Anti Corruption War: EFCC, Customs Lack Public Data on Recovered Assets
Nigeria’s foremost anti-corruption agency, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), and the Nigeria Custom Service, both government agencies fighting corruption, have no public data system that engenders transparency in the management of recovered assets.
The News Digest reports that, whilst taking a look at the data management system of these anti corruption agencies, discovered that the absence of such public data erodes confidence in the anti-corruption crusade of government.
The EFCC was established in 2003, with the mandate to investigate financial crimes such as advanced fee fraud (419) and money laundering.
Headquartered in Abuja, it operates under the Economic and Financial Crimes Establishment Act in 2004.
The major duty of the EFCC is to rid Nigeria of economic and financial crimes, and to effectively coordinate the domestic efforts of the global fight against money laundering and terrorists financing.
Need for Public Data in Anti-Corruption Fight–Experts
A lawyer, Kehinde Awosusi, said it is essential that people are carried along in the fight against corruption.
“Issues like how recovered assets are utilized should be top of the priority of anti-corruption agencies.
In fact, from the legal perspective, it is important that the processes that take place after recoveries remain open for all.
We cannot tackle corruption when the proceeds become not transparent. People lose trust in the system,” he noted.
Another expert, Mr. Taiwo Akinlade, stated that while the fight against corruption must go on, Nigerians must begin to see the anti-corruption agencies as transparent and worthy of trust.
“One of the ways to help the fight against corruption is to ensure that all Nigerians are stakeholders and we cannot achieve this without public data.
If the website and other accessible means of weighing options are not available then we need to start asking questions from those in power about their real interest in the fight against corruption,” he stressed.
For Hamza Lawal who leads the ‘Follow the money initiative’, the lack of public data is a big dent on the anti corruption fight
“We need to start asking questions on how the government is managing recovered assets.
It is important that the public has access to utilization of recovered assets and funds. The issue is that we need to take a look at the constitutional provisions on this issue and review the 1999 constitution so as to enable revelation of these details” he noted.
“I agree that there is a lack of Public data that Nigerians can access to see how far the fight against corruption has gone and how all assets recovered are utilized” he further stressed.
On how the Freedom of Information act can be used to ensure revelation on assets are utilized, he noted that there is more to be done to make the Freedom of Information act effective.
Olanrewaju Suraju, the head of Civil Society Network Against Corruption (CISNAC) while commenting noted that beyond blaming the anti-corruption agencies, the federal government should be blamed too.
“ The Federal government has refused to pass the Proceeds Recovery bill that will help us solve the assets issue of tracking how recovered funds and assets are managed and spent.
“You know all funds and are managed by the nation’s treasury account so it may be hard for the anti-corruption agencies to reveal information on this because they are not even empowered to do such revelation but with the Proceeds recovery act, we will have resolution of this.”
Olanrewaju noted that the Freedom of Information act is not enough to tackle the issue of lack of declaration on recovered assets.
“The freedom of information bill only tells you what you ask but we should have a database that people can access without having to go through the rigors of the freedom of information bill” he noted
Public Data on EFCC Website
Checks on the website of the EFCC shows little or no extensive public data on the massive assets and funds recovered over the years.
Also, the website shows a Freedom of Information (FoI) Page which describes how to get access to information, such as day-to-day activities of the Commission.
Final records, conclusive data, decisions, determinations which are of value to any individual are said to be available upon request.
Notable on the website are records of what the commission did with some recovered loot.
On the website there is also the page for projects and news page about public data on utilization of recovered assets, but this is not comprehensive.
Further checks equally revealed that only three cases were listed by the commission to explain what recovered assets were used for.
Exploring the FoI Act
Exploring the Freedom of Act as part of this investigation, a letter was written to the commission taking advantage of the publicly provided portal for making requests.
After seven days, the Commission failed to either acknowledge receipt of the letter or respond to the request to provide information on utilization of recovered assets by the commission between 2018 and 2020.
Evidently, the Commission, not replying to the letter, reneged on its claim of transparency and openness as stated on its website.
According to the statement on the website of the Commission, only information that can jeopardize the judicial process will not be released.
However, despite meeting the requirements for the information requested through the FoI Act to be released, the commission failed to reply to the enquiry.
Our Constraints in Making Data Public – EFCC Spokesperson
In the course of investigation the spokesman of the EFCC Mr. Dele Oyewale was contacted, He said that it will be hard for the Commission to release to the public details on recovered assets as there are processes to report such recovered assets.
“You know asset recovery is a continual process and we may give information and it changes tomorrow,” Mr Dele said.
He further disclosed that some of the recoveries are not feasible for reportage due to the provision of the law that guides against such.
He stated that the Commission has remained very transparent to the best of the provisions and enablement.
On the Freedom of Information Act, the image maker of the Commission said if any request is sent following the FoI Act, there is need for a follow-up to such request.
