TEXT OF THE PRESS CONFERENCE ADDRESSED BY THE HONOURABLE MINISTER OF INFORMATION AND CULTURE, ALHAJI LAI MOHAMMED, ON THE ADMINISTRATION’S FIGHT AGAINST CORRUPTION IN ABUJA ON THURSDAY, FEB. 3RD 2022
Good afternoon gentlemen and happy new year, since this is our first meeting this year. And as always, I thank you for honouring our invitation.
2. As you are aware, one of the three major policy planks of this Administration is the fight against corruption, with the others of course being to tackle insecurity and also to revamp the economy. We will be having a series of thematic press conferences on these issues in the days ahead, with this one – on the fight against corruption – being the first one.
3. It is common knowledge that one of the most difficult tasks for any government is to fight corruption, because when you fight corruption, corruption will fight you back! This explains why naysayers have continued to belittle or dismiss the Administration’s anti-corruption efforts. Let me say here that fighting corruption is a marathon, and never a sprint. Also, investigations, arrests, prosecutions and asset forfeiture – which are the immediate, visible indices by which many measure success in tackling corruption, constitute – as important as they are – just a part of the strategies to combat corruption. There is also a more fundamental strategy, which I will describe as structural and governance reforms or, if you like, institutional reforms. Today’s press conference will therefore look at this fundamental strategy and also highlight the successes recorded in recent times by the various anti-corruption agencies, including the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC), the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU) and the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB).
4. Gentlemen, the Buhari Administration has taken bold measures to streamline cumbersome bureaucratic processes in the implementation of government policies, check corrupt practices and ensure accountability in the implementation as well as delivery of these policies. These reforms are all inclusive, cutting across all spheres of governance and not excluding even the private sector. They are the Treasury Single Account (TSA), Integrated Personnel and Payroll Information System (IPPIS), Petroleum Industry Act, Financial Autonomy for State Legislature and Judiciary (2020), Whistle-Blower Policy, Assets Recovery, Justice and Law reforms, Nigeria’s membership of the Open Government Partnership as well as the various instruments at the disposal of the Federal Government to track, trace and stop the flow of illicit funds used in financing terrorist activities within Nigeria, among others. For those who may say that some of these reforms, like the TSA, predate this Administration, our response is that what’s the use of a policy that is not implemented? This Administration has implemented these reforms with fidelity, and the reforms have made a huge impact in preventing corruption.
5. For example, upon assuming office in 2015, President Muhammadu Buhari operationalized the TSA, a public accounting system that enables the Government to manage its finances (revenues and payments) using a single/unified account or a series of linked accounts domiciled at the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN). The President issued a directive to all Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) to close their accounts with Deposit Money Banks (DMBs) and transfer the funds therein to the CBN on or before 15th September 2015. The TSA system was launched in 2012 but failed to gain traction until President Buhari gave it a fillip. The TSA system has now been implemented in more than 90 percent of all Federal MDAs and it has resulted in the consolidation of more than 17,000 bank accounts previously spread across Deposit Money Banks in the country, and monthly savings of an average of N4 billion in bank charges.
6. Also, against stiff opposition, the Buhari Administration has expanded the coverage of IPPIS. TSA and IPPIS remain an unfolding revolution in public finance in Nigeria that have incorporated transparency and accountability into the system. The use of BVN to verify the Federal Government’s payroll on the IPPIS platform has so far led to the detection of 54,000 fraudulent payroll entries. The Federal Government has also utilized the BVN system to verify beneficiaries and vendors in the Anchor Borrowers Programme (ABP), the N-Power Programme and the Home Grown School Feeding Programme (HGSFP), among others.
