up the firm’s cost to recover the money in return for a 300 percent return on its investment.  UPDATE: The Premium Times reports a coalition of civil society groups has asked Nigeria’s justice minister, Abubakar Malami, to release details of the agreement with Johnson & Johnson.

The Johnson & Johnson deal is not the first time the Nigerian government has turned to a private firm to recover stolen assets.  To recoup what General Sani Abacha stole while head of state in the nineteen nineties, it hired Geneva lawyer Enrico Monfrini. His take of the recovery was only four percent, not Johnson & Johnson’s five, but he still came out rather well.  For the 3,000 hours per year he told Swiss journalist Sylvain Besson he and his colleagues put in to recover $600 million of Abacha funds, which works out to roughly one lawyer working full-time and one-half time each year, his firm was paid $24 million (4% x $600 million).

Ever since UNCAC put the recovery of stolen assets on the international agenda, private contractors have been lining up to help developing country governments recover assets.  While there have been some successes, they have, as the Abacha case shows, come at a very high price.  Are they worth what the governments are being charged?  Are there better, cheaper alternatives? Continue reading