Former Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) Chairman Nuhu Ribadu yesterday said seizure of assets of looters is an integral part of the war against corruption.
He also said President Muhammadu Buhari has the political will to allow the war to be fought without interference and the eagerness to support it in whatever way possible.
Ribadu said the nation has recorded unprecedented recoveries and high profile cases under EFCC chairman Ibrahim Magu.
He said his own era as the chairman of the anti-graft agency had returned to the EFCC.
But he expressed concern that some lawyers took advantage of the probe of the $180m Halliburton scam to milk the nation dry.
Ribadu made the submissions in a paper at the National Stakeholders Workshop on Recovery and Management of Recovered Assets, organised by the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption (PACAC) in collaboration with the Commonwealth Secretariat.
He said international cooperation and linkages helped the EFCC in successfully tracing and recovering assets of former governors Joshua Dariye, DSP Alamieyeseigha and James Ibori and Mr. Emmanuel Nwude.
PACAC Chairman, Prof Itsay Sagay (SAN) said if Ribadu had not been removed, maybe corruption would not have become so endemic.
He said developing strategies for recovery of stolen assets would act as a deterrent to looters.
“Seizure of assets is more painful to them than imprisonment,” Sagay said.
Ribadu denied allegations that he was part of those who allegedly re-looted recovered assets, including N1trillion, and expressed surprise that it was a subject of Senate investigation.
He said: “Considering the care we took in handling whatever was in our custody, I find it baffling and disheartening when I hear people make insinuations about how we handled recovered assets.
“It is a most unfair remark but certainly not totally surprising as the fight against corruption is essentially a thankless job, especially in our climes.
“That was why I was telling Prof Sagay: ‘don’t bother sir, people will abuse you; don’t say anything. This is the job’.
“We are hurting people; we are taking things from those who took things and we denied them chance to make use of them and enjoy with their family.
“I’m still paying dearly. In my own madness, I decided to go into politics and I am still paying for it. But I am not bothered. I’ll continue fighting till my last breath. If I’m given the opportunity I’ll do it again.”
Ribadu went on: “Asset forfeiture is an integral component of the anti-corruption work as it serves many purposes within the framework.
“First, it serves as restitution in the sense that what was ill-gotten is returned to the right owner(s). It also functions as deterrence to others as those who illegally enrich themselves get stripped of that wealth overnight.
“Similarly, through proceeds of final assets forfeiture, government can make extra money that can be channelled to projects that would enable growth and development of the state.
“As a specialised element of the anti-corruption process, asset recovery requires professional and dedicated people, comprising investigators, prosecutors and managers to handle it jointly for effectiveness and to derive the maximum benefits.
“A point therefore has to be made on the importance of diligent investigation to successful and fruitful asset recovery and management.
“Whatever success that is made of forfeiture or recoveries depends on the thoroughness of investigation and diligence of prosecution and ability of investigators to trace whatever is traceable and recoverable. The success of asset forfeiture begins with the investigation.
“Surprisingly, however, in spite of the lack of adequate legal guidance and other limitations, Nigeria is perhaps the most successful country in terms of asset recoveries from foreign lands. Over time, a lot of money has been successfully returned to us in assets laundered in several countries.”
Ribadu expressed concern that some lawyers took advantage of the probe of the $180m Halliburton scam to milk the nation dry.
He said: “Contrary to such insinuations about self-enrichment, it was some people, not us or even the government, that made money from some of those cases.
“A case in point is the Halliburton investigation where after we had done the bulk of the work, it was turned into a milking cow for some senior lawyers who made millions of dollars out of it.”
The ex-EFCC chairman said President Muhammadu Buhari has a rare political will to fight corruption.
He also said EFCC chairman Magu and his team have made unprecedented recoveries in the history of Nigeria.
He pleaded with Nigerians to support Buhari’s anti-graft war.
He said: “ For me, this period is an important episode for this work, being a time that we have the most vital tool needed in this war, namely political will. I see in the present leadership, specifically the president, the will to allow the war to be fought without interference and the eagerness to support it in whatever way possible. These two points are important prerequisite in winning the anti-corruption war.
“We are also lucky to have a set of people that are very passionate and committed to be in charge of the process. Added to this, we have a plethora of practitioners, intellectuals, activists and the media that are keen and supportive of the campaign.
PACAC Executive Secretary Prof Bolaji Owasanoye said between $20billion and $40billion is stolen annually from developing countries.
According to him, seizure is important to the asset recovery process as it ensures the blockage or preservation of assets.
Director, Rule of Law Division, Commonwealth Secretariat, Katalaina Sapolu, said the international community and the Commonwealth would support the Buhari administration’s bid to recover stolen funds.
“We do not think that there has been, in many jurisdictions, a really settled view on the approach, because it requires development of policy and establishment of relevant institutional frameworks,” Ms Sapolu said.
According to her, the outcome of the three-day workshop would help in the formulation of such policies.