THE proposed plan to sell forfeited assets, which are deemed to be proceeds of crime and seized by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), by the Federal Government, is dogged by controversy. President Muhammadu Buhari has explained that the affected assets will be sold off and the proceeds deposited in the Treasury Single Account (TSA), to ensure that corrupt persons from whom the assets were seized would not reacquire them through the backdoor at the end of his tenure in office.
Since President Buhari dropped the hint in Katsina State when he hosted some elders in Daura, reactions across the nation on the issue were sharply divided. While some Nigerians condemned the plan, others called for full disclosures and transparency in handling the sale of the assets.
Nigerians have urged the government to publish the list of all assets so far recovered as well as all money recovered, properties seized and where they are located in addition to who owned them. They want the government to disclose the assets that have been sold, the buyers.
However, government has provided just one of the answers to the numerous questions being asked, that is, some of the amount of money recovered. The Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, had recently disclosed that the various sums, in different currencies were recovered between May 2015 and May 2016.
These include N78.325bn, $185 million, £3.508m and €11,250. The government is yet to make public the amount recovered in 2017, even though the acting Chairman of the EFCC, Ibrahim Magu, at his last appearance before the Senate disclosed that the agency was still compiling the total cash recovered last year. All the same, some questions still linger. For instance, what is the implication or legal status of the sale of properties the matter of which is yet to be determined by the courts? Besides, some have queried the powers of the courts to make final forfeiture orders on properties of suspects not yet convicted of any crime?
Sections 20(1), 21, 24, 25, 29 and 30 of the EFCC Act 2004 and Section 44 (2) (k) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), provide that forfeiture of assets is temporary pending investigation or inquiry. Legal experts are of the view that the court should grant interim order of forfeiture. Also, Section 30 of the EFCC Act states that “the suspect must have been convicted by the court before it can make final forfeiture.”
Undoubtedly, the issues surrounding the sale of forfeited assets remain unclear to most Nigerians. Legal opinion on this very sensitive matter is even more divided. In all, there is a consensus that full disclosure and transparency is the ultimate way out, starting with publishing the properties, their owners and the money recovered, and from whom. Government owes Nigerians a duty to provide answers to these questions. It is in the national interest and indeed, the best interest of the present administration to do so.
We believe that in the absence of confidentiality of record, the Federal Government should, without further delay, publish details of those from whom those assets were recovered, and also give adequate time for their valuation before offering them for sale. Indeed, the process of disposing them should be open and transparent.
The government should be reminded that anything short of full disclosures and transparency in the planned sale of the forfeited assets will cast a huge blanket of suspicion on its war against corruption. We know that there are rules and guidelines in place to ensure transparency in such a matter.
Therefore, the government should comply with the Public Procurement Act that has specific guidelines and processes on this matter. The approach entails listing the assets that should be evaluated by qualified quantity and estate surveyors/valuers. The assets should be sold to highest bidders.
The government should not skew the process to favour cronies of the ruling party. Due diligence and transparency should be followed.