Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye, Abuja

The Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), has accused the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) of not showing enough commitment to fighting corruption, money laundering and illicit financial flow.

Executive Director of CISLAC, Rafsanjani Auwal Ibrahim Musa, stated this at the opening of a two-day conference titled “Exploring New Frontiers in Nigeria’s Anti Money Laundering Regime through Effective Use of Data.”

Musa, who explained that the purpose of the conference was to assess the level of Nigeria’s effort at dealing with issues of illicit financial flows and money laundering, noted that if indeed the CBN as the regulator of all financial institutions in the country were up and doing, the kind of looted funds being recovered abroad wouldn’t have been ferried away in the first place.

According to the CISLAC boss, “money laundering has been one major act that has deprived Nigerians of living decent lives deprived them of access to education, quality healthcare system and infrastructure because, some wicked people have diverted this money through the connivance of some financial institutions in the country and the private sector. That is why it is important that we meet as stakeholders to discuss, evaluate and see the gaps that Nigeria currently has in dealing with the issues of illicit funds and money laundering.

“You are very much aware of the kind of money that has been taken out of the country, lying in various banks in America, Europe, the United Kingdom as well as even Dubai. If we don’t bring in some legal instruments that can enforce and prevent people from siphoning these money, there is no way you will be able to have finances for development, realize the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), fix the issue of inequality in the country, deal with the issues of terrorism. Because, some of these monies end up financing terrorism.

“So if you want to deal with issues of terrorism, then you must deal with the issues of illicit financial flow and money laundering because, it’s through these they finance all kinds of criminal activities that threatens the corporate existence of our country.”

Speaking on the role of the Central Bank of Nigeria in curbing money laundering and illicit financial flow, Musa said: “The role of CBN in the fight against corruption in particular, strengthening financial institution regulations cannot be overemphasised. The CBN supervises all the banks in Nigeria, provides them with the licensing and what have you, therefore, it must be involved in the fight against corruption. It cannot be inactive, it has to be physically part and parcel of government’s efforts to fight corruption, money laundering and illicit financial flow.

“By our observation, the CBN doesn’t seems to be interested in fighting corruption. We have not seen much commitment and involvement of the CBN in fight against corruption especially in money laundering.”

On what is specifically missing in CBN’s effort to check financial institutions, the CISLAC boss said: “There are a lot of issues that are missing first in its role as the regulator of financial institutions; it has the responsibility to regulate all the banks and monitor them and ensure that there is compliance. We have not seen that much happening because, if it is happening we will not see this kind of huge sums of money getting out of Nigeria. So definitely, somebody is not doing what he ought to be doing. So there is need for the CBN to tighten up, bring in other policy legal framework that will prevent looters from siphoning tax payers money and stashing them abroad.”

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On his part, the  Information Manager, The Inter-Governmental Action against Money Laundering and Terrorists Financing in West Africa (GIABA), Timothy Melaye, asked that all forms of funding to terrorists to be blocked to reduce or eliminate their activities.

He said: “Money laundering takes away life and so does terrorism. To end terrorism, all source of funding must be blocked. The terrorist must be blocked from having access to funds. All forms of funding must be blocked that will substantially reduce their power to operate; therefore, it will be easy to drastically reduce their activities if not totally eliminated.”

He said to confront money laundering then all stakeholders must work together, adding that corruption is endemic and the fight must start from the grassroots.

Melaye said for terrorism financing GIABA and FETF did a research called “Terrorist financing in West Africa,” to first look at the trend, identify sources of funding a lot of which comes from informal sector, movement of cash across border, sales of products and using women to move money across borders.

He also disclosed that civil society organisations are being used because, “when money is coming from one jurisdiction or the other to support civil society organisations, it is also a way of moving cash. So we are also addressing the vulnerability of civil society organisations or NGOs that are working in those areas. That is one of the things we have identified and we have asked members states to look into and put up a strong regulatory system for the profit and non-profit organisations so that they will not be used for different purposes. Sometimes, unconsciously, if a grant is coming from somewhere to distribute to some people, what if some of those beneficiaries use them to develop IEDs? So, there must be a system to check financial transactions from the informal sector where cash is moved through borders; so we should be able cut those sources so that they will no longer be able to buy ammunition, bullets, vehicles and fund their operations; then they will be incapacitated.”

Executive Director at SPACES FOR CHANGE, Victoria Ibezim-Ohaeri, while noting that gains have been recorded in the anti-corruption war, regretted that gaps still exist.

She insisted that looted funds recovered must be returned to state coffers from which it was looted.

She said: “A governor does not go to CBN to loot funds; he waits for the money to be statutorily allocated to the state coffers before he loots. So, he steals from the state coffers; so it goes without saying that when monies are recovered from a governor that has looted from the state purse, it should be taken back to where it was taken from. When you don’t do that, you have cut short the state budget; you have cut down the state monthly allocation. The consequences of cutting short the state allocation is that salaries of civil servants are being owed, you are contributing to those arrears.

“The monies have to be returned for hospitals to get equipped, so that children can go to school, women in rural areas can have access to health care, rural roads can be paved or graded so that local farmers will be able to bring their foods out and there will be good prosperity.

“I think is not right; there is something unfair, inconsistent with natural justice, equity and good conscience for the Federal Government to continue to withhold money recovered from governors clearly looted from the states.”