By Chimezie Godfrey
The Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), the National Chapter of Transparency International (TI) has called on the federal government and all relevant agencies to investigate all the people and companies indicted by the Pandora Papers revelations.
CISLAC in collaboration with the Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism (PTCIJ) also urged President Buhari and the entire Nigerian government to take steps in investigating every person exposed and implicated in the Pandora Papers.
The Executive Director, CISLAC, and Country Representative, Transparency International (TI), Auwal Rafsanjani with PTCIJ joined all concerned Nigerians to commend the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) and its network of members globally.
Rafsanjani explained that the Pandora Papers is one of the biggest ever corruption leaks led by ICIJ and over 600 journalists from 117 countries, including journalists from Nigeria’s Premium Times.
According to him, following the pattern of two previous leaks (i.e the Paradise Papers and the Panama Papers, which were released in 2017 and 2016 respectively), the Pandora Papers exposes systems and secrecy jurisdictions that enable and abet crime, corruption, and illicit dealings by politicians, billionaires, influential individuals, and their enablers globally.
He noted that the Pandora Papers since its release on October 3, 2021, Nigerians have read in awe details of financial transactions and practices of politicians and influential individuals that exploit and some cases violate and undermine extant financial guidelines and policies and threaten the citizens’ corporate existence and collective wellbeing.
Rafsanjani stressed that the Pandora Papers confirmed the continuing weaknesses in the Nigerian financial systems and regulatory deficiencies that have been at the root of the annual loss of $18billion to illicit financial flows out of Nigeria according to the latest estimate.
He therefore called on President Muhammadu Buhari, the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation, and other anti-corruption agencies to as a matter of urgency investigate individuals and corporate organizations that are indicted of dirty financial deals so far published by the Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism.
He said,”Some of you will recall that the Panama Papers and the Paradise Papers led to significant protests across the globe and the fall of governments, dismissals of officials, criminal investigations, and assets confiscations. They also precipitated hundreds of tax probes and criminal investigations, prosecutions, and reforms in the United States, Canada, Europe, and parts of Africa.
“Sadly, both have had criminal impact in Nigeria as the federal government led by President Buhari has failed on both occasions, to seize the opportunities to take decisive action against corruption and bring all those indicted in the two papers to a count.
“Nigerian Government has only managed to constitute a Panama Papers committee, which never triggered any action or any impact. It is to be assumed that given the large number of Politically Exposed Persons (PEPs) present in the Panama and other leaks, committees consisting of PEPs are unlikely to indict their own.
“The coalition of CISLAC, Transparency International in Nigeria, and the Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism urgently calls on President Buhari, the Honourable Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation, and all anti-corruption agencies to immediately commence actions to investigate all the people and companies indicted by the Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism.
“Furthermore, we call on the civil society organizations to urgently come to together to track and document the reports and commence effort to ensure the exposures does not go the way of the 2017 and 2016 Paradise and Panama Papers.
“We urge the federal government to consider policy reforms and institutional strengthening necessary to curb the abuse of financial systems and ease the prosecution of violators.
The Human Rights Activist, recalled that the Pandora Papers release is coming when Nigeria is reeling under the deleterious impact of the COVID-19 and the debt pileup that has continued to stoke serious concerns across political divides and among Nigerians and its development partners.
He therefore said that this a meaningful opportunity for the President Buhari’s administration to act decisively against corruption, aggressive tax planning, an other financial practices of politically exposed persons and their advisors and companies that threaten the country’s economic stability and corporate existence.
Also speaking, the Program Officer, PTCIJ, Jessica Odudu, in the light of the foregoing called for the strengthening of code of conduct bureau, full implementation of the Company Allied Matters Act (CAMA) 2020.
She also urged collaboration between the federal government and national assembly to facilitate public access to asset declaration of eligible public officers.
“Therefore, we encourage the federal government to consider the following: Strengthening the code of conduct bureau by digitizing the assets declaration processes, documentation and verification, and the prosecution of violators. As of now, the asset declaration administration in Nigeria is dysfunctional and a major enabler for corruption. The federal government must equally work with the National Assembly to remove all the obstacles to public access to asset declarations of every eligible public officers.
“The Company and Allied Matters Act (CAMA) 2020 provides for the setting up of a Beneficial Ownership (BO) register. We call on the government to. fully implement this so that beneficial owners of companies in Nigeria can be identified. This will prevent the diversion of public funds through procurement corruption in the first place. The Nigerian government must “live the talk” by ensuring the beneficial ownership data is publicly accessible and must show leadership by acting on them. So far, the lack of action on financial data leaks proves the opposite,” she said.
Odudu said the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), needs to ensure that financial institutions fully carry out Know Your Customer (KYC), Customer Due Diligence (CDD), as well as Enhanced Dei Dilligence (EDD) as required by the Financial Action Task (FATF), Inter-Governmental Action Against Money Laundering in West Africa (GIABA), and other international financial compliance guidelines. adding that effective compliance with these guidelines and measures will curb the current abuse and indiscretion among politically exposed persons and their collaborators.
She further urged the CBN, Anti-graft agencies, the Ministry of Justice, and Foreign Affairs to work in synergy and engage their international counterparts to ensure that global enablers/middlemen Ike lawyers, notaries, accountants who help facilitate money laundering and tax evasion are blacklisted, deregistered, or held to account under the several national laws, policies and international frameworks to which Nigeria is a signatory.
According to her, there is enough open data available exposing PEPs, military leaders, senior public servants, and others to own lavish properties all around the world, noting that no significant international cooperation with many key jurisdictions takes place at the moment.
Among other recommendations, she urged the federal government to reopen the Voluntary Asset and Income Disclosure Scheme (VAIDS) and the Voluntary Offshore Assets Regularization Scheme (VOARS) to enable Nigerians with undisclosed (offshore) assets to declare them and pay taxes where they are liable.