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Assets declaration should be all embracing

Demanding probity in both private and public sector is required for Nigeria to expunge the corrupt tendencies that have perpetually plagued the country. In view of this, we welcome the recent directive by the executive chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Abdulrasheed Bawa to bank workers to declare their assets on or before June 1, 2021 as it would help to checkmate money laundering and other financial crimes. However, the target should not be bank workers only. Politicians, public office holders at local, state and federal government levels should be made to declare their assets as required by law.

The directive to bank workers was based on the provisions of “Bank Employees (Declaration of Asset) Act. of 1986”. Sections (1) and (2) of the Act state that; “Every employee of a Bank shall, within fourteen days of the commencement of this Act, make a full disclosure of all his assets and the affected persons are required to make such declaration before and attested by the Registrar of a High Court, the Court of Appeal or the Supreme Court, while the Chief Executive of the Bank to whom Declaration of Assets forms were submitted shall, within seven days after the expiration of the time stipulated, submit the forms to the appropriate authority. Bankers are also required to make annual assets declaration at the end of each financial year.

According to the EFCC boss, the action would ensure that the country is free of financial crimes and block some of the loopholes allegedly being exploited by unscrupulous players in the sector to undermine the Nigerian economy through money laundering and illicit financial flows.

While we applaud this latest move and its expected results, we equally urge the anti-graft agency to go a step further by making assets declaration all inclusive, comprehensive and holistic. A matter as serious as assets declaration should be treated with all seriousness. There should be no sacred cow.

A starting point should be government agencies and politicians not banks. Nigeria is not in a military regime and banks belong largely to the private sector. The truth is that corruption is endemic in the public sector than the private sector as evidenced by both anecdotal and evidence based research. Where assets are declared, upon assumption of public office, officials would better yield to public scrutiny. The assets of public officials, particularly in developing countries, are often found to be excessive in relation to their income while in public office, which in turn raises speculations as to how they got their assets. Hence, one important tool for identifying the legality of the assets of public officials is assets declaration.

So far, Nigeria’s assets declaration regime, as it currently exists, has been ineffective and incapable of combating corruption. Therefore, a lot of work needs to go into the present system to make it more potent in combating corruption in the system.

Nevertheless, we agree with the EFCC that money laundering holds the potential to undermine socio-economic growth and development, political stability, democratic structure of the country and good governance, with the resultant effect of instigating social and political unrest within the country.

However, national growth and development requires collective effort and we remain committed in our resolve to lend our voice and support to positive strides that have the potential to promote transparency and accountability and hold the interests of the citizens and the country at heart as it pertains to security, socio-economic development, and national prosperity.

It is important to sound a warning that while the EFCC directive has the potential of reducing corruption in the banking sector, it should not be perceived as a move to usurp or preempt the regulatory role of the Central Bank (CBN) but to complement it. This is reminiscent of 2009, when the then CBN Governor, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi (Muhammadu Sanusi II) invited the EFCC to prosecute managing directors and other senior banking executives that were accused of financial malfeasance.

If well implemented, the EFCC directive will more than anything else serve to strengthen and complement the regulatory role of the CBN, the assessment role of the Auditor-General of the Federation on all public account records and oversight role of the National Assembly. Furthermore, it would aid the numerous existing anti-corruption instruments, including but not limited to the Declaration of Assets Act (1986), the Treasury Single Account policy for reducing the proliferation of bank accounts operated by ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) towards promoting financial accountability among governmental organs; the Financial Transparency policy (2019); the Banks and other Financial Institutions Act; the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act, 2011 (MLPA), Terrorism (Prevention) Act, 2011, Central Bank of Nigeria Anti-Money Laundering/ Combating the Financing of Terrorism (AML/CFT) Regulation, 2009 (as amended) and other AML/CFT Guidelines.

As our dear country Nigeria faces one of the worst financial situations in history, to curb corruption and corrupt tendencies and seek ways to improve revenue generation, all hands must be on the deck to actualize these expectations through legal and democratic measures, but certainly, not through draconian process.

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