7. The Whistle-blower Policy is an initiative of the Federal Ministry of Finance, Budget and National Planning. The policy is meant to encourage the voluntary disclosure of information about fraud, bribery and looted government funds, including financial misconduct and any other form of corruption or theft. The Whistle Blower whose information leads to recovery is entitled to 2.5 to 5% from the recovered funds. Information and tips received are usually referred to the EFCC, ICPC, and NFIU for further painstaking investigation. The policy has helped in the cleansing of IPPIS, led to compliance on TSA and enhanced the Procurement Act 2007. As at 2020, a total sum of N700 billion has been recovered through the Whistle-Blower Policy.
8 Then, there is the Petroleum Industry Act (2021). As you are aware, there has been a dire need for Nigeria to reform the laws of its oil & gas sector, which accounts for 90% of its foreign exchange earnings and about 65% of government’s revenue. While some of the laws had become outdated and unsuited to the 21st century, some were simply non-existent to regulate certain activities, thereby providing loopholes to be exploited by corrupt practitioners. One of such is the P&ID case in which a company registered in a foreign tax haven colluded with corrupt officials over a set-to-fail gas processing project to secure about $10 billion award against the Nigerian government via an arbitration process abroad. Attempts to revamp petroleum laws by successive governments proved futile for over 20 years until President Muhammadu Buhari broke the jinx to push through the Petroleum Industry Act in 2021, through strong will and determination.
9. Gentlemen, President Muhammadu Buhari signed an Executive Order in May 2020 that unequivocally granted financial autonomy to State Houses of Assembly, State Judiciaries as well as the Local Governments, as the third tier of government. The order also mandated the Accountant-General of the Federation to deduct, from source, funds due to state legislatures and judiciaries from the monthly allocation of states that fail to comply. Lack of financial autonomy for the separate arms of government at the state level is a major structural flaw that is in need of reform, and this has been addressed by the Buhari Administration. Also, the financial suffocation of LGs is a major enabler of insecurity and terrorism in the Nigerian countryside. Most of Nigeria’s 774 LGAs exist in rural areas where effective local governance is an existential issue. To underscore their responsibility to the people, President Buhari recently reminded the LG Chairmen of their burden of accounting for every kobo allocated to their Councils, should they fold their arms and allow the sharing to continue by the state governors.
10 On Assets Recovery, the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption (PACAC) has assisted anti-corruption agencies in devising clearer strategies for obtaining forfeiture of assets suspected to have been fraudulently acquired from state coffers before prosecuting suspected culprits. Part of this work has involved painstakingly reviewing existing Laws (Money Laundering Act, 2004, EFCC Act, 2004 and ICPC Act, 2000) to identify and highlight sections directly conferring powers of forfeiture on Nigeria’s anti-corruption agencies. This advocacy has led to a significant increase in the use of Non-Conviction Based Asset Forfeiture Mechanisms by anti-corruption agencies.
11. To check terrorism financing in Nigeria, the Federal Government has deployed a plethora of tools, including the Money Laundering Act, 2004, the EFCC Act, 2004, the ICPC Act, 2000, Department of State Services (DSS) and the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU) to deal with the issue of corruption, money laundering and terror financing. The ongoing harmonization of Bank Verification Numbers (BVN) with National Identification Numbers (NIN) is also a means of tracking the flow of funds within Nigeria and, by extension, tackling terror financing.
12. Let me now highlight the much more-visible activities of some of the various anti-corruption agencies, all of which have been effectively carrying out their mandates. In 2021 alone, the EFCC secured a total of 2,220 convictions. That represents a 127 percent increase in the number of convictions (976) recorded in 2020, and a far cry from the 195 convictions secured in 2016, the 189 in 2017, the 312 convictions in 2018, and the 1,280 recorded in 2019. The 2021 figure of 2,220 convictions represents a 98.49 per cent success rate, with only 34 cases (representing 1.51 per cent) discharged. On Monetary recoveries, in 2021 alone, the EFCC recovered a total monetary amount of N152,088,698,751.64; 1,182,519.75 Pounds Sterling, 50 Emirati Dirham, 1,723,310 Saudi Riyal, 1,900 South African Rand; US$386,220,202.85; 156,246.76 Euros; 1,400 Canadian Dollars; 5.36957319 Bitcoin and 0.09012 Ethereum. The last two are digital currencies.
