Nigerian Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, has called on the International Community to work together to solve the problem of secret corporate ownership, saying that anonymous corporate ownership has aided illicit financial flows and terrorism.
Professor Osinbajo made the call on Tuesday at the Webinar to mark the 20th Anniversary Africa Regional Webinar of the Independent Corrupt Practices and related offences Commission, ICPC.
Vice President Osinbajo, who delivered the keynote address at the virtual event, says breaking the walls of secret corporate ownership is crucial because such secrecy is implicated in the underdevelopment of many countries.
He said: “Although anonymous companies are not always illegal, nevertheless secrecy provides a convenient cover for criminality and corruption.
“Our experience in Nigeria as in other developing countries is that anonymous corporate ownership covers a multitude of sins including conflict of interests, corruption, tax evasion, money laundering, and even terrorism financing.”
London Anti-Corruption Summit
Professor Osinbajo said that President Muhammadu Buhari had at the May 2016 London Anti-Corruption Summit made a commitment to establish a public register of the beneficial owners of all companies operating in Nigeria.
“Following that commitment, Nigeria joined the Open Government Partnership (OGP) in December 2016 and subsequently submitted a National Action Plan prioritising the establishment of an all-encompassing and publicly accessible register.
“Nigeria is in the process of amending its corporate law to implement these measures and mandate the disclosure of beneficial interest in a company’s shares and prescribe punitive measures for failure to disclose,” the Vice President stated.
He said that ”the theme of the event, “Combating Corruption and Illicit Financial Flows: New Measures and Strategies,” brought to the fore that corruption remained a scourge to the development aspirations of countries and an existential issue for the developing world.
“Over the years, massive public resources and assets have been directly stolen, diverted, deliberately misapplied to gratify corrupt tendencies, stashed in foreign jurisdictions or mired in and susceptible to pilferage by the inequitable and unjust international economic system that continues to undermine the social and economic development aspirations of poor countries especially from Africa.
“Without effectively combating corruption and IFFs and promoting international cooperation for asset recovery and asset return, Africa cannot achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.”
Stemming illicit financial flows
According to him, Nigeria has demonstrated leadership in the advocacy for collective efforts to stem illicit financial flows from Africa and has also been at the forefront of advocacy for stemming IFF and promoting international cooperation for asset recovery and asset return at the UN General Assembly.
As the AU Champion on Anti-Corruption, he stated that President Buhari, had in his report to the Assembly of the Union, 32nd Ordinary Session and at the 71st Session of the UN General Assembly, affirmed Nigeria’s commitment to continue to “advocate the facilitation of recovery of illicit financial assets.”
Professor Osinbajo said that it was towards this end that Nigeria proposed the Draft Common African Position on Asset Return (CAPAR) at the 36th Ordinary Session of the Executive Council of the AU in February 2020 at which the CAPAR was adopted.
Make corruption expensive
Tasking governments on the need to work hard to stem illicit financial flows, the Nigerian Vice President said; ”corruption must be made expensive for those who engage in it to send the unequivocal message that corruption simply does not pay.”
He said; “We must also make all members of the international community see the benefit of shared prosperity and inclusive growth and development.
“It is the unenviable but noble task of ICPC and other anti-corruption agencies to make corruption unattractive to its disciples and facilitate new approaches to stemming IFFS and promoting asset recovery and return.”
Professor Osinbajo also listed measures that should be taken domestically to tackle corruption in Nigeria.
These include making citizens who interface with government officials see the fight against corruption in their day-to-day activities; protecting whistle blowers and taking note that corruption fights back.
“Many of our citizens are interested in the fight against grand corruption. Grand corruption as you know, cripples the economy. But they also want to see action in what would be regarded as petty corruption – in their interfaces with government officials either in the search for certifications, approvals of any kinds, licenses and all of that.
“Many want to see that corruption at that level is tackled effectively. And I think that we must begin to look at innovative ways of doing so.
“Secondly, we must protect, even more, whistle-blowers – persons who come forward with information against corruption.
“We must protect those who are ready to fight against corruption and who are prepared to do so without necessarily disclosing their identities, and even those who are ready to disclose their identities.
“The thing that we must take note of is that corruption fights back. And it is fighting back and it has the resources to do so,” Professor Osinbajo explained.
He further said; “In recent times, one of the chief ways that we are seeing more frequently is the use of unscrupulous individuals who are paid to use social media platforms to make outrageous allegations against persons perceived to be fighting corruption.
“The technique is not new, the idea is to tie everybody with the same tar so that you cannot recognize the truly corrupt or the truly corrupt activity, and genuine whistle-blowing is discredited as a result. And because our court system is slow, they count on the possibility that these victims may not pursue litigation or prosecution, you must devise a new legal strategy to ensure that this dirty trick not only fail but are penalised.”
In his goodwill message at the virtual event, the United Nations Resident Coordinator and Humanitarian Coordinator in Nigeria, Edward Kallon, proposed four actions that should be taken for further discussions.
These include ‘ending widespread small scale by tackling bribe seeking behavior by public officials that shape citizens’ opinion concerning the effectiveness and seriousness of government’s anti-corruption agenda and enhancing the development impact of assets recovery.’
Kallon also called for the creation of ‘effective and responsive public complaints system’ and ‘improving transparency and communication in the fight against corruption.’
The Chairman of the ICPC, Professor Bolaji Owasonye, had in the past 20 years, successfully investigated over 5,000 of the 19,381 petitions it received; prosecuted almost 1,000 and secured about 20% of convictions in the cases. (VON)