“You need to still follow-up such freedom of information requests,” he noted.
This is coming seven days after the request was not made by this reporter on utilization of assets, but no acknowledgement or reply was made to the request.
FoI Act Should be Strengthened – CISLAC
Mr. Auwal Ibrahim Musa, the Executive Director of Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), while scoring the anti-corruption fight of President MuhammaduBuhari’s administration, said the FoI Act needs to be strengthened.
Rafsanjani also called for the empowerment of the anti-corruption agencies and demarcation of their roles to prevent a situation where “the police would not be doing the work of ICPC, ICPC would be doing the work of EFCC and EFCC would not be doing the work of Code of Conduct Bureau.”
He further added: “The boards of anti-corruption agencies are not functional. The ICPC board is not complete. There is no way you can run an agency as a one-man show. If you don’t have the board that can regulate the conduct of even the chairman himself, you would, instead of curing the problem, create more.”
Nigerian Customs Service
The Nigerian customs could be said to have been established a little over a century ago, as far back as 1891.
The service has three major departments, each headed by a Deputy Comptroller-General.
The Departments according to the information on the official site of the commission are; Corporate Service and Economic Relations; Tariff and Trade and enforcement, Investigation and Inspection.
With four zones, the NCS has 25 area commands. Some of the functions of the service includes; collection of revenue, anti-Smuggling activities, Security functions, manifest processing and working in collaboration with other government agencies in all approved ports and border stations.
A check on the NCS website, at the time of filing this report, shows that among the list of prohibited items by the commission includes: used motor vehicles above 15 years from the date of manufacture.
Investigation gathered that seized vehicles awaiting auction, are detained at border stations, seaports commands and at Federal Operation Units (FOU) in Lagos, Owerri, Benin, Bauchi, Kaduna and Kano.
On July 3rd, 2017, the NCS, in a bid to make seized/recovered vehicles available for auction in the public domain launched an E-auction application via apptrade.
But checks on the platform shows that the Service last auctioned a vehicle in public in 2017, leaving most of the vehicles ‘rotting’ away with the public not having access to usage or utilization.
Checks also revealed that the Service does not have a public data revealing seized or recovered vehicles.
Further investigation on the Service website showed that while documents such as E-auction procedure, PAAR Consignment Quick guide, among others are uploaded on the site, data on the number of recovered vehicles, the updates on utilization of the vehicles are missing.
Besides the poorly updated website of the Service, the section tagged “auction activities” of the Service was last updated in 2010.
This lack of adequate public data has always made it easy for corruption to thrive in handling of recovered vehicles in the agency.
For instance, earlier this year, in February, a former Comptroller General of the Nigerian Customs Service, Abdulllahi Dikko was accused of corruption.
Part of what he was accused of stealing includes 17 exotic vehicles. The vehicles were allegedly recovered from his warehouse in Kaduna.
Dikko had allegedly returned N1.5bn which was said to be proceeds of the crime to the government.
A report by Fisayo Soyombo exposed the massive corruption at the Nigerian Customs Service, mostly strengthened by lack of accessible public data.
Worse still, the Media rights agenda (MRA), had in September 2019, inducted the Customs Service into the hall of shame for not properly dis-emanating proper information as dictated by the Freedom of Information Act.
NCS Shuns Inquiry on Recovered Vehicles
This reporter sent a mail to the email address of the Nigerian Customs.
However, the mail sent to email@example.com was neither acknowledged nor replied.
The mail requested details of auctioned vehicles, details of recovered vehicles and utilization of recovered vehicles, all in the last five years.
It’s Wrong To Say We’ve Poor Public Data–Customs Spokesman
The Spokesman of the Nigerian Customs, Joseph Attah, denied that the Service lacks public data.
According to him, the agency has accessible data and is very transparent with information.
He said that no agency in Nigeria can compete with the Nigerian Customs when it comes to providing public data.
Attah said on the publication page of the website of NCS, there are constant updates on seizures and revenues generated from such seizures.
Facts Prove Otherwise
As at the time of writing this report, the publication page of NCS’s website has remained poorly utilized.
For instance, the news page of the Nigerian Customs was last updated on January 17, 2020, for an event that occurred in 2019 ( The Scorecard of Tincan Island Port In 2019).
Another press statement was published on December 4, 2019.
The Media reports section is updated with the last update coming as at April 13th, 2012 (CGC Gets Fresh mandate as WCO Regional vice Chair), another was published in 2006.
The last update for auction activities was on October 13, 2010 (October 13th, 2010 List of Pre-qualified Contractors consultants 3).
The conferences and seminar section was last updated in 2011, May 7, to be precise with the lead “Third Ordinary Meeting of the African Union Sub-Committee of Directors General of Customs”.
The NCS does not have good public data despite the large budgetary allocations given to it. For instance in 2020, NCS received over 200 billion naira amid concerns by Senators.
By News Digest