13. The ICPC has played a pivotal role in bringing about structural changes in the operations of the government, especially regarding improvements in MDAs budget utilization, better value for money, improved project completion, service delivery and higher level of anti-corruption awareness. Recall, gentlemen, that the Commission established the Constituency and Executive Projects Tracking Initiative in 2019 to ensure value for money for the Nigerian people and full execution of projects. Between 2019 and 2021, ICPC traced 2,000 projects worth over N300 billion. During the same period, 326 contractors of abandoned projects across the six geo-political zones were forced by the Commission to return to site to complete projects worth N32.183 billion. Also, the ICPC’s Assets Tracing, Recovery and Management (ATRM) project led to the recovery of cash totalling N34.346 billion and US$1.62 million between 2019 and 2021. Also, the Commission’s System Study and Review of personnel and capital votes of MDAs resulted in savings of N261 billion to the government between 2019 and 2021. ICPC has also secured 66 convictions from the 243 cases it filed in court during the same three-year period.
14. For its part, the analysis by the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU), in 2020-2021, revealed 96 financiers of terrorism in Nigeria, 424 associates/supporters of the financiers, involvement of about 123 companies and 33 bureaux de change, in addition to identifying 26 suspected bandits/kidnappers and 7 co-conspirators. The analysis has resulted in the arrest of 45 suspects who will soon face prosecution and seizure of assets. Also, from its analysis of tax evasion and tax avoidance linked to corruption, NFIU has identified N3,909,707,678,112.43 in VAT and N3,737,918,335,785.82 in Withholding Tax due to the Government. NFIU has also sent 1,165 intelligence reports on cases of corruption, money laundering and other serious offences to 27 domestic agencies for investigation, prosecution and asset recovery. On terrorism financing, NFIU had intelligence exchanges on Boko Haram, ISWAP, banditry, kidnapping and others with 19 countries. During the same period, 2020-2021, the organization returned fraudulently-obtained funds totalling US$103,722,102.83, 3,000 Pound Sterling; 7,695 Singapore Dollar and 1,091 Euros to 11 countries of victims who came into the country.
15. There is also the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB), which was established as an institutional response to the observed deterioration in the conduct of Public Officers, especially because these behavioral changes manifested greatly in the abuse of public office for private gains. The Bureau handles, among others, issues of asset declaration by Public Officials as well as the verification of their assets. In 2021, CCB issued 125,000 Assets Declaration Forms, out of which 97,201 forms were returned. These figures represent a 48% increase in the number of Assets Declaration forms issued and an 81% increase in submission compliance, when compared with the previous year. As part of its reforms, the CCB is ready to deploy an Online Assets Declaration Portal that will allow for enhanced storage and retrieval of data, reduce delays caused by incomplete and incorrect declarations and reduced errors, among others. In 2021, the Bureau investigated several cases involving illicit enrichment, conflicts of interest, abuse of office and ethical breaches, resulting in the filing of over 200 cases before the Code of Conduct Tribunal.
16. Gentlemen, we have gone to this length to let you know that the Buhari Administration’s fight against corruption is unwavering and on course. This Administration has put in place structures that will not only check corrupt tendencies but will also make corruption unattractive and costly to those who may want to engage in it. Even the World Bank says when approaching anti-corruption at the country level, it is important to put in place ”institutional systems and incentives to prevent corruption from occurring in the first place”, and that is exactly what we are doing with the structural and governance reforms that I have enumerated above. I want to most sincerely commend the efforts of the various anti-corruption agencies for their unwavering commitment to the fight against corruption. I also want to implore all Nigerians to join in this fight, as it is not a fight for the government alone. With the support of all citizens, I can assure you that we will defeat this monster that stunts development and impedes investment.
17. I thank you all for your kind attention.